Tips when buying a boat

tips when buying a boat

Boat Buying – Stage I

In most categories of boats there are a lot of choices. For example, there are over 20 brands of 21’ bowriders on the market. Our very first recommendation is for you NOT to eliminate any of them out of hand. The reason is that there is a lot of misinformation floating around about certain brands and models, and boats are in a constant state of evolution, some getting better and some on the wrong side of the curve. By including all boats in a category you are bound to end up with the best boat for you at the best price.

Following are 25 objective attributes of a boat that you should consider and compare before making your “short list” of boats to consider for purchase. By comparing all of the boats in your chosen boat type you might discover some pleasant surprises. You will also quickly see which boats don’t measure up to your requirements. Once you have eliminated those boats, the few that remain will be worth your personal inspection.

The Basics

1. LOA. Length over all. Make sure you know whether the “extended” swim platform is counted or not in this measurement. If it is (and most are), the boat is actually smaller than you may at first think.

2. Beam. Narrow boats go faster than beamier boats and are usually lighter, all things being equal. That means they often will go faster and be more fuel efficient. Wider boats generally have more stability and more room inside. Most sportboats have an 8’6” beam because that is the widest a boat can be to be trailered in all states without a special permit. In larger boats, beam sometimes varies greatly and is an important aspect for you to consider, because beamier boats cost far more to build.

3. Draft. Know where you plan to go boating and the depth of water at your dock or marina. Deeper boats generally ride better. With outboard and stern drive boats, be sure you know the draft with the drive both up and down.

4. Deadrise at Transom. This is a good indicator of how comfortable the boat will be in a chop and also whether the builder is sacrificing ride for speed and fuel economy. A 1-degree deadrise would mean that the boat’s bottom at the transom is almost perfectly flat. At the other end of the spectrum is 24-degrees, which is the classic “deep-V” deadrise pioneered by Ray Hunt. Deep-Vs provide the most comfortable ride in a chop, generally, but they also take more power to push through the water, and are generally not as fast or as fuel-efficient as a boat with, say, a 15-degree deadrise.

5. Displacement. The weight of the boat equals the weight of the water it displaces. A boat weighing 62.43 pounds (obviously a very small boat) will displace one cubic foot of water. The weight of the boat lets you know how much material is in it. Fiberglass, resin, and the engine(s) will usually account for most of the weight. Most builders work hard to keep weight out of the boat because the heavier the boat the harder it is to push, the bigger engines it needs, and the more fuel will be consumed to push it. Weight costs money, both in the construction and later. In trailerable boats, the heavier ones may require a larger tow vehicle which will burn more fuel going down the road. Heavier boats, generally, will ride better, which is an important consideration in some applications.

6. Fuel Capacity. This number often varies greatly. Many builders publish fuel capacity numbers that are actually 10% less than what the tank will hold, because the fuel pick up is above the bottom of the tank. Calculate how you will use your boat and the range you should have. Remember, fuel is weight and the more weight you carry around needlessly the more fuel you will burn.

7. Water Capacity. In small boats, water is used for showers and sinks. Make sure there is enough for your application. In larger boats with a number of guests, a dish washer and washer/dryer, fresh water can be consumed rapidly, necessitating a watermaker unless there is adequate freshwater capacity. Most large boats are short of water capacity.

8. Load Capacity. This is an important number in small boats, and the smaller the boat the more important it is. There is a great difference in load capacity among small fishing boats and sportboats. More boats capsize each year because they are overloaded than for any other reason. Make sure you match the load capacity with your intended use.

9. Maximum Person Capacity. The USCG and the ABYC have rules for determining this number. Essentially, the capacity can not exceed the number of positions intended for sitting which are built into the boat when the boat is underway, going faster than 5 mph. There seems to be no formula for determining the “width of one average person.” Perhaps it is for that reason that we sometimes find boats with a rated person capacity that seems more for children than large, meat-and-potatoes-eating adults. Our advice is to consider the width of your family and friends and rate each boat accordingly and disregard what is on the manufacturer's capacity plate.

Major Options

10. Engine Options. After the boat brand and model, this is your most important decision. Don’t rush into it. Here you have several decisions to make –1) type of engine (gas or diesel, 2-stroke or 4-stroke, pod drive or inboard or stern drive), 2) horsepower, and 3) brand. In small boats, decide how many people you will usually have aboard, and how you will use your boat. Satisfactory performance of your boat will largely rest on how well you choose your engines. In all boat sizes, reliability, warranty and customer service are of paramount importance. Some engine companies have a long history of being quite cavalier toward the boating consumer. Choose carefully.

11. Color Choices. Most builders of sportboats offer 4 or 5 hull colors and some accent choices. Fishing boats of all sizes generally come in one color – variations of white. Many builders of larger boats are offering colored hulls in basic blue, green, gray or other colors. Color is important to your long-term satisfaction with the boat. Even though it does not affect performance – it is an aesthetic matter, and if your boat does not “look” good, you will not be happy. Be advised that not all “white” hulls are the same color. Most are not white at all, but variations on cream or “off-white,” because pure white hulls can be quite bright.

12. Extended Swim Platform. Many sportboats and express cruisers now come with standard “extended” swim platforms. If you are going to be swimming or towing from your sportboat you should have an extended swim platform. Make sure it extends past the out drive and prop. In express cruisers, the extended swim platform becomes a handy place to rig a tender. This is an important consideration to the utility and cruising enjoyment of your boat. Even most megayachts today have a “teak beach” or “stern marina” so they are a great development for virtually all non-fishing boats.

13. Trailer, Bimini, Canvas. Many builders include storage or mooring canvas for the boat which typically runs from $500 to about $850. Some builders include either a bimini top or a trailer, equipment that can run from about $600 to $1000 and a

very few offer all three as standard equipment.

Warranties are Important

14. Hull Warranty. Delaminations can and do happen. Stringers can become untaped from the hull, transoms can come off, and hulls can split. Occasionally these things happen. That’s why a hull warranty is important. Be advised that a hull warranty does not mean that you can run a boat up on the rocks and expect the builder to pay to have your bottom repaired. As with all warranties, read the fine print. Obviously the longer the hull warranty, the more protection you have and the more confident is the builder in his work. Unfortunately, a good warranty is not enough – you also need to find a company that will stand behind its warranty without you having to hire F. Lee Bailey. Our experience is that the high-profile companies are your best bet.

15. Deck Warranty. Many builders combine their hull and deck warranty, but some do not. If the deck warranty is separate you need to know that. Decks usually get their stiffness because core materials are used to separate two skins of fiberglass. Decks can get spongy with water or rot if not properly constructed. Not only is that annoying when it happens, but you will also have a tough time selling your boat.

16. Engine and Drive Train Warranty. Most engine makers warranty their engines for one year. Both of the major stern drive engine makers now warranty for two years if the engines are installed by an approved builder. One outboard maker is now warranting its engines for 5 years. This is your most important warranty because an engine is the most important piece of equipment, and one that is prone to problems. Extended service contracts are available from your dealer and our recommendation is that you buy one if you are planning on owning your boat longer than the warranty period.

17. Gel Coat Warranty. Many boat builders do not warranty the gel coat. Some will warranty it for a year or two. Some will warranty against blistering for 5 years. Gel coats are problematical so you will want to know exactly where you stand if something goes wrong and your boat crazes, turns into alligator skin or turns yellow after a year or so. All gel coats are not the same. Quality boat builders take great pride in both the thickness and the formulation of their costly gel coats, and that is why they look better and last longer. If a catastrophic aberration occurs after your warranty period ends your best protection is the integrity of the builder. Be advised that all gel coats oxidize and will get dull with time. To keep it looking good requires lots of TLC.

18. Component Warranty and Everything Else. There are scores of components on a boat made by the builder’s “vendors.” Historically the component makers had 90-day warranties, but now most boat builders warranty their components and specific parts for one year. If a builder tells you that it warranties the boat’s components only for the duration of the vendors’ warranty, you have selected the wrong builder. The days of builders telling customers to “call the vendor” are over.

Performance Characteristics

19. Best Cruise Speed. For most people this is the most important performance number. To find it, you must first discover the rpm when you get the greatest miles per gallon (mpg). In small boats you will often find a great difference in best cruise speeds – sometimes as great as 10 mph. You may not like the “best cruise” speed of your dream boat, in which case you will have the option of selecting another boat that has the cruising speed you want with the best mpg, or paying a fuel premium.

20. Miles per Gallon. It is the planing speed at which you will get the greatest miles per gallon (mpg). Do not assume that because boat “A” has the same engine as boat “B” that their mpgs will be the same. In one comparison recently done, boat “A’s” mpg was 35% greater than boat “B.” In small boats as noted above speeds at best mpg can vary greatly.

21. Gallons per Hour. Different people use boats differently. Some people use their boat by the hour. Skiers want to go 18 to 20 mph all day and that is why they care about gph. Fishermen might want to troll all day, and for them it is good to know gph because distance is irrelevant.

22. Wide Open Throttle. With fuel prices high you will probably spend very little time at WOT. It is nice to know how fast you can really go if you need to get back to the marina before that summer squall comes in. If you are buying a boat for its top speed capability, be careful where you get your speed data. Speedos on boats are notoriously inaccurate. BoatTEST tries to use “everyday conditions” in its testing and so its numbers are often lower than one might get from other sources. Weather, weight aboard, bottom conditions and a dozen other factors can affect WOT. FYI -- Companies that build their reputation on WOT are very careful only to run their boats in optimal conditions with expert drivers. You may never be able to replicate the speeds they claim. That is why third party tests are important.

23. Time to Plane. Nothing is worse than a boat that is underpowered and wallows, plowing along, struggling to get on plane. Watersports enthusiasts want to get on plane quickly when skiing or wakeboarding. Time to plane is an important safety issue with express cruisers because it can take them 5 to 10 seconds to get on plane and in the meantime the helmsman has lost all view of what’s in front of him.

24. Sound Readings. Noise on a boat is a subject that is not talked about much, but it is vitally important to the quality of your boating experience. OSHA standards in the workplace permit dBA readings of no higher than 85 for 8 hours. For every 3 dBA over 85, the OSHA permitted exposure time is cut in half. So, exposure to 88 dBA would be permitted for only 4 hours and at 97 dBA it would be permitted for 30 minutes. Some boats are very loud.

25. Range. This is a direct reflection of the size of your tank and the engine’s fuel consumption at a given rpm. Again, always figure 90% of your fuel tank’s total capacity to determine your range.

What about Price?

At this point, you are not yet ready to compare prices and decide which is the best value. That comes in “Stage II” when you will drill down even deeper to discover what is beneath the basic numbers above. For now, just determine if you can afford it. If you can, move on to “Stage II.” If not, consider a smaller boat or a used boat. Be comfortable in your monthly payment.

If you fill out a table all of the boats in the category you are considering for the attributes listed above you will be able to narrow your new boat search to what we call the “short list.” Depending on the category and how many boats are in it, you should be down to just a few boats.

Once you find one that suits your requirements take it for a test drive.

Check out this video from Suzuki Marine on test drives.


Category: Taxes

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