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BUFFALO style -- usually starts by hitching a boat on a trailer to a car or truck.

So, it's no surprise that the Buffalo Boat Show, opening today in the Buffalo Convention Center, has for the first time in its 22 years included truck and van dealers. Even if shoppers aren't in the market for a new vehicle they can talk to the experts on what kind of a vehicle they need to tow their boat.

"We're trying to do something different," said Vance Olson, of Olson Marine, the show manager. "Eighty percent of the boats bought today end up on the highway."

Indeed, the typical Buffalo boater owns a power boat that is stored at home and towed to a marina or small lake on weekends or for longer vacations.

To appeal to that customer, all of the 15 boat dealers are offering their version of the small power boat. An additional five dealers are showing variations of the personal power craft, which sell under various brand names including Sea Doo and Polaris.

"It's a growing business," said Judy Warren, manager of Appolson Performance Center in Hamburg, a Polaris dealer. The crafts that are also known as jet skis and jet boats sell from $4,999 to $6,299 for the newest model, a SLX high performance Polaris with a 90 horsepower engine.

As part of their lure to the younger boating set, the personal water craft are striking for their bright, hot pinks, purples and blues.

Smith Boys of Hamburg is showing a bright purple and white 16-foot SeaRay that seats up to five and costs $10,400.

"It's really a fun toy," said Bob Keen, Smith Boys manager, citing the craft's easy handling and versatility, especially in shallow waters.

As any visitor will see, the Buffalo show highlights modest-sized boats. That's a function first of the facility itself, which limits the height of boats, thereby excluding sailboats and yachts.

"This is an affordable show," said Olson. "We're not trying to sell 45-foot yachts here."

The largest boats on display are 28 footers -- one by Olson, a mid-cabin Larson that sells for $52,000; the other by Anchor Marine, a sun bridge cruiser Bayliner offered for the same price. Both vessels are powered by 7.4 liter BravoIII 330 horsepower engines.

Anyone who has traveled to other cities for national boat shows knows that this event and last month's show in Niagara Falls are small and limited. And there doesn't seem to be any way around that.

Teaming up for one larger show wouldn't work, organizers said. While there is some overlap among dealers and patrons, organizers say they draw their own crowds from different areas.

"Our focus is the boaters who are looking for the trailerable boats," said Olson.

The Buffalo show also draws dealers from the Southtowns and Rushford and Lime Lake. "People don't want to buy a boat from a dealer that's more than 20 miles from home," he said.

Besides, he added, blizzard conditions kept a lot of people from the Niagara Falls show. Organizers are hoping that the start of spring will draw boaters to the Buffalo Convention Center.

Serious shoppers will find that there's enough time to order a boat for the start of the season. It takes two weeks to a month to get delivery and May 1 is the earliest start for Buffalo's season.

The show, which is sponsored by the Metro Marine Dealers, will continue through Sunday. It will be open from noon to 10 p.m. today through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The cost is $6 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-12.
If you've decided to learn how to race sailboats, the China Light Women's Sailing program will offer a free workshop on April 5 in Obersheimer's Sailor Supply, 1884 Niagara St. The program is aimed at teaching women how to become crew members for women's racing offered by the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club on Tuesday nights during the summer sailing season. The program will be held from 7 to 9 p.m.

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