After boat show, North Florida dealers are still optimistic: Boat vendors see a brighter season ahead even though few enthusiasts were buying.

By David Bauerlein, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

Feb. 8–Northeast Florida boat dealers were pleased to see more people at a weekend boat show than they did a year ago, but boat-seekers by and large were keeping their options open and their checkbooks closed.

If it wasn’t a return to the boom years before the recession slammed boat sales, it was enough for dealers to feel some optimism as they head toward the warm-weather months that are prime time for boat selling.

The 63rd annual Jacksonville Boat Show, presented by the Jacksonville Marine Association, finished a three-day run at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

At one point Sunday afternoon, an announcement over the public address system said people seemed to be “walking around like they’re in a coma” and reminded them the boats were in fact for sale.

“Hurry up and buy the boats,” the announcer urged.

Purcell’s Motorcycles & Marine was selling a new 35-foot Triton boat at a show price of $135,000. A banner across the boat’s hull touted that price as a $100,000 saving. Purcell’s obtained the boat from another dealership that went out of business.

“Everybody goes, ‘That’s an absolute steal,'” said dealership owner Gary Purcell.

He hadn’t sold the Triton by mid-afternoon Sunday, but he said a handful of people expressed serious interest. He said potential buyers have a “hold-off” mentality, but there were more people at this year’s show checking out what boats are available.

Vicki Williams, finance manager for Crews “N” II Marine, said the recent improvement in car sales is a good sign that boat sales can likewise post gains.

“We all say we hope it’s turning around,” she said. “No one really knows. The car industry is starting to turn around, but that’s small steps, not giant steps.”

Brett Cannon of Atlantic Coast Marine sold three boats as a result of the 2009 boat show. He was confident he’d beat that number this year and was hoping for eight sales. That would be a significant improvement, though not back to the high-water mark of 15 sales he made through the 2006 show.

For shoppers who checked out boats but didn’t buy, it was a chance to do research for a future purchase.

Jacksonville resident Marty Brown brought his son Thomas, 11, to climb aboard boats. Brown recently bought a home with waterfront access and wants to take advantage by getting a boat, a pastime he enjoyed in his youth but hadn’t pursued as an adult. He said he’s leaning toward getting a used boat — it’s just a matter of finding one that fits his needs and budget.

“I’m not in a hurry, but if I can find the right price, we’ll probably pull the trigger,” he said.

david.bauerlein@jacksonville.com,

(904) 359-4581

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