How to Shop at a Boat Show

boats at the boat show

Every year, millions of people head to boat shows to see the latest models, experiment with vessels they’re interested in, and possibly negotiate for a great deal. It’s definitely possible to find an amazing boat for an equally amazing price at a boat show – but if you want to maximise your chances of success, it’s important to know the right way to shop at these expos.

The Pros and Cons of Boat Shows

First, we have to discuss the pros and cons of shopping at boat shows. Boat shows have a lot of advantages, including:

  • Show-only deals. Manufacturers and dealers love boat shows because it gives them an opportunity to advertise “show-only” deals. You can often find a new boat for much lower at a boat show than you’d pay at the dealer.
  • In-person browsing. This is also your best opportunity to browse a selection of boats in person. You can walk aboard, get your hands on the vessel, and see how it looks when you’re standing next to it. If you buy a boat online, you’ll often get to see it before finalizing the deal – but at a boat show, you can see many options at once.
  • Free advice and networking. Boat shows are also a great opportunity to network with other boat lovers and dealers. You can talk to competitors to get the truth about the downsides of various options and make some professional contacts.

However, boat shows aren’t always the best place to find (and buy) a boat.


  • High pressure. Boat shows can be high pressure sales environments. If you express interest in a vessel, you might talk to a salesperson who pushes you to close the deal as soon as possible.
  • Only “decent” deals. While boat shows certainly have good deals to offer, they typically aren’t the “best” deals you can find. If you’re willing to look at various online platforms, you can often find even better prices.
  • Limited used inventory. Boat shows are fantastic for discovering new vessels from major manufacturers. But they typically have limited used inventory. If you’re looking for a good deal on a used boat, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
  • Timing. If you buy a boat at a boat show, you won’t get to take it home immediately. There’s usually a lengthy delay between your finalised purchase and the delivery of the boat.

Knowing these, how can you make the most of your boat show experience?

Know Your Goals Going In

Think carefully about your goals before you attend.

For example:

  • Overall purpose. What are you hoping to accomplish by visiting this boat show? Do you truly intend to purchase a boat? Or are you just shopping around for ideas?
  • Budget. How much boat can you afford? Make sure you understand the true costs of boat ownership and your personal financial situation before walking into the boat show. It’s important to set a firm upper limit if you intend to buy.
  • Specific ideas. Do your homework before visiting. Are there specific brands or models you’re interested in? Do you have questions for the salespeople you’re going to meet?

Keep an Open Mind

A boat show is a great opportunity for discovery, especially if you’re a newcomer in the boating world. But you won’t get much value out of the experience if you go into the expo with your mind made up – or with preconceived notions about what you’re going to see. Try to keep an open mind and be willing to evaluate a wide range of options.

Get Hands-On

One of the best advantages of a boat show is that you’ll get to see tons of different boats up close – so take advantage of this. Most boats are completely open to touring, so get on deck and see each vessel for yourself. It’s the best way to get acquainted with the many different models that exist.

Talk to Everyone

Talk to everyone you can. While your primary goal may be looking at and evaluating different boats, the personal experience of a boat show is just as valuable (if not more so). Talk to salespeople; they’ll be able to offer you advice, give you detailed descriptions of the vessels they sell, and possibly point you in the right direction. Talk to other vendors and experts; they may have further advice and learning opportunities for you. Talk to other attendees; it’s a great way to connect with fellow boat owners and, of course, learn more about your potential purchase.

Take Your Time

Chances are, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the boat show. Allocate at least a few hours to perusing the grounds. If you’re in a hurry, you’re likely going to miss something important – or worse, you could make an impulsive decision. Plus, if you’re taking your time, you’re more likely to feel relaxed and genuinely enjoy your experience.

Price Compare

While browsing the selection of boats at a boat show, you’ll likely see some attractive prices – slashed down from their MSRP. But just because it looks like a good deal doesn’t mean it is one. If you see a model that looks interesting, run a quick Google search to see if it’s advertised online for a cheaper price.

If You Want to Make an Offer, Negotiate

If you do decide to make an offer on a boat at a boat show, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Oftentimes, you’ll see a marked down price – but that doesn’t mean it’s the lowest the salesperson is willing to go. You may be able to get a better deal just by asking.

Boat shows can be a great way to browse a selection of different vessels and see how they look and feel up close – but they don’t always have the widest selection or the best prices. If you’re looking for a new or used boat, you should also consider shopping online. Browse our selection of boats for sale today!

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