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Biggest Fort Lauderdale show opens

This is the biggest Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in the event’s 54-year history, Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, chairman and CEO of Show Management, said Thursday morning at the opening media breakfast.

At 3 million square feet, “this is by far the biggest footprint in the history of the show,” Zimbalist said. Show revenue — boosted by healthy exhibitor turnout and more product on display — is also the largest ever, he said. “We’re really gratified by the exhibitor response.”

Show Management, which produces FLIBS, added 70,000 square feet at the new Sailfish Pavilion outside the convention center, where pontoon boats have found a place to call their own.

“Pontoon boats are selling like hotcakes around the country,” Zimbalist said. “We’re glad to see a lot of them here at the show.”

He said more exhibits at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center and expanded dockage on the Intracoastal Waterway also have boosted the size of the show.

Zimbalist noted the show debut of SeaFair, a 228-foot exhibition yacht with several million dollars’ worth of paintings, sculptures and jewelry on two decks, along with a restaurant and lounges, for both private parties and the public.

“When people are finished spending their money on boats, they can spend it on artwork, jewelry and sculpture,” he said.

Citing the show’s record size, sunny skies and an improving economy, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler predicted that this will be a “great, great day” to open the show. He said it has a half billion-dollar impact on the South Florida economy. “It’s the Super Bowl, it’s Christmas, it’s New Year’s — it’s all this rolled into one.”

Nate Fristoe, of RRC Associates, a Boulder, Colo., research and planning group, talked about the first phase of a study commissioned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns FLIBS, and the Active Interest Media Marine Group to develop a model for identifying “key levers” for translating participation in boating into passionate engagement in the sport and eventually boat ownership. (Active Interest Media owns Show Management and Soundings Trade Only, as well as PassageMaker, Yachts International, Soundings, Power & Motoryacht and Sail magazines, and

RRC surveyed 3,500 boat owners — subscribers to AIM boating magazines — to find out how they got into boating, how they influence others to become boaters, how long they plan to keep boating and what might help them boat more.

On the plus side, 30 percent of the U.S. population has engaged in some kind of boating, compared with just 8.1 percent who have played golf and 9 percent who have played tennis.

However, he also noted several other trends. Although participation in boating has been going up 3.2 percent a year while boat ownership declines at 0.3 percent a year, the cost of a boat keeps going up, and boat owners keep getting older. “This is not a sustainable pattern,” he said.

He identifies one group that can help grow boating: the 24 percent of boaters who are “social animals.” They are by and large single, with no children; passionate about their boating; and twice as likely as other groups to influence others to become boaters.

“They have a massive influence on getting people into boating,” he said. “They are real evangelists for boating.”

— Jim Flannery