Charleston Boat Show producer Jacqui Bomar sees a more buoyant attitude among boat dealers for this weekend's big watercraft exhibit.

"These guys have a little skip in their step this year," said Bomar, who watched the industry's fortunes sink after financial markets collapsed in 2008.

Propelled by an improving economy, several boat shop owners in the Charleston area expect bigger crowds and better sales as the Lowcountry's biggest pleasure-craft display drops anchor today through Sunday at the Charleston Area Convention Center in North Charleston.

"We saw a pretty good fall, and we have seen an uptick in consumer confidence," said Rick Hall, president and owner of Sea Ray Scout of Charleston as he helped set up a stage for this weekend's big show. "There is some pent-up demand out there. People are getting back to living their lifestyle."

Last year, he sold 14 boats as a result of the show. This year, he expects to sell between 15 and 20.

Jim Duncan, owner of Duncan's Boats, reduced the amount of space he rents for the show, but he will still display 24 models, the same as last year. He is optimistic the show will be more successful than in 2010 when he sold eight vessels to water lovers.

"We are expecting it to be better than last year," Duncan said. "Based on other shows nationally, the numbers are looking pretty good. I would be happy with 10-plus (sales)."

Besides boat sales, the 31st annual exhibit provides valuable information for the boating industry. Dealers gauge consumer sentiment as a barometer for the upcoming year. Their attitudes help dealers know what to order for the months ahead.

"We listen to what the buyer is feeling," Duncan said. "We will sell a lot of products throughout the year from the people who attend the show."

Chris Butler, owner of Butler Marine, said the residual effect is a big part of the show.

"Someone may come in the shop in June and say, 'I saw this boat at the boat show, and that's what I want,' " he said.

Butler attended the boat display in Atlanta last weekend and said the mood is definitely more revved up since the dark days of $4 gasoline and the ensuing financial market mess in 2008 that led to a severe slump in the boating industry.

"From talking to other dealers, it was a much better show," Butler said. "It makes a difference with people feeling a little more upbeat. After three years of decline, there is a little more pent-up demand."

He sold two boats last year during the show. He's hoping buyers will hitch their trailers to five or six new boats this year.

Jack Powers of Cape Romain Marine in McClellanville rented more space this year, and the Tidewater boat dealer is trying to set itself apart from the others by separating its display under a big tent.

"You have to think outside the box," he said. "We are here to sell boats, but we are not here just to sell boats. We are here to build relationships as well."

Last year, the company sold about five boats as a result of the show. Six to eight would be a good number this year, Powers said.

"We feel like the economy is slowly picking up," he said.

Bomar, president of JBM & Associates of Greenville, which has overseen the show for several years, sees the dealers' wave of increased optimism first-hand and is expecting the rising tide to lift boat sales.

"I'm so excited for them because they worked so hard to get through the past couple of years," she said. "We are way beyond where we were last year for space sold in the convention center and parking lot. It should be a better show all around."

Reach Warren Wise at 937-5524.