So, you want to find a great deal on your next charter vacation? Sure, you can scour the internet, hope for Black Friday deals or ask friends. But an even better way to find good prices on charter boats is to go to a boat show. Not only do charter companies like The Moorings, Dream Yacht Charter and Sunsail offer incentives at the shows, you’ll also find smaller companies like Horizon, CYOA, Sail Caribe, TMM and others that you may not have known about. Here are a few shows where you’ll find good hunting for your next deal.
United Sailboat Show
Annapolis holds an annual show the first week of October, and as you might expect for this part of the country, it’s the place to go for all things sailing related. Charter companies are consolidated mostly in the part of the show known as Ego Alley, and it’s like a supermarket of charter opportunities. This year, they even dedicated an entire tent to new and small charter companies based in the Mediterranean. A dozen charter outfits, all focusing on Greece and Croatia, lined the perimeter of the tent, enticing U.S. customers with special offers. There was even a raffle to win a free week offshore. A dozen companies serving the British Virgin Islands also come every year to this show, so there’s bound to be an offer that will suit your needs. United Sailboat Show
Miami International Boat Show
For the mother of all North American boat shows, you can’t beat Miami in February. Now consolidated at the Marine Stadium on Virginia Key, this giant show brings people from around the world to peruse sail and powerboats, accessories and, of course, vacations. Many of the charter companies have booths out on the docks. Make sure you get details on all attendees, like Navigare Yachting, the largest charter company you’ve probably never heard of. This Mediterranean-based company is a huge player in Europe and has just opened a base in the British Virgin Islands. Miami International Boat Show
Seattle Boat Show
It’s not hard to dream of having fun in the sun when you’re at the Seattle boat show, which takes place at the end of January when it gets dark at 1500. Although there are some vessels lining the docks on South Lake Union, most of the show takes place inside so you can shop for a sun-filled vacation in warmth and dry comfort. This is an ideal place to look for local charter outfits like Anacortes Yacht Charters. and because the show is so early in the year, it’s a perfect time to book a Pacific Northwest charter during its short and precious summer season. Seattle Boat Show
Chicago Boat, RV and Sail Show
Also in January, the Chicago show takes place indoors in McCormick Place on South Lake Shore Drive. By boat show standards, admission is a bargain. This is another show that highlights local charter companies, in this case on the Great Lakes. When not shopping for charters or accessories, you may want to drop in on one of the show’s many seminars, including those offering advanced sailing tips. It may be frosty outside, but you’ll be dreaming of hoisting sails inside. Chicago Boat, RV and Sail Show
Boat Show Survival Tips
For the best shopping experience, you may want to spring for the expensive first day (preview) tickets that many shows offer. Although these special admission times can be expensive (upward of $50 at some shows), the docks are less crowded and the exhibitors have more time to talk to you. If paying top dollar for boat show admission doesn’t sound tempting, consider going on the last day of the show, when there may be special deals by those companies that haven’t yet met their target revenues. Don’t be afraid to ask for a better deal, which may include things like free use of toys such as kayaks and SUPs, free transfers to/from the airport or a complementary sleep-aboard arrangement on the first or last night.
Finally, always be sure to pick up a show directory at the entrance as you come in, since some charter companies may be scattered about throughout the show site. Also be sure to consider alternative accommodations and transportation in some place. Hotel prices during the Miami show, in particular, can be shocking and the taxis nearly non-existent. The need for good shoes is a given, as is a sense of humor and maybe a rum drink.
Photo courtesy of The United States Boat Show