SHOPPING for a new boat? A growing number of prospective boaters now spend endless hours scanning the Internet, gathering reams of information. While some Web sites provide product photos, the only way you can actually see, touch and smell that new boat is to stand on its deck. This can only be done either by visiting a dealer showroom or, better yet, attending one or more of the upcoming boat and outdoor shows. In many ways, the boat and outdoor shows are comparable to shopping in a gigantic mall where the only things sold are boats, motors, marine accessories and fishing tackle.

There have been several radical changes in the marine industry during the past year. Outboard engines, in particular, have seen dramatic advances in technology in order to comply with new EPA air pollution standards. While some have been converted to more efficient four-stroke engines, others have advanced, digital fuel injection systems that not only offer lower emissions but, additionally, phenomenal fuel economy.

Boaters will find innovative, catamaran hull designs that tame the roughest waves, transforming what was once considered a rough day on the water into a leisurely ride on the Chesapeake. The sleek, narrow, twin-hull cats are dry riding, extremely stable and roomy and have a relatively shallow draft for their size. They range in length from 21 to 65 feet and have more options than anyone can possibly imagine.

Loran-C navigational systems are rapidly fading into the past, as compact Global Positioning Systems (GPS) guide boaters into the next millennium. Prices have fallen dramatically during the past year, and some hand-held units sell for under $100. Small boat radar systems, some no larger than an average depth finder, now boast ranges exceeding 15 miles. They're water resistant, have high-resolution LCD screens and feature alarm systems and filters previously found only on the most expensive units.

Recreational anglers will find more fishing boats and fishing tackle than ever before. No matter whether you're an avid bass angler or enjoy fishing the offshore canyons for marlin and tuna, you'll find all the right tackle under one roof. Additionally, many of the shows feature seminars by professional anglers at no charge. You can talk one-on-one with some of the top names in recreational fishing and learn their secrets to success. You'll find all of this and more at the following area fishing, boating and outdoor shows.

Boat and Outdoor Shows

CHESAPEAKE SPORT FISHING SHOW -- Jan. 7-9 at Middleton Sportsmans Hall in Waldorf. From the intersection of U.S. 301 and Route 5, drive south on Route 5 to Renner Road (on right) approximately 10 minutes drive time from U.S. 301. Follow the signs. Admission is $5 adults, children 14 and younger free. Seminars by local charter captains, fishing guides and pro anglers. The show is open Jan. 7 from 6 to 10 p.m., Jan. 8 from 10 to 5, Jan. 9 from 9 to 3. Call 410/841-6974 or 904/280-4176.

BASS EXPO, SALTWATER FISHING & Fly Fishing Show -- Jan. 20-23 at the Maryland State Fairground in Timonium. Take I-95 north to I-695 west to I-83 north to Exit 17 Padonia Road and follow the signs. Admission is $8 adults, $4 ages 10-14, younger free. The show is open Jan. 20-21 from noon to 8, Jan. 22 from 9 to 8 and Jan. 23 from 9 to 6. Seminars by Ron Shuffield, Peter Thliveros, Don Iovino, Woo Daves, Eric Burnley, Bill Burton, Gary Diamond, Keith Kaufman, Keith Walters, Ed Darwin, Lefty Kreh, Jose Wejebe, Bob Clouser, Dave Whitelock, Bob Popovics, plus a host of local charter captains and fishing guides. (The fly fishing segment of the show runs Jan. 21-23 only.) Call 410/838-8687.

NATIONAL CAPITAL BOAT SHOW -- Jan. 27-30 at the Capital Expo Center, on Willard Road in Chantilly. Admission is $7 adults, $2 children ages 6-16, under 6 free. The show is open Jan. 27 from 4 to 9, Jan. 28 from 4 to 10, Jan. 29 from 10 to 8 and Jan. 30 from 10 to 5. Seminars by local charter captains and guides. Call 804/288-5653.

DELAWARE SPORTFISHING SHOW -- Jan. 28-30 at the Nur Temple, on U.S. 40 and U.S. 13 in New Castle, Del. The show is open Jan. 28 from 6 to 10, Jan. 29 from 10 to 7 and Jan. 30 from 10 to 4. Admission $5 adults, children under 15 free. Seminars by local charter captains, fishing guides and pro anglers. Call 410/841-6974 or 904/280-4176.

CHESAPEAKE BAY BOAT SHOW -- Feb. 5-13 at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 West Pratt Street, Baltimore. Admission is $7 adults, $3 children under 12. The show is open Feb. 5 from 11 to 10, Feb. 6 from 11 to 7, Feb. 7-11 from 5 to 10, Feb. 12 from 11 to 10 and Feb. 13 from 11 to 7. Seminars hosted by The Fisherman magazine and provided by local charter captains, fishing guides, manufacturers' representatives and local anglers. Call 212/922-1212.

EASTERN OUTDOOR SHOW -- Feb. 5-13 at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pa. Admission is $10 adults, $3 children under 12, children under 6 free. The show is open Feb. 5 from 10 to 8:30, Feb. 6 from 10 to 6, Feb. 7-12 from 10 to 8:30, Feb. 13 from 10 to 6. Seminars by local fishing and hunting guides, charter captains and manufacturers' representatives. Call 717/234-8091, 717/234-8141 or 800/511-8376.

MID-ATLANTIC SPORT & BOAT SHOW -- Feb. 5-13 at the Pavilion in Virginia Beach. Admission is $6 adults, children under 12 free. The show is open Feb. 5 from 10 to 7, Feb. 6 from noon to 7, Feb. 7-11 from 6 to 9, Feb. 12 from 10 to 8 and Feb. 13 from noon to 7. No seminars. Call 757/222-5504.

WASHINGTON BOAT SHOW -- Feb. 17-21 at the Washington Convention Center, Ninth and H streets NW. Admission is $9 adults, $3 children 6-12. The show is open Feb. 17-18 from noon to 9:30, Feb. 19 from 10 to 9, Feb. 20-21 from 11 to 6. Seminars by local charter captains, pro anglers and manufacturers' representatives. Call 703/823-7960.

CAPITAL SPORT FISHING, Travel & Outdoor Show -- Feb. 17-20 at the Capital Expo Center, on Willard Road in Chantilly. Admission is $8 adults, $3 children 5-12, under 5 free. The show is open Feb. 17-18 from 1 to 9:30, Feb. 19 from 10 to 7 and Feb. 20 from 10 to 6. Seminars on fishing, hunting, outdoors. Call 202/296-7200.

SEASIDE BOAT SHOW -- Feb. 18-20 at the Ocean City Convention Center, 40th and Ocean Highway, Ocean City, Md. Admission: $6 adults, $1 children ages 12-16, children under 12 free. The show is open Feb. 18 from 2 to 8, Feb. 19 from 10 to 8, Feb. 20 from 11 to 6. No seminars. Call 410/641-6301 or 410/289-8311.

SOLOMONS SPORTFISHING EXPO -- March 4-5 at the Holiday Inn, on Route 4 in the Solomons, Md. Admission: $5 adults, children under 12 free. The show is open 10 to 5 both days. Seminars by local charter captains and fishing guides. Call 410/326-3369.

ASMA SPORTFISHING EXPO -- March 3-5 at the Civic Center in Salisbury, Md. Admission is $4 adults, children under 8 free. The show is open March 3 from 5 to 9, March 4 from 10 to 9 and March 5 from 10 to 6. Seminars and demonstrations on surf casting, surf fishing and hunting techniques. Call 302/629-7236.