THE BIG TOP

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A sneak peek at what you'll see this boat show season

Get the most out of this boat show season by developing a game plan: do your homework, make an appointment, and bring a notebook, pencil and digital camera.

The days are getting noticeably shorter, but the dream still lives on. So what if you are in a climate zone where winter haulout is just around the corner? There are still a few precious weekends to dally with boats and enjoy the quiet, less-crowded time on the water.

For those who are in the market for a new ride, fall is show time and that usually means joining other “boat nuts” as they make their way down to the docks in such settings as Newport, R.I., Norwalk, Conn., Annapolis, Md., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Even though economic realities have changed a bit since last year, there still will be plenty of folks milling around the shows, so coming prepared is a good idea if you want to make the most of your time.

Dealers and importers want your business so they are accommodating, but don’t forget that they have a keen eye (usually) for separating fender kickers from buyers who come with the intent to sign on the dotted line. If you are one of the latter who’s ready to write a check, you don’t want to be mistaken for the former who left the wallet at home.

Here are a few tips to maximize your stay at the shows.

• “Call ahead to make an appointment,” is the short advice by Klaus Kutz, a longtime broker and representative for Tartan and C&C yachts. “Make sure the boats you want to see are at the show and you get to talk to someone from the dealer or factory who can answer your questions.” Ask the manufacturers what they’ll show. If your interest focuses on a new model, it is far from guaranteed that it will come to a show near you. In this case, work through the dealer or representative of that particular brand to find out where the boat will be on display. Most new boats, foreign and domestic, typically first appear at the East Coast shows. However, each manufacturer has slightly different schedules and priorities, so heed the advice of Mr. Kutz and pick up the phone before you go.

• Do your homework. Phone, Web and, yes, magazines like the one in your hands are your most valuable tools. Each year at this time, Soundings publishes stories that list the most notable sail- and powerboat premieres for the U.S. market and also provide information about models that are going to be introduced over the following months. Use these articles to guide and streamline your search.

• Think about a test sail or test “drive.” After most boat shows, manufacturers often keep new models around for a few days to have them sailed and photographed for publishing purposes. If you make your intentions known, you might be able to schedule time for a spin, because serious prospective customers figure high on the list of priorities of brokers, dealers, distributors and manufacturers — especially in a market that isn’t exactly peaking. If that doesn’t work out, ask about a dealer’s open house, where boats will be available for inspection and sea trials.

• Take notes. Bring a note pad, pencil and digital camera to record details because not everything you might want to know about your future boat is necessarily published in a glossy brochure. Even the most extensive price list notes in fine print that “specifications and prices are subject to change without notice.” However, be polite and ask the representatives if it is OK to snap images.

• Ask the right questions. Published specifications and prices of new models are often preliminary and approximate. For example, sail areas usually beg definition. Is the square footage given calculated for non-overlapping jibs (100-percent sail area) or for larger headsails (working sail area)? Does it include the roach of the mainsail, which can be considerable, and/or sails that fly on a bowsprit?

Pricing especially is a delicate issue, since manufacturers tend to include different items (electronics, sails, etc.) in base prices. Does the price on the powerboat you’re interested in include the engine in the show boat, or the smaller, standard powerplant? If commissioning and delivery are included, the price likely was calculated for East Coast destinations. Larger vessels that are built overseas (especially catamarans) often are delivered on their own keels. Default destination is the East Coast, but special arrangements can be made for direct delivery to other places.

If the boat is foreign-built, which many sailboats are, make a habit of double-checking the currency on the price list. Most importers do the conversion, but some don’t. In early August 100 Euros represented the equivalent of $138. That’s not exactly reason to celebrate on this side of the Atlantic, but as long as you can do the rough calculations yourself, you can understand the asking price.

Now sally forth, have fun and start playing your part in the game that should get you the best boat for the best price.