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Buying at a Boat Show

Shopping a boat show efficiently requires a good plan. Use these tips to make the most of your experience.

David K. Witty

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You may have savvy skipper skills that enable you to chart a course from almost anywhere and make a tricky docking situation look like kid’s play, but do you know how to navigate a boat show? If you’re in the market for a new model this year, boat shows present an excellent opportunity to narrow your search, comparison shop, create connections with dealers and manufacturers, and even negotiate a great price. However, working the displays efficiently requires a good plan. Use these tips to make the most of your experience.

Know Before You Go. Pre-show homework is critical. Narrow down your prospects to a short priority list to make the most of your time at the show. Visit manufacturer Web sites, read reviews and collect technical information. None of this will spare you from due diligence later on, but initially it will help you ask pointed questions when you have a chance to talk to dealers. Focus on the features that are important to you and the way you intend to use the boat, and don’t be afraid to show you did your homework.

It helps to familiarize yourself with the prices of the boats you’re interested in, too. Many builders offer online tools to calculate costs. Finally, prior to the show, try to schedule an appointment with a dealer or builder for a private walkthrough, so you can get all of your questions answered.

Pick Your Day. Try to attend shows on a weekday to avoid the weekend crowds. You’re more likely to meet a company’s top dogs on a Thursday or Friday because they usually come in for the trade/media day and to oversee the setup.

Chart Your Course. Some shows are very big, and as such, can be overwhelming. For that reason, make your first mission a look at the show program and map. Determine the location of the boats and builders you want to see and organize your route so you can hit all of the builders on your list in efficient time. Pay attention to the weather, too. If it’s looking good, see as many boats as you can. That way, if foul weather hits, you can duck in (or duck out) without feeling that you missed anything you wanted to see.

Know Your Source. The exhibitor who pays for the space at a show could be a manufacturer, a distributor, a dealer or any combination of these. If a manufacturer is renting the space, it will have factory representatives working the booth, as well as salespeople representing the various dealers. Each of these dealers may have brought staff to work the booth. Recognize that some of the people who work these shows don’t know a lot about boats, so be sure to find the experts. Some boat show veterans also suggest you assess the caliber of people in the booth. If you’re shopping for a very expensive model, for instance, you don’t want to see too many inexperienced staff, as that doesn’t make for a great impression.

Research and Record. Take along a camera and notebook to record your observations. Grab brochures, too, but take your own pictures because the brochures often leave out images of the features you may consider important, such as key maintenance characteristics in the engine room. While you’re going through each boat, be sure to eye the details, which can tell you a lot about the boat’s overall quality. You don’t want to see sloppy wiring installations or piles of fiberglass dust in the storage compartments. You might also want to note the boat show price and the list price of the boat, so you can compare costs between boat shows and dealers. Later, you can incorporate all of this information into a chart and use it to rank your top choices.

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