A more hands-on approach for visitors

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The Miami International Boat Show/Strictly Sail Miami is more than a boat show. It's an experience, with attractions designed to educate, entice and excite.

One of the most heralded new features is the Discover Boating Resource Center. It was tested at the Tampa (Fla.) Boat Show, and based on positive results there, show manager Cathy Rick-Joule expects it to be a success in Miami.

The interactive educational series takes a hands-on approach to training, with free daily boating seminars followed by in-water clinics to apply skills learned in the classroom. About 500 people went through the experience in Tampa and Rick-Joule is hoping to get at least 2,000 in Miami. Attendee preregistration began Jan. 20, although spaces will be kept open for sign-ups at the show.

The sailing portion of the show also will include more hands-on activities, with 90-minute lessons available. Boat rides will be available again, too, Strictly Sail show manager Kevin Murphy says.

Rick-Joule says the show also is launching a program called Dealer Connections, a VIP program of sorts designed to bring in more dealers and allow them to set up appointments with manufacturers. With about six weeks until the show, 75 manufacturers/brands had signed up to take part. Dealer invitations were to go out in January. Rick-Joule hopes to attract about 100 manufacturers and 200 dealers.

The Affordability Pavilion, the Big Game Room and the Miami Herald Discover Boating photo contest all return to the show. New features include a Dive and Travel Harbor, a "Be a Diver" pool, a Coastal/Outdoor Living Pavilion, and an opportunity to meet Russell Newberry, star deck boss from the show "Deadliest Catch."

At the sailboat show, attendees will have an opportunity to meet Zac Sunderland, who briefly held the title of youngest solo circumnavigator in 2009, and check out the new "Yacht to be Green" exhibit. Returning features include the Author's Corner, daily sailing seminars and Kids Aboard, a program in which youngsters help build a 10-foot wooden boat.

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue.