4 tips for buying at boat shows


Boat shows make it easy to look at many different models while spending as little time and energy as possible. Here’s how to find the right boat the right price.

1. Know what you’re looking for

Don’t make the biggest boat-buying mistake: too many people buy the wrong boat and are sorely disappointed later. A few examples that we’ve seen:

  • The kids needed a head, but the bowrider didn’t have one.
  • The family wanted to waterski, but the cottage taxi boat was too bulky and didn’t have a big enough motor.
  • The guy fell in love with a narrow-beam mid-cabin cruiser, but it wasn’t roomy enough for his large family. Once they were all aboard, it was tippy and wouldn’t perform under the load. Worst of all, it turned out to be an “excuse me” boat. (Every time people moved, they had to say “excuse me” to get around in the small space.)

2. Narrow it down

First, decide what you can afford, and then think about what you want out of a boat. Ask yourself several questions. What will your primary activity be? (For example: waterskiing, day cruises or sailing, fishing, overnight trips, long cruises, cottage taxi, speed boating, et cetera.) What will your secondary activities be? Once you’ve figured these out, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for.

At the show, look for boats that meet these criteria. Ask questions, compare models and brands, and try them out (if possible).

3. Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to step into booths and ask questions—learn everything you can! And don’t discount someone’s knowledge just because they’re not slick. Sometimes you’ll talk to service technicians, who may not be great salespeople, but they can give you more detailed and technical answers.

When talking with salespeople, be honest about your boating knowledge and experience. They’ll usually respond with a positive attitude and answer questions at the appropriate levels.

Learn about the specifics of each deal that interests you, such as what equipment is included in the show special. Ask several reps the same questions at different booths.

4. Try ‘em out

Sure, you can’t take them on the water—but you can still get on board. Get a feel for boats by sitting at the helms, walking around, and lying on the beds.