What to Look For:
Why do certain boats hold up to the rigors of the Volvo Penta Marine Engine Test Center? We were able to zoom in on several factors — the same ones you can look for when assessing a boat’s build quality.
 Hull-to-Deck Joint: Covered by the rub rail, this is where the two major components connect. You can see the joint from within anchor lockers, engine rooms, battery compartments — anywhere the interior of the hull side is accessible. The best joints are “bonded” with either fiberglass or adhesive (not just caulk) and bolted. Understand that the time spent doing the job better, say ’glassing versus riveting, is an enormous part of the cost difference between the methods.
 Good Support: A good foundation makes the boat stiff, reducing everything from cracking gelcoat to sound transmission. Stringers are the lengthwise structural members; bulkheads run across the beam. Nowadays, many are integral “grids” or “grillage systems” combining both in one large part. Either way, look for bulkheads that are full height to the underside of the cockpit sole. Stringers should be the same height for their entire length, and taller is better. These should either be ’glassed in place and the “tabbing” rounded (not made at a right angle) or glued in with one of the new superadhesives.
 Bolt-ons: Boats are chock full of necessities and luxuries that need to be fastened in place. Whether it’s a water heater or a battery charger, a cleat or a hatch hinge, check to see that it’s secured by through-bolts and locknuts and backed by a metal plate or relatively incompressible coring, such as plywood or composite board, to distribute the load. Full-length piano hinges are superior to strap hinges. When a wake rocks your anchorage, that towel rack in the head suddenly transforms into a grab rail. When your friend leans too hard on the open transom fish-box lid, he could go splash. Do you want to trust your keister to screws or bolts? Don’t be nuts — demand them.
Want to know which boats are the toughest? Check out the April issue of Boating to see which ones spend more time on the water than in the repair shop. And if you have some tough boat recommendations let us know in the forums.