The northern eye wall of Hurricane Irma swept up Bill Keogh’s Carolina Skiff, Sophia, and spun her upside down like a wrestler in a power slam. After the storm, she lay hull-up at the marina at Old Wooden Bridge Fishing Camp in Big Pine Key.
Now, thanks in part to an insurance check, Keogh is in the market for a replacement, and at the perfect time, too. Later this week, he’ll make the three hour-drive north to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
The annual showcase is expected to teem with fellow boaters impacted by Hurricane Irma.
“Enough time has passed, enough insurance checks have been cut, that they probably will shop,” Keogh said.
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He hasn’t attended the show in 15 years, he said, but will travel there this year in the hopes that a new boat will help him restart his kayak business, Big Pine Kayak Adventures, by Thanksgiving. Of his 140 kayaks, about 55 survived the storm — some turning up as far north as Daytona Beach — and now all he’s missing is the skiff.
Enough time has passed, enough insurance checks have been cut, that they probably will shop.
Bill Keogh, owner of Big Pine Kayak Adventures
Keogh said he didn’t get as much as he expected from his insurance claim on Sophia — about a third what he thought her true value was — but with some savings, he think he can manage the $25,000 to $40,000 price tag on the boat he wants.
“[The boat show] gives me the opportunity to pick the right one and take my time,” Keogh said. “I’d like to get up there and just get on the boats and see how they feel and what the layout is and what I’d like to modify.”
The boat show kicks off its preview day Wednesday and then runs Thursday through Sunday across six marinas in Fort Lauderdale and the Broward County Convention Center. More than 1,200 vessels will be displayed in the water, with another 400-plus on land from about 1,400 exhibitors.
Show organizers are forecasting a busier-than-usual event: Last week, online ticket sales were 16 percent ahead of the same time in 2016, said Andrew Doole, vice president and general manager of Informa, the company that runs that boat show. About 100,000 people attended the event last year, a 5 percent increase from 2015.
The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show will showcase more than 1,200 boats in the water and more than 400 on land and about 1,400 exhibitors.
Part of that is the Irma effect, he said.
“We expect there will be a lot of insurance checks that will be spent at the show,” he said, both from boaters looking for new vessels, parts or repairs and marinas looking to rebuild docks and boat lifts.
It’s still unclear how many insurance claims have been filed related to Irma; the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation doesn’t subdivide Irma insurance claims to reflect boat losses. As of Oct. 20, 79,401 claims had been reported for other lines of business — the designation that would include cars and boats. Nearly 61 percent of those claims have already been closed.
Overall, more than $5.3 billion in insurance claims have been filed since Irma’s passage on Sept. 10.
Both the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Boat Owners Association of The United States estimate the boat loss during Irma — numbers that will likely be available sometime in November — will be far below the losses during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when 65,000 recreational boats were damaged or lost.
“There were some boats that were lost and there will be people looking for new boats,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which runs the Miami International Boat Show in February. “That will play itself out over the next 18 months or so and it will have a positive impact but it’s not going to be anything big.”
There were some boats that were lost and there will be people looking for new boats...it will have a positive impact but it’s not going to be anything big.
Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association
The $36 billion U.S. boating industry is already sailing smoothly as it is, thanks to strong consumer confidence bolstered by a low unemployment rate (4.2 percent in September) and high stock market, Dammrich said. Unit sales of new powerboats increased 6 percent in 2016 and are expected to increase another 6 percent this year and through 2018, the marine manufacturers association predicts.
That wave of strong sales, helped along by Irma claims, will likely mean a busy Miami boat show come February.
Still, that doesn’t mean some boaters in the areas hardest hit by the storm — particularly in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean — will be able to break away from rebuilding to attend the shows, Dammrich said.
“To bug out during this time, it’s kind of challenging,” Keogh, of Big Pine Kayak Adventures, added.
Unit sales of new powerboats increased 6 percent in 2016 and are expected to increase another 6 percent this year and through 2018.
But Doole of the Fort Lauderdale show said he’s been surprised by the number of vendors from the Caribbean that are still able to make it out to the show.
“We thought some of the large charter yachts ...might not come, but I think the charter brokers got creative and are sending some of the clients,” Doole said.
And, added Dammrich, the faster they get new boats, the faster they are back in business and on their feet.
“If you area charter boat captain and you need that boat to make a living, you are going to find your way up to these shows to get what you need,” he said. “The fact that boat sales are strong and consumer confidence is strong and more people are buying more boats, I think that will kind of overwhelm the negative.”
If you go
The 58th Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show
Where: Across seven locations: Bahia Mar Yachting Center, 801 Seabreeze Blvd, Fort Lauderdale; Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd, Fort Lauderdale; The Sails Marina, 2150 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale; Hall of Fame Marina, 435 Seabreeze Blvd, Fort Lauderdale; Fort Lauderdale Hilton Marina, 1881 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale; Pier 66 Marina, 2301 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale; and Las Olas Municipal Marina, 2 South New River Dr. East, Fort Lauderdale.
When: Preview day on Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
How: Preview tickets are $46.50 and general admission is $29 for adults and $12 for children ages 6 to 15. Children under 6 enter free.