The FLIBS jigsaw puzzle

How the world’s biggest in-water show comes together
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Every foot counts as organizers set up the show’s complex layout.

Every foot counts as organizers set up the show’s complex layout.

While the physical setup for FLIBS starts about a month before the show, the planning begins six months ahead of time. Informa contacts boatbuilders, brokers and exhibitors about the displays they intend to have.

“For setup purposes, every inch of beam and length on every boat matters,” says Robert Correa, vice president of operations for Informa. “Think of it as a big Lego puzzle that goes together differently every year, depending on the boats that are in the show. The builders have to commit to which boats they want four months before the show starts. There’s no swapping boats at the last minute.”

The show has 3 million square feet of exhibit space across seven waterfront sites. Hundreds of workers assemble 70 miles of docks, 65 miles of cable, 1,200 circuit breakers and many other pieces of equipment. “There are about 3,000 line items all together,” Correa says.

When the equipment for the world’s largest portable marina is not being used for FLIBS, Yachts Miami Beach, the Palm Beach International Boat Show or Informa shows in Sarasota and St. Petersburg, Florida, it is stored in a 90,000-square-foot warehouse outside Fort Lauderdale. Correa has a staff of about 60. During setup, that number swells to 100, without counting exhibitor contractors.

Near the beginning of October, about 1,400 truckloads of equipment arrive at Bahia Mar, where resident boats have left for six weeks to accommodate setup, the show and takedown. Correa’s crew drives 70 pilings into the water to create the framework for the show docks, which are then attached, leaving gaps or “boxes” for exhibiting boats to enter inside the grid.

“Once the docks are installed, we have about 65 miles of electrical cable that goes in, along with about 1,200 individual circuit breakers for each exhibitor,” Correa says. “The first boats start to show up about two weeks before opening. When the docks are ready, the boats come in, and we fill in the box. That means the section is completed.”

Electricians, working 10-hour days, then move from section to section, installing cables and setting up electrical panels for each exhibitor’s boat.

“Once we fill in a box, that section goes live,” Correa says. “The boats are there for the duration of the show. Nothing can come and go.”

If a boat doesn’t show up on time, the show tries to hold the section open. If it’s too late, another space may be found.

About 10 days before the show opens, Informa’s flooring and carpet departments begin shoreside work. They erect the “megastructure” tents for inside exhibitors. Total square footage for the tents was about 265,000 in previous shows, but Correa says this year will have another 20,000 square feet of tents.

“It’s like a beehive of activity at that point, with workers moving through all the sections of the show,” Correa says. “About a week out, the exhibitor contractors show up and start work on individual exhibits.”

As opening day approaches, the crews often work 12- to 14-hour days. The last boats to arrive are the yachts and super­yachts that occupy the outside docks. They set anchor two to three days before the show opens.

Superyachts are also the first boats to leave when the show breaks down. It takes the crew nine days to move the materials back to the warehouse. The planning and coordination, Correa says, works every year.

“What keeps me up at night is hoping the show will deliver the experience we’ve promised our visitors,” he says. “That’s what really worries me.” — M.V.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue.

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