A bit of planning can make all the difference to how much you get out of a visit to any boat show, here is some essential information to help you get the most out of your day.

Southampton Boat Show

With any show a bit of planning will ensure you have the best possible day.

Boat show tips

1. Travel

Transport links are usually very good to shows, while parking can be hard work with lots of cars arriving and leaving at similar times. This can also result in traffic congestion around the area, so my personal preference is to go for the public transport option - unless you really are planning to do a huge amount of shopping.

If you are driving, booking parking ahead usually saves some money and can save time too. You could always consider an overnight stay. Hotel often have special show offers, sometimes with a combined entry ticket price.

2. Boat viewings

The larger more expensive and popular boats will often have a waiting list for viewings and it's advisable to pre-book. If there's a model or brand you're really interested in then it's always worth contacting them ahead of time. Not only are you likely to get the opportunity to view some additional informative material beforehand so you can plan any questions and areas you want to check out properly, but you are also assured of a warm welcome as you will be viewed as a serious potential customer.

If you have done your research beforehand you will save yourself time and make your viewing more effective.

3. Look after your partner or guest

If you are taking family or friends, remember that the day needs to be a bit fun for them, unless you don't want them to come with you again! If they're not as keen on boats as you are, check out some of the more fun activities and interesting exhibits and break up the boat and equipment viewing with a bit more variety. If you are trying to convert them to the sport, a good experience will help (read also Get your family boating in 6 steps).

4. Food and drink

Eateries obviously get very busy at peek times but there's usually plenty of choice at the big shows.The Guinness bars at London and Southampton are where a lot of socialising and business get done - another good reason not to drive if you want to make the most of its offerings.

Southampton Boat Show was a great success this year and things seemed to be on the up.

Southampton Boat Show was a great success in 2014 and seems to be on the up.

The UK's major boat shows

There are a number of shows around the country, these are a few of the major ones. Watch out for our regular show previews and news on new model launches in the News and Events section of boats.com.

1. Southampton Boat Show

The Southampton Boat Show has grown over recent years and is particularly popular with families due to a number of factors. It is mainly outside, with a large section of the show on the water, so you can really get a proper feel for the boats afloat. There are also opportunities to get out on the water yourself.

Held in mid-September, the weather can be variable, you are usually guaranteed a few sunny days and a few wet ones as well. The show is held in Mayflower Park right next door to the West Quay Shopping Centre (which is a handy place to park if you arrive early enough). This means non-sailing partners with interests in other types of shopping may find something to keep them happy as well.

2. London Boat Show

The London Boat Show is held in January at the ExCeL exhibition centre in London's docklands. It has reduced in size in recent years and is not as big as it once was, just occupying one rather than two enormous halls.

This does have the advantage that it's easier to get round in a day or even half a day and has a more cosy atmosphere than it perhaps once did. There are often other shows happening in the other halls at the same time as the boat show, which again can make it attractive for those not so keen on boats. Thursday is usually a late night and gets very busy - a great chance to catch up with friends.

3. RYA Dinghy Show

If smaller boats are your thing then this is definitely the show for you. Held at London's Alexandra Palace over the first weekend in March it may be short in duration but it is packed with exhibitors.

There is pretty good parking provision (although you will have a longish walk uphill if you don't arrive early) and especially on Sundays when transport is generally more disruptive, this is quite a good option for those traveling from further afield.

You will find most of the UK's active dinghy classes on display at the show with many stands run by volunteer-run class associations. It is full of enthusiasm and a real buzz that is very different from the other shows, you'll also find a larger number of families and youngsters than at the other shows, with plenty of activities for them.

4. Beaulieu Boat Jumble

If it's kit rather than boats you are particularly interested in then a boat jumble can be a great way to come in under budget. Beaulieu is probably the best known and one of the biggest. get there early to snap up any bargains. See our guide to boat jumbles.

5. Regional shows

There are a number of regional shows including a small show in Scotland. Of particular interest are the various used boat shows that take place in a number of marinas particularly on the South Coast. These are a great opportunity to see a wide range of used models in one place and ideal if you are looking to buy a used boat but perhaps need to see a few more models in detail before you know exactly what you want. You might not actually buy your craft at the show. but it will help enormously with clarifying exactly the model you are after.

Hamble Point Boat Show

Visitors at Hamble Point Boat Show.

Written by: Gael Pawson
Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.