Dock Lines

Dock Lines: Preparing for the San Diego Sunroad Boat Show

Having survived the first wallops of this year’s long-predicted El Niño, like most Californians I’m looking forward to drier, sunny weather, especially for the Sunroad Boat Show, running Jan. 21-24.

As Sunroad Resort Marina slipholders, Arv and I and our neighbors on nearby docks are directly affected by the boat show. Because the in-the-water exhibits take over our slips for some two weeks, we have to leave our docks about a week before the show opens to the public. We’ve chosen to view it as an adventure. This attitude has opened us to many delightful experiences such as exploring other marinas, discovering their distinctive facilities and restaurants and encountering new friends.

This year, with Burgundy needing fresh bottom paint, we’re headed for the boatyard rather than visiting congenial Kona Kai or Shelter Island Marina as in previous years. Yet I often return to Sunroad Marine before the boat show to absorb all the complex maneuvers required to stage a boat show, including erection of the massive vendors’ tent. 

If you’ve never seen an in-the-water boat show come together, you might be surprised how much it resembles a carefully choreographed ballet. Once the resident boats depart, the dance begins. Each arriving boat has its prescribed place in the dance and must arrive on time in correct order to take its position along the docks before the next one can fit into its own assigned slot. 

It’s fascinating watching the boat show coalesce over several days, when show planners morph into boat wranglers, radios in hand, directing each captain where to go, how to position the boat and where to secure lines so the boat stays put. If a boat doesn’t arrive in the specified order it can disrupt the choreography — and find itself reassigned to a less desirable, less visible spot on the outer fringes of the boat show where it’s less likely to attract potential buyers.

Before going to any boat show I always look up the list of exhibitors and vendors on the website ( and check out the seminar speakers’ schedule to determine whom and what I want to see — plus I check out food options.

This year’s Sunroad Boat Show, the seventh at the eastern Harbor Island marina, will be the largest ever San Diego in-the-water show, with 150 boats on exhibit, up from 130 last year, according to Show Director Jim Behun. The boats are evenly split between sail and power and range mostly from 30 to 95 feet, with smaller boats, kayaks and stand up paddleboard (SUPs) shown on land. 

With construction on the new adjacent restaurant complete, Behun was able to expand vendor space, accommodating about 100 this year, focused primarily on boating-related services, products, equipment and amenities. Most years I find something unexpected or quirky that catches my imagination. 

Show-goers will also be the first to see many newly-introduced power and sailboats.

“Because it’s the first boat show of the new year dealers are eager to introduce their latest models at the show,” Behun explained.

Another trend Behun has noticed is that financing is now readily available. Many people are buying new boats, he said, another indication that the Great Recession is mostly behind us.

To get the best from the show, do your homework and plan out your day, leaving time to attend any appealing seminars. Come early to maximize your time, leaving time for lunch while enjoying steel drum music.

When the show’s over, I expect to return to watch the boats peel off at dusk, in a carefully choreographed reverse dance. And, El Niño, please stay away!

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Capt. Nicole Sours Larson

Capt. Nicole Sours Larson has spent more than 25 years boating in Southern California and Mexican waters as well as throughout the East Coast's Chesapeake Bay. A freelance writer, she holds a USCG captain's license and has been writing about boating since 2009. Previously she lobbied on boating safety and education issues for boating organizations at the federal, state and local levels.


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