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Float your Boat at Boats Afloat

by Evin Moore

Boats Afloat 2018: Photo by Alex Kwanten

Forty years and counting, the South Lake Union Boats Afloat in-water boat show is upon us. Read on for our insider’s guide for getting the most out of 2018’s show!
Words: Evin Moore | Photos: Alex Kwanten

AAs the summer winds down, most of us try to squeeze in every last drop of the season while we can. But some boat show junkies are torn between wishing the days would last forever and wishing they would fly by so the largest outdoor boat show on the West Coast, January’s Seattle Boat Show, would get here already. Meanwhile, the Lake Union Boats Afloat show is back this year in Chandler’s Cove from September 13-16. As Northwest Yachting goes to press, more than 200 boats are ready to float in the waters of South Lake Union, an urban lake and the heart of Seattle’s boat business. That’s a veritable fleet of new and used boats you can hop aboard or just take in as you stroll the docks. Notably, Boats Afloat is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

“The show started in 1978 at Shilshole Bay Marina and moved to South Lake Union in the ‘90s,” explains Bonnie Robertson, executive director of the Northwest Yacht Brokers Association (NYBA), which puts on the show. The show started out with sailboats exclusively and then grew to include almost every boat type from motoryachts to tenders. The Boats Afloat show was born out of the need to see bigger yachts and cruisers in their natural environment.

“The best place to see big boats is in the water,” Robertson said. We are talking big, folks, so big that Century Link just wasn’t large enough to handle many of them at the annual Seattle Boat Show. The need for a floating boat show became apparent to the brokers’ association and they purchased the show in 1988. Every year since, Boats Afloat has grown and this year promises to be bigger than last.

About six years ago, the NYBA decided to expand the show’s audience. “People started thinking the show was just about expensive cruisers and yachts,” Robertson said. The association branched out to different markets, and now Boats Afloat features a wide variety of boats and activities, attracting both young and old, newbies as well as yachties. “We have expanded the variety and price point, so there is something for everyone,” Robertson says.

Activities and Events

Even those not ready for boat ownership will find Boats Afloat intriguing. There are plenty of free educational seminars and experts to ask about moorage, financing, and insurance for boats. The show features free boat rides, sponsored by the Seattle Sailing Club and Seattle Boat Share, so a potential mariner can get out on the water with both sail and power boats. The boat share program is a way for people to learn about boating without taking on the commitment of owning a motorboat, and Boats Afloat attendees can learn all about the boat rental program. If you are a future sailor, the Seattle Sailing Club is offering lessons, and if you are hooked after a spin around Lake Union, you’ll know where to go next.

Shopping for a boat? Close to 50 local brokers are showing off their latest and greatest, plus more than 40 vendors and exhibitors will be offering great deals on every marine product and service you’ll ever need. This year, the show is featuring Boats of Notes, an impressive lineup of marine beauties that range from power to sail, new to old.

Boats Afloat 2018: Photos by Alex Kwanten

With over 200 boats on display and more than 40 vendors, attendees are sure to have a full dance card.

There is plenty of opportunity to see these boats and more during the show’s run at the south end of Lake Union. On Thursday, September 13, and Friday, September 14, the hours are from 1100 to 1800 hours; weekend hours are 1000 to 1800 hours. Tickets are reasonable with one-day adult tickets going for $14; youth from 13 to 17 years will pay $5 to enter and under 12 are free. An all-access pass is a bargain at $25. There are discounted tickets during weekday afternoons from 1600 to 1800 hours for a mere $7. A good deal on tickets is plenty reason to slip out of work early.

Dress for the Part

Prepare to spend some time perusing! How often do you board a yacht, much less many yachts, in a day? Be forewarned though, an all-outdoor show means that the weather is more of a factor than at indoor winter shows. Hours on the dock require protection from the sun, so be sure to bring sunscreen, hats, and glasses. If you plan to board any boats for a closer look, be respectful of the owners and wear deck shoes. Seattle tends to be nice in September, but the weather can go from cloudy to bright and back quickly, so consider dressing in layers and packing a small collapsible umbrella for the possible rain.

Plan Ahead

Make the most of the show by coming up with a plan before you attend. Boats Afloat isn’t as expansive as the Seattle Boat Show, but some idea of what you’ll be doing can make or break the experience.

First, know why you are going to the show: are you going to take in the sights, learn more about boating, or are seriously considering buying a boat. Maybe you are somewhere in between. Many vendors and exhibitors are expected this year, selling electronics, gear, and yacht maintenance, plus services like marine insurance and finance. Between the vendors and yacht brokers, there are plenty of opportunities for deals and steep discounts. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little something extra if you’ve already shown you’re a serious customer, boat shows are where vendors and brokers are looking to make new lifelong customers, and they’re comfortable offering a little something extra.

Boats of Note

More than 200 boats will be on display for both curious boaters just perusing and perspective buyers who want to take a closer look. Browse everything from the latest in kayaks to 90’ luxury motor yachts. The range in options, plus the fact that both new and used boats are up for sale, means something of interest is available in everyone’s budget. All boats are available for day dreaming and if you want to dream big, check out the Boats of Note. Who knows, at the next Boats Afloat your dreams may come true.


Ocean Alexander 88
Offered by: Alexander Marine USA
Noteworthy: Created to celebrate Alexander Marine’s 40th anniversary. Features larger galley, hi-low swim step, ample flybridge aft seating.

2019 Riviera 5400 Sport Yacht
Offered by: Emerald Pacific Yachts
Noteworthy: Nearly 360-degree view windows, wide walkaround side decks, and tender garage for up to 11’ tender.

Endurance 658
Offered by: Hampton Yachts
Noteworthy: Only yacht in its class to feature a day head on the aft deck, internal staircase from salon to crew quarters, and sunroof on hardtop.

2018 Lindell 42 Navigator
Offered by: Inside Passage Yacht Sales
Noteworthy: Twin Volvo IPS drive, two queen berths, walk-in shower, infused 120-gallon lighted, recirculated
live well with pump.

Boston Whaler 350 Realm
Offered by: Lake Union Sea Ray
Noteworthy: Combines the open-cockpit versatility of a center console and the comfort of a cabin cruiser. First one available in the Northwest.

2019 Cruisers Yachts 42 Cantius
Offered by: Silver Seas Yachts

Noteworthy: Up and aft galley, two staterooms, and two heads with separate showers, one-piece windshield and hydraulic platform.


Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490
Offered by: Marine Servicenter
Noteworthy: Inclined walk-around side decks for movement between twin helms, full length chined hull, twin rudders, and newly designed interior.

Fountaine Pajot Lucia 40
Offered by: Emerald Pacific Yachts
Noteworthy: Features an AC Genset, large interior with 360-degree line of sight, spacious owner’s suite and two guest cabins.

Oster 53
Offered by: Swiftsure Yachts
Noteworthy: Designed in 1999 by Rob Humphreys, with two custom staterooms, a bunk room, two ensuite and one “day head.” Updated electronics package and stereo installed in 2017.

The Lake Union Boat Show attracts both locals and people from out of town. No matter where you come from, you can enjoy both the boat show and Seattle as a destination. Last year, the boat show had an attendance of approximately 8,000 and this year promises to attract more. There are plenty of accommodations, dining spots, and activities in South Lake Union. Consider staying overnight in a hotel within walking distance to the show. Hotels in the immediate area include the Silver Cloud Inn-Lake Union, Marriott Courtyard-Lake Union, Residence Inn by Marriott, and the EVEN Hotel-Lake Union. Both the Silver Cloud Inn and Marriott Courtyard offer discounts to show attendees.

If you’re planning on driving to the show, you have a couple of parking options around Chandler Cove; you can pay for parking at Chandler’s Cove Marina, Daniel’s Broiler, Ocean Alexander Marina, Yale Avenue North at Moss Bay, Fairview Ave North, Lake Union Park, and there is city parking along Westlake. The show offers free shuttle rides during the weekend to Chandler Cove from 300 Yale St North. Parking tickets to that lot can be purchased online and more show information can be found at boatsafloatshow.com.


Boats Afloat is more than just a chance to hop aboard boats and talk to brokers, it offers a whole education about the boating experience for every one and every age.

Adult sailing lessons are available all four days of the event. These lessons are perfect for any beginner looking for an affordable introduction to sailing, or more experienced sailors whose skills have become rusty.

The three-hour course is brief but touches on everything a sailor needs to know: wind direction, points of sail, sail trim, terminology and parts of the boat, safety on the water, and rules of the road. The course also covers crew positions and maneuvers, driving the sailboat under sail power, and the basics of sailing knots. The classes are $55 a person and are split between 1.5 hours of classroom instruction and 1.5 hours of on-water practice. Preregistration is required as classes are limited to 16 people a day.

Boats Afloat will be hosting a series of women’s docking classes. Docking is a nerve-wracking maneuver, and an essential skill that can take years to perfect. Nothing says competent skipper like the ability to easily guide a boat to a dock. These free 25-minute classes give women a chance to learn new docking tips, and includes 20 minutes of in-water practice. Women looking to participate must purchase an e-ticket online and select the free ticket for the docking class. Get the tickets soon, space is limited. Classes will be instructed by Ben Johnson of Hampton Yacht Group and Jim Lowry of Seattle Boat Share. The sessions will demonstrate different docking scenarios, like docking in tight quarters, docking in wind, and undocking. Instructors will also cover steering, contrary motion and propulsion, hull effects, human factors like communication and skipper’s perspective, and use of lines and fenders.

Boats Afloat 2018: Photos by Alex Kwanten

Left: A Prestige 750, just one of the offerings of Sundance Yacht Sales from the 2017 show. Right: California Coast Yachts shows off a new Riva Iseo across from Alexander Marine’s displays.

Kids can get in on the action and make their own wooden toy boats. The team from the Center for Wooden Boats will be on hand to help youngsters pick out wooden hulls, sails, and decorative corks and bottle caps. Younger children might need adult supervision when using hand drills and hammers, but a fun time is sure to be had by all. Check in at the Discover Sailing Booth.

The whole family can regroup after a day of exploring for a free, relaxing boat ride that leaves right from the boat show dock. The Seattle Sailing Club will have sailboats from 26’ to 35’ available to ride. Passengers can get involved and handle the lines, try steering, or just sit back and enjoy the scenery. Seattle Boat Share is putting a variety of powerboats on the water and giving guests the chance to come aboard and get a taste of different boat styles while getting a look at the show from the water. Rides last 45 minutes and leave on the hour, free with show ticket, and welcomes all ages.

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