Boat show exhibitor traps and pitfalls

Boating industry members have been exhibiting their products, services and trade displays at organised boat and trade shows for many years. Boat and trade shows provide a unique and exciting opportunity for exposure to the industry and public, networking and ultimately generating future income.

Expenses incurred by the exhibitor at boat shows vary greatly depending on such things as the type of boat show, the position and size of the exhibition, setting up, transport, and other costs incurred including financial loses due to unforseen circumstances.

The last thing the exhibitor wants to incur, on top of planned expenses, are losses that could have been mitigated or avoided had the appropriate exhibition insurance and contracts been negotiated.

Avoiding these costs may be achieved through negotiating the conditions of exhibiting contracts and making sure insurance policies have the appropriate coverage with the effect of minimising adverse or hidden financial traps or pit falls. Some examples of potential pitfalls include:

  • Unexpected costs resulting from the cancellation or rescheduling of the event;
  • Damage to your exhibition or products caused by other exhibitors or event attendees;
  • Cost incurred due to poor preparation by either the exhibitor or the event organisers.

Contract Terms

The legal options available for exhibitors to protect their financial investment in a boat or trade show are via the appropriate clauses in insurance policies and exhibitor contracts.

There are many different scenarios where damages (loss) could occur and it is important that the appropriate insurance policy is entered to cover as many scenarios as possible. However, in reality insurance policies also have their limits and may not be a complete panacea or be cost effective.

The statement “the devil is in the detail” can not be any more real when it comes to contracts and avoidance of liability. From an event organisers perspective avoiding or shifting liability is extremely important especially where the event has the potential for large claims.

One common area where an event organiser is usually not liable is when the event is cancelled due mother nature, either completely or for a short period of time. This is often referred to within the clause “Force Majeure”. Within this clause liability can be limited due to events beyond the control of parties to the contract such as; war, political instability, fire, flood, cyclones and foul weather etc. Clauses such as these are common and are legal. Therefore, the exhibitor must do their home work. It is worthwhile, as part of the planning process, to consider local and seasonal weather patterns, provision of a foul weather alternative venue/plan, and the position of the trade display (inside or outside the pavilion). Of course some risks are not able to be planned for and in the case of a trade show being closed for a number of days due to foul weather, any costs incurred will be carried by the exhibitor.

However, where negligence is an issue this liability cannot be contracted out of therefore, where it is found that an organiser is negligent in their actions the exhibitor will be covered.

Aside from Force Majeure clauses and other clauses that may limit the organisers liability it is important that negotiations are entered so that any imbalance is addressed with a view to increasing the exhibitors rights and protection under the contract. However, often there is no individual contract just a list of rules which exhibitors sign and organisers adhere to and in such situations insurance policies and acceptance of loss for exhibitors are the reality.

Research and Planning

  • Get a copy of the exhibitor’s guide or rules from the boat or trade show organisers. These can often be found on the trade show website, if applicable;
  • Review the rules especially the section often referred to as “Standard Terms and Conditions of Contract. As well as clauses such as “Organisers or Venues responsibilities and limit of liability”;
  • If you are not able to understand these terms, let alone read them given the minuscule font size, get a lawyer to interpret the terms. Note: you can save money by giving clear specific instruction to your lawyer regarding the limit of liability;
  • Plan the exhibit and keep a log of all costs;
  • Asses the value of your total exhibit;
  • Consider insurance policy options;
  • Consider additional insurance policies to cover areas where liability is limited under the terms;
  • Comply with insurance policy and other requirements.


  • It may be possible to vary the standard form contract to suit the particular needs of the exhibitors. Contracts are agreements between parties, they are not fixed in stone and maybe open for negotiation and variation;
  • Bargaining position may depend on how much the exhibition is desired by the organisers. This might not always be only if you are a big player in the industry. Achieving exhibitor numbers or particular speciality areas among other things may be desirable for the organisers and give you a place to negotiate from;
  • Negotiations with the organisers in respect to contract terms should not be shied away from where possible.

The bottom line…

Finding the right balance between the potential benefit of your exhibition and potential risk of loss helps inform your decision making. It is crucial to know what is covered by your insurance policy, what the event organisers will cover under their rules or within their contacts and where the gaps are. In this way your decisions become informed decisions allowing for careful planning.

Remember the exhibitor has to weather those costs incurred by cancellation due to extreme weather conditions and if loses are due to an organisers negligence then the exhibitor should be covered. Therefore, it’s the grey area in between these two extremes that is up for negotiation. The simple message is; manage, plan, negotiate and insure where you can and know your exposure to liability.