Top tips for buying to buying at boat at the Southampton International Boat Show

From having a plan to sea trails, Alastair Walton from Boats Group shares his top tips for buying at the Southampton International Boat Show

Without a doubt, a boat show represents a unique opportunity to see, touch and feel a huge number of boats in their natural environment. As such, such events form a key part of the purchase process, so make sure you use the Southampton Boat Show to its best advantage by following these helpful tips:

1. Time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted

You’ve got time between now and the show to spend some time researching which boats will be at the event, which ones will be there for the first time, and what similar boats will be on display that you can compare your favourite with. You’ll find this information on the show website, on the manufacturer’s website, and on the websites of the dealers who represent those brands in the UK.

2. Watch the videos!

Video walk-throughs and boat tests are everywhere these days. There are some very well-known reviewers who make a living out of producing addictive content for potential buyers. Grab a coffee, open YouTube, and watch them at work. Learn as much from these people as you can.

3. Plan your day

You’ll need to get to Southampton, find somewhere to park, walk to the gate, then get down to the marina to view the boats you want to see. That can take some time, and you may have to walk past a load of very interesting stands to get to the marina! As such, plan your day and make sure that you know the stand numbers/locations of the boats you want to see, and when you want to see them. Pre-booking some appointments may help keep you on schedule. Don’t be afraid to book a hotel in Southampton and take two days at the show – it is very common.

4. Make yourself known beforehand

Some buyers choose not to make themselves known to a dealer before the show. However, if you tell him when you are planning to attend, there are a number of things he can do to make your day a bit easier. Those things can include valet parking, tickets, queue-busting entry points, private viewings on board, and introductions to those other people/services you are going to need during the cycle of your ownership. He’ll also have had the chance to do some research on the potential value of your part-exchange, if you have one.

5. Know the difference between “stock” and “order”

Most shipyards will have a waiting list of buyers who have committed to boats for delivery in 2023/24. In amongst those slots, dealers will often have a number of ‘pre-secured” slots available, which they will be looking to fill during the show. A dealer may have a boat that matches your spec “in stock” i.e. already built and delivered to the UK. It may well be the boat you are standing on at the show! Finding the perfect boat in stock is certainly more likely as boat sizes get smaller, so ask the dealer what he has in stock, and what slots he has available for delivery next season. Specifications may vary considerably, but there will be price differences either way which may well help lead you towards the right decision.

6. Know who you are talking to

Most dealers who work on a boat show stand have specific regions of the UK/Med that they are responsible for. Some stands will have many dealers ‘on hand’ from multiple locations. The point is that you should not just get chatting to the first person on the stand who is available. He might not know your region at all, so take some time to find the right guy. You’ll need him later in your ownership for all sorts of things!

7. Negotiate sensibly

Don’t turn up on the first day and make silly offers for things. The show is 10 days long, so the dealer may decide to bide his time and you may lose out in the end. Equally, don’t turn up on the last day and expect to get a bargain – many a keen buyer has waited to the last day of a show to find that there is not a lot left to choose from! As such, you may decide to visit the show twice – once early in the week and then again, a couple of days later to “close” the deal.

7. Be prepared to buy!

If you there with the intention of making a purchase decision at the show, tell them. The dealers are there to sell, so they will be much more willing to get you the answers you need if they think there will be a deal at the end of it!

8. Allow yourself to be distracted

Many a show visitor has walked in for a lifejacket and gone home with a large motor yacht. Equally, many times the reverse has happened. You’ll find offers, and discounts, and things you had not thought of. Some of them might well work for you and be better in the long run than the thing you thought you were going there for!

9. Sea trial it

There are few shows in the world where you can test a yacht during the event. SIBS is one of those shows, with the possible exception of those boats that can be found on the outer breakwater. If you really feel that you need to ‘try before you buy’, discuss that with the dealer. Many of them will have Open House Weekends in the days/weeks right after the show for exactly that purpose. Others may have similar models on the Hamble River, or further afield, that you can sea trial during the show, if you don’t mind a quick car journey.

10. Enjoy the process!

Buying a boat does not happen every day for most. It can be a big decision, so enjoy the process. The show has lots of bars and restaurants where you can sit back and chat through your thoughts with your loved ones, often with a rather nice view in front of you. It’s a unique environment in that regard, so make the most of it!