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There’s good reason why the two happiest days in a boater’s life are when he buys a boat and then when he sells it. Boats, especially fishing models, can be costly, time-consuming, and a royal pain in the posterior. But they’re also a treasured vehicle for lifetime memories, epic battles, and special pride. Which is why the moment that boat is sold, the serious angler is already shopping for the next one.

Of course, even if we’re already in a happy boat-owner relationship, our eyes and mind will always wander. We plan, scheme, configure, and reconfigure the layout of the perfect fishing platform and we covet the brand new fishing machine our neighbor just bought. Whether your taste runs to versatile inshore rigs or offshore mega machines, it’s important to consider more than just raw fishing power before signing the dotted line. If you’re about to tie the knot with a new boat, there are at least three major factors to evaluate: usage, price, and maintenance.

Defining Use

“When considering a boat purchase, ask yourself the who, what, when, where, and why, as if you’re writing a news article,” suggests Eric Cashion, director of marketing for Cabo and Hatteras Yachts. Although Cashion deals with big, offshore boats, his approach stirs up important questions for any buyer.

Who will be running the boat? Some men (and they’re not the only ones who buy boats) might think of their craft as the perfect escape pod for getting with their buds to hunt, gather, drink beer, and be manly. While this scenario fits many buyers, the truth is, wives and significant others usually play a major role in a such a significant purchase. In this case, male buyers need to consider whether or not she’s comfortable handling the boat, say, for example when he’s slipped and fallen overboard while trying to pull in the anchor. Or maybe she’ll be using the boat when he’s out of town or stuck at work. If so, make sure both parties agree on what features are most important. Which brings up question number two.

What’s the main usage? Is this a pure fishing rig or does it also need to pull kids on tubes? Generally, a boat 24-feet-long or longer vessel puts out too much wake for pulling skiers, not to mention limited maneuverability in tight spots. If this is just a raw fishing machine, then the choices are almost endless, from a 16-foot flats boat to a 60-foot offshore mega fisher. That’s when you have to face the next question.

Where will you do the majority of your boating? Perhaps you dream of running to the Bahamas every weekend with your buddies; but unless you’re getting a large enough boat for overnight trips, you’ll most likely fish within a day’s run of the launch. A little dose of reality is critical in choosing a boat that will translate into more time on the water.

Finally, why are you buying? Is it for family recreation? Is it only for fishing? If so, what kind of fishing? Are you looking for a booze cruiser for entertaining at the yacht club? Are you just getting your feet wet in the market? Each of these points calls for some concerted soul searching about your fishing and boating lifestyle before cutting the check.

Understanding Cost

It doesn’t take a CPA to tell you that buying a new boat is a big investment. Perhaps we should be more clear. It’s a big expense. If done right, it can be an “investment,” but few people make money when they sell a boat. If you buy a “classic” or a fixer-upper, and have the expertise and a garage full of tools, you may be able to turn a profit when you sell your boat. However, the vast majority of us buy boats that we can use right out of the chute, and prices can range wildly.

“You shouldn’t focus solely on the initial cost,” warns Alan Lang, national sales manager for Scout Boats, who recommends prospective buyers take into account operating costs and resale values versus the initial purchase price when comparing different brands. “Some might be cheaper up front, but when other considerations like fuel efficiency, performance, and warranty are added, it typically saves money over the life of ownership by spending a little more on a top brand.” And, if you anticipate selling the boat in the future, then popularity of a given make or model and the ease of finding another buyer should be considered as well.

“The best buys are often end-of-the-model-year closeouts with promotional pricing or deals with pre-paired boat, engine, and trailer packages, often offered at boat shows,” adds Lang. “Typically, the breakout cost of an outboard engine is 40 percent of the overall package.”

There can also be a temptation to buy less boat than you need. When it comes to balancing price with fishing capability and family-friendly features, there is often a temptation for budget-minded buyers to make the wrong compromises. This can happen by choosing a smaller power plant in the name of fuel savings (it’s really more about how you drive anyway) or by simply getting a smaller boat because of initial cost.

“You’re better off stretching the budget a bit to get a little bigger boat initially,” says Wally Bell, president of Sundance Boats in Blackshear, Georgia. Sundance specializes in skiffs and mid-size fishing boats and Bell knows all about buyers faced with tough decisions.

“That extra foot or two is important and will fit your family better over the years,” he says, noting that looking at long-term use rather than just immediate needs is a smart idea. “The current trend is to keep a boat seven to nine years. With today’s materials and construction techniques, that’s a realistic expectation.”

Keeping it Right

If the first commandment of boat buying is “it’s an investment,” then the second is “boats require maintenance.” Understanding what level of care your craft requires before you buy it is critical to protecting and enjoying your purchase for a multitude of fishing seasons. The good news is that maintenance associated with a new boat purchase should be relatively painless, especially as technology and boat design continue to evolve.

“The overall quality, performance, and efficiency of today’s boats has been greatly improved,” says Cashion of the Cabo and Hatteras brands. “You really do get a good bang for your buck. Plus, there are a lot of extra benefits, including extended service and warranty programs now available.”

Indeed, warranties and service programs are a significant part of any purchase. Whether included in the price or bought as an add-on, the value of these agreements should be weighed before making a final decision to buy. This applies equally to owners with the mechanical aptitude to grab a wrench and go to work, and to those who prefer to let a service department handle everything. But both types need to do their homework.

Do-it-yourself types need to know what they’re getting into. First is the basic issue of changing technology. While it may be one thing to change a fuel filter or the gear oil on outboards, today’s fuel-injected engines require computer diagnostics. Sometimes, it’s not even a question of ability, but just access to tools. The going labor rate for this kind of work is typically $75 to $100 an hour, so don’t get caught off-guard by maintenance costs. The second issue is that of warranties. Reading the fine print in your warranty agreement will let you know if any work done outside the dealer’s service department will void any protection you’ve already purchased.

Owners who employ others to keep their boat in tip-top shape should be aware of the options they have available. It’s worth the time to compare warranty and service plans with the same detail as other basic boat features. Find out what’s covered and what’s not. Find out who can perform service in your area and when they’re available. Seek out recommendations and reviews on local service departments and find out their track record for customer care. 

Finally, recognize the importance of basic care for your boat and have a plan to get it done. This includes storage options. Covered or open? In-water or out? Weigh the cost against the long-term effects of exposure to UV rays and saltwater. After that, a bubble bath after every trip is a must, especially in saltwater. Waxing when needed, spraying electrical connections with an anti-corrosion compound, keeping the bilge clean — it all adds up to fewer problems, higher resale values, and more fishing. And that’s what it’s all about.

 
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