An adult slice of administrative hell—that’s what organizing a go-fast boating event looks like to me. Nailing down permits, dockage and event insurance. Securing safety assets. Managing registration. Booking hotel room-blocks, figuring out meals from lunch stops to post-run dinners for hundreds of hungry people.
Does any of that appeal to you? I didn’t think so. And you already have my take.
For Stu Jones and company at the Florida Powerboat Club, producing large-group events in the Florida Keys has always been a challenge—and one that is rapidly expanding to other areas of the Sunshine State. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
Stu Jones of the Florida Powerboat Club does it for a living. And lately he has seen his role as an organizer get a lot more challenging thanks to explosive growth in the recreational boating world.
In just two years—2020 and 2021—the COVID 19 pandemic did for powerboating what marine industry marketing types have been trying to do for decades. It brought new blood to the market.
That you have to wait two years for most new performance boats is in part a byproduct of broken supply chains. But mostly, it’s about the kind of product demand that the marine industry has never seen. Even before current supply chain nightmares took hold, the wait for most new performance boats was about a year-and-a-half.
New boaters discovered what you already knew. For small groups, boating is the ultimate form of enjoyable, social distancing. That, plus significant migration to Florida—particularly Southwest Florida—in the past couple of years, has translated to more people on the water in the Sunshine State.
Which in turn translates to more pressure on marinas and their precious dock space, as well as the waterfront restaurants and hotels that service go-fast boating events. The boating market blew up during the past two years. Marinas, hotels and restaurants did not.
To accommodate 55 boats at this year’s Tampa Bay Poker Run—15 less entries than the event had in 2021—Florida Powerboat Club head Stu Jones had to shut down registration early and get creative with the event schedule.
But even if they had, they couldn’t have kept pace with demand. If you think it takes a long time to build a performance boat, try building a marina.
During last weekend’s Florida Powerboat Club Tampa Bay Poker Run, I caught up with Jones. He’d been dealing with logistical curveballs—all stemming from more and more boats on the water during weekends—to make it work. His solution was a two-day poker-run format and a post-run raft-up with lunches supplied in advance by the club.
In short, Jones had to get creative to make Tampa happen. And you can expect a lot more of that from the club in the future.
“The reality of the situation is that Saturday boating in populated areas is getting to be very congested no matter where you go in Florida,” he explained. “Having an organized group event doesn’t mix well with that, so we are starting to push more of our boating activities to Friday.
“The same holds true for actually holding functions like waterfront lunch stops and so on,” he continued. “It’s easier to do an organized lunch on a Friday then it is on a Saturday, especially when you’re trying to feed 250 people and secure enough dock space for 60 boats.”
Such changes will continue for the Florida Powerboat Club and other entities. It’s not a new idea—the Desert Storm Poker Run organizers, for example, began holding their main event on the Arizona side of Lake Havasu on Fridays years ago—but it’s one you’ll see implemented more often at Florida Powerboat Club happenings and other events.
“Going forward in 2023 and beyond, you’re going to see a lot more Friday poker runs in a reversal of what’s been the norm,” Jones said. “Saturdays will be more-casual fun days. Of course, Saturday night will still be the big blowout party but that works well because it’s a land-based event and that’s the easy stuff when it comes to organizing boating events.
“It’s all about creating the best experience we can for our club members,” he added. “And that means adapting to a changing set of circumstances on the water.”
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