Tips for Shopping and Buying at a Boat Show

Tips for Buying a Boat at the Show

By Kim Koditek,

Winter boat show season is one of the best times all year to buy your next craft. Manufacturers and dealers want to move last year’s models and book sales before the season even starts, so they often offer nice incentives and are ready to negotiate. Not only can you get a great deal, but you also ensure your new vessel will be prepped, equipped and ready on Day 1 of the boating season. If this is your year to buy a new boat, attending a boat show can be an efficient way to shop and best way to take advantage of seeing so many dealers and a variety of boat models all in one place.

Heading out to a show featuring 400,000 plus square feet of exhibit and hundreds of boats gives you plenty of options—and may have you wondering where to start. We’ve put together these expert tips to help guide your way and make the process easier.boat show image



A little bit of prep before heading to the show can make the process even more fun!

Narrow down your selection.

If you’re unsure of the type of boat you want, use the handy Discover Boating Boat Finder Tool or talk with an expert at the show’s Discover Boating booth.

If you know the kind of boating you want to do and kind of boat you’d like to own, use the Internet to narrow down the brands and models you’re most interested in. Then use the show brand directory to find your desired brand and write down its exhibiting dealers and their show locations. It’s okay to call a dealer to confirm the model want will be there.

Understand you budget.

Go to the boat show with a budget and stick to it. Talk with dealers at the show about costs of ownership—such as maintenance, off-season storage and winterization, fuel, insurance, taxes and registration. (You can get a quote from Progressive® Insurance right at the show.) Before you go to the show, getting pre-approved for a loan through your bank or a specialized marine lender can save tons of time. has a handy Boat Loan Calculator and Boat Financing Guide you can use to help determine your budget. 

Plan your Show Day.

Now plot a course through the show with the Interactive show map. Make a list of the brands you’re most interested in. You can even do a little research prior to the show to help you narrow down specific models—and it’s okay to call a dealer ahead of time to confirm whether a certain boat you’re looking for will be on display at the show.


boat buying 1


Your Game Plan

Try to see all your desired boats during your first couple hours at the show. Then take a  break, have a bite to eat and discuss what everyone thinks. Head to the dealers with the 2-3 boats you really like for final selection and negotiation. As you check out boats, take photos and notes to remind yourself what you liked or didn’t like about the boats you’re considering. Grab a brochure, or take a photo of the sign displayed with each boat that lists its price, features and options.

Shop Dealers, too!

You’re not just shopping for a boat, you’re shopping for a dealer, too. Is their specialty the type of vessel you want? What sets them apart? Are they close to where you live? Are they close to where you boat? It’s great to research dealers online or make some calls before the show, too.

Make a Deal

Boat and engine manufacturers often offer dealers incentives to help sell boats at a show, and the dealers will be in a mood to deal. It can be additional discounts on the price of the boat or other goodies, such as free off-season storage, free engine maintenance/winterization for a period of years, or a package of accessories. The dealer may offer to store the boat for you until spring.

Talk to the Right Person

Dealers often fill in their staff with employees from all departments, or even family members or friends. Before you ask for an in-depth tour of a boat or a serious discussion on price, make sure you are talking to a qualified member of the sales staff. And if you have questions about service, or financing or storage, see if you can talk to these experts.

Don't See Exactly What You Want?

If a boat model you see at the show is not exactly what you are looking for—maybe you want a different color, certain optional feature or alternate engine package—discuss it with the dealer.  He might have just the model you want at the dealership, have one coming from the manufacturer, or can special order for you. While some manufacturer discounts are only good for the duration of the show, most dealers will be flexible to make a sale.

boat buying 3

First-Time Boat Buyers

If you are a first-time buyer, tell the dealer representative so that s/he can talk at your level. Good sales people will want a first-timer buyer to have a great experience—they want to sell you your first boat and your next boat and your accessories—and will help you select the best model, the best power option, and highlight the value of certain accessories. They can also help you consider costs of ownership.

Keep Shopping

A big boat show has a lot to offer—there’s so much to see and so many people and a lot of walking and talking. Never pressure yourself to make a decision at the show, especially if you’re tired at the end of the day.

If you’re torn between two or three similar models, 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.

Here’s a handy work sheet you can print out and use at the show to compare specs and financial summaries.