How to buy a boat – The Basics.

Boats and Boats and Boats.  10/7/2011.

Fish Catching Travel

Boats are like girlfriends, at least as far as I remember from being single.  You want one, you wouldn’t mind two, and you are always looking to upgrade!

Over the years I have had the pleasure of owning somewhere around 13 or 14 boats.  They included canoes, jon boats, a couple of Champions, Questar, Holiday, Terry, Carolina Skiff, Mako, and a couple others that I can not even remember their name anymore.  I have learned several things over those years, so lets talk about a couple of them that may help you if you are thinking about taking the plunge.

1.  Get What You Need.

The first thing you need to do is decide what are you going to do with it.  Really take the time to sit down and ask yourself, how am I going to use it?  There is a big difference between most of us and what we will do with a boat.  I fish lots of different kinds of water including lakes, rivers, and the coast.  And I rarely fish with more than 1 person, 2 at most.  So in my case a Carolina Skiff is perfect.  Catfish blood, no problem.  Saltwater all over it, ok.  Is your family going to use it for multi-use?  Skiing or a day at the lake?  So sit down and really analyze what you need for what you are going to do.  A jon boat will work for most application, but a metal flake pointy nose speedboat has few real other uses than ripping around the lake.  Remember a boat is a tool and you should buy what works for you.

2.  Do Your Research

The Internet has given us a world of information.  Just type in the name of the brand of boat you are looking at and you will be surprised with what comes up.  Do the same with the dealers who sell the boat.   Probably the most informative website is The Hull Truth.  Take it all with a grain of salt, but if there are patterns with certain boats, it begins to show.

When I bought the Mako I currently own from Bass Pro I could have bought it at any dealer.  The dealer I bought it from is a joke and we finally gave up on them.  Lets see….the console was not bolted to the floor, the trolling motor was rigged with a 50 amp fuse, to bad it needs a 60, so it would shut off repeatedly.  And not to mention the fuses on the trolling motor were wired in such a way that they set in the bilge and would get wet and blow.  We took it in for service, and 2 other items, and 62 days later the regular service was done, but not one other thing had been done.  The trailer bunks were set so that the nose of the boat hit the cross beam on loading,  and then and then and then………..  They repeatedly did not really listen to what we told them was happening.  If you get that type of service you know you made a mistake.  So spend a little time looking, and it never hurts to buy somewhere local, it makes it so much easier to address small problem.

And last but most important.  How long have they been in business?  Do they have a history of customer satisfaction?  Boat manufacturers come and go, and nothing like buying a boat from someone and then when the first real problem is found they are gone.  So do your research.

3.  Then Get What You Want.

Once you settle on what you will be doing with the boat comes the next decision.  If you have been realistic with yourself on why you are buying, and what exactly you are planning to do with it, now comes the fun part.   One thing I have learned over the years of messing up is the following adage:  BOAT stands for Break Out Another Thousand.  When you decide on brand and model, outfit it right out of the box the way you have dreamed about.  It will save you hundreds, and maybe more, by getting what you want on it the day you buy it.  If you want a trolling motor, get a good one, nothing worse than an under powered trolling motor when the wind is blowing.  Getting a locator?  Go ahead and get a GPS combo and do not skimp.  If you are going to spend much time on the water it is a pay me now, or pay me later, proposition.

And remember when you are negotiating, you can upgrade or get add ons at a much better price the day they rig the boat than you will coming back to the dealership 6 months later and paying to have something either added on or upgraded.  And finally, do not under power your boat.  Engines can, and will, run wide open.  But ease of getting on plane, the ability to throttle back to 4000 or 4500 rpm and cruise, will not only save money on gas, but will reduce the wear and tear giving you many more hours of use.  Remember it is your money, so do it right the first time and maybe you won’t have to keep changing boats or motors until you are happy.

4.  Buy The Extended Warranty.

This is a debatable issue.  In my case it is a no-brainer.  I put many hours on each motor I have owned.  There is nothing like having a 5 year old engine with problems and dropping it off at the dealer and then picking it up with no cost.  Remember, you are spending ump-teen thousands of dollars, and getting the payment with it, so why not enjoy the piece of mind.  But for others who will use it only sparingly it may not be such a good choice.  Only you can make that decision.

5.  Read The Dang Book.

It is amazing what you can learn from reading the book.  Read everything they give you from cover to cover.  If, and when, you have a problem it can be real evident that you did not have a clue about something you should have known.  Do not expect the dealer to fill you in, some are great, and some not so great.  A little bit of knowledge goes a long way, and when you spend the kind of money we are talking, arm yourself with knowledge.

6.  Get Insurance.

This is also no-brainer.  If you finance it will obviously be required by the lien holder.  But after it is paid off, or if you buy used, get insurance.  There are a myriad of things that can happen when boating, and not all of them are good.  Protect yourself, your equipment, the people in the boat with you, and the rest of us out there.  Boat insurance is cheap compared to one major occurrence.

7.  Do What They Tell You.

If you buy new the dealer should go over a check list with you.  Good dealers take you to the water for a test when you take delivery.  Now this may sound funny, but they will tell you things, and there is no guarantee those things are always correct.  Take notes.  One of the things I always tell a dealer, we are making a compact, I will do what you tell me, and I expect you to do what you tell me you are going to do.  That is the attorney in me coming out.  Your warranty depends on your doing it right, and it is sure easier to deal with them after a problem if you have done what you should have.  Protect yourself, the dealer sure won’t help if you haven’t!

8.  If You Are Not Familiar With Boats Take The Course.

Plain and simple, either take the Coast Guard operator course, or a state course if your state offers one.  It is amazing, not really because any knucklehead can buy a boat, how little people know about the rules of the road on the water.  Who is the burdened vessel?  Who has the right of way on a river?  What does 12 points abaft the starboard beam apply to?  What do those funny posts with numbers mean?  It is a safety issue for you, your family, and the rest of us.  Once you take it you will be flat out astounded at what goes on out there!

8.  Slow And Easy.

Break in periods vary with all motors.  They should with all boat owners.  Just because you flew across a flat with an experienced friend does not mean you should.  There is that little issue of the oyster bar that he knew, and you don’t.  So go easy and get the feel of your new boat.  How does it handle in following seas, cross winds, or hitting a big wake?  How shallow will it really run?  Nothing like it getting dark and you and a friend are out of the boat trying to push it off a sand bar in a 40mph wind, not that I would know anything about that.  So take it easy, those first few dings and scratches hurt like the devil, and that could be the least of it.

9.  Take Care Of It.

Another no-brainer.  If you fish salt, wash and flush after every use.  Check the hubs for the right amount of lubrication.  Change your lower unit oil.  Inspect the trailer on occasion.  Read the book and follow the directions to the letter if you are still under warranty.  You should get no guff from the dealer if you have done your part.  Maintenance is part of owning a boat.  I do not like it any more than you do paying for the checkups, but do it.  The cost in the long run will pay for itself.

10.  The Other Stuff.

Here is a list of stuff, stuff you should know and have.

1.  Safety equipment.  Get the Coast Guard pamphlet from the dealer, and if your state has one, get it too.  I have been checked in at least 5 states I can think of and have had no problem.  If memory serves me right the state of Missouri even requires a paddle.  In fact,nothing like a warden or Coast Guard guy thanking you for being compliant.  One of my favorite encounters was receiving a “Compliance Ticket” after an extensive Coast Guard boarding.   It is a lot easier than paying a ticket and then still having to buy the stuff.

2.  Tool Kit.  At least get the basics in the boat.  And add jumper cables, hopefully you will not need them, but I have jumped a lot of people in the past who were sure glad I had them.  And keep several spare trailer bulbs, you will need them some day.

3.  Spare Tire.  I am always amazed that any trailer comes without a spare, get one.   When I tow to Florida, a 24 hour trip, I actually take 2.  Then if you have a flat, and I have had lots, you can just keep on going and replace it when you get there.  And get a four way tire iron.  Lug nuts on boat trailers can be a bear.  Make sure you have a jack that will work for your trailer.  It never hurts to have a couple of 4×4 blocks, they can really come in handy.  And if you are planning a lot of long range towing, buy a spare hub.  They come complete for each size axle, and should a problem arise it is a lot easier to slap on a new one than leave the boat beside the road to to go to town, find the parts, and fix the mess beside the road.

4.  Sea Tow.  This is purely optional, but for me it is piece of mind.  You can add the trailer upgrade that will even help you with trailer problems at roadside.  Yes it costs a little more, but being stranded on the water or roadside is a lot more expensive than the once a year fee.

5.  GPS + Radio.  Again optional, depending on how and where you fish.  When I take a big trip, like exploring the marsh in Louisiana, I take a spare hand held GPS and radio, both can be bought for around a $100 each.  Remember, if the boat battery is dead all the great stuff on the boat does not work worth a darn.

6.  Rope.  When you need it, you need it, and you would be surprised at how often it will come up.

7.  Practice.  If you have not backed a boat a lot, practice.  It is easy to find an empty parking lot.  Get used to looking out the back window, then practice using the mirrors only.  Try putting it in a parking slot just right.  Try backing in a circle so you can learn not to jackknife the trailer.  Backing a boat can be frustrating at times, and can make a small scene at the ramp.  When I was living at a boat dock and guiding in Arkansas we actually had a guy have a heart attack and die while he was trying to back the boat in.  It was going side to side, his family was yelling at him, and he obviously did not know how to back it in.  It is a dangerous place the ramp.

8.  Do A Walk Around.  Going to the lake, yahoo!  But before you leave, hit the key on the starter real quick to be sure the battery is good.   Got gas?  Have a 4 stroke?  Make sure there is enough oil to fish.  Check the trailer lights.  After you hitch up, check one more time to be sure everything is ok.  Be sure to use a trailer lock on the hitch, having a trailer hop off at 60mph is a real trip.


This is not the final word, but a place to start.  Buying a boat should be a joy, and if you do your homework it can be a great day.  I hope this is a start for you if you are thinking of buying a boat.  One of my greatest joys is gliding across the water at sunrise.  But I have to get there first.

Good Luck and Tight Lines!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *