The U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis, MD is right around the corner, folks – October 3 to 6 are the dates – and there’s no better place to set your foot upon deck after deck of hot new fishboats that catch your eye. Many of us will attend even if we haven’t decided to upgrade just yet so we can see what’s new on the market, gaze at the gleaming fiberglass, check out all the boating accessories, take a ride at the Demo Dock, or attend a Cruisers University course.

annapolis boat show
The Annapolis U.S. Powerboat show is coming up fast!

The down-side to buying a new boat in the fall is obvious: half the year’s fishing season has already gone by. On the flip side, our fall bite on the Chesapeake and along the Mid-Atlantic coast is just beginning to crank up, and the best fishing of 2019 will likely happen in the next few months. Will you enjoy it from that old tub you’ve had for years, or is there a fine new fishing boat in your future? Fact of the matter is, there are actually a number of perks to buying a boat at the fall show – if you know how to take advantage of them. Consider:

  • This is the dealer’s last big push of the year, and they’re at the show to sell boats before the winter doldrums set in. They really don’t want to hold onto those boats (and have to pay interest on floor plan loans) through the off-season. As a result, you’ll commonly see “real” reduced pricing advertised on the docks and a bunch of haggling, hemming, and hawing generally isn’t necessary.
  • You can get pre-qualified for financing, so as you look at sticker prices you know exactly which boats on display fit into your budget. Added bonus: go through the LH Finance pre-qualification process and you get a “VIP” package, which includes tickets to the show and entry to the VIP lounge.
  • Side-by-side boat viewing gives you the opportunity to do some serious digging into the details of different boats in a comparative fashion. The best way to leverage the experience is to take lots of cell phone pictures and/or notes on the comparable features of competing boats. Then take a shopping break and go through them all. (Some people even like to attend the show one day to gather the info, absorb it all at home, then return the next to do their serious shopping). Be sure to confirm whether you’re comparing standard features or cost-adding options, because different manufacturers may include or exclude this or that and options can have a significant impact on the bottom line.
  • You can take advantage of the Demo Dock, and get a feel for how a boat performs in the real world out on the water.
  • If you find a boat you like but want it outfitted differently, this is a great time to sit down with the dealer and strike a deal to order it exactly as you want it. And in most cases, there will be plenty of time to have it shipped and built before next season kicks in. TIP: Some (not all) manufacturers will offer a slight discount to the dealer if a boat is pre-ordered and paid for up-front, rather than purchased on floor plan credit. If you’re going to order a new boat, be sure to ask if there might be a cash benefit to pre-ordering one that they’ll never have to keep in inventory. TIP TWO: For some other dealers who may need to maintain turn-over, it’s more advantageous to them if you buy a boat they already have on floorplan – and they may be willing to sell a stock boat for less than a new order. TIP THREE: The key here is simply to ask a dealer if there’s an advantage either way. There may or may not be, but it’s one of those options that doesn’t always get explored and if you make a purchase in a way that helps the dealer out, they’ll likely be willing to share in the savings.
driving a fishing boat
Just picture yourself behind the helm of that hot new fishboat!

Negotiating the Best Boat Show Deal

Okay: you’re at the show, you’ve picked out the ideal new boat, and it’s time to get down to brass tacks. What’s next? Many people feel that negotiating the best possible deal is one of the most stressful parts of this equation. That’s unfortunate, because the days of cutthroat wheeling and dealing pretty much ended with the Great Recession. Those tough times weeded out shady operations and dealers who didn’t take care of their customers. The fact is that most of today’s dealers operate more like many modern automotive dealers. They post real-world pricing, they have a relatively tight margin so there’s not a ton of wiggle-room, and they count on their service operation to help get through slow selling seasons. They also want you to be happy, and they want your return business. You, on the other hand, want them to have your back since they’ll likely be the ones taking care of maintenance and any warranty issues that may pop up. So it’s best not to act like a bull in a china closet when negotiating a boat show deal.

Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t leverage your buying power to your advantage, and there are some ways a dealer may be able to sweeten the proposition. Do they have a large yard? If so, maybe they can give you a break on storing the boat there over the winter. Do they have a marina with empty slips? Ask if you can moor the boat there for the remainder of the season. Do they have a large, experienced staff? Ask if they can “lend” you a pro for an afternoon, to show you the ins and outs of running the boat.

The bottom line is that you should feel free to talk with the dealer and explore different ways to make the purchase as advantageous as possible for both of you. And you should feel completely comfortable doing so. The best boat dealers – those that last the test of time and economic swings – are those that have their customers’ best interest at heart and want to see you be a happy boater. If you’re not sure that this is the case with a particular operation, you may want to consider taking your business to a dealer you feel better about.

Trade-ins are another area where negotiation can be important. If you have a boat to trade, remember two things: you’ll almost always get a better price for your boat selling it yourself on the used market, and selling a used boat can be a serious headache. As to whether going through the ordeal is worth it or not, that’s a personal decision only you can make. You can rest assured of one thing, though. Once that new boat is underfoot and you’re heading for the fishing grounds, you’ll be darn glad you visited the boat show!

Tips to Cinch the Deal

Signing on the dotted line is just one part of the boat-buying process, and a little advanced planning can help make the experience a smooth one. So be sure to:

  • Offer to upgrade the furniture or drapes in your house a month before the boat show.
  • Cook all the dinners and do all the dishes for a week before the boat show.
  • Mow the lawn and trim the hedges first thing in the morning before attending the show.
  • If you have your heart set on a specific boat but seem to be facing a spousal headwind, set the topic aside for a few hours and take your husband to the Pusser’s Painkiller Party Barge before revisiting the topic.