If this is your year to buy a new boat, attending a boat show can be an efficient way to shop and get a great deal. In this boat show guide, we'll explain how to tackle boat shopping at a boat show. We'll explain more about our top boating shopping tips, seen below.
Follow these essential tips when buying a boat at a boat show:
- Set a budget before you go to the show.
- Identify the type of boat you'd like to purchase, plot a course at the show and make a list of the brands you're most interested in checking out.
- Make a deal—with a manufacturer or with a dealer.
- Remember that it's okay to walk away.
Keep reading to learn more about how to shop for boats at an upcoming boat show.
4 Boat Show Shopping Tips to Remember:
1. Start with a Budget
Go to the boat show with a budget and stick to it. Figure out what you can afford for a down payment and a monthly payment—our Boat Loan Calculator can help you calculate this. Then add ownership costs, including maintenance, off-season storage, winterization, fuel, insurance, taxes, and registration. If possible, get pre-approved by a lender before attending a show through your bank or a specialized marine lender.
To learn more, read our Boat Financing Guide.
2. Have a Game Plan at the Show
Most boat buyers have an idea about the kind of boating they'd like to pursue and the type of boat they'd like to own, be it a cabin cruiser or a watersports towboat, or a fishing rig (if you're unsure, now would be a great time to utilize our Boat Finder Tool).
If that's the case, you can narrow down the list of boats and dealers you want to see at the show. You can do some research ahead of time so you can start by looking at specific models. It's okay to call a dealer before the show to find out if the model you're looking for will be on display at the show.
Next, plot a course through the show, especially if it's a large regional or national show. Most of these shows publish a list of manufacturers or dealers that will be in attendance, with a map of the show floor you can use to find their location and plan a route through the aisles.
As you walk the show, take some notes and pictures to remind yourself what you liked or didn't like about the boats checked out. There's often a sign displayed with each boat that lists its price, features, and options, so be sure to snap a photo of that.
3. Make a Deal
Boat and engine manufacturers invest a lot of money in setting up for a boat show, and they are there to do business. Manufacturers often offer dealers incentives to help sell boats at a show.
The dealers will be in a mood to deal, be it with an additional discount on the price of the boat or by offering other incentives, such as free off-season storage, free engine maintenance or winterization for a period of years, or a package of accessories. If the show is in the middle of winter, the dealer may offer to store the boat for you until spring.
4. Can't Find The Exact Boat You Want? Don't Be Afraid to Walk Away
If the boat model you see at the show isn't exactly what you're looking for, ask the dealer if he has a similar model back at the dealership or on order for later delivery that would be more to your liking.
While some manufacturer discounts are only good for the show's duration, most dealers want to sell boats, and if the boat you want is back at the dealership, they will not turn you away next week.
Our Tips for First-Time Boat Buyers
If you are a first-time boat buyer, tell the dealer representative so that he can take the discussion down to your level. A good salesperson will want the first-time buyer to have a great experience—they'd like to sell you your first boat and your next boat. They'll advise on selecting the best model and power option and point out the value of specific boat accessories.
A big boat show can be overwhelming—there's so much to see, so many people, and a lot of walking and talking. Never pressure yourself to decide at the show, especially if you're tired at the end of the day.
If you're torn between two or three similar models, either come back to the show the next day when you're fresh or make plans to revisit those boats at the dealership. Let the dealer know you'd like to come to his store and look at the boat in a quieter setting or even arrange an on-water demo if the weather permits.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in December 2022.