Marine News from the Great Lakes

Show Shopping Smarts

Published: Friday, December 1, 2017
By: Dan Armitage

Thanks to the number of boat shows held this time of year, winter is a great time to begin shopping for a new boat — whether you are in the market for one or not. Some of us veteran owners are always on the prowl for an upgrade, and walk the show aisles as a matter of habit to see what’s new. If you are a first time buyer, in addition to the spectacle of seeing all the new boats first-hand, the local shows offer a wealth of valuable information, and not just about what boats are available. Information on financing, dockage options, and accessories you might want to consider are all available under one roof.

That said, it’s especially easy for first-time boat shoppers to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of models and those options that are available. My advice is: if you’re serious about buying a new boat at your local Great Lakes area boat show, do some pre-show prep work, go with a plan, and plan to go again. And, if possible, enlist the help of a fellow boater who enjoys the same waters and activities that you hope to partake in when you are the captain of your own vessel.

To save time, trouble, and money, prepare in advance for attending the boat show by getting a handle on your budget as well as what type and size of boat you want to buy. Both subjects need to be determined ahead of time by talking with your family, boating partner, or whomever else the purchase will impact. While financing representatives will be on hand at the show, you may want to talk to your bank or lender about pre-qualifying for a new boat loan. Knowing the amount you are able to spend, and having that information available when negotiating with a boat dealer, can be a welcome advantage in the process. 

After you’ve determined what kind of boat you want to consider, and how much you can afford to spend, I recommend checking the websites of the manufacturers that fit your criteria, and their dealers, and studying the models that fit your needs. Ask questions online to help narrow your search, and find out what models will be on display at your local show. That will allow you to concentrate your time at the event looking at the boats that are most likely to meet your needs.

When the dates approach, consider going to the show twice. The first trip can be a visit with family members in tow to get their “take” on various models. That initial visit can be on a busy weekend because you are just looking to see what the show has on the floor. Use that initial trip to see first-hand the models you’ve considered in the pre-show homework, screening those that don’t meet your needs. If any strike your fancy, talk to a sales person and get a business card, but don’t get involved in any serious negotiating other than asking the rep if they might have a pass that would allow you to return to the show for free to take a second, more serious, look at the model you have in mind.

For that follow-up trip, try to attend during a mid-week day by yourself or with your experienced boating friend, when the crowds are thin and sales people have time to work with you. That’s the time to investigate the models that have your interest in detail and when you can start the process of negotiating the best deal for your budget. 

Whenever you attend your local boat show, make sure to take advantage of the event’s unique ability to allow you to comparison shop boat prices, models, and manufacturers that share the same sales floor. Don’t be afraid to shop deals between competing dealers and to ask about “unadvertised” boat show specials that they might reveal once they know you are serious and shopping for a deal. 

Savvy sales reps shouldn’t be offended, and expect you to shop around for the best deal; that’s what boat shows are all about. That and having fun simply “messing about” in a room full of brand new boats.


 This article first appeared in the Winter Issue (Jan/Feb) 2018 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Boating 101


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