The Mobile Convention Center's main floor was steadily filling up with boats Thursday morning, while a few vendors assembled their booths in the otherwise empty hall upstairs and workers outside constructed a runway for the Dixie Dock Dog competition on the south plaza.
When they walk in the door after today's noon opening of the 55th Mobile Boat Show, though, attendees will find the booths full, boats lined up, dogs diving and a lot more.
Boat dealers said the show is the traditional kickoff to their spring sales season. The benefits of being at the show are increased this year because, for the first time in 3 or 4 years, it's hitting amid a general uptick in boat buying.
"A lot of guys who were looking last year are knocking on the door again this year," said Forrest Long, owner of Bluewater Yacht Sales in Mobile. "Last year, we were just starting to come out of the hole after persevering over 2 or 3 years because of the bad economy when the oil spill hit. I had three sales that didn't close because of it -- two of them with signed contracts."
Andy Newton, a salesman at Gulf Coast Boating Centers in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., said they started moving boats to Mobile on Monday.
New boats in the 18- and 19-foot range and pontoon boats have been the hot sellers already this year, though Newton said pre-owned vessels also have been moving well.
"We sold a lot of our pre-owned inventory last year into the first of this year," he said. "It's their first boat and they don't want to take a big hit on it just to see if it's something they like."
Besides boats of all sizes, show favorites such as the Coast Guard sea rescue demonstration, Alabama Marine Resources Division touch tanks, Dauphin Island Sea Lab display, Camp Rap-A-Hope trout pond and Alabama Marine Police Jet Ski simulator are also scheduled to return.
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