So you wanna’ buy a boat, eh? Well here’s my guide to making the process of getting yourself on the water a might easier.
What Kind of Boat
First ask yourself why you want a boat. How often can you expect to use it? Is it for you (for fishing or cruising) or is it a family boat from the outset? Are you going to trailer it, or dock it in a marina? Then ask yourself why you want a boat again, and see if the answers you come up with make sense.
Perhaps joining a rental club is a better idea for you. You pay a membership fee and schedule your boat when you want. Arrive at the dock and you’re off. Return, pay for fuel, and leave. No prepping, no maintenance, and no wash-downs after you’re beat from being on the boat all day.
Still want to buy? Ok, I get it.
Style will be a factor, but you may have your dreamboat in mind already. Regardless, include your spouse in the decision making process. Consider things such as ease of boarding from both the sides and the rear of your boat. If you have kids, how important will a swim platform be? You need to write all of this down before you start speaking to salespeople or looking for a used boat. The more you know about what you want and how you plan on using the boat … and who will be using it … the better your decision-making will be.
Do you really need a boat with a cabin, or would a center console make more sense? With large boats, is speed and deep-water handling ability key, or are you thinking of this as a getaway/vacation home with that you can move around? Again, do you need a big cabin or would you prefer a big deck? Do you need to go fast or do you want to mosey along enjoying life (and travel long distances somewhat economically)? How long do you intend to use your boat? From Memorial Day to Labor Day, or from April Fools Day to Pearl Harbor Day? All these decisions factor in.
Oh. And one of the most important decisions you’ll make — unless you’re a single male with no prospects of being anything other … ever — is what type head (bathroom) your boat will have. Females over the age of about six or seven want privacy and a nice environment for a bathroom. This is a major consideration if you want your boat used as you envision.
Naturally cost is a factor, but beyond the price you’ll pay for a boat, you may also have storage and hauling fees, maintenance fees, bottom painting, insurance … the list goes on and on. This all adds up on the monthly “nut.” The boat may cost $350 a month, but with fuel (gas and diesel) running around $4 a gallon, dockage fees at $40 a foot, etc., things can add up quickly.
If you’re buying new, you’ve got the assurance of warranties. Your boat itself will fall under a warranty, and the engine will be warrantied. That’s about as carefree a deal as you can get. Things may still go wrong, but at least there is recourse. And don’t hesitate to shop around at the boat shows.
A used boat, on the other hand, is sold under caveat emptor. Ask why the boat is for sale, how long it’s been on the market, and don’t buy a boat without a survey. You’ll want to know engine hours, the last time the boat was in the water, what the condition the trailer is (if appropriate). If it a used sailboat look at all the sails carefully. If you purchase a used boat from a dealer, there may be extended warrantees involved — a good thing. There won’t be any in private sales. Know what you’re looking at, know what you want, make sure you sea trial the boat and go over everything — everything — with the proverbial fine-toothed comb.
Used boats may come with a ton of electronics (of various vintage and in various shape), whereas electronics are options on new boats. Regardless, you will want a good sonar (a depth-finder/fish-finder – something that shows what’s under your boat); and, yes, they make forward-looking sonar as well. If you plan on any traveling (or bad-weather boating), a good chartplotter is very handy. Radar on large boats is a no brainer, but on smaller craft may be overkill.
Do you want music or television on board? Do you want (and can you fit) a 12-inch touch screen display, or will a five-incher be a smarter choice? The list goes on and on. With the exception of the aforementioned navigational electronics, everything is a luxury, but if you want it, get it while you can. Aftermarket installation — whether you do it yourself or have it done — can be a pain.
BoatUS offers a handy checklist for boat buying at boatus.com/buyer/guide/checklist.asp, as well as a complete and very thorough guide (for either buyer or seller) at boatus.com/buyer/guide/guide_intro.asp. The National Marine Manufacturers Association, through its Discover Boating program offers this one: discoverboating.com/buying/faq.aspx, as well.
And remember the old boater’s saying: The two happiest days of your life are the day you buy your boat … and the day you sell it. See ya’ — hopefully — on the water!