If you’re looking to buy your first boat, you need to know a few things before making a purchase. The boat-buying process has key steps that you might not have considered before.
If you go through each step with careful deliberation, you can find the boat you’ve always wanted in good condition and at a fair price.
1. Buy with Purpose
Before you begin your search, you first need to determine how you’ll use the boat. Will you take it out on the weekends, or use it more frequently? How far do you plan on taking it out to sea? How many people do you plan on inviting to use the boat?
You should also consider your environment. Will the boat be used in freshwater, saltwater or both? How choppy is the water? What kind of species occupy the area? What are the local/state boating laws? Where will you store the boat?
You must know your boat’s purpose and the waters you’ll be traversing. Once you have a solid understanding of both, you can look into the boat’s main features, preferably in this order:
- Length: 25+ feet is necessary for offshore vessels.
- Width: 5 feet or less is highly favored so the boat can travel on roads.
- Draft/Air Draft: The depth of your boat will depend on your environment.
- Boat Type: Powerboats, sailboats and man-powered boats are better suited for different bodies of water.
- Hull Type: You have a lot of hulls to choose from, so make sure you choose the right one.
- Engines/Motors: 25-150 horsepower is strong enough for most bodies of water, but you need something more powerful for offshore activities.
You should prioritize these features when looking for the right boat. However, even if you find a boat that fits your specificities, you need to keep an eye on its condition.
2. Decide Between New or Used
Today’s boats have a lot of parts to maintain. The engine and electrical system are complicated enough, but you also have to look out for leaks, failing pumps, rot and other structural damage. With that in mind, it’s best to limit your search to new or lightly used boats.
Low prices for old boats might tempt you, but the money you save on the purchase will end up going toward repairs. Look for something new if you can afford it.
3. Browse Listings Often
Boats can appear and disappear on online listings quite frequently, so you should browse several of them to see all the available products. It’s also a good idea to set filters and alerts so that you’re immediately notified when a potential keeper gets posted.
However, a lack of personal interaction with the vendor and the product limits the online buying experience. With expensive equipment like boats, you can’t afford to make the wrong decision. Follow these guidelines to stay smart during online shopping:
- Compare photos between similar boats and take note of any differences.
- Look through the rest of the vendor’s listings to see if they appear trustworthy.
- Watch for boats with many modifications or accessories and determine if you need those extra parts.
Online buying is certainly the most convenient way to purchase a boat, but if you’d rather see the vessel and vendor in person to put yourself at ease, you have other options.
4. Attend a Boat Show
Boat shows are a great way to see many products in person at once. You can notice a lot more detail by inspecting boats in person, so you’ll be able to spot problems more easily.
Because of the face-to-face aspect of a boat show, you can expect to find some high-quality vessels at reasonable prices. Anyone who goes through the trouble of driving their boat across town and putting it on display under their name has a legitimate product to sell.
You can also develop a more trusting relationship with potential business partners than you ever could online, which goes a long way in finalizing the purchase. Still, even if you think you’ve found the boat of your dreams, you need to see it in the water.
5. See the Boat in Action
The second-to-last step in completing a boat purchase is putting it in the water and taking it for a test drive.
Take full advantage of the test drive by asking any question that comes to mind. Keep your eyes on the vessel as it’s working. Take note if the vendor does anything peculiar while driving it, and once the ride is complete, do one last walk around to see if you missed anything.
If the ride went well and you’re finally convinced you’ve found the boat of your dreams, hold off on signing anything for just one more minute. When the boat is in the water, you can’t see everything.
6. Haul the Boat Before Buying
Before you finalize your purchase, ask the vendor to haul the boat out of the water so you can inspect it below the waterline. If you’ve gotten this far, the vendor probably has nothing to hide and will happily oblige.
Once the boat is in the air, you can get a full view of its underside and any bumps or scratches it might have received. If everything looks in good condition, you’re ready to make the purchase.
7. Register the Boat Properly
Now that you’re a new boat owner, you should get it registered as soon as possible, as the law requires boats to have proper documentation. Registration may seem complicated for new owners, but you can think of it as a new car or motorcycle registration to better understand the process. Just follow these steps:
- Research the boat registration requirements for your state.
- Complete a state-approved registration form online, in person, or via mail.
- If successful, you’ll receive a boat number, stickers and documentation in the mail. Put them on your boat immediately.
- Mark your calendar for the next registration renewal.
Once you have all the necessary paperwork on board, you’re finally ready to take your boat out on the water.
Simplify Your Boat Buying Experience
Purchasing a boat involves many moving parts, but you can break it down into a simple process. Determine the boat’s purpose, monitor online and in-person offers, keep a close watch for any hidden problems and thoroughly inspect the boat from top to bottom.
Lastly, register the boat according to your state’s laws, get approved, and enjoy the boat you worked so hard for!