Boat shows and dealer open houses are like candy stores for boat buyers—there’s so much to see and do, and it all has to do with boating, so what’s not to like? Some simple preparation will help you get the most out of both.
First, let’s discuss the differences between the two: boat shows are large national or regional events where multiple manufacturers meet to showcase their brands. Besides boats, there are often boating accessories and services on display.
Dealer open houses, on the other hand, focus on the brands of boats that dealer carries. There may also be brokerage (pre-owned) boats and possibly some services that dealer wants to highlight. A dealer open house is usually much smaller but the attention you’ll receive is more concentrated and better focused if you’re looking for a specific product like a Harris pontoon boat.
For a boat show, visit its website to buy tickets and check out the exhibitors and brands that will be attending. Research boats you’re interested in so you’re armed with any questions once you get there. You might consider contacting the dealers to set up appointments. If there’s an app for the show, download it before you arrive, and bring comfortable slip-on shoes so you can board the boats easily. For a large boat show, it’s a great idea to buy a multi-day pass so you can return the next day to work out a deal in case you find a boat you like.
Dealer open houses are usually free but can be crowded, so contact the dealer beforehand to make an appointment. Open houses may take place at a showroom, parking lot, or dock. Some dealers have boats in the water for you to test drive, which is usually not possible at a boat show. You’ll likely receive more personalized attention, so bring a list of questions and be prepared to discuss options. Again, plan on multiple days if the event is large enough or if you need to clear your head before sitting down at the negotiation table.
Whether at a boat show or open house, be on the lookout for a “show special,” which could include option upgrades or price reductions. Don’t forget to take photos and notes because seeing multiple boats in a day can become overwhelming. When creating your budget, consider costs beyond the initial boat purchase, such as engine care, accessories, insurance, financing, maintenance and berthing/storage.
Boat shows often take place in fall, winter and spring to get people on boats before the busy summer boating season starts, though digital boat shows may pop up year-round. These online shows are a great way to learn about your favorite models without traveling to a destination or spending all day walking, and they can introduce you to a broad array of boats if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. If you see something you love, follow up a digital boat show with an in-person visit to a dealer so you can see, touch and possibly drive the boat for yourself.
Boat shows and dealer open houses are meant to be fun because you’re shopping for toys. Regardless of which you attend, arrive prepared to enjoy yourself but ready to get down to business so you can purchase your Harris boat and take that fun out on the water.