Large turnout, variety of watercraft, on-site sales boost 35th annual boat show in North Charleston

Butler Marine was one of more than 20 boat dealers on hand at the Charleston Boat Show Jan. 23-25 at Charleston Area Convention Center (Jim Parker/Staff 1-25-2015).

Jim McClellan could only guess at the crowd size in the indoor hall Saturday at the Charleston Boat Show Saturday, although “I’ll bet at least 4,000 went through here.”

He was more certain about another indicator just as telling as the visitor count: So many people walked through the Charleston Area Convention Center arena, brimming with boats of varied shapes and 16-53 foot in size, that they literally “wore out part of the carpet,” he said.

“Attendance (this year) was way up,” McClellan, boat dealer at Hall Marine Charleston on Daniel Island, said Sunday minutes before the three-day fest wrapped up.

The January show, in its 35th year, unofficially launches the Charleston area boating season.

Event goers stock up on supplies, check out displays and probe dozens of watercraft — many sporting steps and gangplanks to climb aboard — that were parked inside the center and in the vast parking area.

The fest’s producer, JBM & Associates, backed up McClellan’s positive read of the show. Though Jacqui Bomar, president of JBM & Associates, didn’t have a final attendance tally the Wednesday after the show, she said based on parking reports and feedback from the box office, she’s expecting great numbers.

“I believe this is our record year for attendance,” said Bomar, who has produced the show for 14 years.

“We were really pleased with the turn out and I know that the dealers and the exhibitors were (pleased too).”

In 2014, the show drew 9,500 people.

Bomar said boat shows across the country are also riding a swell in attendees, based on what she’s hearing from the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

A host of attendees were doing more than looking. They were purchasing skiffs, cruisers, fishing boats and yachts priced from the $20,000s to six figures or more.

Hall Marine sold 21 or so vessels. “We were at 12-13 last year,” McClellan said. He estimated that activity was up at least 10-15 percent at the show.

“We sold everything, a couple of small boats, 17-18 (foot) range,” he said. The hottest group was the mid-range 24-27 footers costing $60,000-$80,000. He called the show’s results “very positive.”

Even on a late Sunday afternoon, a number of participants perused the waves of watercraft brought by more than 20 dealers from the Charleston area and up and down the coast.

“I just came in to look,” said Joe Livesay, as his two children, ages 8 and 5, batted around beach balls. He has a boat for sale and wasn’t interested in buying right away but enjoyed the show all the same.

“We just did it (the show) today. It was nice,” he said.

Not far away, Lauren and Fletcher Thompson talked with a salesperson at Seel’s Outboard while looking over a Sea Hunt. She said her husband was in the Coast Guard and adept with watercraft. The couple used to own a boat but sold it.

The Thompsons have three children, ages 7, 4, and 1 so when it comes to purchasing a new boat, “realistically, (we won’t) until next summer,” she said. But she’s pretty much decided on the size of vessel. “Probably a 23 (footer),” with a wide deck, she said.

Rachel Cook of The Post and Courier staff also contributed to this story.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.