Shift Your Concept Of What A Boat Show Is – And Grow The Culture.


Mid – America Show last week! photo YNOT Yachts

As you know we have been hammering how to help people understand that a classic boat is a cool option in the boating universe. And with that said, boat shows of any kind are events that attract people that are into boating. We can all agree on that. These huge new boat shows are actually one of the most important types of shows for us as a culture, because they are visited by the general public and they don’t even know that classic boats are an option. A classic boat show in the summer attracts folks that kinda know and are fascinated by them and want fellowship. But regardless are there. But here is the big insight.


Its about the people, the boats are just what we all have in common!

Focus your boat shows for the new people coming to the show. Now hold on.. Yes, you should have events and stuff for the folks that take the time and effort to bring thier boats to the event. BUT. They, us, me, are the product, and we are there to be together with you and spread the gospel. So there are TWO versions of a show that are critical. One internal, and the other external. I am not talking about posters and ads here, I am talking about how the show is set up. Here are some thought starters.


Boat shows are a chance to be with folks that share your passion!

  1. Make the show FREE Admission (if you can). Don’t over charge, this isn’t a fund raiser its marketing!
  2. Have Before and After boats. Like Mike Mayor brought to the Portland show. Show folks that it can be done!
  3. Bring entry level boats. Have simple under $20K boats there to show that you can easily get one and be part of the community
  4. Give rides, lots of rides, more rides, and even more rides.
  5. Market at different places than you normally do. Like a Car Parts store, bowling alleys, new boat stores, vintage clothing stores, antique malls. Park Classic boats with huge signs on them around town. Tow a classic boat around with a sign. Sky write, that’s an old way to market. Buy a bill board in town. The point here is to reach NEW people.
  6. Invite fiberglass classic boats. Show people that a 1970 anything is a classic. These events are there to change and inspire folks to get involved. One of the best shows in recent history was the Sunnyland show that invited the Correct Craft boats to the party. It changed everything for us.
  7. Learn from the YNOT guys! Drive your boats around, make noise and have fun ripping up the water. The YNOT gang have added live and joy to all the shows they go to. WE WANT MORE!
  8. Bring engines, have mechanics there at the events to sell the concept of analog engines!
  9. Have any 20 year olds in your family? Bring them, pay them to come, bribe them, feed them, what ever, pay for there Uber to the show, text them whatever. It’s very important to associate younger hip people with our classic boats. They secretly love them, but hanging around a bunch of “q tips” is not cool! Remember we are talking about a boat show here. Not real life. Take photos of them and share those on social media. Not the ones of you for gods sake. Have you looked in the mirror lately? I did and curled up in the corner!
  10.  Remember that a boat show is for the people COMING to the show, not you. You are the sell, the product and the reason they are coming. Focus on the consumer, not yourself.

Algonac! A boat show paradise!

I know we have been preaching some top ten stuff lately, and know  that only a bit of each of these is helpful. But even if you do one or two of these things it might help a new person to the culture feel welcome and give them the boost they need. Now you kids go out there and sell us some club memberships! Oh, wait, Note, the membership to a club thing is a second conversation. Wait, just send them to us here at Woody Boater, we will infect them with Varnishitus! And before you know it they will be us! And isn’t that what classic boating is all about… Aboot in Canada!

28 replies
  1. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Thanks again for using your marketing skills to promote our wonderful life style. I strongly agree with your boat show points with a little exception to #10. I think the show is also for the boat owners participating in the event. Have it be a great event for them and include other people coming to see the show as much as possible. Last year at Algonac, we had a brand new member ride with us for the Friday cruise and lunch to Bryson’s island. She had a great day, got very involved and is now the editor of the chapter publication. Show people, by experience, that we have a lot of fun and they will want to get involved. Just my two cents!

  2. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    Park a woody next to one of those new $129000 pontoon boats. Went to the Milwaukee boat show and was shocked at the pontoons with 400 horse outboards and price tags over $100K. Where were they when Texx needed a place to sleep?

    • Wilson
      Wilson says:

      Jim just one outboard ??…I saw one in Boating magazine with three , 250 hp each. Of course the price tag was something like $200,000.

  3. Rabbit
    Rabbit says:

    Great post and great ideas, Matt. I’m a relatively new Woody Boater: Seven years. I have zero restoration skills. I couldn’t look at a boat in a show and tell you the upholstery is the wrong shade of red. In other words, I don’t know ****. But I love these old boats and, most importantly, using mine. (I judge the quality of my weekends by how much I spend at the gas dock.) What concerns me is that at age 58 I often feel like a young guy in the hobby. That’s not sustainable. Our hobby should attract a lot of the same young guys (and women!) who are so attracted to vintage motorcycles, rat rods, etc. We just need to educate them about the relative affordability and accessibility of the hobby. And most important, get them in a boat to experience it.

    • Dave Nau
      Dave Nau says:

      Three things:

      First, Rabbit is right about age. I’m 64 and usually referred to as one of the young guys – sheesh! I’m thinking of trying to get young people from other walks of life to come. Nerd to mix things up.

      Second, I think the time is right. At the Mid-America Boat Show, it seemed like everything was $30K plus, except for the most basic aluminum fishing boat, or the least expensive Bayliners, and all those were close to $20K. I like the idea of under $15K, and even under $10K but it is most likely to happen with a 16 foot fiberglass outboard from the 60s or 70s. Folks can start there and get wood later. That’s what I’m doing with my two 60s MFGs, and they still fit in judged shows. So I’m all for No. 6.

      Third, entry level boats and lots of rides are key, Nos. 3 and 4.. Also, if all people see is “Cadillac”, “Lincoln”, and “Mercedes-Benz”-type boats, they get the impression that you have to be rich to partake. That’s one the main reasons I keep showing up with my 1966 14′ MFG, “Little Blue”. It’s clearly a “Ford/Chevy”-type boat, and a compact “Falcon/Chevy II” at that. You have to start somewhere! And I plan to try to have both of my MFGs in our local shows this year doing nothing but rides all day. Both are entry level boats, too!

      • Bert Harris
        Bert Harris says:

        And we at YNOT yachts thought that you and your little blue boat should have taken a trophy home at that show. Big disappointment for us not to see that. You deserved it. Great boat and thanks for bringing it to the show and sharing it with all of us. Bert Harris

  4. Rob
    Rob says:

    It seemed to us that where-ever we took our 1937 35′ CC cruiser, we ended up with our own little boat show. I think most owners of antique boats enjoy the interaction with folks who seldom have the opportunity to see one up close. We encouraged photos, answered questions, invited people we had never met before aboard for a look-see, and generally talked up the hobby big time. It is a fun part of the wood boating experience and once I finish restoring Elude, we will be at it again. I am going to make up a nice sign that says ‘Please, touch this boat’.

  5. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    Here’s your real entry level wooden boat: 18’Giesler “Georgian Bay” built in 1972 and picked up for well under $5k. Couple hundred bucks and a few weeks during the spring to clean up and apply new varnish – then out and enjoying summer on the water.

    I’d love an earlier mahogany runabout, but it just doesn’t fit my lifestyle right now.

    As a newly minted “40” I can echo the comments about the hobby’s demographics. Someone mentioned the resurgence in rodding and the growth of Rat Rods… you can be certain no-one there is offering opinions about how someone has done it wrong, or that “it ain’t factory correct”. Simply a shared joy in tinkering and running what you got. The rat-rod phenomenon is drawing folk into the car hobby – and some of those new folk then gain an appreciation for the roots of the hobby, restoration, the pursuit of that 100 point car – etc.

    There’s a place for accuracy in the woody boating hobby (and I’d say it’s critical to have it) – but also a place for encouraging folk to simply enjoy a wooden boat and do with it what makes them happy. If someone overhears you picking on an owner’s choice of stain or cushion colours as being inaccurate, you’re just making the hobby seem elitist and unappealing – potentially torpedoing the interest of a future woody boater.

    • Kelly Wittenauer
      Kelly Wittenauer says:

      You make excellent points about elitist attitudes being a turn-off. While I appreciate the “perfect” boats and the history preserved by their owners, that’s not where I find fun in the hobby. Including a broad range of boats & ways of enjoying them is important.

  6. Mark in Ohio (sometimes da U.P.)
    Mark in Ohio (sometimes da U.P.) says:

    Something I have been thinking about for awhile. Today’s article inspired me to comment.. I am also into classic cars. The classic car people have “cruise ins”. They select a Burger joint, or a store parking lot, advertise it, and people can come and go with their classic cars. Its a blast! Perhaps the same could be with done classic boats. select a waterfront Bar, Hotel, or a Marina for this event. Boats will come and go. Many people like going to these type of events. They can show off their “user classic”, grab something to eat, and not be judged. I have seen a lot of friendships developed, and ideas exchanged at these type of events. It also does not kill a whole day. If you have young kids who want to go tubing and swimming, they do not want to waste a whole day standing around. I agree we need to do all we can to get young people interested in this hobby/passion. Weather it be wood, plastic, or classic aluminum. We need to do everything to get them hooked. I have introduced this hobby to my kids.

    • Kelly Wittenauer
      Kelly Wittenauer says:

      My husband & I also have classic cars, as well as a wood boat. We’ve attended cruise-ins with his ’77 Mini & he vintage races a ’64 Mini. Events like those provide enjoyment for those already in the hobby & are important for retaining members. But I feel to attract new people, requires actual shows. The attraction of a show is knowing that there will be plenty to see at the advertised time & place. If a potential member arrives at the appointed dock only to find that everyone’s out on the lake, so there’s nothing to see & no one to answer their questions – will they come back later?

  7. Randy Rush Captain Grumpy
    Randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I am 61 and that is somewhat young at the boat show. As far as what people get excited about, if your not a old boat person all brown boats are chris crafts, they all look the same, I have never considered myself to be anything but a poor guy at the show. Never owned a wood boat that cost more than $3500 and that was with a $2000 trailer under it. I pride myself on bringing odd ball boats to the show. People love to ask a ton of questions, read the story of the boat, look at the before and after pictures. Hell our user boat a 57 Sears 22′ express cruiser kit boat always has a ton of people around it. Its named 300 Bucks! , that’s what I paid for it, that’s a great story in its self. We always let anyone on the boat, kids love having there pictures taken driving the boat with a skipper caps. Parents are shocked that anyone would let there kids on a “show boat” . And my 2 daughters 23 & 26 take off time from work to drive our boat to the show and give tours. So yes there is hope my kids may actually keep my boat when im gone.

  8. Derk Brill
    Derk Brill says:

    Regarding the Mid-Americia show itself, does anyone know anything about that 21′ ’61 Continental on the right in the first photo? Looks awfully familiar (minus the hardtop).

  9. JFKarlson
    JFKarlson says:

    There’s nothing more fun than seeing the expression of delight when you take someone on their first ride in a “real” boat. Boat rides. Boat rides. Boat rides!

    • Rabbit
      Rabbit says:

      Mr. JFKarlson gave my first boat ride, boat ride, boat ride (at least since spending many days in my uncle’s Sea Skiff on Lake Minnetonka as a young lad.) And that all started me down this dark path…

  10. Andreas Jordahl Rhude
    Andreas Jordahl Rhude says:

    Here’s the million dollar photo in a $8,000.00 or so classic old boat. Feel free to use the photo and credit Rod Mellott the photographer. Yes that’s me and the boat is a 1955 Thompson 14 ft. Thomboy outboard

  11. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    If ACBS has any brains at all they’ll ask chapters to submit strategic plan for their chapter’s longevity plan because some leadership is clueless to this issue and just keeps backslapping themselves over their “success” and ignoring the inevitable as their numbers level off or decline.

  12. DanT
    DanT says:

    Never hurts to try to introduce new folk to our rather eccentric hobby, but some get it and most don’t. I love wooden boats! It’s not for everyone and I’m OK with that.

  13. Bert Harris
    Bert Harris says:

    I Have taken the Arenacraft to more car shows than boat shows now. They are great fun. I just show up and pay the entry fee because if you try to pre register they deny you.

  14. Tuobanur
    Tuobanur says:

    Something about shows (car, boat, motorcycle, etc.) that has always intrigued me is why do the participants have to pay to enter there car, boat, etc.? We are the show, I realize that there are expenses that have to be covered but shouldn’t that come from somewhere else (spectators, sponsors, etc.), it just seems to me that it’s just a little bass ackwords??

  15. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    I’m probably too late in the day for anyone to see this but if in fact we want a younger generation to know what we are doing then we must find them where they are. Albert Einstein once said, ” “I fear the day that technology will surpass human interaction.” The day has come…Look at the younger generation…They are glued to their phone constantly. If we want their attention, then that is where we find them with Facebook,, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and a batch of youtube videos to capture their attention. Mention your hobby as part of your Linkdin profile. When they see us there they may be drawn to an actual show.

  16. Randy
    Randy says:

    … yep, these boats are affordable!!!! That 16′ Rocket in the header today is totally restored — hull, engine, everything — still for sale for only $16,000. Has had very little use since restoration, and includes a trailer!

  17. 72hornet
    72hornet says:

    I just left a shop this afternoon where the 30 something year old grandson is getting his grandfathers 1958 Chris Craft Sportsman running again after spending 25 years in the rack storage building. It’s in need of a serious refinish, but just getting the mechanicals ship shape is his first step. He was able to run it a few times, but since his “toe” has touched the water, decided he needed to reconnect with his grandfathers memory and see for himself what the Woodyboater lifestyle is all about. He referred his boat as the nautical “rat rod” due to the well used and in need of a major refinish patina Maybe a new judging class will now be born?

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