Festivals and Boat ShowsWaggoner eNewsPacific Northwest boat shows.

Pacific Northwest boat shows.

Nothing can drive the chill out of a cold winter day like a boat show. And, thankfully, we who live in the Pacific Northwest have no shortage of shows to choose from. Strolling past row after row of new models and seeing what represents the state of the union in recreational boating is the perfect antidote for frigid winter temperatures, as thoughts of summer fun and new adventures dance through your head.

Every year I look forward to attending the areas boat shows, and off the top of my head I can think of six reasons to attend:

  • Buying a boat.
  • Updating equipment.
  • Planning a charter.
  • Attend seminars.
  • Extended cruise planning.
  • Explore the latest and greatest in everything boats.

Boats on display at a boat show.

Pacific Northwest Boat Shows

Boats on display at a boat show.

Boat shows have boats of all makes and models.

Getting Most Out of the Show

Buying A Boat

Certainly, there’s no shortage of places to search for your next boat. Magazines and newspaper ads, the Internet and bulletin boards at marinas and marine stores and dealerships. But the one place you can compare and study the large spectrum of offerings is at a boat show.

So how do you get the most out of a boat show? Start early and you need at least two visits to a show to make it worthwhile. If you have some idea of what you are looking for in a boat, spend the first day getting a broad-brush look at those that interest you. Board the boats you think might work for you, but don’t get into a detailed examination of them; just get a feel for the layouts above and below deck. Are there any deal-breakers that jump out at you? If there are, abandon ship. You have a lot to look at, so don’t waste your time.

Boats on display at a boat show.

Board the boats you think might work for you.

Talk to the salesperson on board just enough to make a determination as to whether this boat and salesperson qualifies for your short list. If yes, explain that you are a serious buyer and, though you are interested, there are other boats you’ll be visiting today. Make an appointment with the rep for a follow-up visit, when you’ll expect a detailed examination of the boat. Tell them you’ll need a fair amount of time, and make sure there is a commitment to provide the time. If that commitment can’t be given, forget it.

Take notes of things you like or dislike about the boat that make your short list. At your leisure, review your notes and compare your choices. If you’re a newcomer to the game, your best bet is to discuss what you’ve seen with someone knowledgeable and prioritize your issues.

On your second visit, take the time to visit parts of the boat that most visitors won’t see.

  • What’s the workmanship like in hidden spaces of the boat?
  • Did the manufacture through-bolt hatches, hatch hinges, rails, stanchions, ports, etc.? Are the bolts properly backed and sealed?
  • How and where are seacocks and through-hulls installed/ Can you get to them?
  • Can you readily service the engine? Can you remove the batteries without throwing out your back or disassembling the boat?
  • Will the plumbing and electrical systems be easy to service when necessary?
  • Do you see anything that might make the boat difficult to run or dock?
  • What about the deck layout? Are cleats properly sized and located? Is there room to store and use adequate ground tackle? You may never plan on anchoring, but it could on occasion save your life in an emergency.
  • How about the galley layout? Can you easily access the refrigerator and freezer and are they large enough to meet your needs?

You get the idea. These issues, along with price, terms etc., determine whether a boat make your short-short list.

Not everyone buys a new boat at a boat show. Many experienced boaters hit the show to see what’s new on the marine front, but budget constraints keep them anchored in studying the used boat market. Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with this because even if they buy a used boat, it’s still “new “ to them.

Electronics and Gear

The same holds true for equipment. Survey the brands and gear on display. Look for representatives who can offer expertise, and talk briefly about the equipment in which you’re interested in. Come back later for more detailed discussion.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Most manufacturers have knowledgeable people in their booths, but they typically don’t sell the products. Exhibitors such as West Marine, LFS, Fisheries Supply and others do the selling. The big problem is that the retailers don’t always have the experts on hand. When buying electronics or other equipment, first talk to the manufacturer’s representative. Then make your short list and revisit those you’re most interest in. Manufacture’s reps will often advise you where the best deals are at the show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


The next best thing to owning a boat is to charter one. The Pacific Northwest is home to dozens of charter guide companies aimed at boaters who want to take on the area’s world-class waterways on their own terms. Most of these companies have been around for years, and many of them will be at the shows.

Research is key, and it’s important to keep one’s priorities in mind. Charter companies can greatly differ with their offerings; crew vs. bareboat, sail vs. power, accredited instruction vs. none, fishing gear vs. none, generous cancellation policies vs. strict and even provide linens vs. no linens.

Continuing Education

Boat shows are a great place to learn about boating and boating lifestyle. Experts are available to answer your questions and offer advice. Along with seeing the latest and greatest in boats and equipment, I enjoy the seminars. It provides an opportunity, even for the seasoned boater, to learn more about our favorite pastime. Review the seminar schedules and plan your boat show attendance around the seminars that are of interest to you. This alone may require two or more visits to the show to attend all the seminars of interest.

Educational classes at boat shows.

Boat shows have plenty of learning opportunities.

Plan Your Summer Cruise

Visitors to the shows will also discover many of the areas marinas and boating publications have booths at the show, making the show a great source of information for planning that next weekend outing or extended cruise.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Enjoy the winter shows, and remember: Spring is just around the corner!

~Deane Hislop

Want to read more by Deane? Click HERE.


Share this: