By: Ashley Lizzi on February 21st, 2022
6 Insider Tips for Buying a Boat at a Boat Show
It’s the middle of winter and I’m no longer excited when I see snow falling. It’s cold and I can’t walk to my mailbox without nearly slipping down the driveway.
I’m thinking ahead to warmer days and it hits me, I want a new boat. I’ve been an avid boater all of my life and the old pontoon is nearing its end. After a long run, it’s time to trade her in.
Where do I go from here? I could keep Googling and researching for a few more months, but then I probably won’t have a boat in time for summer.
I could visit a few different boat dealers in my area which is a great choice, but it’s cold out and I want to stay inside where it’s warm.
How can I effectively shop for a new boat in the middle of winter and secure my family’s summer on the water? If you can relate, let’s talk about a shopping opportunity that may be your ticket to a fun boat season.
Our sales team at Barletta Pontoon Boats attends nearly 150 different boat shows each show season. They travel to support our dealer network at these shows and are there to help you through the shopping process.
Boat show season has so much to offer if you’re interested in purchasing a new boat. If you’re ready to drop anchor, I’ve got some tips to make sure you get the most out of your boat show experience.
1. Define Your Needs
Before you go to the show, it’s helpful to have a rough idea of what your perfect day on the water looks like. Is it fishing, tubing, lounging, cruising, all of the above?
Knowing how you will use the boat will be a great starting point for shopping all products at the show. That said, be open-minded because you might learn something that changes the picture of your perfect day on the water.
Another way to narrow down what you’re shopping for is by knowing your goals. A few examples might be:
- I’m looking for this type of boat...
- My budget is…
- I want to see brands X,Y,Z in person…
- I want to get to know my local dealers…
- I want to find the most outrageous...
Setting goals before you shop a boat show will help guide you through the sea of options. Boat shows typically host multiple dealers that carry all different types of brands, makes, and models. The large number of options can become overwhelming if you don’t have a goal in mind.
A common mistake that many shoppers make is taking advice from their BFF who thinks they’re a boat expert; hear me out on this. This person may have the best intentions and truly wants to see you happy, but they’re not helping your cause.
They may have been a boat expert 15 years ago, but so much has changed in the marine industry, especially in the last handful of years. Be open-minded, talk to multiple dealers, manufacturing reps, and other boat owners to get a true feel for today’s boating climate.
2. Know Your Water
If you’re a long-time boater, this may be an afterthought for you. But, if you’re new to the scene, you may want to learn a thing or two about the body of water you plan to boat on.
There are many aspects of water that can play into your boat buying decision. For instance, do you plan to boat in big or small water?
If you plan on boating in big water that has lots of tall waves and long distances, you may want to consider a tritoon if you’re looking at pontoon boats. However, if you boat in small, calm water a bitoon will be all the boat you need.
These types of characteristics about the body of water you plan to boat on will be great information for anyone helping you shop such as a salesman from the dealership or a manufacturing rep from a certain brand.
Other factors to consider are a trailer and storage. Will you be towing the boat to the water or will your boat be parked at a dock? Either choice will affect your buying decision so it’s important to vet this out before heading to the boat show.
Another important thing to note is if you boat in salt water or fresh water. The type of water might change what brands you can consider, or even what boat type you can shop for.
3. Talk Boat Trailers
If you’re shopping at a boat show and you’ve narrowed down the dealer you want to buy from or the brand you’re planning to buy, it’s important to talk about boat trailers immediately. It may be an afterthought while at the show, but it will be a key element to the delivery process.
As I mentioned before, know if you plan to tow the boat to water for each use or if the boat will stay parked in the water at a dock. This will be a big factor if you need to purchase a trailer for the boat.
You will also need to know upfront if you plan to pull and store the boat for the off-season or if you would like the dealer to handle that. If the latter is true, you should talk to the dealer about the services they offer before you buy.
Most dealers do offer this type of service, but if your dealer is located far from water, they may not. If this is a deal-breaker for you, make sure to ask before you purchase the boat.
4. Boat Show Timing
Timing plays a big role in boat show shopping for a few different reasons. If you time your purchase right, you will be set up for success when the next boating season comes around.
Boat shows happen between January and March every year. Outside of that timeframe, they’re almost non-existent. There are a few advantages to shopping during this timeframe.
The availability of products is generally better earlier in the season when dealers are stocked up on boats. Oftentimes, you can walk into the show and order whatever you want or find exactly what you want on the show floor.
Timing is more on your side in the winter than it is in May or June because dealers are allotted so much product and as the months go by, they will sell through that product. What’s that expression? The early bird gets the worm!
Keep in mind if you order a boat in show season, you need to discuss the delivery timeline with your dealer. This will vary based on the manufacturer’s production schedule depending on what brand of boat you choose.
Another timing consideration is which days should you attend a boat show. I recommend going early and spending a full day at a show. There is so much to see, you may feel crunched for time if you go later in the evening.
Also, something to consider is that the weekends get very busy at these shows. You will get more attention on a weekday or weeknight. If you’re serious about buying, going on a weekday as opposed to a Saturday or Sunday will ensure that you get the dealer’s undivided attention.
The only other events you will typically find outside of boat show season are dealer open houses or dealer demo days. These vary depending on your dealer and may or may not include the same perks you would get from buying at a show.
5. Show Pricing
If you’re an experienced boat show shopper, you may already know one of the biggest perks of this buying experience is show pricing.
If you’re ready to buy and can wait for the timing of show season, this is a great way to go. That’s because boat shows are a buyer's market. Dealers put so much time, effort, and money into hosting these shows, their number one priority is to put deals together.
A few other factors play into this thought process. With so many dealers under one roof, competition is strong among the show. They’re also more inclined to negotiate which is in the buyer’s favor.
Something else that can affect the price of a boat at a show is that some manufacturers might incentivize the show. These incentives can persuade dealer salespeople to be a little more flexible when it comes to price negotiations.
All that said, keep in mind that the boat won’t be half price, but you may be able to strike a stronger deal during a boat show than other times of the year.
The happiest boaters make great decisions based on what’s going to work for their life. You should buy a boat based on love and not strictly based on discounts. Here’s some insight to prepare you for the final cost of a pontoon boat.
6. Build a Dealer Relationship
Boat shows are great for shopping lots of different brands, boat types, and dealerships. You go to buy a boat, but equally as important is the relationship you start with your dealer.
Because the length of a boat show can be anywhere from 3-10 days give or take, you have a great opportunity to start building that relationship and getting to know your potential new boat dealer.
I recommend talking to the sales team, get to know them by name, and let them know what’s most important to you when it comes time to buy.
This is a great time to pick their brain about services offered post-sale. They will be an advocate for you when needing service, parts, and accessories so make sure you’re also putting in the time and effort to get to know them.
You may also want to ask if they are willing to set up a demo so that you can test drive the boat you buy before taking possession. Most dealers will make a sale contingent on your satisfaction once you drive it if you ask.
Another boat show perk is the potential to meet and chat with representatives from the manufacturer. Our Barletta sales team and support staff travel to shows every week of show season. These reps are an awesome resource to discuss any brand questions you might have.
Before You Go
Boat shows are a great way to shop no matter where you’re at in the purchase process. It’s a no-pressure, family-fun event that can be really educational if you know what you’re looking for.
It’s the perfect place to see, touch, feel the boats while staying warm inside and getting a bird’s eye view of all the products offered in the industry.
Whether you are just starting to look at different boat types that you may like to explore further, or you're already set on the exact brand you want to buy, boat shows cater to all needs.
Remember to enjoy the process and don’t be afraid to visit the show more than once. You will learn something new every time you go so keep an open mind and remember what your goals are.
This truly is a great way to shop for a new boat so ask your local dealers when the next show is scheduled near you.
If you're headed to a boat show this season, print out our Boat Show Checklist before you shop.