Boat Buying Answers – How to Buy the Perfect Boat

Use our guide to get the answers you need before making that big purchase.

February 17, 2010
Boating Magazine - Boating Collage

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

But you can’t decide which one, right? Like any other game, boat buying is won and lost in the preparation. You need to get your priorities straight, your goals clear and your ducks in a row before you begin. Apply the following principles to help you make the best decision. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Rough Water

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Water Type Determining the type of water you intend to boat in most of the time drives a cascading series of decisions that can affect diverse characteristics, from which beach or cove you can explore to economy of operation. Hulls with deeper-V shapes ride smoother but draw more water and may require more power to achieve a given speed. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Modified

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Choosing the Right Hull Type Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Geography

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Wet or Dry? Marinas are costly but convenient. A trailer requires maintenance and registration, yet provides self-sufficient freedom. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - How Many People

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Crew Size The rated capacity, or the number of berths or seats, isn’t necessarily equal to the number of people that will be comfortable aboard. What’s your average outing duration? Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Determine Length

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Size Wise Displacement is a measure of volume and so is a better measure of boat size, especially for a cruiser. Most service fees are based on LOA. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Time Spent Boating

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Bed-and-Breakfast? Is sleeping aboard a reality for you? An alternative is to cruise to waterside hotels. Of course nothing beats dawn breaking in a scenic cove. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Water Sports

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Compromises? You can fish aboard a ski boat, ski from a fish boat and party aboard any boat. Be sure to consider the compromises before you buy. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Power Type

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Power Type Power choices are more varied than ever. Runabouts with jets and outboards now compete with sterndrives, and larger boats now feature pods or outboards in addition to sterndrives and inboards. Multiple engines make sense for enhanced dockside maneuverability, redundant safety for boaters operating far from shore and the production of enough horsepower to make the boat plane.How much is that? As a rule of thumb, look for a minimum of 100 horsepower per 2,000 pounds of displacement, including the weight of engines, gear and crew. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Leave Your Trade Out

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Paying For It You can plunk down a bag of cash for a boat, get a loan or provide a combination of trade-in, cash and financing. You know the price now, but you won’t know the cost until you sell the boat or trade it in. Boat loan rates averaged between 4.9 and 8 percent as we went to press. But rates change, so shopping as hard for them as for the boat pays off. How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Coming Clean With Your Trade In When you trade in your boat, your dealer has to sell two boats to make one sale. This can weaken your negotiating position. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - For Sale

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Selling Your Boat Trading in is often simpler. Selling it yourself usually nets a higher price but takes time and offers no tax advantages. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - True Cost

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – True Cost of Boat Ownership Boat loans can be stretched out over many years, easing the “cost entry.” Paying cash makes trading up — or out — easier. Boating Magazine
Floating Flybridge

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Cruising: Flybridge A flying-bridge boat provides more living space than a comparably sized express. Flybridge visibility is generally better, though seeing the transom during docking can be hard. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Cruising Express

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Cruising: Express Express boats offer less windage while docking and eliminate ladders and stairs, and their lower top-hamper reduces their rolling motion. The low, sleek looks garner points too. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Cruising Overnighting Mid-cabin

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Cruising/Overnighting: Mid-cabin Really a subset of express cruisers less than 30 feet LOA, mid-cabins offer a berth under the helm deck and offer maximum berth count in the shortest length. Many are trailerable. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Overnighting Fishing Walkaround

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Overnighting/Fishing: Walkaround The cabins aboard these fishing boats are smaller than in express or midcabin boats due to the recessed, rail-protected walkways providing safer, easier access to the bow. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Overnighting Cuddy Cabin

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Overnighting: Cuddy Cabin Sometimes called “sport boats,” a cuddy cabin provides a cushioned, crawl-in space ideal for taking naps, hiding a head and serving as lockable stowage. Racier looks than a bowrider. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Fishing Center Console

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Fishing: Center Console Complete 360-degree access around the boat and acres of cockpit make these the longtime darlings of anglers. Many are now equipped for day-tripping. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Fishing Water Sports

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Fishing/Water Sports: Dual Console Self-bailing cockpits, standard fishing features and hulls designed for open water differentiate these split-windshield boats from bow-riders. Available as large as 40 feet. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Watersports Bowrider

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Water Sports: Bowrider The quintessential “day boats,” bowriders provide maximum lounging topside. Most have a provision for an enclosed head, and larger versions sport berths and galleys. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Deck Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Water Sports: Deck Boat Deck boats carry the width of their beam to the bow for maximized space. Generally they have less deadrise than bowriders, but the distinctions are now blurring. Boating Magazine
Boating Magazine - Watersports PWC

How to Buy the Perfect Boat

How to Buy the Perfect Boat – Water Sports: PWC A far cry from the “stand-up” models some may think of, these jet-powered craft provide excitement, economy and easy trailerability, in trade for few onboard amenities. Boating Magazine

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.


Q: As to construction, are we looking at … ?

A: “That’s one of those questions that requires a book to answer,” Codega says. “Everybody wants the heaviest, most rugged hull you can get, but nobody wants to pay for the fuel to drive it through the water.” So, you need to ask specific questions. See if the seller leans forward with information or takes a step back. Even if you aren’t a construction expert, you’ll know a meatless answer when you hear it. “What kind of structural system do I have? Is it fully foamed in? What kind of structural tie-in?” Ellis says. “You see these manufacturers say it’s Kevlar-reinforced, but how much Kevlar? A little strip down the keel or a patch on the corner?”

Q: What’s the deadrise?

A: Again, this depends on what you want to do with the boat. “If you plan to take it offshore, you want more deadrise to give you a better ride,” Willard explains. But you also need to be a decent captain to keep a boat with sharp deadrise from jockeying around. Less sharp will demand less driver input, at the sacrifice of a rougher ride because of the wider running surface.

Boating Magazine - Taking Ownership
Taking the boat for another spin. Boating Magazine

Q: Before I take ownership, can I take it out for another spin?

A: You want to make sure that the dealer has handled every item on your squawk list, all the promised accessories have been installed, and everything that was in the boat is still working. No excuses. “There should be a final inspection before hand-over,” Willard says. “Certainly for bigger boats that’s SOP; you go over everything.”


Q: Who’s giving me the new owner’s walkthrough?

A: The salesman is really interested in selling you the boat, not pointing out that a through-hull fitting should be replaced every third year. You want a mechanic, or the marina’s pro captain, to show you where everything is and to tell you how to use it. “You take something, say 40-foot and above, yeah, you can afford to send someone out to spend some time with the customer,” Ellis says. The more thorough the dealer is with the walk-through at delivery, the better response you’ll get when you need attention.

Q: Tell me about the safety equipment.

A: If the seller proudly points at the fire extinguisher, press on. For starters you want sturdy handrails with backing plates. “Is the cockpit self-bailing or does it drain to the bilge?” Willard suggests you ask. “You also want to know about durability,” says Glen Naroth of Marine Concepts in Cape Coral, Florida. “How hard is it to bust a hole in the bottom of the hull?” Oh, and that cruiser you wanted should have automatic fire suppression in the engine room.

Q: Is the boat NMMA-certified?

A: Boats have to be built to Coast Guard requirements, but sometimes those get missed. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has more stringent standards, and before the manufacturer can slap the NMMA sticker on the boat, an inspector has monitored the processes thoroughly to make sure the builder complies. The builder can’t put the sticker on until he can verify it’s built to those standards.

Boating Magazine - Yacht Certification
Yacht Certification Boating Magazine

Q: Has it been subject to a recall?

A: And more importantly, has it met the recall? “You don’t want to buy a boat and the dealer says, ‘Oh, by the way, we’ve got a few things to fix. It won’t cost you anything, but we’ve got to fix it,'” Willard says. This could also hurt the resale value down the road. Check this U.S. Coast Guard new-boat recall website:

Q: What’s protecting the upholstery?

A: Upholstery seems to be the first thing to go. Someone sits on it with a wet bikini, and it stains. “A lot of it will have a red color that will leach out of it,” Ellis says. So you need to ask whether the upholstery comes with some form of protection, some type of stain guard. Also, microorganisms just love urethane foam cells, breeding in them and going on to lead rich, full lives. You want a foam containing antimicrobial agents.

Q: What kind of gelcoat are we looking at?

A: It’s shiny on the lot, but it’s starting to fade while you’re looking at it. The solution? “ISO-NPG is kind of the buzzword of high-grade gelcoat,” Codega says. It’s better than the average gelcoat when it comes to color and gloss retention, and is especially important when the boat has long, dark colors that fade and change from UV absorption. Restoring any dark color is very tough. Keep that in mind.

Q: What comes with the boat?**

A: You write the check. Then the dealer says, “Where’s your trailer?” Be detailed before you ever get to this point.

“Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘What do I get with this?’” says Sidney Lanier of Marine Concepts. “Ask if it comes with a trailer.”

“And ask for a spare prop,” Naroth pipes in, “And a boat cover.” Don’t forget the boat cover. Maybe a tube too. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask.


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