PORTLAND – The economic recovery may be soft and unemployment remains stubbornly high but the Maine Boat Show still beckons, as it does every year just before the official end of winter.

The 40th Maine Boat Show continues through the weekend at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

For most, the show offers an opportunity to dream, but it also draws those for whom a watercraft costing something north of $70,000 can be considered a good second boat for a quick run around the bay.

Steve Arnold, the owner of Yarmouth Boat Yard, said that’s why he’s excited about the line of Pursuit boats that just came out, because they’re a smaller add-on to the manufacturer’s existing line, which mostly runs a bit on the large side.

It’s intended, he said, to prompt shoppers to ask themselves, “Why not tie up the 23-foot C230, at $76,500 (boat show price), next to the 31-foot 315 Offshore, that’s also on sale for just $240,500?”

The larger boat, Arnold said, would be great for taking the family up the coast and dropping anchor off Bar Harbor, while the smaller one is for a quick unwind after work.

Arnold said the boat market in Maine remains strong. So far this year, he’s already sold two boats bigger than the 315 — his largest model at the show — that cost $350,000 each.

Boating Industry magazine recently noted that the boat market is picking up and pointed out that it tends to follow the housing market by six or seven months.

Recent signs of improvement in housing help boat sales, the magazine said, because when homeowners feel more secure that real estate values are firming up or rising, the boaters among them feel better about moving up to a larger boat or buying a bigger outboard.

A weak economy and rising fuel prices do put off a few prospective buyers, Arnold admitted, but if you’re worried about the cost of filling the 315’s 284-gallon fuel tank, perhaps a boat pushing a quarter-million dollars is not right for you.

Arnold said he has seen some people trading down, opting for a 30- or 35-foot boat to replace something 10 to 15 feet longer, but that’s largely for ease of use, not cost, he said. And those larger boats that are traded in sell pretty quickly on the used-boat market, he said.

John Lewandowski of North Windham, who has a 22-foot boat for wakeboarding and water skiing on Sebago Lake, was checking out a 32-foot Monterey ($92,900 with a joystick controller) but admitted he and his daughter Emily were window-shopping and not serious buyers.

“We’re just kicking the tires,” Lewandowski said.

Emily was home on college break and Lewandowski said visiting the boat show was intended as an attitude changer more than an occasion to pull out the wallet.

“It’s a sign of spring,” he said, and the show allows his mind to wander ahead a few weeks to warm days on the water.

For boat sellers, the show comes at a key time.

Boats ordered now are usually delivered in six to eight weeks, meaning a buyer could be on the water by mid-May. Boat makers and motor manufacturers tend to offer rebates or free equipment now, they said, but these usually expire by the end of March.

Kurt Gagnon, owner of Gagnon Boats and Motors, was ticking off a list of deals while noting that he also sees a solid market for boats in Maine, particularly after last year’s warm and sunny summer. That led to strong fall sales, he said.

Gagnon used the last few minutes before the show opened to perfect his sales pitch on how a $75,000 boat can be an incredible value.

The boat can be used as a traditional family boat, he said, with the power to pull a skier around a lake. But it also has a bass fishing end, with a seat and electric motor. Plus, there’s room for 12, making it part-pontoon boat, he said.

“Initially, with the price tag, you say, ‘Aaagh!’” he said. “But it’s actually three boats!”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]