Boat Show 101

What to know before you go!

Do you find yourself daydreaming about boating in the dead of winter? If you’re suffering from cabin fever, a cure awaits you at a boat show. The best news? There’s likely a show coming to a city near you in the coming months.

Boat shows are more than just excuses to get out of the house. The entertainment value alone makes them worth the trip—there is more to do than just walk the aisles and window-shop.

Boat and engine manufacturers (and at many shows, ATV and RV manufacturers, too) introduce new models that are displayed to the public for the very first time. Excitement builds as the industry is energized by the season ahead. Dealers are eager to show their products, meet new customers and greet loyal owners. Everyone is ready to make a deal, and that is fundamentally what boat shows are about.

Use this handy guide to help you get the most out of the show, and hopefully get the best deal on a new boat.


Getting Around

Boat shows in large cities like Houston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Miami fill cavernous convention centers and arenas to the gills with exhibitors. With only so much time to spend—and more than the eyes can see—planning ahead is a good idea. Compile a list of must-see booths by searching the show’s website. Many have a show floor plan listing of all the exhibitors. Some show organizers even offer downloadable interactive apps to help you navigate the maze of products.


Bring The Family

Don’t go alone and bring the family. You won’t be the only one aboard if buying a boat is on your shopping list. Everyone can see and climb aboard what might be the boat of their dreams.


New Models

Be on the lookout for brands that debut new models at your show. Those in large boat-centric cities are popular stages for casting the spotlight on the latest and greatest models. Factory personnel often attend, giving you a different perspective on the new boats. Seek out designers, engineers and other insiders whose hands-on skills brought the boat to life.


More Than Boats

Premium booth space up front and center is usually occupied by national brands and large dealerships. On the outskirts are must-see products from smaller vendors. Regionally and locally inspired products are the prizes and you can meet the designers and small business owners behind their inspiration. Most are eager to talk boating. You might even score a deal after finding a must-have accessory.


Learn Something New

Everyone comes to see the boats. Don’t miss out on an overlooked gem of boat shows. Check the show website for the seminars schedule and get ready to learn something new. From pro anglers to experts on electronics and watersports you can pick up a lot of knowledge by spending a half-hour at a seminar. Some even come with question-and-answer sessions, and you can meet the experts while there.


Test Drive

In warmer climates you can partake of the most unique wintertime boat show experience of them all, the on-water demo ride. See the boats in natural settings and take a ride to see if the boat is right for you. Factory reps can take you out so you can see how the boat performs firsthand. Enjoy the ride, dream you own it and be prepared with questions when you arrive back at the dock.


Comparison Shop

What could be better than seeing every boat imaginable under one roof? Not all boats are created equal although many might look the same. The boat show allows you to see all of the brands at the same time to narrow down your choices.


Expert Advise

Ask to see a company certified sales consultant who went through the brand’s training program. Factory employees are reliable sources of information, too.


Meet The Competition

Satisfied with the information you received, take a walk to a booth displaying the competing model. Find a reliable sales consultant and let them know your intentions to buy the other brand. Take mental notes of what stands out. Beware of sales pitches that repeatedly put down the competing brand instead of selling the features, advantages and benefits of their own boat. Then, with all the cards on the table you can make the best decision.


Fancy Schmancy

Boats have gone high tech with propriety materials, manufacturing processes and features that are part of the sales game. Some brands even have trademarked terms and names for the features. When the jargon begins, ask the sales consultant to demonstrate what the feature does, not just what it is. 


What You See Isn't What You Get

Boat shows are like speed dating. All the matchmakers (sales consultants) are put under the same roof while the clock ticks away. You are the target. Be prepared for a lot of cross-talking and high-pressure tactics as the consultants compete for the same customer. Be aware—those prices you see might not be for the exact model for which the tag is affixed. Dealers will list base pricing to lure customers into the booth. It’s all part of the game. Plus, be careful when you see a payment plan that just seems too good to be true. Look closely at the length of the loan, interest rate and down payment requirements. It’s better to understand all that early so your fun time isn’t spoiled by hard truths later.


Smartest Buy

If negotiating a deal isn’t your style, there is an easier way to buy a boat. Boating is meant to be fun, so why not begin with the sale? Get started by finding a Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Center booth at the show. The sales process begins with getting to know you, then finding the right boat based on your needs and budget.

Then, the sales consultant will take you through the NO HAGGLE NO HASSLE® pricing. That means nationally advertised prices are consistent across the country—from websites to advertisements to retail showrooms—so everyone can expect the best deal available every day, no matter where they shop.


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