In addition to showing vessels, a boat show will offer visitors services and “stuff” for boats and about boats under one roof. Bigger vessels are shown at the marina organized by dealer and manufacturer. It can be a bit intimidating and confusing unless one knows how a boat show is organized.
From the industry’s viewpoint, boat shows are about getting the new boater hooked on the lifestyle and enticing experienced boaters to upgrade into bigger vessels. The show promoters typically want to attract the largest audience that falls into these categories. Usually boat shows, which are primarily for consumers, are not free – the cost is in the $10 to $15 range. Having to pay something for the ticket tends to filter out the “just lookers” and casual visitors compared to those who are more passionate about boats. You can usually save a few dollars by pre-purchasing the tickets. It all occurs under one roof and in one marina where they tout their latest equipment and vessels. The exhibitor pays for the space at the show whether in the hall or at the marina berth.
The exhibitor could be boat manufacturer, a broker/dealer, an equipment maker/supplier, a services provider, or a combination of these. At the harbor, it is likely that the boat manufacturers’ representatives will be located at or near the dealers’ berths. The booths in the building may have the owner, salespeople, service technicians and/or friends and family to help out.
If you are relatively new to boating, the regional boat show will have a number of benefits which should be explored. The major production boat builders, semicustom boat builders and niche manufacturers will most likely have a presence at the show with a selected number of vessels from their product lineup. Their new vessels will be shown through their dealer network in the area. The vessels being shown will most likely come from the dealer’s inventory and in some cases will contract with a recent buyer vessel to allow showing the recently purchased vessel. Expect that the salesperson showing the vessel will usually require shoes removed prior to boarding…others may not.
So, all in one location, attendees can see many sailboats and powerboats (some shows are only for sailboats or only for power boats). This is a great way to see many types of vessels and manufacturers in a few days – to kick the tires, so to speak. For newcomers and first-timers, be cautious about impulsive shopping before doing diligent research on the type of vessel you are seeking and the history of the manufacturer. As one will learn, after years of sailing and owning vessels, that there is no “perfect” boat but it all involves compromises in terms of size, hull type, rig type, equipment and so forth. Production vessels compared semi-custom builders, and coastal cruisers compared to blue water vessels will have significant price differentials.
Unless, one has very knowledgeable boating friends or hires a boat consultant, a newcomer to boating will need to research, study, and attend boat shows for a about a year to be able to make an intelligent choice in selecting a boat to buy. The boat shows allows time to ask many questions, make notes, and take pictures of whatever runs through your mind. Taking pictures is very helpful because brochures sometimes leave out images of features important to you. Personally, whenever I run across a vessel design or equipment that strikes me as a good or novel idea, I take a photo of it. For example, several years ago, several manufacturers made navigation tables with recessed insets for laptops – a great idea, most people use laptops aboard.
The vessels shown are usually polished, clean and the interior is sometimes staged with dinnerware, stemware, candles and other items to appeal to the ladies. After all, buying a sailboat is an emotional experience for most people. The marketing strategy is put you in a receptive scene. Sometimes the dream and reality do not mesh. Are you interested in a floating condo or a solid cruiser to take you Mexico with enough stowage space for provisions, spares and equipment. Beyond the polish, glitter and gleaming woodwork, here are a few tips:
- look at the workmanship in the more hidden spaces of the boat
- look for items to be through-bolted and well bedded/sealed (hinges, stanchions, deck hardware, ports, etc.)
- how easy is it to access the engine for service and repairs
- is the anchor locker and anchor roller big enough to handle and store adequate ground tackle?
- is wiring well organized and labeled?
- are the seacocks and thru-hulls installed where they are easily accessible?
- check the basic quality of the interior carpentry for misaligned panels, creaky floors, etc.
- are there enough handholds below to use while in underway at sea
- are the dimensions adequate (feet hanging over bunk, head hitting the headliner, etc.)
Visiting the boat show will also enable you to meet and talk with many boat salesmen and brokers. It is important to find a knowledgeable broker with whom you can establish rapport and some trust. This is especially true for a newcomer to the game. Talk to many brokers and put a few on your shortlist to interview later. They will be invaluable for advice and representing your best interests as your boat hunt progresses.
Boat shows will also have a limited selection of used boats. Even if your interest is to buy a used vessel, going to the boat show will help to qualify the manufacturers and how their older models stack up against the newest ones. Finding a good broker to work with should be a top priority.
Pricing and deals are other topics that buyers compare at boat shows. Typically, manufacturers set prices for the various modes with standard commissioning packages. Shipping and options are extra. Special show prices or free option packages are often offered to entice purchase commitments at the show. Make notes of the discounted prices and packages as they will come in handy for negotiating comparables and previous year models. Keep in mind that comparable pricing can be difficult to ascertain. Typically, the show discounts are also available after the show, if there is inventory. Show discount percentages tend to vary depending on the dealers’ inventory, manufacturers’ inventory and state of the boat economy. The critical boundary condition is that you stay in your budget zone, i.e, be clear about how much of a boat you can you buy maintain.
Remember, unless you have thoroughly done your research and have done your homework on pricing, do not buy a boat impulsively on your first visit. However, if you are already a knowledgeable boater and are going to the boat show to do serious negotiating, my advice is to take at least two days. On day one, go when the show opens and on your second day go when it closes. I believe that the best deals are usually at the end of the shows. Come early for the previews and return late for the negotiations. If not a cash deal, getting pre-qualified for a loan prior with a lender usually yields better interest and terms.
Finally, boat shows offer something for everyone, even if it is just get a “boat fix” in the off season. Usually, there are events for kids, as well as adults. Events can include demo rides, presentations by sailing personalities, and others. Organizers also, sometimes foster a festival atmosphere and bring in trop rock music talent to entertain the show goers. Many boat shows have informative seminars presented by knowledgeable sailors who are glad to pass on their knowledge and skills to attendees. Boat shows also promote education, safety and protecting the environment to tomorrow’s boaters.
My first love of sailing was germinated at small boat show on the Mediterranean coast of France in 1974. Maybe it was the salty air, the glow of the sunlight on the water or the relaxing sensation that comes with being on the water … perhaps it was the challenge of living in small spaces. After returning to the US in 1979, I purchased my first sailing vessel, a Tayana 37 from a broker/dealer in Jack London Square. Wear comfortable shoes, go forth and mingle with the boats -- you too will be smitten.