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Boat Show Game Plan

Tips on how to maximize your experience at the show. 

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. 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. Experienced 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.

The after-purchase support is every bit, if not more important than the actual purchase,” said Paul Cummings, MarineMax Regional President. “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?

  • people stepping on board a large boat at night at an outdoor boat show

    Tip 1: Be A VIP

    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.
  • people walking along the dock at an outdoor boat show

    Tip 2: Chart Your Course

    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.
  • people taking off their shoes boarding a boat

    Tip 3: Dress For Recess

    Wear comfortable clothes 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.
  • people walking up a set of stairs to look at boats at an indoor boat show

    Tip 4: Quality Control

    Board 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. 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.
  • people walking along the dock at an outdoor boat show

    Tip 5: Take The Helm

    Your 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.
  • indoor boat show

    Tip 6: Read The Fine Print

    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 tank of fuel and maintenance," continues Cummings. “These things could come as a surprise expense later if the shopper doesn’t ask these questions early on.

  • purple lights on at night during an outdoor boat show with several people

    Tip 7: Relax And Enjoy

    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.
  • Aerial view of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show

    Ready for a Boat Show?

    Now that you know how to maximize your time at a boat show, put your skills to the test and join us at the upcoming Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show! Now is your chance to step aboard boats of all shapes and sizes including several new models! Talk with the experts and other boaters about all the exciting features and innovations. Share your boating stories and adventures. With one place to come for everything boating, you'll find the boat of your dreams - to turn your days and weekend into vacations of a lifetime! 
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