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Boat show big business for Lake Lanier companies
Lanier Tech making announcement at show
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More than 600 boats will be on display for the rest of the week at the Atlanta Boat Show at the Georgia World Congress Center. The show will host a slew of Hall County and Lake Lanier businesses and organizations. Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Boat Show.

Lake Lanier businesses are heading to Atlanta for some fishing — but this week they’re looking to land clients instead of stripers.

The four-day Atlanta Boat Show, one of the biggest boating events east of the Mississippi River, begins Thursday at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Now in its 56th year, the show attracts businesses from Florida, the Northeast and the West Coast, but with the show happening less than 50 miles from the Buford Dam, it’s a huge event for Lake Lanier businesses and organizations.

Some 600 boats will be displayed in the mammoth event space, which is expected to draw about 25,000 attendees, according to event organizers.

Atlanta Boat Show

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta

How much: $14 for ages 13 and up; free for children 12 and younger when accompanied by a paying adult

More info:

Local dock builders, marinas, boat dealers, organizations and educational institutions are playing a large role in the event and make up a significant portion of the vendors in Atlanta.

As a result, the show is not only a showcase of extremely expensive boats or fishing equipment and expertise in the Southeast, it’s a forum for innovation and news around Lake Lanier.

This year, Lanier Technical College will reveal its plans to establish a marine technology degree program that for now will focus on engine maintenance and repair but could eventually encompass a wide range of disciplines.

Lanier Tech President Ray Perren will discuss plans to launch the program in 2019. The move is intended to offer students a path to employment in a growing field in Georgia, which ranks ninth in the nation in sales of boats and equipment — adding up to $550 million in sales in the state, according to the organizers of the Atlanta Boat Show.

Perren will discuss the program at the show beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday at the World Congress Center.

Meanwhile, Hoschton’s Windsong Sailing Academy is ringing in its 20th year at the show.

“It’s one of the largest events for the sailing community, and it’s been a hugely successful event for us in the past years,” said David Crumbley, owner and operator of the academy.

Crumbley and his American Sailing Academy-certified instructors offer a wide variety of classes and training on everything from introductory sailing to survival at sea.

Windsong Sailing will offer seminars on Friday, Saturday and Sunday focusing on introductory sailing, celestial navigation and chartering tips and tricks.

“Coastal navigation is what you do near land when you can see coastal features,” Crumbley said. “Celestial navigation is what you do in the middle of the ocean.”

Chartering tips and tricks will focus on how to rent a sailboat while traveling. The academy’s general instruction includes about 200 classes, but the academy also offers just-for-fun programs for both singles and couples.

The Atlanta Boat Show is going to be a critical event for Matt Thompson and his son, Tyler, this year. They’re launching their smart-dock startup: Dock IQ.

Thompson talked to The Times in June about his business, which was then called Watch My Dock — a combination of hardware and app that would allow dock owners to keep tabs on their equipment while they were away.

But since then, the idea has grown into a full-fledged smart dock business that mirrors what Amazon’s Alexa has brought to the home.

“It’s really evolved. It started out just being a dock monitoring service, but it really ended up being more of a security system, a video camera — and not just monitoring the dock depth — but partnering with the dock dealers,” Thompson said. “We’re adding GPS tracking, even to the dock so if you’re dock breaks loose (you can find it).”

The business is based on a piece of cellular-capable hardware installed to the dock that includes a security camera. It connects to two apps, one provided to the customer and another provided to dock dealers.

Customers are able to connect to their security camera, monitor dock depth, check the GPS devices attached to their boats and other vessels, and — if they’ve hired a dock service company — to even request their dock be moved with the changing lake level.

The business was borne out of Thompson’s own frustration. Living in Atlanta but owning a home on Lake Lanier, he found he was always worried about the condition of his dock and boat.

“My focus was taking care of that dock that I spent $40,000 on, taking care of my boat lift that I spent another $10,000 on. I’ve got a Sea Ray sitting on top for another $30,000, and I’ve got two Wave Runners sitting over there. If you add all that up, you’re looking at $100,000,” Thompson said in June. “That’s what I was worried about: how to protect that.”

But now, he’s created an Uber-style app for dock service. His app will allow lake dwellers to simply tap their screen and notify their dock servicer that they need their dock moved.

Thompson’s hope is to save money for both dock companies — who spend huge amounts of cash on gas, equipment and people to boat around the lake checking docks that don’t actually need to be moved — and customers who pay potentially hefty annual subscriptions for dock service.

Look for the Thompsons and Dock IQ at the Marine Specialties booth at the boat show.

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In addition to fishing equipment, the Atlanta Boat Show will include announcements from Lanier Technical College, the launching of new businesses and a large number of Lake Lanier’s existing businesses. Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Boat Show
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