How to build an on-water boat show

Building the Annapolis Boat Show
By Membership – Published August 14, 2009


Each October, for 40 years, the United States Sailboat Show (October 8-12, 2009) and the United States Powerboat Show (October 15-18, 2009) take over the docks and harbor of the colonial seaport of Annapolis.  These two events, the oldest and largest in-water shows in the industry, are the only major boat shows not produced in an existing marina.  Playing host to more than 250 sailboats, over 450 powerboats and hundreds of land exhibitors requires the construction of a temporary facility of stupendous proportions.

To accommodate this veritable navy of recreational vessels, show producers will drive 62 temporary pilings in the waters of Annapolis harbor.  Those pilings anchor a mile and one quarter of floating docks, assembled in twenty-foot sections, requiring 600 bolts just to hold them together.  All docks are pre-assembled at the Navy Yard in Carrs Creek and towed across the Severn River in strings up to 480 feet in length, which make up one of the largest portable marinas in the world.   The docks have gas operated fire pumps, and exhibitors are supplied with fresh water for wash downs by a temporary water system incorporating 1500 feet of three-inch fire hose and 5 custom built “Christmas tree” style hose bib manifolds.

More than 250 tents, erected on over 600 wooden floor sections covering more than three quarters of an acre, accommodate land exhibitors.  Both land and water exhibitors receive an electrical service via a system of submarine cables and wiring that incorporates over 60 miles of wire.

This enormous construction effort takes place with almost military precision and timing in the space of three days, with the Sailboat Show opening at 10:00 am Thursday morning.  At 5:00 pm Monday the transition or “change-over” from Sailboat to Powerboat Show begins.  Change-over has become a bit of an event in its own right; with crowds of onlookers cheering from bars and restaurants surrounding the show site as boat operators and the show staff transform one show into another.  The load out of sail, load in of powerboats and the reconfiguring of docks, land and tent displays is completed by Wednesday evening and the Powerboat Show opens Thursday morning at 10:00 am.

Sunday evening at 6:00 pm the air at City Dock is filled with the sounds and exhaust fumes of hundreds of engines as the “breakdown” of the Powerboat Show begins.  Within about an hour and a half, the harbor basin empties of boats, accompanied by the cheers and jeers of the hundreds of onlookers who critique the close quarters boat handling skill of the departing exhibitors.

By Tuesday morning, like the legendary Scottish village of Brigadoon, the show has vanished, seemingly into thin air, to return again next year.  In fact, the floating city has been broken down into its component parts and transported to its permanent storage site in Owings, 26 miles south of Annapolis.

2009 is the 40th annual United States Sailboat Show.  To commemorate this 40-year tradition, there will be an Anniversary Reception, door prizes, special events, and more.
Show dates are October 8-12, 2009 for the United States Sailboat Show and October 15-18, 2009 for the United States Powerboat Show.  Advance ticket purchase is available online at

Don’t forget to stop by the BoatU.S. barge to say hi to the crew, renew your Membership, upgrade your towing or get an insurance quote.


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