Every January for the past 50 years, the City of Dusseldorf in western Germany has hosted the boating spectacle known as “boot.” There are no caps in the word that simply means “boat” and is pronounced roughly the same way. If there’s only one boat show you make next winter, make it boot. In its 50th anniversary edition in 2019, boot set a few records by hosting nearly 2,000 exhibitors from 73 countries with booths and boats spread over 2.3 million square feet of exhibit space that were nestled into 16 halls. About a quarter million attendees from over 100 countries came over the show’s nine days to check out boats, equipment and all things nautical.

boot dusseldorf

The sheer size of the large powerboats out of the water at boot is staggering but it makes the buyer appreciate the "whole" boat.

I’ve attended countless boat shows over the past decade but boot is one that stands out. Owned by the Messe exhibition center (which is in turn is owned by the city of Dusseldorf) boot is the premier indoor venue in the world. As we toured the enormous facility, we learned that the organizers rarely rest. With wine and metallurgy events coming fast on the heels of the boat show, the facility would need to change over quickly. Such a wide variety of massive exhibitions is made possible because the show’s exhibitor and guest services are permanent so there’s nothing to re-invent with each show.

Petros Michelidakis, the forward-looking director of boot, has much on his plate each year. Understanding that today’s success is no guarantee of future longevity, Michelidakis is already planning a survey of the boating industry as well as of watersports enthusiasts to learn how the face of recreational marine will change and how best to serve the needs of exhibitors and show attendees in years to come.

Acres of boats and equipment

There is much to see at boot. Approximately five of the halls house powerboats of all sizes. Hall 6 houses large sized yachts and it’s bewildering to weave your way through a maze of 80+foot yachts which seem three times larger on land than they ever do in the water. Princess, Azimut, Absolute, Sunseeker and Beneteau loom over the visitor. For a better view, I went up to the gallery that runs along the perimeter about 50 feet above the show floor.

Although yachts over 80 feet cannot be displayed in a convention center, superyacht companies were also present made up mostly of design firms, yacht transport organizations and some equipment manufacturers displaying giant side thrusters.

Sailboats take up roughly two large halls. Multihull exhibitors like Outremer, Bali, Lagoon, Dragonfly and HH Catamarans exhibit in Hall 15 while monohull builders like Solaris, Elan, Jeanneau and others make Hall 16 their home. Boats up to about 35 feet have enough clearance to be brought in with their keels and full masts attached. For the large sailing yachts, either the keel is removed or the rig is limited to a show mast of about 10 feet. Sailboats from 20-70 feet are on display in heated comfort so it’s easy to comparison shop.

Trailer and towboats, RIBs and PWCs are also displayed, creating a virtual toy store for boaters. Altogether, there were nearly 1,500 power and sailboats this year so there was no shortage of new boats to peruse.

Marine equipment is in halls 10-12. Here, you’ll find electronics manufacturers like Raymarine and Garmin next to technical apparel companies like Helly Hansen and Musto. You can weave through the aisles to check out windlasses, life-rafts, refrigeration units, gensets, engines or spools of marine line.

Because the show is early in the year and because it’s such a draw, many builders and manufacturers debut new products here. For example, this year Torqeedo brought impressive electric propulsion while Neander displayed their Dtorque diesel outboard with an innovative dual crankshaft. Meanwhile Beneteau did a sneak peak of their new Excess catamaran line and Gunboat (now owned by Outremer) pitched a comeback.

Show goers can try out the latest in kayak and canoe technology first hand at one of the show's many interactive exhibits.

More than just boats

Unlike other boat shows, boot serves up something for everyone who enjoys the water. Hall 3 is dedicated to diving with an actual tank where divers float and show off the latest wet suits, masks, fins, regulators and tanks. There’s even a dedicated space for marine cameras complete with underwater rigs and strobe lights that are a draw for professional and amateur photographers alike.

Halls 13 and 14 are reserved for water tourism and are populated by charter companies as well as the tourism boards of waterside communities. The focus is heavily on European destinations so you can learn how to visit the waterways of Scotland, Croatia and Sweden but all regions of the world are represented including the Red Sea, Australia and Mexico.

Hands-on fun

So far, boot may sound like a boat show on steroids but mostly a lot of equipment. However, it’s the interactive nature of the activities here that really sets the show apart. Hall 14 holds an enormous tank where large fans generate “wind” for dinghy sailors. Show attendees can try their hand at sailing with instructors on hand to advise.

Surfing demonstrations take place on “The Wave”—a five-foot high and 29.5-foot wide wall of water that not only hosts exhibitions, but allows show goers to test equipment as they try to keep their footing on the fast-moving water. Flat-water pools include wakeboarding trial with an overhead two cable and a shallow “pond” where kids and adults can paddle a kayak or canoe. Paddle sports were highlighted this year with SUP yoga classes. Celebrities make the show too. Windsurfing legend, Robby Naish, opened the show on the first Friday and drew a crowd.

In addition to kite surfing, tow-in wakeboarding and foiling highlights, Beach World in Hall 12 served up drinks and music every day at 5 p.m. so tired visitors could relax, have a German bier and contemplate what they already did or were still planning to purchase.

Old town Dusseldorf offers a lovely respite for when the the boot show gets overwhelming.

Much to see and do

It takes about three days and a good pair of shoes to get through boot, the one-stop-shopping event for all things nautical. If you have any energy left, make your way to Dusseldorf’s Altstadt (historic old town) only a few stops away on the subway which is free (as is other public transportation) with your boot ticket.

Altstadt and its picturesque river walk hosts dozens of cafes, restaurants and boutiques. You can watch barges fighting the fast-flowing Rhine river while a hazy January sun hangs low in the sky. If you’re particularly ambitious and completely overloaded on boats, take a 30-minute train ride to Cologne and the Kolner Dom, a Catholic cathedral that took 600 years to build and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

boot is a not-to-be-missed show whether you’re actively in the market or just want to witness the “greatest (boat) show on Earth”. There is literally something for everyone. In its 50th year, boot even hosted Albert II, Prince of Monaco who came to highlight his ocean foundation that concentrates on environmental protection, renewable energy and biodiversity. Come for the boats, stay for the schnitzel and maybe you’ll even meet a prince.

The next staging of boot will take place January 18-26, 2020.

For more information, be sure to read The Ultimate Boat Show Guide.