Boat Show Game Plan

Our tips on how to maximize your shopping time at the show.
By Louisa Beckett
When the kids go back to school and the days start getting shorter, boat show season is around the corner. Whether you plan to attend your local show or make a vacation out of visiting one in a sunny destination, a boat show is a great place to check out next year’s boat models, ogle the latest electronics and shop for gear. If you’re in the market for a new boat, it also can mean a real opportunity for savings. Not only can you comparison-shop among a wide selection of vessels at a show, but you also may find deals you won’t see anywhere else.

Most boat shows cover a lot of acreage with a bewildering array of products on display, so it’s important to formulate a plan in advance in order to save your feet – and your wallet – when you get there. The first step is to analyze your boating habits and dreams, and decide what sort of vessel fits your on-water lifestyle best.

“Is the boat shopper looking to go on cruising adventures, ski, fish or just enjoy a lazy, relaxing day on the water?” asks Paul Cummings, General Manager at MarineMax Pompano Beach in South Florida. “The more insight boat shoppers can give into their boating lifestyle, the easier it is for a professional sales associate to match them to the right boat.”
Once you know the type of vessel you’re looking for, a visit to the boat show’s website should provide a list of the brands in that category that will be on display – along with the dealers representing them. Shoppers who haven’t narrowed their dream boat down to a single category should be sure to look for dealers offering more than one brand.

Experience boaters know you’re not just shopping for a new boat – you’re also shopping for a dealer. At the show, you won’t be able to see the dealership’s “brick and mortar” behind that shiny new boat on display. If you don’t already have a relationship with a dealer, it’s a good idea to pre-screen the candidates before the show, either on the internet or, ideally, in person.

“The after-purchase support is every bit, if not more important than the actual purchase,” said Cummings. “The buyer should know that the support will be there for any need that should arise. Does the dealer offer educational classes? Do they provide road and emergency service? Who will train me in how to best use and maintain my new investment? Are there any planned activities like owner getaways to enhance my boating lifestyle?”


In addition, it pays to ask whether the dealer has an in-house financing department and a well-equipped service shop staffed by certified technicians. Here are some additional tips to help you maximize your time at the show:

Many shows offer a “Prime Time Preview” or VIP access on the first day. You will have to pay a little more for your admission ticket, but the chance to see the show with smaller crowds and shorter wait times to get aboard the boats on your list will be worth the upcharge.

Scouting the booth or slip numbers for your target brands and the dealers you plan to visit in advance can save you hours of wandering the aisles or docks at the show. Some shows have downloadable maps on their websites; all of them give away free show guides at the front gate. Spend a few minutes over a cup of coffee marking the locations you want to visit on the map so you’ll have an efficient route to follow through the show.

Wear comfortable clothes to the show that will give you the freedom to climb over gunwales, through hatches and into engine compartments. Most dealers ask you to remove your shoes before boarding a new boat in order to avoid scuff marks; wearing slip-ons instead of shoes that tie will save you time in the long run.

Once you’re aboard a boat you’re considering buying, take your time and inspect the quality of its construction. Open hatches to see if they are finished inside as well as out. Check the back-end access to help electronics. Make sure you can easily reach each engine’s service ports. Get off the boat and sight along the hull sides to look for imperfections in the fiberglass.

You top-choice boat may look terrific fluffed and buffed for the show, but how is it going to feel to actually drive it? Sit or stand at the helm and visualize taking it out on the water. How are the sightlines forward, aft and to each side? It’s also a good idea to lie down in the berths to be sure they fit your frame. You might even take a pretend shower in the head.

Some boat builders and dealers advertise boat show specials and incentives at their displays. If a great deal or discount is being offered for your dream boat, you may save a few bucks if you buy it before the show ends. Boat show demo boats typically are equipped with upgraded power and every conceivable option, however. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure that “what you see is what you get.”

“You want to make sure everything’s included in the purchase price: Coast Guard gear, full take of fuel… and is maintenance included?” asked Cummings. “These things could come as a surprise expense later if the shopper doesn’t ask these questions early on.”

Sometimes, a boat with a higher price tag backed by a top-rated dealership represents a better value. “Some manufactures will offer incentives for the boat show shopper, but the best incentive is finding the right boat brand offered by the dealership that best serves their needs,” Cummings said.

Don’t forget, boat shows are designed to be fun, with a festive atmosphere, food and drink, and lots of eye candy. A day a boat show beats a day at the office anytime.

Be sure to visit your local MarineMax at a boat show near you this season. We have lots of exciting things coming up, especially at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show (October 30 – November 3, 2014, Fort Lauderdale, FL), the Miami International Boat Show (February 12 – 16, 2015, Miami, FL), and many more!

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