Dock Lines: Boat shows are for everyone

I love boat shows, I admit.  From the time Arv, my husband and fellow captain, took me to my first Annapolis Boat Show, soon after we met, I was smitten. Since then we’ve attended shows on both coasts and rarely miss an opportunity. Each one offers unexpected pleasures.

While the boats are always the main attraction, shows also provide a taste of the boating lifestyle, especially if you’re contemplating buying your first boat. Even for experienced boat owners, they offer the chance to dream about “the next boat up” or that special piece of equipment you’ve long eyed.

Even when we’re not in the market for a new boat, we enjoy looking at the new models and imagining future possibilities.

Both boats Arv and I have owned together we spotted at boat shows. Arv first discovered the Hatteras 38 model at an East Coast boat show. Several years later he found the one he wanted near Boston, securing a great deal at the Annapolis show. I fell in love with boating aboard our Hatteras.

The Miami Boat Show introduced us to the Viking 55 whose design and layout we loved, but we weren’t ready to buy. When we decided to upgrade, we remembered the Viking’s clean lines and appealing features, which helped focus our search.

Boat shows are also about people and the relationships and friendships that develop around boating. They’re a great place to meet yacht brokers and boat dealers who can guide you through the selection and purchase process and match you up with the boat of your dreams that also meets your own and your family’s needs.

That’s how we found Burgundy, our Viking 55, after a painstaking search conducted hand-in-hand with an exceptional San Diego yacht broker, Dea Allen, now with South Coast Yachts. We became acquainted with Dea through many boat show conversations. She listened, understood what we wanted, helped us narrow down possibilities and chased down almost every Viking 55 built during its five-year production. Then she helped us seal the deal in Florida. Seeing Dea remains one of my favorite boat show pleasures.

Pre-show planning is important whether you’re contemplating buying a first boat or making the leap to a larger boat. Go on Thursday or Friday if possible. The crowds are lighter and it’s easier to board and learn about the boats that interest you.

You’ll also have more time to talk to exhibitors, ask detailed questions about the boats and figure out if both the boat and the broker are a good fit for you. By looking carefully and asking questions you’ll be able to determine which boat features are essential to you and which you don’t want or need. Finding a compatible broker is key to refining your search criteria and locating the boat that’s right for you.

Even if you are not looking for your next boat, the show is a great place to gather ideas and find equipment and accessories to enhance your experience. Observing a wine cooler on a new boat inspired us to install one to replace a defunct icemaker.

Don’t miss the vendors’ booths. We regularly find innovative or novel products and “boat show specials” offering great buys on things we need. Among our favorites? Custom embroidered mats from Welcome Aboard, our decadently comfortable mattress from Handcraft Mattress Company, custom-made to fit our quirky-shaped bunk and our sparkling Ultra Anchor. We also enjoy getting together with the Mexican marina representatives and learning the latest information to prepare for our return to Baja.

Whatever your goals, be alert to encounter that unexpected pleasure at the boat show.

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Capt. Nicole Sours Larson

Capt. Nicole Sours Larson has spent more than 25 years boating in Southern California and Mexican waters as well as throughout the East Coast's Chesapeake Bay. A freelance writer, she holds a USCG captain's license and has been writing about boating since 2009. Previously she lobbied on boating safety and education issues for boating organizations at the federal, state and local levels.

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