I have lost count of the amount of times in the past 15 years the Captain and I have gone to boat shows. Our main shows have been the St. Petersburg and Miami Boat Shows, because of their sailboat emphasis and proximity to home. My bucket list includes going to the Annapolis Boat Show some day, just because I think every boater should attend it at least once in a life-time. We have never been able to go because of work schedules and distance, but at least one of those is no longer a problem.
- Comparing boats. Back in the day, before we purchased No Ka Oi, we went to boat shows to look at boats. So we could dream, drool and dillydally. Of course for those of you who do not yet have a boat, this is reason number one to go to a boat show. Even if you cannot afford a new boat, or aren’t quite ready to take the plunge, boat shows are the place to see many different boats in one location. You can compare what each brand offers, what you like and don’t like in lay-outs, hull designs, size and amenities. You can also begin to narrow down your choices, and come to terms with what you may have to do without, unless you have an unlimited budget! There is nothing more magical than going back and forth between your favorites and visualizing sailing away.
- Hands on comparison of gear and equipment, and boat show pricing. Pictures of the water maker and seeing the actual size of the components can be eye opening. how items actually work can also help you narrow down your selection. We purchased a set of life-line fender holders after seeing how smoothly they worked, after taking them home and putting them to the test, we purchased another set. Allow time to see new widgets and paraphernalia, get ideas for things to budget for in the future or to go back and improvise your own similar solution. Always ask how long their show prices are good for, some only offer specials for the actual show dates, others will offer them for a month or more out.
- Returns, exchanges, and talking to the manufacturer in person. Last year we were focused on resolving our electronic navigation chart needs. Our Ray Marine system came with Navionics chart cards, but we found out that we could trade in our current cards for another brand. After going back and forth between vendors with our various questions and concerns, and by being able to view and compare the actual workings of the charts, we decided to stay with what we had. This year we wanted to talk with the manufacturer of the SSB system we were looking at before we met with the vendor to finalize the purchase and get the best show price. These tasks were made much simpler by having everyone and everything at one convenient location. We have exchanged items that were defective, been handed brand new replacements (thank you Magna Grills,) and determined that we should shop for a new dinghy, when it became clear that the manufacturer of our slightly out of warranty one, that was literally falling apart at the seams, wasn’t going to be help us.
- Clearance items and show specials. We have purchased line, cushions, fabric, clothing and a variety of miscellaneous items on clearance. Vendors usually have an item or two they have brought to the show that they would rather not pack up and take home or last years model on clearance to make way for the new. Last year we purchased off shore life vests with tethers for a great price because they were the previous year’s model. This year the Captain got a great jacket because they didn’t have the clearance one in his size, but offered him a similar style at the clearance price.
- Seminars and experts. Look at the seminar offerings and pick ones that are helpful to you and attend. Also, go to the book tables and talk with authors who have expertise in what you are planning on doing. Buy their books if you have the budget and space, but even if you don’t we have found them to be helpful resources. We were able to attend a seminar by Chris Parker this year on weather and speak with him about some of our questions on the best way to receive his broadcasts. In previous years we have attended cooking, provisioning, and gear seminars. One year, I had several great conversations with a gentlemen who wrote a book about re-using jars of all kinds for canning foods aboard.I won’t break my rule of five by making this an item, but, yes we have purchased things we thought were a great idea in the moment, but in the end were just trappings of impracticality…think Ginza knives and Fuller brush salesmen. The best way to avoid these purchases is to have a list before you go to the show, make a wish list of items for the future, and budget for an unexpected purchase. Walking away and coming back if you still think it is a good idea in a couple of hours can also keep unnecessary items off your boat. There is probably nothing wrong with the mooring ball grabber that we purchased, but now that we are actually out here, we aren’t grabbing mooring balls all that often. The money spent on this item may have been better re-allocated to something we needed more or at least a bottle of rum.
Finally, dress comfy. Unless your boat shoes are as good to walk miles in as your sneakers, leave them at home, most brokers won’t let you wear shoes on their boats anyway. I also suggest planning more than one day if your list is long. We have actually drove to Miami two times in one weekend, because our one day wasn’t enough time to do everything we needed to accomplish. And don’t forget pre-sale tickets are cheaper.
What’s your best boat show how too or your worst impulse purchase??? We would love to know.