Lifestyle / POSTED 18-Jan-2024

11 Insider Tips for Navigating Boat Shows

1. Do Your Research 

To learn if your area has a boat show, doing a quick Google search should let you know when and where the nearest show is happening. A good list of major shows can be found at which has links to each show that tell about the show schedule, parking, tickets, special events and what companies will be attending.


2. Buyers Be There…Early

Serious buyers should attend the first day of the show. While VIP day usually costs more, there will be less traffic and it will give you first dibs on boats a dealer has
in stock. 

There are so many boats at a show it can be overwhelming. Knowing what models and brands meet your needs will help streamline the shopping process. Get a shortlist and coordinate it with a floor plan of the show to reduce the number of steps.

3. Dress for Comfort

While wearing a commodore outfit or dressing like you’re heading to a fashion show might look cool, it won’t be long before you are heading to the exit if it isn’t comfortable. Wearing new shoes at a show is a rookie move. Instead, wear well-broken-in, slip-on shoes with socks because most company reps will ask you to remove shoes before boarding a boat.

4. Things to Bring 

Take along a refillable bottle to avoid having to buy a $5 bottle of water at the show. In addition to boat catalogs, there’s always plenty of free swag at a show, so bring a tote with a comfortable handle or wear a backpack. If there are outdoor exhibits, take sunscreen. Bring older kids who are into boating but unless you are just looking for a family outing, leave the small ones at home since their endurance might not be up to this marathon. 


5. Navigating the Show

For finding their way around the show, attendees can grab a show program, which usually has a map with a floor plan. If you don’t want to carry it around, take a photo of the map and put the program back on the rack. Use this to construct a route that reduces the number of steps taken. Your feet will thank you later. Larger shows like the Miami International Boat Show and the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show have free apps that have a searchable feature to allow those attending to quickly locate a specific company.    

6. How to Tell if You are Dealing With a Great Sales Associate

A great sales associate is like a matchmaker. They will try to pair buyers with the perfect boat by asking lots of questions about usage, budget and preference. If you get a salesperson who does all the talking and seems to be pressuring you to buy boats in stock without regard for your needs, move on. Have a list of questions to ask. If an associate has to refer to a brochure to answer simple questions about the boat, that’s another red flag.   

7. Know Your Budget and Stick to It

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment and bite off more than you can financially chew. Just looking at the advertised monthly payment only tells part of the story. It’s important to consider all the costs of boat ownership when buying. There’s maintenance, storage, fuel, insurance and more to consider. Moving to a larger boat could even mean having to upgrade the tow vehicle. 


8. Look for Trends and New Gear

Even if you plan to hang onto the boat you have, boat shows are great places to find a new engine, electronics, accessories and toys, which can add new excitement to the coming season. Boat owners can also see what’s new and innovative on the market to help plan future upgrades. Because this is also a gathering of knowledgeable industry insiders, it’s a great place to learn new information about fishing, watersports, entertaining, overnighting
or cruising.

9. Take Photos and Make Notes

If a buyer is comparing several similar models, it’s easy to get them mixed up at the end of a long day. Take lots of photos and, for easy reference later, the first shot should be the boat’s information placard that’s usually displayed nearby. This usually has specs, significant features and pricing, which makes it easy to compare favorites later on. Bring along a notebook to document the features you liked or didn’t like for each model. Sit in every seat and look in every hatch if a model is on the shortlist.

10.Take Advantage of Special Events

Pull up the schedule for a boat show online and look for events like seminars, often given by tournament anglers, watersports pros or experienced cruisers. Sometimes there are celebrity appearances, live musical performances, or social hours toward the end of the day.

11.Buy at the Show or From Your Local Dealer?

While boat shows can offer great show-only deals on boats, if you have a local dealer it might be worth paying a higher price to establish a relationship with them. Many service departments give special treatment to their customers and dealerships have a vested interest in keeping them happy. Some larger chain dealership networks allow customers to buy a boat at a regional show but take delivery through their local dealership.

Whether you go to boat shows for entertainment, information or to buy a boat, it’s a great way to get fired up for the coming boat season.

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