Rebates, special interest
rates, special packages, show specials, special
options. For the would-be skipper pondering a
special investment, boat shows provide one-stop
markets for comparing dealers and financing.
However, before facing the rush of incentives
that comes at the shopper like the spray off a
powerboat's bow, potential buyers should know
two things: A boat show is both a great place to
buy a boat - and a great place not to buy a
boat. It all depends on the shopper's needs and
approach and whether the shopper has put enough
thought into either. Regardless, it's worth the
investment to plunk down the admission fee and
take a look.
"Everybody is in one place. You travel one
time and see it all in one place. You can see
the same product, you get to price shop, compare
accessories, compare prices or how packages are
put together," said Dell Parsons, finance
manager of Surf & Turf, a small, family-owned
dealership in Selma, N.C.
Opportunities for comparisons and
money-saving specials aren't be limited to
"A lot of people wait for show time for
rebates and extended warranties," said Chris
Pope, general manager of Boats Unlimited, a
high-end dealer in Durham, who said he
encounters a mix of buyers who are either
starting their searches at shows or are
finishing there. "There they can get more boat
for their money. That's another thing that's
good at shows. (And) most of my lenders will
lower their rates at shows. That's kind of a
Pope emphasized potential savings as the
biggest advantage of shopping at a show, even if
cautious shoppers have doubts.
"I wish people really did believe that shows
really are an opportunity to save money," Pope
said. "A lot of people believe it is just some
gimmick. ... You can save thousands just on a
Boat-buying goes far beyond the bottom line,
"I urge people to not necessarily buy on the
spur of the moment without thinking about what
they're going to use it for," said Clyde Owen,
president of A.K. McCallum Co. in Fayetteville,
N.C. "A lot of times a dealer has a lot more
stuff at the store. I'm going to bring five
models of boats to the show, and I've got 150
models of boats. Use the boat show as starting
point, see what they're interested in, maybe
visit the dealership and get the full story."
Because of the countless varieties -
johnboats to sailboats to ski boats to
cabin-cruisers, deep-sea fishing boats and
luxury yachts - trimming the choices is
Some shows targets fishermen, automatically
paring the choices. Even then, "there are a lot
of boats out there that can do freshwater and
saltwater," said Les Gray, vice president of
Southeast Productions, a 31-year-old
family-owned company that manages several N.C.
boat shows. "The main thing is to kind of have
an idea in a boat and price range. We've got
everything from $500 aluminum johnboats to
$100,000 offshore fishing machines."
Veteran boater Gene Midyette said consumers
"ought to do their research before they go
"I don't think necessarily I'd want to just
go on the opinions of the people who are
selling," said Midyette, a retired geotechnical
engineer. "Use the Internet, whatever is
available to you. Just like buying a car - be a
Experienced boaters can be resources, too,
said Midyette, who volunteers with U.S. Coast
Guard Auxiliary Division 9 Flotilla 9-11.
For Bill Carver, an essential piece of
research is the boat's performance on a test
cruise, which is available at some in-water
shows but not possible at an indoor show.
"If you're going to pay any kind of money for
a boat, you want to test it on the water first,"
said Carver, who serves as commander of the
Coast Guard Auxiliary Division 9 Flotilla 93 on
Lake Gaston. "... Some boats look pretty on the
shelf, but in the water it's a different
Every potential buyer also should pay
particular attention to what happens after the
"If I was going to buy, I would inquire very
strongly as to the service reputation of the
business and know for sure that I was going to
be taken care of after the sale," said Neal
Meads, part-owner of R&K Marine of Knightdale. "
Boat engines are becoming more sophisticated
and require special equipment. It's important to
have factory-trained mechanics and technicians."
Once a deal is struck, it's the buyer's turn
to provide information. Well-prepared customers
are "the ones that know they're going to have to
fill out credit applications if they're going to
finance. They'll already have questions that
they'll want answered," Parsons said.
And don't forget the checkbook.
"To capitalize on savings they can get at a
boat show, they need to be prepared to leave a
deposit that locks them into a sale," Parsons
Then, again, taking the checkbook isn't
always the best idea. The biggest disadvantage
of shopping at a show is impulse buying, Parsons
said. However, she added, "if it's something
they want and they're going to buy it anyway,
most of the time the savings justify the impulse
A buyer battling an impulse-buying urge does
have an escape - leaving to mull boat packages
and financing specials overnight. Some shows and
dealers even provide next-day passes.
"It's a big decision to make," Owen said.