Q: When is the best time to buy a boat?
A: Beautiful question! And it makes this story all the more timely. It’s boat-show season. It’s winter. This is when you’ll find the best deals because sellers want to get boats moving through the pipeline; late fall is pretty good too, when everyone wants to move inventory. “It’s a buyer’s market,” naval architect Lou Codega says. “Anybody who walks in with money should expect to be treated very, very well.” But you need to come into the buying game armed. See, once the seller starts asking the questions, you’re his. Don’t follow. You ask. You lead. And you can do that by asking these 17 — well, 16 now — questions.
Q: Is the manufacturer still in business?
A: This is reality. Since the Great Recession hit back in December of aught-seven, a few businesses have been folding like poker players with crummy hands. Make sure this boat’s manufacturer is up and running, that it will honor the warranty. More on that follows.
Q: Can I have a pre-purchase survey?
A: It’d better be “yes.” If you’re pulling out of the marina in a new $100,000 machine, you want to know that a boat-construction expert poured over every little detail, every nut, every seal, every potential flaw. Your bank or insurance company may demand it anyway. Finding a surveyor is easy: The National Association of Marine Surveyors (it’s even in the name!) and the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (ditto!) have a list. Most of our sources put the cost of inspection at roughly $10 per foot. It’s a minor investment for a serious buy.
Q: Mind if I take her out for a spin?
A: Again, you want to hear “yes.” Never buy a boat without a test spin around the harbor. Oh, sure, the salesman doesn’t want to take the boat off the trailer and put it in the water, and of course he’ll feed you the line that their insurance doesn’t cover it, but, hey, you’re the one spending a fortune here, and you want everything to work. If he won’t let you wet the hull, take your business elsewhere. “I’m amazed at how often people sometimes buy boats without trying them out,” says Winn Willard, director of Hunt Yachts. “Does anyone buy a car without driving it? Honestly, most cars behave kind of the same on the road, but a boat, oh yeah, they could scare you half to death.”
Q: What does the warranty cover, exactly?
A: If the radio blows out in your fresh-off-the-lot Porsche 911, the Porsche dealership deals with it. That’s not always the case with a boat. If the GPS shoots craps, for instance, some dealers will send you to Raytheon. “You always want to know what kind of guarantee there is up front,” says Monterey Boats project manager Roy Ellis. Also ask where you’ll take it for a tuneup. Does the warranty cover that? Get it all in writing.
Q: Who are your point people for warranties with the manufacturer?
A: Some boatbuilders have disbanded their warranty departments in recent months. The builders who are confident in their long-term health still have close relationships with their dealers. The names of the people who handle warranties won’t mean anything to you, but the fact that the dealer knows them will tell you plenty.