If you're in the market for a new boat — and who's not always at least looking — this may be the best time of the year to make your best deal. Why? Because it's boat show season, that's why!

Boat shows are where most of us get our information about new boats, according to a first-of-its-kind survey conducted recently by J.D. Power & Associates. The marketing firm that's famous for its automobile ratings based on customer satisfaction surveys recently completed a similar study among 22,000 late-model boat owners that, among other useful information, found that more than 56 percent of owners relied on boat shows as their main sources for boat-buying information. The balance, or 44 percent, said they relied on manufacturers' brochures for new boat info. Every January while growing up, whether we could afford a new boat or not, my dad and I went to the local show to see the new crop of watercraft for that model year. I'd return home from the event exhausted, dragging a shopping bag bursting with new-boat brochures, which I'd pore over and categorize by size and shape and dream about until spring. I still do that today, as part of my job as a boating writer and for sheer fun. Something at those shows clicked with me back then, and I've made boats and boating my career as well as my favorite pastime. And if you would like to get your child or your spouse interested in boating, just get them to your local boat show. Qualified shopping If you're serious about buying a new boat at the show, go early and with a plan, and plan to go again. To save time, trouble and money, don't even think about stepping onto the show floor without knowing your budget and what type of boat you want to buy. Both subjects need to be determined ahead of time by talking with your family or whomever else the purchase will impact. Once you know what kinds of boats you want to consider, and how much you can consider spending, shop the manufacturers and models that fit your criteria via the internet, using their web sites. Study the ads and boat articles in publications like this one to see what's out there and learn some of pros and cons of specific boats that strike your fancy and meet your boating needs. After you have identified a few models, make a list of those you're interested in to take to the boat show. If you're in the buying mode, I recommend going to the show twice, the first time with the family. Use that visit to see first-hand the models you're considering, screening those that meet your needs and getting valuable first reactions from your companions — but not doing any serious negotiating. Save that for the second trip, preferably during a mid-week day, by yourself, when the crowds are thin and sales people have time to work with you. If you remembered to ask, you may even have scored a free admission pass for your second visit from a dealer whose boat you showed special interest in during your reconnoiter trip. Be sure to take advantage of the boat show's unique ability to allow you to comparison shop boat prices, models and manufacturers that may be only a few steps apart. Don't be afraid to shop deals between competing dealers; allow yourself to have fun during the boat-buying process, which may result in ownership of a fishing boat that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.

Editor's note: This column first appeared in the January 2007 issue of Louisiana Sportsman. Subscribe to ensure you don't miss a single information-packed issue of the magazine, or download individual digital editions right to your computer or smartphone.