It’s boat show season! If you’ve never been to one, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and leave feeling that you didn’t see the things you wanted to.
Depending on where you are in your cruising “career,” the show experience will be different. The first few times I went, the emphasis was on gaining knowledge and checking out the charter opportunities — we didn’t yet have a cruising boat. Seminars and going aboard boats were the big activities. Then, as we began cruising, boat shows were more about looking at gear and attending some of the more advanced seminars.
A few tips and thoughts —
The Big Shows are BIG
The “big” shows such as the Annapolis Shows (both sail and power) are really big. There is no way to see everything in one day. They can also be exhausting just to walk around if you are not used to being on your feet and walking. And then there is the feeling of information overload.
Have a Plan
The trick, for me, is to have a plan. I start by thinking what I want to get out of the show — knowledge, gear or even a new boat (or looking at new boats to help decide on a new-to-me boat). There are usually several items that are the priority items, where I want to see something in person rather than looking/reading online.
Next, I’ll get a copy of the show program. They’re virtually always available online and will generally list exhibitors, locations and seminars offered.
I look first at the seminars — both free and paid. At most boat shows, they cover a wide range of topics so I always find something that I’d like to know more about. They also offer an opportunity to ask questions of the experts!
Since these are offered only at certain times, they go into my “schedule” first and will help determine which day(s) of the show I go.
I also look to see if any groups that I’m in or bloggers I follow are having meetups during the show. They may also influence what day(s) I attend. On one hand, yes, they’re “just” social events. On the other hand, talking with other cruisers or those who are thinking about cruising/chartering/boat ownership may be some of the best time spent if you’re a little uncertain or feeling burned out. They understand the realities and usually can offer some encouragement along with practical ways to get over the hump. Just knowing that you’re not alone in your thoughts and concerns can really help.
Then I’ll take a look at the exhibitors and even mark their locations on the show map. I’ve never quite decided whether it’s best to see all vendors of a particular item one after the other — which makes comparing items easier — or to visit all the booths I want to see according to what’s nearest — which cuts down on the walking.
While I have an idea of what I want to see at the show, I don’t want to plan out every minute. Products will look interesting as I walk by. Or I’ll run into a friend and want to talk. Building in “free time” is essential as is rest and meal time.
If possible — both time-wise and financially — I like to go to a show for at least two days. Then, after the first day (either in the evening or over breakfast the next morning), I can go over what I saw and did the previous day and see if I want to go back to a particular vendor with questions, buy something I saw, or explore something totally different. Having a bit of “downtime” to think about what I saw in relation to what I wanted to get out of the show is incredibly helpful to me in planning the second day.
Figure out where you can park and where you’ll stay if needed. Motels, hotels, Airbnb and other options tend to fill up several months before the big shows, but I’ve never been totally unable to find lodging. It just may cost a bit more or I may have to drive a bit further than I really wanted. But yes, have reservations or you’ll spend a lot of your precious show time trying to find a place.
At the risk of sounding silly, get in shape for a day of walking. If you’re not normally on your feet, even a half hour walk every day for a few weeks before the show will make the show far less exhausting.
At the Show
If you want to tour boats, it’s best to get to the show just as it opens and head directly to the first boat you want to see, followed by other boats. They’re typically least crowded then and have the shortest lines. Be prepared with shoes that are easy to slip off, as you’ll have to take them off for almost every boat — and there is often nowhere to sit down to lace them up.
A bit of a contradiction — shoes need to be easy off/on, but also provide sufficient support for being on your feet all day. You know what you like — I find my Keen sandals are perfect.
If the weather isn’t perfect, don’t give up on the idea of going to the show. Crowds won’t be as thick and you’ll get more time to talk with vendors and brokers.
Dress in layers and carry as little as possible into the show — you’ll be picking up literature at the very least and probably gear. Rather than a purse (for women), a waist pack or day pack will leave your hands free.
Keep your marked-up copy of the show program where you can refer to it easily.
If you see something that you know you want to buy, get it then. If you say “I’ll get it on the way out so I don’t have to carry it,” they may be out of the exact item you wanted by the end of the day. While all vendors try to anticipate demand, no one is perfect. I was shocked at how quickly my two books sold out!
If you’re uncertain about buying something, snap a quick picture of the item and something to help you remember where it was. You can also take video, which allows you to talk about where it is. I can’t tell you how many times this has enabled me to find a particular product and vendor again.
Take breaks! If you find you’re getting tired and grumpy or overwhelmed, find a place to sit and relax for a bit. Get a bite to eat. Maybe cut back on what all you want to do during the show, or opt to stay an extra day if you can get lodging.
After all, going to the show should be fun!
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