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Tips for buying a boat

There was a time when I thought I picked out the perfect boat. It was a flat-bottomed skiff that would run in 4 inches of water. It was beamy beyond belief, and since it was designed as a work boat, it didn’t have a liner. The lack of liner was ideal for me for the weight reduction, meaning I could power it with a smaller outboard and save some money. It was light, it required very little water to float, and I could launch it from the beach as easy as I could from a paved public ramp.

Turns out a friend bought the same model for use on his shellfish grants. “Wanna take her for a spin?” he asked.

“It’s March, the water temperature is 40 degrees, but absolutely,” I said. “If she tests out I can have one in time for May.”

The flat bottom hit that first wave with a thud. Spray flew everywhere and I was soaked. The boat I researched was excellent in theory but in practicality it wasn’t for me.

Because there are so many different options in the new and used market, it’s easy to match a boat to your needs. Here are a few considerations to help along the way.

1. A proactive approach

When it comes to buying a boat I’ve always favored a proactive approach. I define my needs upfront and then look for a wide variety of hulls made by a wide variety of manufacturers that suit my needs. For example, the majority of my time on board is spent fishing (85 percent) with a small amount spent on general boating (15 percent). I run mostly inshore and in the ocean, so a modified v-hull is preferable to either a deep vee or a flat-bottomed hull. I typically have four anglers on board so an 18-22 foot length is ideal. I have two children in college so cost is an issue. Define your needs first and then search for a boat that meets your boating profile.

2. Research, research, research

A boat is a big purchase, so I’ll start with an online investigation across a wide variety of boats. I’ll cross-reference length, required horsepower, beam, draft, overall weight, ease of trailering, and other variables. I’ll look at some of the comments to see what experiences other boaters have had with the company and models, and I’ll cross-reference it with the direct experience of my friends. In this regard, I find it important to separate peoples’ opinions from facts and I do that by cross-referencing their comments.

3. Visit a boat show

There are a few different types of boat shows. Some are large scale and they’re good because you’ll see a wide variety of hulls, power, and trailers. Smaller shows, like the ones offered by a local dealer, have smaller selections that offer very focused product lines. My approach has always been to start with the bigger shows so as to effectively narrow my choices. As I get closer to buy I’ll visit a local dealer to be sure my choice is sound. I also like to have a relationship with a marina for future service needs.

4. Demo a boat

You’ll absolutely want to demo a boat to make sure that its on-the-water performance matches your expectations. It’s always fun to go for a cruise on a bright, sunny day with conditions that are ideal. But to be sure you’re selecting the right boat, take it for a trial on a bad weather day when the wind is honking and the water surface has a chop. The days that you most appreciate your boat are when it performs in sloppy conditions.

Buying a boat should be fun. Take your time, thoroughly research your options and test them until you’re certain. In doing so, you’ll be sure that you and your crew have outstanding times on the water.