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Stage is set for big Lauderdale show

Promoters say boat and accessory shoppers will find bargain prices at the Oct. 28-Nov.1 production

Organizers of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show call it the biggest show in the country, with $3 billion worth of boats and accessories on display.

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Despite a languid economy, expect this year's Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show to be energized by manufacturers and dealers prepared to pull out the stops to woo customers.

Boat show pricing specials usually aren't available before or after a show. "So I think you get a great deal" if you buy there, says Efrem "Skip" Zimbalist III, president and CEO of Show Management, which produces the show for the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

Zimbalist says many dealers and manufacturers have cut back on their show schedules to save money and are focusing their sales efforts on just a few, including Fort Lauderdale, which will run from Oct. 28-Nov. 1. Two months before the show's 51st edition, exhibitor contracts were 4 percent ahead of 2009, when about 1,000 companies exhibited, according to Show Management. "I'm encouraged," Zimbalist says.

The Lauderdale show typically has about $3 billion worth of boats, yachts, superyachts, engines, electronics and accessories on display, spread over five locations - Bahia Mar Yachting Center, Hall of Fame Marina, Las Olas Municipal Marina, Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina and Broward County Convention Center.

Boats range from PWC, kayaks and ski boats to cruisers, trawlers, sportfishing boats, sailing vessels and superyachts, including Derecktor Shipyard's six-deck Cakewalk - at 281 feet believed to be the largest private yacht ever built in America (launched in August in Bridgeport, Conn.). The show also draws yacht builders and designers and features brokerage yachts and "toys" to display on the superyachts - submarines, helicopters, luxury tenders and even exotic cars.

Zimbalist says the sale of Irwin Jacobs' bankrupt Genmar brands and the reorganization of other boatbuilders that had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection have cleared the way for these companies to return to the show.

With many dealers cutting back on showroom inventories to pare costs, a show such as Fort Lauderdale is one place prospective buyers can see and compare all of the boats that interest them because builders make it a point to have all their models there, Zimbalist says. "You go to a boat show where you can see and feel and touch all of the options that you're thinking about, side by side," he says.

Responding to surveys of show-goers last year, Show Management has beefed up its "mini-sessions," with more captains from the International Game Fish Association's School of Sportfishing teaching deep-sea fishing seminars and a schedule of dive seminars called "The Blue Wild" at the convention center. The show also hosts youth fishing seminars presented by Hook the Future, a non-profit organization.

Sportfish instructors include captains Carl Anderson, Josh Brown, Jamie Bunn, Tony Digiulian, Mike Holliday, Rick Murphy, Ray Rosher and Bouncer Smith. Dive instructors include free-dive spearfishing national champion Shari Daye, custom speargun maker Daryl Wong, and freedivers Kirk Krack and Mandy-Rae Cruickshank. The seminars are free and very informative, Zimbalist says.

Show hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. Adult tickets cost $32 for Thursday  - Prime Time Preview day for those who want to avoid the crowds. General admission tickets for each of the other days are $16 when purchased online, $18 at the show. Tickets for children 6 to 15 are $3 purchased online, $5 at the show. Children under age 6 are admitted free. Two-day adult tickets are $32 purchased online, $34 at the show.

Show-goers can park at War Memorial Park and take the Park N Ride shuttle to the show. They can ride a free shuttle bus or take a water taxi that costs $10 for an all-day pass between the show venues.

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This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.