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How to Buy a Boat, Step 1: First, Choose Your Style of Boat

Wooden boats appeal to traditionalists, but require more maintenance. Photos by jo Lucey
Wooden boats appeal to traditionalists, but require more maintenance. Photos by jo Lucey

If you’ve picked up this magazine, chances are you own a boat. But there are a number of non-boaters among our readership who we’ll call “boat curious.” These are people who are thinking about getting a boat but have yet to take the plunge. For them, we present this series on “How to Buy a Boat.” (If you’re a boater who numbers some “boat curious” types among your friends, perhaps you could slip them copies of this and subsequent issues.)

Future installments will address topics such as the best places to find your perfect boat, financing, insurance, maintenance and other operation expenses, boater education,  and outfitting your vessel. But for this issue we’ll look at the first crucial step: picking the right type of boat for you.

When Buying a Boat, ASK QUESTIONS

Boats are like clothing – for some situations, a pair of cutoff shorts is ideal. In other cases, a tuxedo or formal gown is required. If all you want to do is dip a line into your favorite fishing hole, there’s no need to buy a superyacht (a luxury vessel measuring more than 150 feet long – the latest record being the newly launched 590-foot Azzam). But you wouldn’t try crossing any significant body of water in a dinghy (an open rowing, outboard-powered or sailing boat measuring under 12 feet, most often used to get to and from larger vessels anchored offshore).

You need to consider what you hope to do in your boat and where you hope to do it.

Are you a fisherman who wants to get closer to your prey than you can from the shore or a pier? Then a fishing boat might be in order, but which kind? Do you want to go offshore in search of big game fish, or explore small coves and creeks? If you’re more of an inshore sportsman, are your local waters shallow flats or fast flowing rivers? Do you prefer quick outings for a few hours or longer, possibly overnight trips?

There are boats designed for each situation – and more versatile craft suitable for many situations.

Perhaps you’re more into watersports. Do you have a need for speed? There is a range of racing boats from tiny, one-man outboard boats to huge offshore craft that have a lot in common with rockets. Or you might just want a high performance boat for quickly zipping from the dock to your favorite cove to drop the hook for a lunch on the water.

Do you like the idea of towing lots of toys behind your boat? Considerations such as how many people you’ll have on board and whether or not you’d like a cabin to duck into can influence your choice in this category, which can range from inboard vessels to jet boats.

For a more casual day on the water, many enjoy the stability and comfort of a pontoon boat, but they aren’t ideal for rougher, large bodies of water.

Would you like the ability to trailer your boat to distant bodies of water, or just keep it at a dock or marina?

Maybe you dream of leaving land behind and living on a houseboat. If you’d like to go longer distances, cruising from port to port, a cabin cruiser or trawler might fit the bill.

Or you might want to feel the magic of taming the wind, harnessing a breeze to propel yourself across the water in a sailboat. Again, the choices are immense: One hull, or two, or three? An open boat, or a cabin? How many crew do you expect to have onboard, or do you anticipate single-handing your boat? Are you interested in racing, cruising, daytrips, or some blend of activities? Do you want auxiliary power, or just the sails? Trailerable or not?

If all those ropes and sails seem like to much bother, you could always try rowing or paddling as your means of propulsion. Canoes, kayaks, rowboats and even paddleboards provide pleasant means of getting onto the water and getting a bit of exercise at the same time.

How do you Find Answers to your Boat Buying Questions?

But how could you know the answer to all of these questions if you’re new to boating?

Your best bet is to gain some education and experience in order to ascertain what kind of boating you enjoy.

Ask friends, family members or neighbors who have boats what they recommend. Most boaters love to share their passion for the water, so it shouldn’t be hard to wrangle invitations to go out on their next fishing, sailing or waterskiing trip.

If you don’t know many boaters, a great option is to join a boating organization. Many yacht clubs accept non-boating members, and their members who do have boats are frequently recruiting crewmembers to help out during weekend races (known as regattas in sailing circles).

If you’re starting completely from square one, a boater education class is an excellent way to learn the basics. The U.S. Power Squadrons (www.usps.org) and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary (www.cgaux.org) are two organizations dedicated to boater safety through education. You can take their introductory courses online, but you’ll want to take a class with your nearest local chapter (known as a Squadron in USPS or a Flotilla in the Auxiliary). Remember – you want to meet boaters in order to gain some on-water experience. After the introductory class (which is usually good for a discount on your insurance once you do get your boat), consider joining either organization and taking additional advanced classes.

There are also boating schools available, specializing in sailing, fishing, captains’ licensing and more. Usually these schools have small fleets available for rent to students after completing classes – another great way to gain time on the water before committing to your own boat. (Watch for more on boater education in a future installment of this series).

Boat clubs and charters are another option for gaining experience on a range of boat types. They usually require some instruction before you can take a boat out without a skipper.

Useful Tools for Researching Boats

Once you’ve gained some experience and education, it’s time to narrow down your options. You should be able to begin answering some of those initial questions to determine the type of boat you might like. Another tool to help with the process is provided by the National Marine Manufacturers Association through its Discover Boating program, launched to help introduce non-boaters to the boating lifestyle. The www.discoverboating.com website features a “Find Your Boat” section including a boat selector tool to help zero in on the best fit for your style of boating.

“First-time boat buyers may run into common misconceptions,” said Carl Blackwell, vice president of Discover Boating, “so it’s important to do the research first to gather as many facts as possible to make the right decision for their needs – Discover Boating helps them do just that.”

There are literally hundreds – probably thousands – of readily available models of boats in all sizes and price ranges. Once you’ve narrowed down the type of boat you want, it’s time to start shopping. You could skim the classifieds in the back of this magazine, search the web, wander through local marinas, and visit dozens of dealers and boat brokers, but the quickest way to see a wide variety of boat types up close is to visit your next boat show. We’ll pick up with some key tips on the boat shopping process next issue.

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