Looking back over three decades of attending boat shows, as a vendor, attendee and lecturer, it’s not hard to gather some thoughts and suggestions. So here are some of my nuggets of information, in no particular order.
People watching at the boat show is guaranteed to be interesting. Find a place where you can comfortably watch the ebb and flow of the crowd. Sun glasses and a hat will make it less obvious. The clientele at power boat shows and sailboat shows differ wildly. Sail boaters tend to be more casual and laid back. If you are a vendor, don’t blow off that guy with the flip=-flops, cut-off jeans and a torn tee shirt. He probably owns the gold plate 60-footer anchored out.
On the other hand, power boaters definitely dress better. He usually has his long suffering significant other, looking bored and usually sporting high heel boots. Boat dealers cringe at her approach. You can usually hear him expounding at length on some technical subject he really doesn’t understand while she is looking for the nearest dispenser of adult beverages.
Speaking of visiting boats, I have to relate a story from my own past. My wife and I had just purchased a 35-foot project sailboat and were considering options for remodeling her. I asked my wife to visit some of the boats in the show to gather some ideas. She did so while I was busy with a vendor. For the next year, I was fielding calls from broker after broker asking when I would like delivery of their brand spanking new boat, at prices way above my pay grade. When confronted, she admitted she had to fill out a card before they would let her on board. Lesson learned.
Pay attention to footwear. Shoes need to be comfortable as you will be doing a lot of walking. At the same time, they will need to be easy to slip on and off. If you will be touring h boats, make sure those socks are clean and hole-less as many boats ask you to remove your shoes before boarding.
Don’t let bad weather deter you. You’re a boater, wear your foul weather gear. I remember one boat show where I never took them off. On the positive side, bad weather will keep the riff-raff away. The vendors will be overjoyed to have someone to talk to.
Before the show, develop a list of the vendors you want to see and the questions you want answered. Most boat shows have a web site that lists the vendors and their location. Lists will keep you from, missing the one vendor you wanted to see. If you want to talk to the vendor’s experts at the boat show, show up early In its run, the vendors best will be there. Towards the end of the show, those experts have left and the shows closing and packing grunts are left behind.
If are looking for a deal, attend the later days of the show. Those same grunts are incentivized to sell stuff so they don’t have to pack it. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, especially on the waning hours of the show.
Remember that the boat show isn’t just about boats. Most shows abound with venders of every kind of nautical gear you might need and much you won’t. Gather up that free literature, my wife and I collected brochures and organized them into binders. When a piece of gear came up, we could reference those brochures as a starting point.
As an aside, I spent a number of years as an editor of a regional boating publication. In return for advertising the boat show, we would get a booth. We would show up with skids of our free publication to hand out during the show. Handing out those free publications was a lot of work. I think it would have almost be easier charging for them, people tend to look a gift horse in the mouith.
Education is also a part of most boat shows. Check out the boat show web site for when and what lectures are scheduled. Some charge for attending, but most are free. Anything you might want to learn about are offered. From offshore fishing to sailing around the world can be found at one boat show or another.
Don’t overlook your stomach. Most boat shows have locals supplying regional foods. They are often quite good and support local charities. As a vendor, some of those food vendors would deliver lunch to the booths. They are a time saver when you are undermanned. If you are visiting from out-of-town, research about local resturants, you might find some real gems.
For real entertainment,attend the show closing day. As soon as the show closes, the vendors start a mad scramble to get things packed and ready to go. Most venues have limited access and it is first-come-first-served. I remember one time I visted the closing day of the Annapolis Sailboat Show. The show closes on Monday and the Power Boat Show opens on Thursday. The docks and the boats are shoehorned into City Dock (Ego Alley). As soon as the show closes a fleet of small pusher boats shows up and starts diassembling the docks and freeing the boats. To make things really interesting, Pusser’s Restaurant overlookling City Dock and has an upper deck. Around 5 o’clock people start congregating up there to view the close. On top of that, Pusser’s starts bringing their signatjure drink, the Painkiller, up by the five gallon bucket. So by show close, the crowd is well lubricated and cheers or boos each boat’s exit stategy. Visit this show after the show at least once.
Given all that, there is still nothing like the smell, feel and sights of attending a boat show, even after all these years.