Buying a Boat Online: Virtual Boat Shows & Digital Marketplaces

buying a boat online

Buying a boat is not the same experience it was before the COVID pandemic, which shouldn’t be a surprise—very few things we do today are. But luckily, the internet can help to mitigate the adjustment. You can investigate, research, and yes even shop for boats online. And a big part of the experience is virtual boat shows and online digital marketplaces.

Explore the 2021 Ultimate Boat Show Insider Guide


virtual boat shows

Virtual Boat Shows

“Attending” a virtual boat show may seem a little bit odd at first, but most of us are quickly becoming accustomed to virtual visits and remote meetings. Why should it be any different with boat shows? Let’s consider the reasons you might attend an in-person boat show:

Why Should You Go To a Boat Show?

  • To see a wide variety of different boat makes and models, all at the same time in the same place.
  • To comparison shop between similar boats.
  • To see all the latest and greatest boating accessories.
  • To attend the free seminars, educational workshops, and demonstrations.
  • To get the best deal on a new boat.

What is a Boat Show?


What Can You Expect from a Virtual Boat Show?

When it comes to virtual boat shows, you can still do all of these things. Virtual boat shows allow you to utilize one digital hub to navigate between a huge number of different boats and accessory gear in a matter of minutes, versus the hours it would take to try looking up information on one different website after another.

They still have many of the same seminars and educational programs as in-person shows and you can usually still ask questions and interact with the experts. They’re just held virtually instead of in person, just like many modern board meetings and staff training events.

And what about the number-one thing many boaters have in mind when they attend a boat show, getting a great deal? Boat dealers are just as motivated to sell during a virtual boat show as they would be during an in-person show, and as you check out the different boats you’ll still come across countless special boat show offers.

How Do I Test a Boat I Find on a Virtual Boat Show?

We do need to note that yes, it’s true, you can’t physically stand on the deck of a boat or go for a sea trial during a virtual boat show. And we recognize that it’s tough to judge a boat comprehensively while in the virtual format, alone.

So when you find a boat you like at a virtual boat show there’s a good chance you’ll still plan to go for a sea trial via your local dealership prior to sealing the deal. And if there are special boat show offerings you don’t want to miss out on, don’t worry, most boat show contracts include a contingency allowing for a sea trial.

So you can “buy” during a show, and then go to the dealership to test the boat out, before officially taking delivery.

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Digital Marketplaces: How to Buy a Boat Online

For people who are relatively new to boating, one of the toughest things about online boat shopping is figuring out exactly what type of boat will be best for you and your family in the first place. That’s what Discover Boating is all about, and we think that if you spend some time perusing our pages, you’ll find it incredibly beneficial. We’d suggest starting with a visit to our Boat Finder.

find the right boat

Finding the Right Boat

The Boat Finder allows you to check off some boxes indicating:

  • What sorts of activities you like;
  • How many people you want to go boating with;
  • What type of propulsion you may favor;
  • And whether you plan on trailering or not.

Then, the Boat Finder serves up your potential options. You can also choose to look at boats by category, and check out the particulars of every style of boat ranging from power cruisers to pontoon boats.

Narrow Down Your Favorite Activities

Another place at Discover Boating which many people who are relatively new to boats might find particularly useful is our Activities page. Here, you can choose to view boat types by activity and learn which different categories of boats are best for the things you enjoy doing when you’re out on the water. And remember, you can also download our (free) Buying Your First Boat digital guide, which covers numerous aspects of the boat buying process and becoming a boater.

Explore Specific Boat Models

After you’ve narrowed down what types of boats you’ll be most interested in, you’ll be ready to move into gathering more in-depth information about specific models via the online experience. While you can’t touch the hull or feel the fabrics on a boat during a virtual show or while boat shopping online, there’s still a wealth of information you can gather.

23 Most Affordable Entry-Level Boat Models


Specifications, Photos & Virtual Tours

Naturally, basics like a boat’s specifications, layout, and level of outfitting can researched.

boat specs and performance

You’ll also find that photographs and virtual tours can be very helpful when you’re checking out a boat remotely. But the number of photos and just how comprehensively they cover any one specific boat varies greatly from one manufacturer’s website to the next. That’s another reason why viewing at a virtual boat show can be helpful. Often you’ll find additional information and different photographs than the website provides, and in some cases you may be able to interact directly with a dealer to make specific requests for additional details and/or photographs.

Performance Information

Another big factor that may be difficult to consider from afar is performance. Luckily, finding unbiased performance reports for many boats can be accomplished via a virtual visit to the manufacturer of the engine(s) it’s equipped with. Many engine manufacturers record and publish critical details like speed and fuel burn at varying rpm levels, range, and mpg, for the boats they outfit. These are usually quite reliable and since the numbers are gathered by the engine manufacturer, who generally equips a wide range of boat builders, they’re not likely to be biased.

As you view these performance reports remember that exact figures are bound to vary a bit from other boats of the same make and model, depending on load and sea conditions. Fortunately, the vast majority of these reports do provide information on variable like these. So when you read them, always be sure to also look at the number of people aboard, the fuel level, sea state, and wind speed.


certified boat dealers

Outside of virtual boat shows put on by reliable organizations like the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), when shopping in any online format you must always, of course, be aware of the possibility of encountering less than scrupulous people and entities.

The best way to make sure you’re dealing with someone you can trust is to stick with Marine Industry Certified Dealerships. These are boat dealers who have signed on to uphold a long list of commitments established jointly by the NMMA and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas (MRAA), and they have to meet a number of benchmarks to attain certification. Making sure you’re interacting with a certified dealer—whether in person or over the internet—is probably the single most important thing you can do to make sure you’re choosing a reliable dealer to work with.

There is, of course, one thing that no virtual boat show can replicate: the excitement and fun of walking down the docks or through a convention center, surrounded by row after row of gleaming new boats. Don’t worry, folks, those days are sure to return eventually. But until then, trying out virtual boat shows and online boat shopping is the next best thing.

Read Next: Tips for Working with a Boat Dealer

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