Shop Winter Boat Shows

For gadgets and goodies

January 2011 Feature Janet Groene, with Gordon Groene

You have the houseboat of your dreams. Now comes the fun part: furnishing, fine-tuning and making a house (boat) a home. Online shopping is great, but by shopping local boat shows, the Houseboat Expo and large marine stores, you get a hands-on look, plus firsthand information and inspiration. In person, you'll see the newest and best.

Even at general boat or sporting goods shows, a lot can be learned about nautical products, from electronics and anchors to "green" cleaning products and the newest water toys. On the "household" side you'll find marine-theme items for the galley, bath and bedrooms. And you can shop for gift items for each other and your boating friends. Order an apron or paper napkins printed with the name of your boat. Buy her a gold seashell or silver seagull charm for her bracelet; buy him a pewter money clip in a nautical motif.

What to Bring 

Bring as many measurements to the show as possible: exact sizes of the beds in case you want to order custom bedding, the length you're looking for in a new sun fly or awning, how much space you have for a new grill, the length and width of windows that need new blinds.

You can also do the math in advance on how much cordage you'll need for new anchor rodes, how much wiring you'll need for the new stereo system or satellite dish, or how many watts you need an inverter to handle.

This is also an excellent opportunity to schmooze with company executives and sales reps who know their products inside out. If you bring a list of accessories and model numbers you have in your houseboat, you can talk to factory people about upgrades, add-ons, recalls and trade-ins.

If you have a complaint, this is the place to make your case. The last thing they want in their booth is an unhappy owner of their brand or model. Bring numbers, receipts, maintenance records and all other paper work, behave in a reasonable manner and our guess is that your complaint will be resolved swiftly and amicably.

By talking to factory reps you'll learn about each product's use and care. Find out how to replace lost user manuals. Ask the salesperson to explain fine points of the warranty. Ask what is on the drawing boards for next year. Make a friend. The older your houseboat and its gear, the more important it is to know industry insiders who want to keep you up and running, happy with the houseboating lifestyle.   

Shop for the "Household"

No matter how large and luxurious your houseboat, galley cooking is a special art requiring special gear. You need galley ware that's versatile, the most compact and lightweight to do the job, and made with marine quality materials that won't rust or corrode.

Look for the right pans in the right sizes for your stove, oven, grill and microwave. If they nest for storage, that's the best way to go. Add one or two ice chests to supplement the boat's refrigerators and to keep stinky fish and bait away from food supplies. Look for stackable storage containers with square corners, so you can carry a lot in the least space. The larger the storage space (e.g. an unused bunk) the more important it is to compartmentalize it before it turns into a jumbled mess. At the show you'll see bins and bags of all kinds to help divide and conquer stowage areas.

Buy good knives with a sturdy knife rack to protect blades. Thrown in a drawer, good knives rattle around and get damaged underway. Look for durable, lightweight dishes in a nautical design, high quality stainless steel tableware and, if you don't have a dishwasher, look for a folding dish drying rack.

Boat shows are a good place to find double-duty devices such as a cutting board that sits over the sink to serve as counter space, and appliances that work on 12 or 110 volts. You'll find folding furniture in high quality woods with brass construction: tables, footstools, and chairs to use on deck or at the table.

Bring the family for the pageantry, fun and hot dogs. Bring your wish list. And bring measurements, just in case.


About the Author     
The Groenes lived aboard for 10 years and wrote books including Creating Comfort Afloat and Living Aboard.  Janet's recipes are found at

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