While a hefty refund from Uncle Sam might help, it is likely not needed to find an affordable way onto the water through the Progressive Atlantic City Boat Show, which returns for the 39th year Wednesday through Sunday, Feb. 27-March 3, at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

Maybe getting winter weather off one’s mind takes priority over a major purchase, and if so there is a ton of activity packed into 500,000 square feet of showroom space to kindle the timbers of every family member. Tickets are $16 per person and free to those age 12 and under with a paying adult.

“It’s a sales environment where you really can get great deals, but if you’re just looking for a fun weekend, there’s lots to do at the show that the whole family will enjoy,” says boat-show spokesperson Carrie Waible. “Kids just adore the touch-a-boat tour.”

Touch-a-boat allows children to get onboard several rescue and recreational boats, have their “passports” stamped at each stop, and earn a prize if they visit all the passport vessels. There are also interactive games such as a scavenger hunt for prizes, where clues are given away via Instagram; a fishing simulator that lets show-goers replicate the thrill of reeling in big-game fish such as tuna or marlin; and a paddle pool where attendees can try out pedal- and paddle-powered craft.

But if finding a bargain on some form of boat is the prerogative, more than 500 models will be available to choose from, starting with dinghies, kayaks and inflatables up to what is dubbed the “Queen of the Show” — the Galeon 430 Skydeck — an ultra-luxurious, 43-foot motoryacht. There will also be a myriad of engines, trailers and boating-and-fishing supplies for those looking to upgrade or accessorize what they already have.

“There really are boats across many different budget points and interests, including several in the $200 to $300 per-month price range,” Waible says. “That’s indicative of what the industry is driven by — boats that are less than 26 feet in length, are trailerable, and are designed for family fun. Most of what is on the floor will be along those lines, but there’s also tons of big yachts and sportfishers like you’ve never seen before.”

Waible says that personal watercraft — or PWCs such as jetskis and waverunners — continue to drive the a large portion of the boat-sales market.

“PWCs are a very affordable and accessible way to get on the water,” Waible says. “There are PWCs that are financeable for $99 per month. These are crafts that only one to three people can get on, but if all you’re interested in is getting out and having fun, this is a viable way to do it.”

A trend in recent years has been an upswing in wakesport boats.

“Wakesport boats are the hottest watersport trend right now,” Waible says. “That’s where you put a wake surfboard behind a boat, and the ballast of the boat creates a surfable wave on any body of water. So the technology of this boat is actually creating a more reliable wave than the ocean would.

“Personally I find it easier to wake-surf than to surf in the ocean. And it’s fun and a lot easier than you might think.”

As technology improves and demand increases, wakesport boats are becoming more affordable to the general populace. Currently a wakesport boat goes for about $45,000, and would be financed for roughly $400 per month.

“That isn’t affordable to everyone, but it’s reaching the point where it’s becoming more affordable for more people,” Waible says.

Education is a key component

As has been the case throughout its nearly four-decade run thus far, several boat-show seminars are scheduled as part of the price of admission, the majority hosted by the South Jersey-based Recreational Fishing Alliance and focused on fishing techniques.

Some boat-show stations are educational components within themselves, including a booth that illustrates the history of the Battleship New Jersey, one of the most famous warships in United States military history. The 887-foot-long battleship was launched from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on Dec. 7, 1942, exactly one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust America into WWII. The ship now serves as a floating museum on the Camden waterfront, and in 2004 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’ll hand out brochures and fliers of upcoming events, and we’ll have a plastic model of a projectile casing (similar to ordnance fired by the ship’s 16-inch gun turrets) that stands about 5-foot-10, and makes for a cool photo op,” says Battleship of N.J. spokesman Jack Willard. “We’ll bring a little video display of our very successful overnight program so that people can learn what it’s like to spend a night aboard the ship, and what it’s like to be a sailor in the U.S. Navy, at least for one night.”

The battleship’s overnight program is hugely popular with scouting troops, says Willard.

“And not only with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but with families too,” he says. “It’s a great educational experience. The boat show has been phenomenal in their assistance with getting the word out about everything we offer, and it’s a lot of fun for us to attend.”

Visit BattleshipNewJersey.org for more.

Captain’s Table benefit

The Captain’s Table dinner gala returns as part of the A.C. Boat Show 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, inside the Convention Center. The event has grown into one of the biggest annual benefactors in a combined mission to make sure children in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties are properly nourished.

About two dozen area chefs and restaurants donate food and fine spirits, and entertainment is provided by the Egg Harbor Township jazz band and popular magician Chad Juros. Tickets are $125 per person and include admission to the boat show any time that day. All proceeds benefit the local hunger-relief efforts of the non-profits Community FoodBank of New Jersey-Southern Branch and Let Us Eat, Please, Inc.

The gala was started to augment a program that attorney James Cooper created in 2015. Cooper’s daughter, Cynthia, is a teacher who called to her father’s attention how heavily many underprivileged children relied on free meals at school. When school was not in session during the summer, those children lost that important source of sustenance, so Cooper established the “Let Us Eat, Please” program that now serves nine N.J. school districts and provides groceries to eligible families.

Cooper, who died in April 2017, was renowned as a caring person who spearheaded a long list of humanitarian causes. Among them was having taken leave of absence in 1966 from the law firm he co-created nine years prior, Cooper Levenson, to volunteer with President John F. Kennedy’s Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.

“Jim was not much of a bench sitter,” says Let Us Eat, Please Chairman Ken Calemmo. “When he saw an issue, particularly a social injustice, he got on it like there’s no tomorrow. He embraced it and was passionate about it.”

“Ken and his team always go above and beyond what they have to for this event,” boat show spokesperson Carrie Waible says. “They rally hundreds of people together each year to support this – people who have come to view it as a tradition. It’s been a fantastic partnership.”

The event also includes two auction items – one for a private five-course dinner for 10 prepared in the winner’s home by chef Michael Brennan; and the other for a painting created during the event as part of a live art demonstration by artists Christian Correa and Leah Morgan.

“We’re also doing a wine pull, where for a $35 donation participants will win one of 100 bottles of donated wine that run the gamut from good, great and outstanding,” says Community FoodBank spokesperson Renate Taylor. “Ticket holders reach into a bucket and pull our a cork to find out which wine they won. This was a huge success last year.”

Call Renate Taylor at 609-383-8843 ext. 122, or Ken Calemmo at 609-572-7500, for more information.