Though many events and local operations have wound down for the day in preparation of Hurricane Ian’s arrival, the Wilmington Boat Show is still on.
After pummeling west Florida, Hurricane Ian is projected to make landfall again midday Friday in South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane. The Cape Fear region is expected to be inundated with heavy rainfall, winds and minor flooding.
While area schools closed Friday and other happenings were rescheduled or canceled, the Wilmington Boat Show kicked off at noon at the Wilmington Convention Center. Open through 6 p.m. Friday, the show will continue from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
A majority of the planned outdoor portions of the show, with the exception of a Yahama exhibit, will be closed for the duration of the event, but activity is ongoing inside the convention center.
“Today we expect it to obviously be rather slow,” Jacqui McGuinness, president and owner of JBM & Associates, the firm that produces the boat show, said Friday morning. “Tomorrow and Sunday I think we’ll have great turnout.”
The show and its organizers are persistent: Despite disruptions prompted by storms and a pandemic have left the event with just one show in its seven-year run without a hiccup, organizers of the weekend-long happening say they remain committed to Wilmington.
“We feel like we have the best relationships with so many people in Wilmington,” McGuinness said. “And that's probably what keeps us here.”
The Wilmington Boat Show, which attracts thousands of attendees and dozens of exhibitors annually each September, started in Wilmington in 2016 (its only year without a hitch). Schedules were impacted in 2017 and 2018 by storms, according to a previous Wilmington Business Journal story
, and in 2019, the event was canceled altogether due to Hurricane Dorian.
Organizers have tried for years to secure later dates at the Wilmington Convention Center to avoid hurricane season to no avail, she said.
“It's not like we're trying to pick these dates,” McGuinness said with a laugh. For next year’s show, McGuinness said she has managed to secure mid-October dates.
The show in 2020 took place without scheduling issues but with somewhat dampened attendance due to the pandemic, and nationwide inventory issues restricted the number of boats that organizers could corral for last year’s show. “We’ve been through so much,” McGuinness said. “It's discouraging because we know what the show could be and what it was supposed to be … It is what it is.”
This year’s weather has reduced the number of boats on-site – likely the event’s biggest draw – in half, McGuinness guessed, to about 30. A handful of out-of-town vendors from Charleston and Florida had to drop out this week due to the weather conditions, she said.
Inside the convention center, eight boat dealers are set up within the exhibit hall and about 50 marine-related exhibitors are on site.
The family-friendly show boasts a full lineup of events all weekend long: Saturday and Sunday, the Wilmington Fishing Expo features clinics by local captains; local musician Randy McQuay will perform live music; Cape Fear Community College will demonstrate screen-printing activities and highlight its new Yamaha engine course; convention center meals will also be served up.
Typically, the events attract about 7,000 people, according to McGuinness. The 2021 show created an economic impact of $1.36 million, according to the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau.
JBM & Associates hosts similar boat shows in Charleston and Savannah, and next month will launch a new show from its base in Greenville, South Carolina, the Everything Outdoor Fest.
Even with the weather-related setbacks, McGuinness said the events will showcase the highlights of life on the water.
“You can’t go to a boat show and not have fun,” she said. “It’s just a fun kind of lifestyle – even during hurricanes.”
Daily tickets are $10 and can be purchased online