The winter sun rises late in Düsseldorf, and we worried that we might not see it at all. The Germans often call this northwestern Germany city “Drizzledorf,” and they’re not wrong — except for this particular week in January. When we arrived at the Messe Düsseldorf convention complex early one Saturday morning, we joined thousands of excited people waiting for the doors to open so they could get a long-anticipated taste of summer.
Turns out, January is absolutely the right time to visit this nearly 900-year-old city on the Rhine. It’s when Boot Düsseldorf, or simply Boot (pronounced “bote”), comes to town.
The largest boat and watersports trade show in the world, Boot Düsseldorf attracts nearly 250,000 boat buyers and watersports enthusiasts each year. Not only is this a critical anchor show for the European circuit, but it also gives international visitors an in-depth look at the hottest new boats, engines and gear, as well as the latest innovations in design and technology. It also offers hands-on watersports and other outdoor recreational activities. It’s all indoors, in Germany, in winter.
We’ll admit, it’s overwhelming to walk through 17 cavernous halls with more than 2.3 million square feet of exhibit space and 18,000 exhibitors from more than 60 countries. But we took on the project to see what we could learn about shopping for a boat at a show. Fortunately, we found our Boot legs and learned quite a bit along the way. Not interested in crossing the Atlantic? Here are nine tips to take full advantage of any boat show near you.
Go Full-On Boy Scout: Be Prepared
It’s easy to succumb to a feeling of being completely overwhelmed when you arrive at the gates of a major boat show. You’re facing thousands of boats, hundreds of exhibitors, and the unpleasant feeling that you’re about to miss something really cool because you don’t know where it is or what time it starts. Serious sensory overload.
Here’s the good news: You can avoid that entire scenario when you do a little advance planning. All major shows (Boot included) provide a list of exhibitors, events and activities on their websites. Once you’ve made plans to attend a show, do some research; spend some time on the show’s website and put together lists of the boat types that interest you.
We found it helpful to also make a note of the special events we wanted to attend, and we added them — with their start and end times — to our digital and paper calendars. More organization equals less stress.
Map It Out
On our first day at the Düsseldorf show, we wandered the massive halls for hours, accomplishing much less than we’d hoped. At some point in the afternoon, I gave up and sat down in an out-of-the-way corner to relieve my throbbing feet.
It’s true, the sheer size of an international boat show is staggering. Use the boat show’s map (or app, if it offers one) to create a coherent strategy based on the floor plan. If you identify your high-priority exhibits for each day and group them by proximity to each other, you’ll be able to comparison shop and get a real-time sense for which boat is the best fit.
You’ll also maximize the must-sees and -dos while minimizing the number of aching miles you’ll travel on foot, which is highly desirable — unless you’re a step-counter. In that case, be sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes (it’s the cardinal rule of all boat shows, and you ignore it at your peril), fire up the Fitbit, and have at it.
If you’re in the market for a new boat, you’ll want to know exactly how much you can spend and how you’re going to structure the financial picture. At the very least, decide how much you can spend on the boat itself and what your wiggle room for options might look like. Then factor in taxes, shipping costs, and any related dealer prep work.
Don’t forget to consider your monthly budget for the new boat, which will include routine service and maintenance, marina fees and offseason storage fees. And if you’re planning to finance the boat, it’s a good idea to lock in your preapproved status for the loan before you get to the show. That will allow you to start shopping seriously — and act quickly if you find something you like.
Working for the Weekend
Save the serious looking for the weekdays. To draw in more visitors, shows like Boot Düsseldorf provide weekend entertainment that keeps the floors crowded. But the German show opens on a Saturday morning and runs through the following Sunday evening. Event organizers plan a variety of crowd-pleasing events for the two weekends. During our opening-weekend visit, world champions in stand-up paddleboarding competed against their top European rivals in the world’s first indoor-wave SUP competition. On the second weekend, the show hosted the classic Wave Masters surfing contest, which offered 5,000 euros in prize money.
During the week, exhibitors will have more time to talk with you, answer questions, give tours and conduct product demos. And they’ll know you’re there for the boats.
Scope Out the Competition
The Düsseldorf show offers a remarkable opportunity to see Europe’s top boatbuilders in one single, immense venue. We appreciated a closer look at Scandinavian builders like Helsinki, Finland-based Axopar, which designs its lightweight fiberglass hulls to provide the stability, user-friendly handling and fuel economy of a rigid-hull inflatable. We also noted how impressive weather protection on models like Axopar’s enclosed 37 Sports Cabin — which was making its world premiere — certainly could extend the boating season earlier into spring and later into fall. But how does it compare to others similar to it? Luckily, at such a large show, you’re sure to find a competitor’s boat within easy walking distance. There are few places outside a boat show where you can walk through several boats and comparison shop. Scope out as many as you can; the dream boat you had your heart set on might not be the ideal fit, but the brand you’ve never considered or heard of might fit you like a glove.
Go to the (Cutting) Edge
It’s not all about the new boats. Many electronics and propulsion companies wait until boat-show season to introduce their latest technologies, taking advantage of a willing and captive audience. The most significant buzz at last January’s Düsseldorf show revolved around electric propulsion.
Electric power has tremendous appeal in the European market, where fuel is expensive (think $8 per gallon). Companies have been working hard to meet growing demand for propulsion that is sensitive to the environment and has a lower cost of operation. Swedish boatbuilder Nimbus introduced the 305 Drophead with Torqeedo’s Deep Blue 80i electrical drive and a new battery pack developed by Torqeedo with BMW, bringing automotive tech to the marine market.
There was also Giebelstadt, Germany-based Bavaria Yachts, which is Europe’s second-largest boatbuilder and the largest exhibitor at Düsseldorf. Its E-40 Fly, available with both electric and hybrid propulsion options, made its German debut at the show. Better batteries aren’t far off, so we got to witness what’s going on at the cutting edge of marine power.
Enjoy the Amenities
Some innovations at Düsseldorf are dedicated entirely to giving guests a good experience. The show incorporated every type of watersports activity imaginable. Wakeboarders careened across a cable course in one enormous pool, while elsewhere, visitors learned how to stand-up paddleboard and skimboard.
At the show’s Dive Centre, PADI, Protec and SSI offered scuba instruction in a nearly 6-foot-deep tank with glass windows (loaner gear is provided), and in Outdoor World, paddlers could test canoes, kayaks and folding boats on a 90-meter river course. Nearby, anglers tested gear and learned to cast fly rods.
The real headline, of course, was the world’s first standing, deepwater wave in the Surfers Village. Up to six surfers or SUPers can ride it at the same time, and waves range from 2.3 to 5.9 feet.
Then there were the creative watering holes popping up in the midst of the convention halls. One bartender served cocktails out of a classic little fishing boat, another out of a white-painted surfer’s hut, and yet another out of a tiki bar.
With all of this, you may find new and different ways to enjoy the water, which might change the way you shop for a boat.
Take a Joy Ride
At the Düsseldorf show, we saw more boats — and more people looking at boats — than we could have imagined. The one thing we didn’t get to do: take a demo ride. Fortunately, many boat shows have in-water segments that allow you to sea-trial a number of boats. At the Miami International Boat Show, for instance, there is an enormous selection of boats docked and at the ready. Check with the boatbuilders’ schedules to see when they are offering demo rides and take advantage of as many as you can. It’s the best way to find out if your dream boat actually works the way you want it to in reality.
Despite having an amazing experience, we left Düsseldorf with no new boat in hand. And that’s OK. (We saw a lot that we loved, but getting a boat all the way from Germany to Colorado wasn’t exactly in the cards anyway.) Don’t get caught up in the moment; if you don’t find the perfect boat in your show endeavors, don’t settle on a boat that will make you unhappy in the long run. Even if you’ve found the perfect boat, but it turns out to be a less-than-perfect deal, you have the power to walk away. At the very least, think of it as a negotiating tactic. Take out your floor map, go for a scuba dive, and come back later with a clear head.
Düsseldorf Travel Planner
What: 49th Annual Boot Düsseldorf International Boat Show
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; Saturday, January 20 to Sunday, January 28, 2018
Where: Messe Düsseldorf convention complex, Düsseldorf, Germany
Why: It’s the world’s largest boat and watersports trade show. And you can actually try the watersports, with expert instruction, in a climate-controlled environment. Trust us, you have to see it to believe it.
How: Order your entrance passes in advance at boat-dusseldorf.com. Fly into Düsseldorf (DUS) or Cologne/Bonn (CGN) and take a shuttle directly to Messe Düsseldorf, where you can stay on-site at the Tulip Inn Düsseldorf Arena. All tickets allow free use of public transportation within the city’s VRR network.