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Guide to boat shows

I’ll never forget my first visit to the Progressive Miami Boat Show. My trip fell during the tail end of what was a bone-chilling New England winter. February temperatures were below 0 for a week straight, and with a 70 percent level of coastal humidity I believed that I lived in a meat locker. Add daylight saving time, and its pitch black darkness by 5 p.m., and no one was surprised that I needed a break.

I didn’t hesitate when I booked my trip to Miami. The Progressive Miami Boat Show is held at a perfect time in mid-February. Folks south of the Mason-Dixon Line easily make the trek, and for people like me who live in a frozen tundra, we can forget about shoveling snow for a week. Maybe the snow will be melted upon our return, but probably not. Regardless, this year’s 2018 show runs from February 15 – 19. Put it on your calendar.

I nearly sprinted out of the Miami airport to catch a whiff of salt air. Once outside I stood next to a palm tree in the warm and bright sun for so long that a passerby asked if I was all right.

“Thanks for asking,” I said. “I’m from New England. Right now I’m more than all right.”

I stood on the front edge of five days of boats, boats and more boats. In the indoor arena I’d climb aboard all of the new makes and models I read about online. Outdoors I’d trade the dog-eared brochures that sat on my desk with on-the-water demonstrations. I’d have any and all questions answered in person by manufacturers’ reps, and I could attend seminars that addressed all facets of boat ownership. I made new friends from all over the country, and when the show concluded for the night we ate stone crabs and spiny lobsters. Music flooded the warm night air, and it was so fun that I even enjoyed a fruity, tropical drink. You know the kind; they have umbrellas in them.

Winter is prime time for a boat show. There is so much stimulation on boat shows that it’s easy to get swept up in the fun. A little up front preparation helps buyers like me maximize my experience and come away with a game plan.

Do your research beforehand

Boat shows feature just about every type of hull, power, trailers, electronics, and other gear all under one roof. Buying a boat is easy, and it carries over to the business side, too. Financing and insurance can be worked out as well. In a way, a boat show is a one-stop shop.

But before you go, spend some time deciding what kind of hull best suits you and your family’s needs. Anglers consider hull designs that best serve the majority of their fishing conditions. Shallow water fans need beamy boats capable of running in the skinniest of water. Offshore trips require deep-v hulls, longer lengths, and bigger horsepower to slice through ground swells with ease. Boats catering to tubing, water skiing and general boating life should have both size and features to accommodate the entire crew. Talk with everyone who will come aboard your vessel and you’ll easily narrow down your options.

Once you determine your hull you’ll need to power it up. There are two-stroke options requiring the pre-mixing of fuel, environmentally sleek four-stokes and inboards alike. With so many different brands, performance levels, and overall weights you’ll be able to match the hull with your horses.

Demo

One of the best parts of a boat show is the ability to see all researched products in person. Hulls, outboards and trailers that were presented on websites and in video are ready for your review. Manufacturers’ sales reps and product developers are on hand to answer any questions generated from brochures and websites. Some boat shows offer on-the-water demonstrations while others are covered in doors.

I personally enjoy the hands-on review of electronics. As a visual learner, I really look forward to demo-ing chart plotters, GPS units and any navigational programs in person. A sales rep is invaluable to walk me through a units’ functionality so that I can maximize its resources. Those tutorials alone are worth a visit to a boat show. Within a day I can find the gear best suited to my needs and budget. More importantly, I know how to use it.

Seminars

After so many decades of boating experience, I like to think I know it all. But the fact is I don’t. That’s why I attend the seminars for I always learn something new. Sometimes it’s merely a refresher of things I forgot during the off-season while other times I learn new material. Offered presentations are geared towards new boaters as they are towards experienced captains. Boating basics is as popular as those programs that cover specific skills, like precision docking, close quarter boat control, or training a first mate. If you’re traveling with a family there are activities for children, too.

I’m not a tire kicker, but when it comes to buying a boat I sure act like one. Boats of any size are a big purchase. A boat is a want, not a need. A house with a roof over your head along with food and clothing are all needs. Doctor visits for you and your family are also needs. Many, many other items that we purchase every day, month and year all fall into the ‘need’ category. But unless you’re a charter captain or a commercial fisherman, a boat is a want. Wants are of critical importance because they represent fun and enjoyment. I always attend a boat show before I make a purchase. And I’m a sucker for ones in warm climates in the winter.