Buying a boat, much like an RV or other recreational vehicle, can be a stressful process. We spend a lot of time thinking about what we want and what we absolutely don't want as well as everything in between. I think we can all agree that you can never really find something that is perfect, but you want to come as close as you can.
In the past two years, we have heard a plethora of requests from new and experienced boat owners alike that have shown us that no two purchases are the same. The only thing that generally holds true is that they all usually follow the 80/20 rule where you get 80% of what you want and compromise on the other 20%.
Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. When looking for a boat that you did not custom build/spec, you have to assume that you will run into some concessions. The 20% may include things like you got switches with red backlighting instead of blue or it had 10 rodholders instead of 20. The consensus is that you can either live with those negligible items or change them to your taste/needs rather easily so it isn't a deal-breaker.
So let's get down to it. What questions do you need to answer in order to buy a boat? I'll give you what I believe are a few key ones to focus on in order to narrow down your search.
1. What will you be using your boat for? Will you use it to go to the sandbar, fish inshore, fish offshore, fish skinny water, overnight in it, or any mix of these? You wouldn't be caught dead trying to tow a camper with a Toyota Corolla, would you? The same rules apply here. Make sure you look at the type of vessel that can accomplish the intended use or you'll end up never using it and regretting your decision. This is first and foremost the simplest one to answer and leads right into the next one.
2. Who will use the boat along with you and how often? Often times we get caught up in our vision for a boat only to find that it does not align with that of the other people involved in the boating to be done. Will your spouse, kids, family, or friends be coming along? The next question helps narrow it down even further.
3. Where will you be using the boat? Whether on the lakes or in the open ocean, the geographical location of your use plays a huge roll in the vessel you choose. This may seem completely obvious, but many new boaters are not aware of the limitations of certain watercraft. In the Northeastern US, you may use a larger/heavier boat because the bay turns into a washing machine and you will have to plow through whereas on a lake you can use a pontoon comfortably.
4. What is your realistic budget? This is another topic that may seem completely obvious, but it isn't. There are multiple reasons this is a consideration many need to account for a little more than they'd think. Firstly, there is the issue of sales tax. Most states have a cap on what it is on a vessel, but depending on the purchase price this can still be a considerable amount of money. Secondly, cash or credit? If you have the cash in the bank to buy and boat, then you really have no worry here. If you're planning on financing then you must know where your credit stands. You probably shouldn't be looking at a $100,000 boat with a 550 credit and no previous boat financing history as it will be near impossible to achieve. Be realistic. This will save a ton of time for you and everyone else involved in the process. Third of all, do you have a place to store it for free or will you need to pay storage or dockage? This is pretty straight forward and can be as easy as measuring your available space, going by local storage facilities or local marinas for pricing. Next, will you need a trailer? If the boat doesn't come with one, that is a cost you will need to consider and from experience, it may surprise you, so be sure to do your homework. Besides potential daily transport, how are you getting that boat to you? Is it local are you picking it up or do you have to have it transported? Depending on the distance, transport can bever several thousand dollars and you will have to account for that as well. Lastly, is one-time and running costs. You will need to account for items like insurance, fuel, bait, food, ice, maintenance, cleaning, storage, etc as well as life-safety equipment and a buffer for larger items.
5. Where is my best place to buy one? This is a tricky one. Many believe that dealers and brokers are only out there to rip you off, but in truth, there are a lot of good ones out there (including ourselves 😉). The experience of a broker/dealer can generally save you time and money when selecting a boat. Most in the business are selective about the boat they list and check them out before taking on the listing or consigning the boat ensuring that they are selling a product that the consumer will be happy with. This usually leads to a slightly higher price on the vessel, but that not exactly a bad thing. There is value in this selection process. As brokers, we like to make sure that the vessels we bring on are in good working order and can provide good value to the next owner. We comb through the vessel to check that items work properly and document everything to make the buyer aware with no surprises. Then you have the For Sale By Owner (FSBO) boats. This is where I would advise that only very experienced previous boat owners shop. Prices are sometimes lower on the FSBO market, but at what actual cost? Now, I'm not saying that boat in the For Sale By Owner boats are not good. I'm sure there are plenty of vessels that are quite good on the FSBO market, but you will spend more time sifting through them. I don't think that we can definitively say one is better than the other, but there are certainly trade-offs with either option.
I hope this breakdown gives you a good idea of the key items that you should keep in mind when searching for a boat. Do your research beforehand and try to narrow it down to a select group of boats. No one boat will have absolutely everything you want and that may be an option you can add or look forward to upgrading to at a later point in time. Happy buying!