In September 2023, Andrew Howard enjoyed his second boat show of the northern summer.

Nominated for British Yachting Awards ‘Event of the Year’ for 2023, the Southampton Boat Show (15-24 September) was huge, with over 320 vessels of all shapes and sizes anchoring this large, expansive boat show in 2023.

This annual show is nowadays more than just about the boats and includes water sports activities, presentations from intrepid explorers, live music – and the most recent show even featured ‘Captain Sandy’ from the TV show Below Deck.

The WWI torpedo boat replica 4R based on a Coastal Motorboat.

What I loved about this show was that there was something for everyone: majestic motorboats; beautiful ocean cruising sailing boats; old naval vessels; a vast array of trailer boats; and lots of chandlery.

Southampton is Britain’s biggest boating festival, and it’s easy to see why. The sheer scale must be seen to be fully appreciated and is matched by the amount of organisation behind the scenes, which involves constructing a temporary marina, erecting a massive ‘ocean hall’ and installing a boulevard of stands and activities from the main entrance at West Quay Shopping Centre down to Mayflower Park, including a temporary footbridge over the busy road.

The show is open for nine days and is such an exciting, fun place to be. It was the most interactive boat show I have ever been to, and it felt celebratory in atmosphere, although nothing specific was being celebrated other than doing things on the water!

Indoor displays abounded

The ‘Foredeck’ featured an endless number of presenters to watch and learn from. Some highlights included ‘How to pass your Yachtmaster’, ‘VHF radio etiquette’ and ‘Sailing with Spinnakers’. Really practical stuff that many current and potential boat owners could learn from.

At the ‘On the Water’ zone, visitors could try out singlehanded dinghies, kayaks, paddleboards, and a Sun Odyssey 349. There was even a show-wide treasure hunt (for the kids, you understand…) plus knot-tying, face-painting, flyboard and jetski jumping demonstrations.

Classic wooden boats on display

The range of chandlers, sail makers, hardware, flooring, and service operators at the show was immense – well worth spending the time to check out. There was undoubtedly a wider range of options available than you’d typically see at a boat show.

For me, the number of smaller boat options was a highlight. Both motor and sailing boats appealed, including Cornish Crabbers and examples from Welsh boat manufacturer Swallow Yachts, which offer a classic look with modern performance, thanks to carbon masts and water ballast solutions.

The new Sunseeker Superhawk 55 was on display, and it is a breathtaking vessel. In time, it will likely become a global icon in the fast-cruiser market. It is a design that oozes performance and – to my mind – harks back to the stunning Sunseeker designs of old, many of which featured in James Bond movies.

The Sunseeker Superhawk 55 impressed

On the day we visited the show, a replica of a WW1 torpedo boat joined the show. Part of the Imperial War Museum collection, this 40ft vessel is a long, sleek craft that provided very little protection to its crew other than speed. It could reach up to 40 knots and was used to attack many large ships during WW1. The torpedo boat was one of many historic vessels on display – great to see maritime history feature as such an essential part of this boat show.

The Southampton Boat Show is superb – well worth the visit for the whole family. With so much to see, this is an excellent place to begin your boat search, even if you are looking for something a little different. BNZ

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