The day may come when my husband and I purchase a sailboat. That day may never come. Who knows?

What I do know is that we live in land-locked Denver, Colorado and we both have jobs that, for the moment, keep us here.

We aren’t ready to pull any kind of triggers beyond one to two-week sailing charters, but I’ll tell you this: We love to attend boat shows and window shop the vast array of sailboats that snuggle side-by-side during these mega-events. We board and browse catamarans, monohulls, rugged blue-water-ready boats, and giant yachts that we will never, ever, ever own. All of it.

If and when the day comes that we do purchase a sailboat – new, used, or as part of a charter ownership program – we are going to know exactly what we want.

Whether you are looking to buy, think you might want to in the future, or just want to learn more about charter companies and the places they sail, attending a sailboat show is a ton of informative fun.

We were at the Miami boat show President’s Day weekend, and to be fair, this is as much about fishing boats as it is about sailboats. Maybe even more so. The Annapolis Sailboat Show in October is really where the sailors and future sailors should set their sights if they are going for the first time.

So how does all of this browsing work? Here’s the lowdown:

Step 1: Have a game plan

At any boat show, the number of vendors and options is overwhelming, and depending on the number of days you are at the show, you might not have time to see everything. Make note of the vendors and their locations you most want to see and plan a good starting point for your show. The weather forecast may determine whether you start inside with product vendors or outside touring the boats.

Step 2: Sign in at a vendor reception area

When you approach any of the sailboat vendors, you will find a reception desk and reception area. Before you are able to look at the boats, you need to sign in by providing them with your name, email address, and a bit of information about your intentions. If you are just browsing, say so. If you are carrying a suitcase of money and ready to buy, say that too (though maybe don’t divulge the irresponsible volume of cash on hand). They will also ask where you would keep your boat if you had one.

These questions enable the vendor to efficiently and appropriately assist the large volume of browsers. They will give you a sticker or a wrist band, the color of which will indicate to the sales team whether you are just looking or if you are a serious buyer.

There are a small number of premium boat manufacturers where prior reservations are required. These most often are very large, expensive yachts where the clientele is limited to extremely wealthy buyers.

Step 3: Take off your shoes and remove backpacks

Before you step on-board any boat, you will need to take off your shoes and leave large bags on the floor of the reception area. These boats have hundreds of people going through them each day, and to help them remain as clean as possible and to avoid injuries and damage to the boat, taking off your shoes is an enforced rule. For that reason, I tend to wear very comfortable flip-flops on the days when we will be on and off many boats.

Step 4: Climb aboard

At most vendors, once you have your sticker or wristband you are free to board their boats. Certain vendors will require you to wait for one of their representatives to give you a tour, but for the most part you can browse at will, spending as much or as little time on board as you like. Typically, there is a representative on the boat to answer questions and make sure people don’t break anything.

Often, the representative on the boat works for a charter company that uses those boats in their fleet. If you express interested, they will share details of their company’s ownership programs if you aren’t in the market for your own boat. At the Miami Boat Show, for example, we learned about the wide array of ownership options offered by Dream Yacht Charter when we were touring the Dufour boats (which we loved).

Step 5: Take lots of photos and notes

Even if you aren’t in the market to purchase your own sailboat, having notes on the make and model of boats you like will be helpful as you plan your future charter excursions. For example, we loved the layout of the Dufour 430 and 460 and were intrigued by the outdoor “kitchen”, the location of the refrigerator and freezer, and the open layout. Having this information in our logbook is helpful so that if we are choosing a boat for future charter and one of these is available, we will lean toward that option so we can experience it for ourselves. Knowing that Dream Yacht Charter is a service provider that offers these sailboats will put it at the top of our list for future research.

Beyond the boats, make time to browse the booths of artisans and other vendors who support the sailing industry. Especially at Annapolis, you will find products for sail that you didn’t know existed, and the deals you can secure on everything from clothing to charters are terrific. If you know your travel schedule for the following year, heading to the Annapolis Sailboat Show in October is a great time to book future charter travel as you can get up to 20% off the stated rates.

Regardless of your reasons for going and where you are in your sailing journey, sailboat shows are a fun, great way to learn more and engage with like-minded sailors.

Lea Maxwell

Lea Maxwell is the sailor and scribe behind Escape Under Sail, a web|blog project that connects new and future bareboat sailors with the resources, information, and motivation they need to competently and confidently sail beautiful destinations around the world.

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