AquaPalooza '11 shifts to Daniel Is.: Few knew Saturday's massive recreational armada coming their way ... and last year's was 400 strong

Four hundred boats invaded Morris Island for the 2010 AquaPalooza boat rally. The event is moving to the Wando River this year.

Daniel Island, get ready for a water invasion this weekend.

Hundreds of boats -- and even more people -- will anchor offshore in the Wando River on Saturday in one of the largest annual boat gatherings of its kind.

And evidently few people had much warning it was coming.

The 2011 installment of the annual Aqua Palooza boat rally has moved from historic Morris Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor to the more wide-open spaces of the Wando adjacent to the Family Circle Tennis Stadium and Interstate 526.

Sponsored by SeaRay/Scout of Charleston, organizers hope to break last year's mark of 400 boats of all sizes, from fishing boats to multi-deck party yachts, that anchored or tied up.

"We just like to do something for the boating community," said Charleston SeaRay

General Manager Jim McClellan. "It's an alternative to hear some good music and have some good times."

There is no charge to attend and no registration requirement for the gathering, scheduled to run from 1 to 5 p.m. Bands will perform from a barge next to the island's public pier.

While Cummings Point on Morris Island, a historic Civil War site, is getting spared from being overrun by beer, bikinis and trash, news that the Wando is being turned into a rock 'n' roll anchorage caught many locals off guard, including the Charleston city councilman who represents Daniel Island.

"A boat rally? I didn't have a clue at all about it," Councilman Gary White said when informed of the event.

The news was particularly odd, White said, because he is both a boater and lives on Daniel Island where talk of the gathering has been sparse. "It sounds fun," he added.

Organizers put in for permits months ago. But the switch of locations was actually encouraged by Charleston police, who say it will be much easier to monitor events in the Wando than on largely isolated and overgrown Morris Island.

"There is better access if there are emergencies," said Sgt. Chad Womack, supervisor of the city of Charleston marine patrol.

Officials are preparing for anything, especially the chance that alcohol will be present. While no state law prohibits drinking on a boat, police will be monitoring for boating while intoxicated, which is against the law. So is littering.

Saturday's event is one of several SeaRay sponsors every year, drawing more than 90,000 attendees and 15,000 boats in more than 100 locations.

The common flow of such events is for boats to arrive and anchor or tie up together. For the Wando party, a "floating" or "rafting" area for bathers will be set up in front of the barge stage. Among the scheduled performers are Uncle Mingo and the Blue Dogs.

Womack said that while authorities don't want to get in the way of the event's fun factor, he warned that "if things get that extreme, we're going to do what we have to do."

The biggest safety hazard officials want attendees to be on alert for is starting boat engines in an atmosphere where potentially hundreds of people will be in the water, near propellers. The Coast Guard, state Department of Natural Resources and the Charleston County Sheriff's Office will be on scene, too, Womack said, adding that boating safety checks are expected to be set up.

McClellan stressed that no part of the rally includes land-based events or access. He discouraged anyone attempting to come by car onto Daniel Island.

"There's no place for them to go," he said. "If you don't have a boat, you really can't go."

And speaking of "going," McClellan said the only bathroom option for the hundreds of attendees during the rally is to follow Mother Nature.

The chance that 500 boats, and many more people, will be consolidated in one area has drawn concern from some environmental watchers who say the day could turn into one big mess.

"The biggest and most obvious impacts would be trash and human waste," said Cyrus Buffum, of Charleston Waterkeeper, an advocacy group for the region's water system.

He called on organizers to educate attendees about the best practices of water protection, and to take precautionary measures to reduce possible instances of pollution.

"It is definitely possible to have a minimal impact on our waterways," Buffum said. "The question, then, is whether or not that goal is considered by all involved."

Jimmy Bailey Jr., vice president of Community Services for the Daniel Island Property Owner's Association, also said his group was not informed much ahead of time that the party is coming. For now, though, he is taking "a wait and see attitude," on the promise the rally is not supposed to be intrusive on either the island or its neighborhoods.

"Maybe it will be a fun event, who knows," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.