Boat show toolkit

How to get the best from a boat show / yachting exhibition

Buying a yacht can be a lengthy process. From exhaustive scouring of the Internet to yard trips, boat trials, surveys and negotiations, the time, the miles, the money and the effort are often more significant than private buyers realise. But when you go to a boat show, things are much simpler. With your favoured boats all neatly lined up for lucid comparison, an exhibition can be a great way to crystallise your thoughts and bring clarity to your shortlist.

You get to see the styles, the ergonomics, the options and the prices first-hand; you get access to discounts that are rarely available outside of show time; and you get to talk face-to-face with the representatives of each boat, so you can ask the important questions and get a real sense of whether you want to do business with them or not. Done right, a boat show can also be a great way to seal the deal in a celebratory feel-good atmosphere – but whether you want to buy a boat or not, there’s no doubt that a little thought and preparation can make your time at a boat exhibition far easier, more efficient and more productive.

Visit the right boat show

Firstly, you need to recognise that each show has a particular profile. Do you want sail or power? Do you want purchase or charter? Do you want high-end invitation-only superyachts or easy-access kayaks, dinghies and day boats? And quite aside from the nature of the hardware on display, you also need to consider what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for. For instance, while one show might be hosted at the heart of a maritime city with all the charm, entertainment and carnival congestion that comes with it, others are housed inside slick, modern, purpose-built exhibition centres with perfect transport links and effective but rather soulless facilities. If you want a vibrant festival atmosphere or a long weekend of entertainment and you’re willing to forego a little convenience to get it, the former is usually the way to go. If you want to get in, examine the hardware, negotiate a purchase and get out, the latter might be preferable. In all cases, the variety of shows now available is vast, so if you only have a finite amount of time to commit to it, it’s worth being selective.

Book your accommodation early

One of the most important issues with any major boat show is to get your accommodation booked as early as possible. Whether you’re looking at a hotel room or a rental flat, the best choices at the most affordable prices, within easy reach of the event, are often taken by exhibitors, so good options at sensible prices can become scarce or ruinously expensive if you delay. It might seem excessive but if you know you’re planning to visit, it’s often best to book your accommodation during or shortly after the previous year’s event.

Learn the show layout

If you head for a show like Dusseldorf or Miami without any prior knowledge, you will walk twice as far and see half as much, so it pays to get some basic research done. Many major marine magazines and yachting websites will publish details of a show’s exhibitor list, layout, events and product highlights well in advance of opening day. While these provisional previews are rarely (if ever) completely accurate, they do enable you to generate a mapped out shortlist of viewings prior to your visit. While most shows try to arrange their sections by boat type, boat size and even region of manufacture in order to help mitigate the bewilderment, knowing what you’re keen to see and where to find it will help enormously on the day.

Organise appointments

If you’re considering a purchase, either now or in the next couple of seasons, it can pay to go a step further and pre-arrange appointments on each of your target boats. While some people like to remain anonymous, so they can look at boats without being actively sold to, at the higher end of the market, appointments are often mandatory. And if you’re planning to visit at the weekend, then even on the more mainstream exhibits, it can be worth booking an appointment in order to buy yourself extra time and space to examine a boat properly.

Ditch the car

When the day comes to attend the show itself, it often pays to ditch the car. Traffic can be extreme and parking can be expensive, but if you take a shuttle bus from the host town, you will often get direct access to the heart of the show without having to waste any time or spend any money. It also means you will be free to embrace the festival spirit with a drink or two while you’re there – and head directly to the bars to soak up more of the atmosphere as the happy throng of exhibitors and visitors empties out at the end of the day.

Pack for the occasion

A low-capacity backpack is a great asset at a boat show. Load it with a couple of lightweight layers, plenty of local currency, some water, a notebook, a compact camera and sunscreen for summer shows – but factor in enough space to carry a few brochures. As regards your clothes, a lot of people like to treat boat shows like fashion events but unless you’re happy to perch your £500 designer shoes on an unguarded pontoon, leave them at home and wear something that will keep you comfortable during seven or eight hours of stomping. Do all of the above and, whether you intend to buy a boat or not, browsing the latest gear and immersing yourself in the feel-good vibes of the marine industry can make for a comfortable, as well as a memorable, day out.

Five easy-visit European shows

  1. Dusseldorf’s January event is among Europe’s best shows, with 2,000 exhibitors from 68 countries, and all the hotels, transports links and restaurant options you could want.
  2. The compact Palma Boat Show – usually in May, but in June in 2020, is a lively, interactive and thought-provoking event.  If you are considering yachting in the Balearics it is the must-see show, as it showcases what’s available on the island.
  3. Southampton’s September event delivers buzzing pubs, endless parties, plenty of nearby accommodation and a great nautical vibe courtesy of its sprawling waterfront setting.
  4. Held at virtually the same time as Southampton, Cannes is a sunny and glamorous show at the heart of a lovely town, with a fun social scene and easy access via a short and affordable bus ride from Nice Airport.
  5. Barcelona’s October Boat Show at Port Vell delivers every size and shape of boat, both in and out of the water, alongside plenty of activities, a gorgeous marina and easy access to the heart of a spectacular city.