The Annapolis Boat Shows

By Ellen Moyer

It is October. City Dock looks like the circus came to town. The dock is sprouting tents. Multicolored flags are flying.

There is a new hustle and bustle in the city. Walking on Main Street, waiting in line at Chick and Ruth’s Deli, is like being at the United Nations hearing French, German, Australian, Dutch, English and Eastern voices from countries around the world. Cars cruising the streets bear license plates from Ohio, Michigan, Rhode Island, Florida and California.

Columbus Day and the Annapolis Boat Show, the world’s largest and first in-the-water boat show is here. It’s a show taking place in the Sailing Capital of the World, a show that no exhibitor of maritime goods would miss.

The boat show opened in 1970 as a sailboat-only show, the brainchild of Peter Carroll and Jerry Wood. Prior to the 1970s boat shows, like most retail, craft and showcase shows, were held inside large convention centers. But boats are water-bound. What better showcase than a boat in the water.

The show, the first of its kind, was so successful that two years later, a powerboat-only show was added on the subsequent weekend. When Peter Carroll moved on to other ventures in 1977, Ed Hartman joined the corporation and Jerry Wood continued to manage the helm of the show until 2001. On Dec. 2, 2013, the boat shows were purchased by a five–member, locally-owned event management team headed by Paul Jacobs.

Staging the show requires the assembly of the largest portable marina in the world. One and one-fourth miles of portable floating docks are towed up Back Creek and across the Severn River in 480-foot strings to be attached to the 62 temporary pilings in Annapolis Harbor. The docks provide fire pumps, water and 60 miles of wire for electrical service.

When completed in three days, 250 new and popular model sailboats take their assigned locations along the new docks and 350 exhibitors are ready for the 150,000 visitors. At the end of the sailboat show on Monday at 5 p.m., with precision-like quality, sailboats move out and 450 power boats move in. It will take the powerboats less than two hours to disassemble four days later. This operation of a flotilla of recreational boats coming and going is its own spectator event. By Tuesday morning, according to one observer, “like the legendary Scottish village of Brigadoon, the show has vanished.”

While they are here, however, the boat shows’ impact on the city is enormous. A University of Maryland study in 2005 found the three-week boat shows event contributes $52 million to the local economy. City coffers receive a direct payment from admission tax and rent of approximately $500,000. The two shows employ 4,700. Local maritime businesses, boat detailers, decorators and marinas provide services. Eastport PTA and the high school band that park cars and community nonprofits that sell food receive substantial boosts. October is now one of the busiest and most profitable times of the year for local businesses.

Innovations to the shows came in the last decade. Education is now a part of the show offerings; “Take the Wheel” programs offer interactive workshops for new buyers. Cruises University, “The Ultimate Aid to Navigation” began in 2011, with the smaller Spring show and offers more in–depth, four-day courses for boating enthusiasts. Also added to the venue last year was a brokerage show anchored in St Mary’s Cove on Spa Creek.

The boat shows provide an opportunity to showcase Annapolis to national and international visitors and businesses as a premier maritime destination. It is doubtful we would have been recognized as the Sailing Capital of America, a claim made in 2003, without the introduction of the Annapolis Boat Show, United States Yacht Shows Inc.

In 1970 the public was captivated with a new leisure activity, recreational boating. The first boat show tapped into that interest and helped accelerate the sport. There is a local legend that the crowd for the first show was so large or at least unexpectedly large that local restaurants ran out of food. That doesn’t happen anymore. For 45 years the shows have gone on without interruption through good times and economic hard times. They have also overcome obstacles like Hurricane Isabel damage to electrical systems in 2003.

Annapolis and the shows are a perfect match: an adventurous sport, a charming city and a beautiful waterfront.



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