Every year, my Dad, Brother, Uncle, Cousin and I would load up the truck and hit the boat show in February just to check out the new models.  Finally, we could scratch that boating itch that’d been building since we winterized the boat, oh so many months ago.

Of the 15 plus shows we all went to, we always had an amazing time.  We also each had our ‘Dream Boat’ picked out.  Mine was usually one of the large bow riders.  So, for those boaters who are looking to buy their dream boat at this year’s boat show, I thought I’d share my thoughts on shopping for a boat at this year’s Mid-Atlantic Boat Show.

Actually, these tips will work anytime you’re making a purchase with the expectations of a quality product and overall great experience.


  1. Ensure you are buying the right boat for your specific needs!

It can be tempting to buy a boat because it looks great in the bright lights of the Boat Show.  Many people get caught up in the excitement and end up taking home a boat that does not exactly fit their boating needs.  Or, after the first few times on the water, the quality is not what they were sold.


  1. Always insist on a water trial before final purchase!

Even though there are some amazing specials at the boat show, there is no bigger mistake than buying a boat that does not ride or perform the way you’d like.  So, always insist on putting down a refundable deposit with the opportunity to a demonstration on the water.

While on the water, be sure to perform the 17 on-water maneuvers to ensure maximum safety, comfort and performance from any boat.  These maneuvers are described in detail in my report, “The 24 Big Mistakes Boat Buyers Make that Cause Major Headaches…and How to Avoid Them!”


  1. You get what you pay for, especially in boating!

While shopping at the boat show, you may find a boat that seems to be a steal compared to comparable boats.  Whenever I see a deals that’s almost too good to be true, some people as, “What makes this boat $7,000 more than that boat?”

My Dad taught me to ask a slightly different question and it’s usually leads me in the right direction.  The question my Dad taught me is; “What is missing from the other boat that makes it $7,000 cheaper?”

If you get a make sense answer to that question, you are in luck.  But, if anything sounds just a little fishy, you know there’s probably some sort of catch that you won’t realize until its too late.


  1. Can you trust the sales person, or are they just trying to make a commission?

The boat show season makes up around 30%-40% of most boat sales peoples income.  So, it’s important to know you can trust them and what they are telling you is true and accurate.

Here are two tests to know what type of sales person your dealing with:

Do they ask you questions about what you like/dislike and how you boat?  Or, do they tell you the 1,001 things ‘they’ think are great about the boat without ever asking how you will use the boat.

Do they pressure you to make a buying decision right now?  Or, do they slow down and make sure you are making the right decision for you and insist you test the boat in the water before doing anything more than locking in the boat with a refundable deposit?


  1. Know who will service your boat when needed!

Unfortunately, this slow economy has affected the boating industry especially hard over the past two years and is still weighing heavily on some dealers.  Just a few months ago, another local dealer was forced to close it’s doors.  While others have cut costs so much that they no longer offer any service department to service the boats they sell.

If the dealer you buy from is financially weak, what is their guarantee that any warranty work required on your boat will be completed without major hassles, if at all.

The same goes for dealers without full service repair departments.  If you’re boat requires maintenance, will they be there to help get you back on the water as quickly as possible?


  1. What is the real story on the warranty?

Some boat manufactures don’t really tell you everything you need to know about your warranty.  Be sure that you are given something in written form to explain the warranty offered by the manufacture of the boat you are looking to buy.


  1. What do others say about the dealership, boat brand and experience dealing with your chosen dealer?

One of the best ways to determine how your experience will be with a particular dealer, sales person or manufacture is to ask others that have had experience with them in the past.


At the boat show, ask other attendees in the booth what their experience was with a particular boat or dealership.


Ask the sales person to provide testimonials to see what their clients have said in their own words.


  1. Are they 5-Star Certified by the Industry Association, MRAA?

A “5-Star Certified Dealer” has gone through a yearly review by an independent 3rd party to ensure the highest level of customer service, certified mechanics and professionalism.


This certification must be maintained and verified each and every year so you know which dealers are exceeding the high standards set by the certification program.  And, more importantly, which ones do not!


  1. How much in-water training will you be given on your new boat?

Even seasoned boaters may need some training on their new boat, especially when going from one sized boat to another.  All good dealers will offer Captains Training themselves or have a professional trainer available when needed.


If the dealership you are working with will send you on the way with no on-water training, you may wonder when else won’t they be there to offer service and support to make you boat as enjoyable as possible.


  1. What is the dealers trade-in policy?   

    Even if you do not have a trade, asking this question will give you some insight into the dealers financial position.  If a dealer does not gladly accept trade-ins, it may be a sign they are in financial distress.


The pre-owned boat market is extremely popular right now and any strong dealer is excited to accept your trade in.  If they do not want it, dig a little deeper if service after the sale is important to you.


  1. Is the manufacture still in business to honor the warranty and maintain the resale value?

Unfortunately, several boat manufactures have gone into bankruptcy over the past 12-18 months.  Many names that have been around for decades.  Some of these lines still have inventory that is being offered at huge discounts.

 Again, if you are only concerned about getting the lowest price, this may be an option to consider.  But ask yourself, what will the resale value of your boat be within a couple of years after that manufacture is no longer making replacement parts for your boat.

 Who will handle the service and warranty work on your boat?  Will the warranty be honored by anyone with the manufacture in bankruptcy or completely out of business?

For some, the savings is worth the risk.  But, it’s important to go into the transaction with a long term game plan and a full understanding of why those huge discounts are available.

If you follow these 11 tips while buying your boat at the boat show, you will come away a big winner.  And have a great experience during and after your purchase.

Growing up, every year my Dad, Uncle Bob, Cousin Brian and my brother and I would go to the boat shows in the area. I was always envious of those that bought at the boat show. That was until I was the boat salesman and realized how few people really knew what they were doing.

So, I decided to start sharing my knowledge to help those attending boat shows find the best boat and win at this year’s boat show.

Start by knowing exactly what you want before you sit down to start negotiations. Have the boat that’s right for you, options, power and all. Then, ask the magic money-saving question so you don’t overpay. Finally, get everything in writing, including contingency for an on-water test drive.