Dock Lines

Tips on buying the right boat

Now that boating season is upon us, are you considering buying a boat, perhaps your very first? Are you asking yourself the right questions before you take the plunge?

Buying a boat is a major investment, not just of money but also time and commitment. Remember that a boat often represents a significant lifestyle change.

Is your significant other supportive? What about your kids? I’ve seen many marriages and families founder over commitment to a boat.

And remember the cost of the boat goes beyond the purchase price. Can you afford the full cost of owning a boat?

Be realistic about your skill level, knowledge, needs and aspirations — and especially about your budget. Don’t rush into purchasing a boat before you’re sure of what you want, understand and can afford. One family at our Maryland marina actually bought four boats in one year because they didn’t think things through.

Much of what I learned about boat buying came from selling our old Hatteras. Arv and I often helped our broker show it to prospective buyers, who demonstrated the basic questions novice buyers face.

How do you know what kind of boat to buy? And how do you identify the right boat for you and your family?

I’m assuming you have at least minimal familiarity from enjoying friends’ vessels.  Start by deciding how you’ll use the boat and list the features important to you. Is this a starter boat for you, with plans to upgrade eventually? A condo-on-the-water, whether for living aboard or regular visits? A speedboat to take kids waterskiing? A fishing boat for you and your buddies? A long-range cruiser? A runabout for short jaunts? Day sailing? Do you plan to entertain friends? Will you or your guests sleep over? And how extensive a galley do you need?

The questions don’t stop there. Do you prefer sail or power?

Before you initiate a serious search, look at your budget for your boat. One older couple, with no boating experience, visited our fairly complex Hatteras and made us an offer of one-quarter the listing price, explaining that “was all the money” they had. While trying not to be offended, we explained that the purchase price is just the beginning.

Other required outlays include dockage or trailer expenses, insurance, property taxes, fuel (even for sailboats), maintenance and repairs, normal wear and tear and routine replacement of marine-grade parts and equipment upgrades. And don’t forget, for larger boats, to plan for costs of diving services and boat washers, if you don’t do it yourself.

Consider your knowledge and skill level, too. How much do you know about operating and maintaining a boat? Can you do basic maintenance and repairs yourself or will you need to call a skilled mechanic or other marine professional for routine maintenance and repairs? Will you require a captain or instructor to operate the boat or teach you basic operations and maintenance?

Once you assess both your budget and capabilities, you’re ready to look at boat size and features.  Make a list of all the features important to you, breaking them into “essentials,” “desirables” and “non-essentials.”

A great way to discover “your” boat is to look at different types at boat shows — where you’ll also meet many brokers and salespeople.

If you’re a true novice, find a knowledgeable friend, captain or broker to help in the search. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone talk you into buying a boat you’re not sure about or don’t fully understand.

Watch for my upcoming column exploring how to select a reliable, compatible boat broker.

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