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Get on board and cast off for Tampa Bay boating adventures, island time

By TERRY TOMALIN

Times Outdoors/Fitness Editor

INDIAN SHORES

Boat owner Steve Wacker likes to end his workweek with an evening cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway.

"We grab the kids and head out for some dinner," said the veteran boater. "There's nothing like a trip on the water to wear 'em out."

Wacker, owner of St. Petersburg-based Thunder Marine, loves to fish, scuba dive and hang out on the sand bar with friends and family.

"It's a lifestyle," Wacker said. "Why else would you live here if not for the water?"

The greater Tampa-St. Petersburg area is one of the top boating markets in Florida. The sheltered waters of Tampa Bay and the open ocean of the Gulf of Mexico offer unlimited opportunities to explore.

Boat sales are on the upswing. After several years of dismal sales figures, Florida's marine industry is looking better.

"People are looking for something fun to do," said Wacker, who will unveil a new line of sport boats at this weekend's Tampa Boat Show. "There's been a lot of interest from first-time boat buyers."

But purchasing a boat is a big decision.

Here are some things to keep in mind whether you're going to the boat show or out on the water this weekend.

Ready to test the water?

Before you go to the boat show this weekend, ask yourself if you want to fish or just run around. Boat sales are roughly split between the two markets, fishing and pleasure boats.

If you want to fish, consider a center-console boat. The "bay" boat is the best seller in the Tampa Bay market. These small, light and affordable multipurpose crafts can run in fairly shallow water yet still handle a chop if the seas kick up on the inland waterways.

But if it is a pleasure boat you are looking for, the key features you might want include a cuddy cabin and bathroom. Then again, if you have kids who want to wakeboard, you might be more interested in a tow boat.

Next, set a budget. How much do you want to spend? Do you plan to pay for the boat in one lump sum or through monthly payments?

When you settle on a specific model, check the used boat ads for resale value. If you buy the boat now, what will it sell for in two or three years?

Another factor to consider is storage. Do you plan to trailer your boat? If so, will you keep it in your garage? On the side of your house? In a boatyard? If you store your boat away from home, that will add to your monthly expense.

Don't forget about insurance. You will pay more to insure a performance, or "go-fast," boat than a fishing boat.

Get cruisin'

Now that you've bought a boat, where do you go? Here are Times outdoors/fitness editor Terry Tomalin's top picks:

ANCLOTE KEY

This has always been one of my favorite places in Florida. You can only get there by boat, so that ensures a certain degree of privacy. To keep human impact to a minimum, the state has built pavilions in the middle of the island on the gulf side and one at the north end at the designated primitive campground. The picnic areas have composting toilet facilities, and tables and grills are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no electricity or running water, and visitors must dispose of their own garbage.

THREE ROOKER BAR

It doesn't have much vegetation, but it is popular with boaters, especially on the weekends. It is not uncommon on a fall day to see 100 boats rafting up, so get there early and use proper etiquette.

CALADESI ISLAND STATE PARK

Heading south along the coast, you'll find Caladesi Island State Park. Boaters have a choice to approach Caladesi from the gulf side or drop anchor on the beach outside the marked swimming area. Visitors who enter via the beach should stop at the concession area and pay the day usage fee. Overnight docking with electricity and water hookups is available at the 108-slip marina.

EGMONT KEY

St. Petersburg has its own great family boating destinations at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Egmont Key, a state park rich in history, provides a crucial nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles and numerous threatened and endangered migratory shorebirds. The leeward side of this 400-acre island has a mooring area for private boats.

SHELL KEY

Another great spot is Shell Key, a 180-acre island that also serves as a sanctuary for thousands of protected migrating shorebirds, including the American oystercatcher, least tern, snowy plover and black skimmer.

Florida led all states in boat registrations for 2010, followed by Minnesota, Michigan, California and Wisconsin. In 2010 there were 914,535 recreational boats registered in Florida.

Florida ranked first in the country for new powerboat sales in 2011. The sale of new powerboats, motors, trailers and accessories reached nearly $1.5 billion, an increase of nearly 35 percent over 2010.

Florida ranked first in the nation in number of boating businesses with 5,288, employing 28,372 people.

Why is Florida the No. 1 boating destination in the country and the world?

1. Boating season is year-round.

2. Florida has more than 7,700 lakes, 10,550 miles of rivers and 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, two Intracoastal Waterways and endless blue water on which to boat.

3. There are more marinas and boat dealers in Florida than any other place in the world.

SOURCES: National Marine Manufacturers Association, Marine Industries Association of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Tampa Boat Show

You can view and board hundreds of the latest boats. Also, a 15,000-gallon heated scuba diving pool, marine accessories, maintenance tips, fishing seminars, free boat rides and boat handling courses and attractions. It runs 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. $12, 15 and younger free. Friday special: $2 off advance adult ticket purchase. You can get tickets at the box office or tampaboatshow.com, or call (954) 441-3220. Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St., Tampa.

Super Boat National Championship and Seafood Festival

These are not the typical boats to take out for a spin on the bay. This show and competition features powerboats that hit speeds of 200 mph, with activities on Clearwater Beach and in downtown Clearwater.

Friday: Get driver autographs and an up-close view of the boats in the Race Village in Coachman Park. Also, Blast Friday includes a boat parade. Noon to 10 p.m.

Saturday: Features a seafood festival in the Race Village, fireworks and the Clearwater Star Spectacular with music by Boulder County Conspiracy, the Belloise Brothers Band and Michael Dan Ehmig. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday: The boats launch at 10 a.m. and rev their engines for the 2.5-mile race along the shoreline. The race course start/finish line is at the Sandpearl Resort, 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For a complete schedule, visit clearwatersuperboat.com. All proceeds from the event benefit Tampa Bay Charities Inc. and local marine charities. Spectators free. Some $5-$20 viewing available from Pier 60.

Coming up

Tampa Bay Boat Show: This show offers boats on display, boating and fishing supplies and plenty of other seaside accessories. It runs Oct. 12-14 at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. Free. (813) 621-7821.

Get on board and cast off for Tampa Bay boating adventures, island time 09/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 4:30am]

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