10 Expert Tips for Sailboat Show Goers

Insider Secrets to Maximize your Time at the Show

After more than two decades of attending the U.S. Sailboat Show, we here at SpinSheet have become experts at navigating the event. Here are our top 10 insider tips to planning your visit October 10-14.

1. Stay overnight (or not). If you have not found accommodations by Labor Day, you could be out of luck. Not only do thousands of show goers descend upon Annapolis for the big show, but thousands of exhibitors come in from all over the world; many book houses and hotels a year in advance. Try clicking through AirBnB and VRBO for last-minute accommodations, and send a note to anyone you know in the Annapolis region to see if they have a friend with a guest house or basement apartment. Otherwise, you will have to settle for a hotel room outside of town.

Photo by Josh Davidson

2. Choose your day. How busy the show will be on any given day depends greatly upon the weather. A sunny Saturday will always be the busiest day, with a sunny Sunday coming in second. Friday is a wonderful day to visit, but it can get crowded, too, especially if (you guessed it) the sun shines. Thursday and Monday are the most lightly attended days of the five-day show. The one big advantage of Thursday (Preview Day), which costs $35 to enter, is that exhibitors are bright-eyed and excited. It’s also the day when the presidents and CEOs will show up to rub elbows with other industry experts. If you dislike crowds and are a serious boat shopper, Thursday is worth the ticket price. The busiest time of any given show day will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 


3. Park well. Parking is the big “P” word in Annapolis. If you’d like to see a true blue Annapolitan foam at the mouth, just ask him “How’s parking downtown?” It’s challenging even when there’s no show in town. Here’s the local’s secret to boat show parking: get a ride into town, or park far away and walk or take the water taxi. We know this is not what you want to hear. You want it to be easier than that. Truth be told, the parking system set up for the U.S. Sailboat Show—parking at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for $10 and taking the free shuttle in—is an excellent option. Second best is arriving early and parking at one several Annapolis garages (annapolisparking.com) and walking in or taking the free Circulator Trolley. Another option is to park at Eastport Elementary and walk over the bridge: expect to pay $30 to do so. 

Slip on shoes with some arch support are the way to go.

4. Choose the right shoes. See #3. You may do a lot of walking just to get to the show, and many of us, even veteran show goers, underestimate the amount of walking we will do within the show gates. Many sailors wear boat shoes, which seems like a great idea for stepping on and off boats, but beware of those offering little or no arch support. Most manufacturers don’t want you wearing shoes on the new boats at all. The key to appropriate footwear is “slip on, slip off.” Shoes with no laces yet with some support work best. Heels are a terrible idea, as are cowboy boots.


5. Make a list. If you’re boat shopping, make a list of your goals of how you intend to use the boat: daysailing, weekend cruising, sailing to the Caribbean or across an ocean, or racing. List the people who will sail with you often and/or who may sleep on the boat, such as children or grandchildren. List your sailing experience—perhaps not a full resume, but enough to answer questions about it. Yacht brokers will ask you such questions as they determine which boat will best suit you. If you have multiple goals at the show, such as buying new halyards and pricing out refrigeration systems, write them all down and prioritize them. Listing such things helps you stay focused when you get distracted by all the pretty, shiny things on display!

6. Make a plan. It’s easy to get turned around or overwhelmed within the gates of this enormous show. Even those of us who know the layout of the show say things such as “Oh, shoot! I should have stopped to see them when I was back in Tent C!” Cross check your list of boats or gear you seek with the map of the show to plan your day. Lunchtime is a good time to sit down, evaluate where you’ve been, and see what’s left to do before the day’s end. 


7. Bring pictures. If you have something specific on your boat you want fixed or re-engineered, take a picture of it. We’ve heard many industry specialists say how much they appreciate prepared customers. Rather than say “I want to fix that thingamabob next to the winch,” take a picture and be as specific as possible about your needs.


8. Bring a notebook. You think you’re going to remember sailors’ names and the names of their companies, but don’t underestimate what sensory overload, the hot sun, exhaustion, and beer will do to your memory. To come home with a bag full of brochures and business cards can be confusing and frustrating. Bring a notebook and a pen and write down boats names, items of interest, and the names and companies of experts you want to reach out to after the show. Boat and gear purchases can be huge investments, so why not be smart about them? 

9. Think of it as a journey. You might not find your perfect boat or the gear you were after, but to have the opportunity to pick the brains of so many sailing experts in one place is pretty special. Take advantage of it. Meet exhibitors, go to a few free seminars, strike up conversations with sailors at the lunch counter, bar, or ticket line. At the U.S. Sailboat Show, you’re among like-minded friends you haven’t met yet. Consider it part of the adventure.


10. Come visit SpinSheet. Team SpinSheet will be at our usual spot at F6/7 along the wall on Ego Alley across from Vacation Basin. Please stop by to say hello and tell us what you love about the magazine. We will have magazines, stickers, our signature anchor tattoos, free cups and water all day long, and freshly popped popcorn in the last hour of the show. We love meeting our readers… See you at the show!