Use This Show For All It’s Worth

Some nonpartisan wisdom on getting the most out of a day at the Providence Boat Show

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that my writing career has landed me at a great many local and national boat shows in a great many booths over well more than a decade—often back-to-back-to-back shows in what amounted to 30- or 40-consecutive-work-day marathons that left me comatose. I’ve also read a quadrillion overzealous boat show press releases over the years (“You will recall years from now that the show was the single greatest day anyone ever had doing anything” is only a minor exaggeration of a couple doozies I received years ago.) The very sight of one on my desk still sends me into a seizure of eye-rolling cynicism. It might be that I’m not the guy to write a piece on getting the most out of the show—which is, I think, the exact reason I’m the right man for the job. I have no personal economic stake in show attendance. Nor am I in the market for a 40-foot, quad-outboard canyon day boat this winter.

Even so, I believe the Providence Show, and well-run boat shows in general, remain a critical piece of the boat-shopping process. The trick is to use the show for the things it does best.

Pre-show, set aside time to take a realistic inventory of your own actual needs relative to the boat you seek. Think about how often you’re apt to fish truly big water in near-gales: It may well be that that big, beautiful Carolina hull and its big, bold associated price tag will be big-time overkill. It might prove more important to channel the dollars toward, for example, basic comforts like a small vee berth, maybe an enclosed head to make the proposition of a day on the water with Dad a bit more appealing to the wife, young son, and daughters. Or, the shoreline places you want to fish may line up better with a shallower-draft, more nimble skiff—a smaller craft with fewer bells and whistles, easier to handle, its lack of amenities no big deal since you’ll be fishing solo more than not. The examples are endless, but the point’s the same: Be honest with yourself about what you really need. Impulsive decisions at the dealer will cost you enjoyment when it matters.

Whether or not you’ve done much soul-searching relative to your future boat, the show can be a great tool, not necessarily to save the last dollar, or the free-stuff yield of your foraging in the aisles. Simple as it sounds, the people are the first and best reason to be here. Meeting with these folks one after the other lets you give real consideration to the person behind the business from whom you will or will not eventually buy. Your ownership experience will be substantially more pleasant if you can access a good teacher or two, particularly near your slip. That starts with the person who furnishes your new ride.

Put real effort into vetting the folks who are competing for your business. To take it a step further, I’d say that given the number of sharp-looking, carefully engineered, solidly constructed boats on the market, a first-time buyer might do best shopping in reverse, so to speak, choosing a boat around the folks who will stand behind her after the sale goes through and the commission’s spent. I’ve heard it from a broad array of seasoned boat owners over enough years to regard it as sound advice that it’s also wise to buy from a dealership that can perform factory-authorized service and warranty work for hulls and engine(s) they sell.

A detailed analysis of two comparable boats’ respective strengths and weaknesses—and a battery of questions that, as the saying goes, “work both ends against the middle”—can reveal a tremendous amount of information about both models, and help you pressure test the reps involved. The reality of buying a production boat, even a custom one, is that compromises are everywhere: Stability for speed, cost against size, fishability for creature comforts, head-sea performance for following-sea performance, etc. What you’re after, more than floating perfection, is the closest possible match for your family’s and your expectations, given financial reality. Checking out a handful of boats you like, not one at a time over weeks, but all at once and in relation to each other, is probably one of the best ways to narrow the field—and the show is about the only time you’ll be able to pull it off efficiently (and on foot).

Obvious as it sounds, the act of stepping onto a boat will instantly generate—and answer—100 questions that could never occur to you after watching 300 virtual walkthroughs of the same vessel. It’s not a sea trial (the dealership does that part best), but you might be surprised how many boats you’ll DQ or fall for, and more importantly, how well the simple act of boarding the boat can help you define the nuts-and-bolts of your preferences. Side-by-side scrutiny is invaluable.

A boat is a complex network of interdependent mechanical and electronic systems that will, if all goes well, drop right into the worst, most hostile environment for machinery of any kind—the open ocean. You have to keep that last bit in perspective: The fact that time and tide will adversely affect the boat’s condition. Accept that at some point something is going to break at which time you’ll will need to put your boat in trustworthy hands for repair. So pick up a SeaTow membership and get on with finding folks you can trust when you need them.

Take advantage of the experience at the show. Seasoned hands in every aisle can help you make sense of the dizzying array of choices—help you stretch your buck a long way if you let them, and care for you and your new purchase for years to come.

FAQs: Who, What, When, Where

The show runs from Friday, January 31 to Sunday, February 2. Hours are: Friday, 10 am–7 pm; Saturday, 9 am–7 pm; and Sunday, 10 am–4 pm.

At the Rhode Island Convention Center, at One Sabin Street in Providence. The Convention Center is conveniently located directly off Interstate 95. For more information, visit their website

Visit the Rhode Island Convention Center website ( for directions and information on parking. The Convention Center has its own parking garage.

General admission for adults is $12. Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by an adult. You can also buy tickets online at and find some special rates, such as a Family Pack ticket for two adults an