Building the Boat Shows

Each October, for more than 37 years, the United States Sailboat Show (Oct. 5-9) and The United States Powerboat Show (Oct. 12-15) take over the docks and harbor of the colonial seaport of Annapolis. These two events are, the oldest and largest in-water shows in the industry, and they are the only major boat shows not produced in an existing marina. Playing host to more than 250 sailboats, nearly 500 powerboats and hundreds of land exhibitors requires the construction of a temporary marina facility of stupendous proportions.

To accommodate this veritable navy of recreational vessels, show producers will drive 57 temporary pilings in the waters of Annapolis harbor. Those pilings anchor a mile and two tenths of floating docks, assembled in twenty-foot sections, requiring 636 three quarter inch bolts just to hold them together. Exhibitors are supplied with fresh water for wash downs by a temporary water system incorporating 1400 feet of three-inch fire hose and 5 custom built “Christmas tree” style hose bib manifolds.

More than 200 tents, erected on over 500 wooden floor sections covering more than three quarters of an acre, accommodate land exhibitors. Both land and water exhibitors receive electrical service via a system of submarine cables and wiring that incorporates over 57 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 Sail 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.

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.

On Wednesday the process of repair, refurbishment and planning for next October begins again.

Adult and children’s tickets as well as VIP day ticket for both the U.S. Sailboat Show and U.S. Powerboat Show can be purchased on line at and clinging on the ticket icon.