Boat Show Buying Tips: How to Get the Best Deal

boat show buying tips

If this is your year to buy a new boat, attending a boat show can be an efficient way to shop and a great way to make a good deal. Here are some tips for working the boat show.

Follow these basic tips when buying a boat at a boat show:

  1. Set a budget before you go to the show.
  2. Identify the type of boat you'd like to purchase.
  3. Plot a course at the show; make a list of the brands you're most interested in.
  4. Make a deal—with a manufacturer or with a dealer.
  5. Remember that it's okay to walk away.

Find A Boat Show Near You


buying a boat at a boat showStart with a Budget

Go to the boat show with a budget and stick to it. Figure what you can afford for a down payment and a monthly payment—our Boat Loan Calculator can help you calculate this. Then add in the costs of ownership, including maintenance, off-season storage and winterization, fuel, insurance, taxes and registration. If you can, get pre-approved by a lender before you go to the show, either through your bank or through a specialize marine lender.

To learn more, read our Boat Financing Guide.

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 kind of boat they’d like to own, be it a cabin cruiser or a watersports tow boat 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 some 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 bigger 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. Some bigger shows have a “preview day” with a premium admission fee that gets you into the show a day before the official opening, which can make it much easier to navigate the floor and see the boats.

As you walk the show, take some notes and pictures to remind yourself what you liked or didn’t like about the boats you look at. There’s often a sign displayed with each boat that lists it’s price, features and options—take a picture.

boat show discounts


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, and 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.

Don't See Exactly What You Want?working with dealers at a boat show

If the boat model you see at the show is not exactly what you are looking for—maybe you don’t like the color or you are looking for a certain accessory, or even if the boat at the show has a bigger engine or more accessories than you can afford—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 duration of the show, most dealers just want to sell boats, and if the boat you really want is back at the dealership, they are not going to turn you away next week.

Dealers often don’t have the sales force to staff a boat show, and will fill in with extra employees from other departments, or even family members or friends. Before you ask for a 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, not the dealership owner’s brother-in-law.

Learn more in our Certified Dealers Guide.

First-Time Boat Buyers

If you are a first-time buyer, tell the dealer representative so that he can take the discussion down to your level. A good sales person will want the first-timer buyer to have a great experience—they’d like to sell you your first boat and your next boat—and will offer advice on selecting the best model, the best power option, and point out the value of certain accessories, or help your consider costs of ownership.

Keep Shopping

A big boat show can be overwhelming—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, 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.

Read Next: Boat Shows Beginner's Guide

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