10 Questions Not to Ask at a Boat Show

You may fancy yourself the king of deal-making. You may be the baron of bargain hunting. You may have been listening to sales pitches long before the dealer in front of you was so much as a gleam in his daddy's eye. It all matters not. When it comes to boat shows, there is one truth, and one truth alone, that lies beneath every great deal to be had on the docks.

Boat dealers are not at boat shows to sell boats.

In years past, selling a boat actually required, well, selling. These days, the docks are crammed with so many potential buyers that a dealer who has to spend a lot of time spinning his sales pitch is a dealer soon to be out of work. True, there will always be fly-by-night salesmen whose financial plan consists largely of shafting first-time buyers, but for the most part, dealers who want to stay in business focus on finding qualified buyers and nurturing repeat customers.

They're not at the show to sell boats. They're at the show to help qualified people buy.

Which means that if you present yourself as just such a person, you will earn their attention and their best effort to close the right deal for you.

Arrive prepared for serious conversation. Know how much you can spend. Research the half-dozen models you like. Know the value of your trade. Understand your family's boating needs, its desires and the differences you are willing to sacrifice.

If you don't possess this basic information, you're bound to say something that will tip the dealer off to the sad fact that you're wasting his time. The first question or two are often all that's needed to expose prop-kickers masquerading as real buyers.

Need proof? Read on-all real questions, all heard at boat shows, all guaranteed to ensure you do not get the best deal.

How much does this thing go for? There's a name for the person asking this question-a whistling go-for (pronounced go-fer)-because as soon as the dealer quotes the price tag, the person rolls his head back and whistles, usually before wiping his brow, shouting "Whew! and wandering away.

My boat for trade is perfect. You don't need to survey it, do you? Of course not. The dealer will also take your used car sight unseen. And maybe that swampland down in Arkansas, too. There are no 10s in the used-boat market, but this question tells the dealer your surefire trade is more like a zero.

Do you have any free boat show passes? If you're not able to pay $20 to get into the show, you're not going to spend a half-million while toting your pretzel and beer down the docks.

My wife will go along with this, right? Disagreement with a spouse is the biggest deal-breaker of them all. Dealers who hear this question stop talking until they see the whites of the wife's eyes.

If I come back with a sack of cash for you, can we work it so I don't have to pay taxes? If you were the dealer, with a line of people waiting for your attention, wouldn't you think twice before doing business with a hustler?

My friend says I need all the bells and whistles. Is that true? Of course it is, if you're the guy selling all the bells and whistles. Asking this question guarantees you will get them even if you don't need them.

Can my friends and I look around the boat? The dealer will lose interest fast if you and your five "expert friends want to spend the day nitpicking every hatch and latch. It's great to have people with you for advice, but if you want the dealer's full attention, make a list of questions and present them one on one.

How much will it cost me per month if I put down as little as possible? This is an invitation to chase your money, like paying the minimum on a credit card bill. If you put down only 10 percent, odds are you'll owe more than your boat will be worth at the end of just one year. Only a dealer of the same line will be able to offer you a way out, which means other dealers won't spend time talking with you.

I have a year-old boat that I paid $400,000 for. Why will you only give me $340,000 for the trade? Because that's what your boat is worth. This question tells the dealer you bought a boat without researching its potential resale value and are looking to stick him with a boat that didn't meet your needs. Next!

Are these engines diesels? Both of them? If you don't know the answer to this question before stepping aboard a boat you intend to purchase, we can't help. You deserve to get suckered.