by Glenn Harris

Yachting is unlike anything else. The chance to chart your own course and go where you want, with whom you want, and as long as you want. It is the ultimate freedom to share time with friends and family out at sea. Everything is taken care of by your professional crew on board, there for the sole purpose to take care of all of your needs. Yachting is the ultimate privilege reserved for the limited few who have the means to do so and you have the ship to prove it. Whether it is on your own yacht or a charter, the experience signifies that you have arrived. For five days each October, a celebration of life on the water takes place in a showcase of boats made for the pond behind your house to the most opulent megayachts in the world. It is the greatest show on earth; and this is not the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. It is the Fort Lauderdale Boat show where literally a sea of boat buyers, sellers, and enthusiasts descend on Florida’s mecca the boating world.

Fort Lauderdale is the home of FLIBS which has aptly nicknamed the yachting capital of the world. To say that the five-day event is gargantuan would be an understatement as it takes place over 90 acres and showcases over 1,500 yachts and boats and generates close to $2 billion for the Florida economy. The event is held annually each October which is important to note as boating manufacturers release their new production models by the fall. This ensures guests have complete access to the newest production models which cannot be found elsewhere. Although the event is headquartered in the Bahia Mar Yachting Center, it takes place over seven locations.

The FLIBS dates back to 1959 when boating enthusiasts were invited to partake in the show’s first exhibition at the Lauderdale Marina. The number of exhibitors amounted only to thirteen which is a stark difference from the 1,000 exhibitors seen today. This drastic change in growth for the show can be attributed to Kaye Pearson, a local entrepreneur whose company took charge in 1976. Pearson completely reinvented the show aesthetically to be more like a party than an average boat show. His changes included adding the word “international” to the show’s name, moving its dates to the fall, and upgrading the event completely with on site-food and alcoholic vendors. Switching focus to the present day, the show is now owned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which has expanded Pearson’s international focus to include exhibitors representing 52 countries.  It is clear that FLIBS has outgrown its humble beginnings to become the must-go-to hub for international yachting and boating connoisseurs.