Andrew Doole first worked the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in 1982 and frankly, things could have gone better. The boat show moved that year from Bahia Mar to Port Everglades, a decision that sounds quaint now as today’s shows are at Port Everglades, Bahia Mar and a handful of other locations. But back then, this was a big deal.
Originally from a coastal town in the English county of Essex, Doole had been in the U.S. for just about a year. He got here just in time for the new location – and some less-than-ideal weather.
The weather that year was bad and the waters were rough, which isn’t exactly the ideal scenario when you’re trying to dock lots of yachts in a port. They’d brought in a water barrier to try and calm things, but it proved ineffective. The show had to close a day early.
“You started in the worst case scenario,”says Doole, who since 2008 has been chief operating officer of Show Management, the company that runs the boat show. “Baptism by fire – everybody mad at you.”
In the three-and-a-half decades since then, Doole has seen some changes. The show was still big in those days, but it didn’t have the scope or stature it does now.
“It had the name ‘International’ but it wasn’t truly international until about 10 years [after] I’d been there. It had the name but it didn’t really have the clientele.”
Today, it’s got the clientele. Oh boy, does it have the clientele.
“[In a] seven-site show, we’ve probably got 1,200 boats on water and probably another three, 400 boats out of the water,” he says.
It’s not the kind of operation you sort out overnight. Take the docks. No marina has enough docks to take all the boats that get packed in at the boat show, so they have to bring more in. Getting the docks ready is a job that takes all summer. And it’s not just a matter of the docks themselves.
“We’ve got six miles of floating dock that we’ll launch … and probably 16 miles of cable that we’ve got to have for power,” Doole says.
And those are just a couple of details. There are, Doole says, “lots of different subcontractors – electrical subcontractors, four or five different tent companies because no one company has enough equipment or manpower to do the event.” They deal with two different crane companies, barges – you get the idea. “There’s probably in total about 30 subcontractors,” Doole says.
Many of those subcontractors also work on the Miami and Palm Beach boat shows, which are also run by Show Management. Doole says that experience helps. But even with large groups of seasoned pros, there’s no way to take all the hassle and potential problems out of something this big. Months of prep might go into the show, but as the show opens, there’s still typically plenty to do. The Wednesday before the Thursday opening tends to look like the boating version of a college exam-time all-nighter. “There’s a lot of people up for 36 hours getting the show going,” Doole says.
It stays hectic on the first day.
“There’s still issues of getting last-minute people in, last-minute boats in, freight that hasn’t got cleared out,” Doole says.
By mid-afternoon on Thursday, it starts to calm down. That’s when boat show organizers can sit down – and have meetings with attendees about future shows.
It’s been 35 years since that first, ill-fated boat show, but Doole still finds the work interesting. For one thing, Show Management does boat shows all over.
“The shows are always changing,” he says. “We’ve got Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Sarasota, St. Pete; we’ve done the Texas panhandle. It keeps life interesting; it’s a constantly changing scenery of shows. That’s what makes it fun.”
And once a year, they stay home and put on the big one. You never really put on the same Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show twice – with an event this big and high-profile, you’re always trying to outdo the last one.
“Every year you try to change it up, you try to do something new,” Doole says. “You’re constantly trying to push the envelope … change the show every year to make it more interesting and exciting.”