The dos and don’ts of buying a new boat

The following article is by Dusty Miller. It will appear in our upcoming Power Boating Canada Volume 36 Number 1. Want to subscribe to our FREE newsletter to stay up-to-date? Click here!

It is that time of Year when manufacturers across North America are gearing up to launch their 2021 models at boat shows and dealer showrooms across the country whether they be in-person or online.

Boat builders go to tremendous lengths to entice buyers. Sometimes they upgrade models with more comfort, features, and power options while other times they enhance their lineup with entirely new models.

Very often there’s genuine excitement with what they introduce. However, most of those changes are cosmetic, and you must look beyond all the bells and whistles and decide what suits your boating lifestyle.

For instance, sometimes when I am checking out a new boat and it looks so good at the dock, with all its spectacular creature comforts, I must force myself to step back and consider the quality and construction.

Most people find it very difficult to select one boat over another by looking at it in the showroom or the water. After all, a new boat gleams from stem to stern. It is clean, uncluttered, and seductive. You slide in behind the steering wheel and the gearshift, and even though it may feel comfortable, you are not getting a true picture of how that boat suits You or your boating lifestyle.

Obviously, it is a somewhat different story when the manufacturer changes the hull design, offers more powerful engine options, or modifies the power train. These changes go beyond cosmetics to a degree, but unless the new system has radically been modified, the difference in performance will rarely be significant.

Before you go to a dealer or wander through a show, set your priorities and consult with the people you will head out with. Also ask yourself, what are the l0 or 20 most important things you want in your boat? Be very specific. The more detailed your list, the better your final decision will be. When you know exactly what you want, you are less likely to be seduced by all the bells and whistles.

Consider where you will be on the water most of the time. Do you plan to cruise on a small lake, river, or canal, or on larger walers such as Georgian Bay or Puget Sound? Each of the locations vary greatly, as will the demands each location will put on the boat you choose.

You must decide what you will be using the boat for. A boat built for wakeboarding is quite different from a boat designed for fishing. You can get a boat that will do both. but you must decide which is more important. Remember, the boat you choose must be designed for a primary application and that must be at the top of your list.

Another factor to consider is when you go boating. If you plan to fish in all kinds of weather, from early spring to late fall, you will need something different from a Fairweather boat that can only handle day trips in the summer. If you are looking at a larger cruiser, you may need more features if you want to take it down the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida in the fall and back each spring.

That brings up another factor. How many people will you take along?

If you plan on two people, including yourself, but you will often have guests for day trips, consider a model with a stateroom, a small galley, and a head. You will also want a large cockpit, aft deck or even a salon with plenty of room for entertaining. If you plan on having guests overnight often, maybe look at a model with two cabins, a master stateroom aft and a forward V-berth so you will have privacy. You may even need two heads. If one of your frequent guests has bad knees or some other physical challenge, consider a boat that has only one level, without many stairs.

Now here is where some bells and whistles come in. A large television and stereo system could be part of Your entertainment or an icemaker and wet bar topside.

Once you have Your list of priorities set, you will likely be ready to look at some models. Be prepared. There is nothing more alluring than a new boat, especially to someone who has made the decision to buy one. As you get swept up in the elegance, the fit and finish and the exquisite details, remember to step back occasionally, and look at your list. Make sure you are getting what you need and want. All this will get you closer to your decision. But there is one more step that is vital: a sea trial.

I was looking at a boat one time that looked good on paper and when I spoke to the owner, he told me (every chance he got) how well it handled. During the sea trial, whenever the boat went over the slightest wave the bow rails rattled so much, I thought they were coming off. A sea trial is particularly important in smaller classes under 30 feet. If you have a choice between a direct drive and a stern drive, try them both. See the difference duo props make. Do not just take them out into the big water and open them up, go slow around the docks and bring the boat up to the wall or into a slip. See whether you can handle the boat comfortably. If you cannot you likely will not take it out.

It is not as important to take out larger cruisers because handling is not as much of an issue. You are dealing with a slower moving craft and your pleasure is not as predicated on speed as much as it is on accommodation. However, if you take a large boat out and it strains to get up on plane, imagine how difficult it will be with the added weight of guests, food, etc. Sometimes boats are under-powered. You should not have to pay the price fora model that can hardly get out of its own slip, unless you want a vessel you can moor in a slip at your favorite marina and use as a cottage. Then the power does not matter as much as the accommodation and features.

So here are your steps: set your priorities with all the detail you can manage. Then go see the boat. Look beyond the features and figure out what the manufacturer had in mind for this boat. What are its strengths? Do they match your needs? Be prepared to make trade-offs but be sure the boat meets your demands.

Aim for 100 per cent. If the boat you are considering hits 80 per cent of your wish list, buy it. You should be happy with your purchase.

Go through the boat and check every system. Flip every switch, turn every knob, open every cupboard, look under all the seats – make sure every-thing does what it is supposed to. Look to see whether the doors fit perfectly in their frames, the latches are easy to use and there is nothing sticking out to catch you or your clothes when you walk by.

There is no greater pleasure than taking your new boat out for a spin. If you do your homework before buying it, that pleasure will last a long, long time.