You’ve got the boat-buying fever, but you want to make the right decision. So do your homework, book some boat rentals, and make your boat ownership dream happen!
Boating is one of the best leisure-time activities around. Whether you’re sailing, powerboating, or fishing, getting out on the water just can’t be beat. If your friends or significant other enjoy the sport, that’s even better.
After considerable time hopping rides on friends’ boats, and booking several boat rentals, you’re finally ready to commission a vessel of your own. Before you choose a boat builder, however, spend some time doing your homework. Although conducting this due diligence won’t be exciting, you want to get this decision right, as it will affect your entire boat ownership experience.
Step 1: Nail Down Your Boating Plans
Before visiting every boat dealership within 50 miles, or scouring the Internet for boat manufacturer information, sketch out your ideal boat, including how you plan to use it.
Sailing: If getting on the water helps you relax, and you’re perfectly happy sailing along with a nice breeze and no destination, you might be a sailor at heart.
Assuming that’s the case, decide whether you’ll stick to day-sails and occasional weekend trips, or you plan more extensive coastal cruising. Along with that, consider a monohull vs a multihull sailboat, such as a catamaran or trimaran.
Powerboating and Fishing: On the other hand, maybe screaming across the water gives you an adrenaline rush you can’t find anywhere else. Or, maybe you just like to fish – anytime, anywhere.
Based on those details, a powerboat might be the ticket – but decide if an outboard, inboard/outboard, or stern drive would make the best propulsion system.
Dockage and Usage Restrictions: Decide where you want to keep the boat, as certain marinas or community docks have length and draft restrictions.
If you plan some cruising on routes containing strict bridge clearance requirements, like one bridge on The Great Loop, your boat must be able to clear that bridge when all its masts, etc. have been lowered.
Step 2: Evaluate the Manufacturer
Before you sign on the dotted line, obtain extensive information on the builder(s) in contention for your job. Don’t compromise on this task, as you want to make sure a reputable company takes charge of your project.
Industry Longevity: Determine how long the builder has been in operation. For example, if the company’s principal is a third-generation owner who is actively involved in the business, that’s a good indication that the firm isn’t a “here today, gone tomorrow” builder.
Financial Stability: Get as much financial information as possible on each potential builder. Determine if the company has (or has ever had) financial difficulties, has been forced to restructure, or is currently overloaded with debt. The bottom line: You want to minimize the chance that the builder will take your deposit and close the doors.
Business Reputation: Research each builder’s industry reputation online, and ask your boat-owning friends about their impression of the company’s business ethics.
If you have contacts within the marine industry, talk to them as well. If the company has been penalized or otherwise censured for unsavory business practices, you need to know about it.
Step 3: Consider the Dealer Network
The builder’s dealer network can make or break your boat ownership experience. For example, if you have a dealer located at a nearby marina, arranging routine service and/or warranty repairs shouldn’t be difficult.
On the other hand, if the nearest dealer is 200 miles away, and getting the boat there would take more time and resources than you have available, you’re likely to experience problems down the road.
Financing, Insurance, and Registration: During construction, your nearby dealer should assist you with all financing and logistics details. When the vessel arrives, the dealer should also handle the registration process. In other words, they should act as your advocate.
Operational and Safety Instruction: Ideally, your local dealer should assign a knowledgeable associate to assist you with the boat’s commissioning process. At the very least, they should review the vessel’s operation and equipment.
If you want (or need) on-the-water training, the dealer should provide that or recommend a reputable professional who can help you. In other words, they should act as your support network while you own the boat.
Maintenance and Repairs: Your dealer can help you schedule required maintenance and/or repairs. If the dealership is located at a marina, your contact may serve as your liaison with the yard manager.
Warranty Issues: Although each builder operates differently, you should receive some type of manufacturer warranty with your new boat. This warranty states that your vessel and its equipment have specific defect protection for a certain initial ownership period.
Ask the dealer to provide the current written warranty information. Learn about the scope of the warranty, its duration, and whether it’s transferable if you sell the boat.
Step 4: Obtain Reliable References
Finally, ask the builder and dealer for references from satisfied customers. If they balk at that request, or try to explain why there aren’t any references on file, consider that a red flag and act accordingly.