Ten Things to Consider When Buying a Boat
May 20, 2022
Truly the best part of social media for me has been the community created around my page, Charleston Blonde. When I need a question answered I always do one of two things:
- Call my dad OR
- Ask my followers for advice
It is incredible how many kind and caring people are always willing to help. Yesterday I decided to ask for boat advice. The answers did not disappoint. One person in particular, Megan, reached out to her dad for advice. Y’all, dad advice is the best advice. Her dad sent over an impressive list of helpful tips that were so great that I knew I had to compile the information into a blog post.
Mr. Flynn, thank you for taking the time to put this together. It was extremely helpful for me and I think you all will really love and learn from the advice too! So here is a bunch of great advice from Mr. Flynn as well as some advice spliced in from several of my other followers:
What to Consider Before Buying a Boat
Step One: Choose Your Boat Type
When looking for a boat, start by writing down what you are going to do with it. Much like with cars, there’s not one single type of boat.
Spend the night on the boat ever? Once a year? Going out for day cruises of 2+ hours? Watersports? Fishing? Bar hopping? Bringing lots of friends and family? Keep it at your house? In a floating or fixed slip? In a boatel?
Here’s a simple example from a follower – their mom told their dad she was not ever going to get on any boat unless it had a toilet with a door on it. Period. That made looking at center consoles back then impossible. Now they do include a head in the console itself, but you have to be sure it is big enough to use comfortably, maybe even in rough water. For someone over 6 feet tall, that might be a challenge.
The main thing here is to match a boat’s features with the kind of boating you want to do. There are many ways you can use a boat, and your intended use will determine exactly what type of boat you’ll need as well as how often you can use it.
A 40′ center console is terrible for water sports. An 18′ center console is great to pull into the dinghy dock in ego alley, but not so great for bad weather or ocean fishing. You get the picture…
Are you mostly interested in fishing? Wakeboarding with the family? Entertaining friends? Boats aren’t as all-purpose as you might think. Be sure to narrow down how you hope to enjoy the water before you start seriously searching.
Once you decide how you want to use your boat, write down the haves and the wants for a boat that fits that use. That includes the kind of power – outboard, multi-outboards, inboard/outboard, single-engine inboard, or twin inboard. Remember, the two biggest things that make people stop boating are the inability to control the boat around docks and fights between spouses over the inability to control the boat around docks. Running out in the middle of the bay is cake. Walking a boat sideways in a current and wind to get your meal with everyone watching you is not. Some boats are just easier to drive than others.
All of this information will help you make the best choice of boat for your family and needs!
If you’re a boating beginner, here’s an introduction to different types of boats and their strengths and weaknesses:
Skiffs: These boats are also known as flatboats. The beauty of owning a skiff lies in its simplicity. Skiff boats can be used in freshwater and saltwater. They are made up of a hull, outboard engine, some seats, and a few fishing rod holders. These boats only dip a few inches into the water, making them ideal for shallow waters and marshes. This kind of boat doesn’t have a ton of storage space. A skiff’s small size means it’s easy to handle on the water, easy to tow, and affordable. Their average length is 17-25 feet. The average price is $20,000.
Center Consoles: If you’re a dedicated angler who likes bay, river, and ocean fishing, this is the type of boat you’re looking for. On center console boats, this console lies in the middle of the boat. The central position of the boat grants the captain a 360-degree field of view. Center consoles are often thought of as fishing boats, but they also work well for other activities like water skiing. Thanks to modern powerhouse outboards, you can now find center consoles large enough to serve as cruising boats. Many people choose center consoles for their wide-open spaces and plentiful seating—which turns out to be ideal for entertaining. They allow you to fish inshore, nearshore, and offshore. Since there’s no cabin or accommodations, they’re often a bit less expensive than similar-sized express or convertible boats. They also tend to be lighter than these other designs, which means they can perform better with equal horsepower, have more range, and are easier to trailer. They’re also among the easiest boats to maintain. Most center consoles require little more than a quick freshwater scrub and flushing of the outboards after use in saltwater. Most center consoles are also outboard-driven. With these boats, you do give up the convenience, protection, and overnighting abilities a cabin provides.
Deck Boats: Deck boats are intended to be “do-it-all” boats. Deck boats were created by combining the layout of a pontoon with the hull design of a runabout. They have large open deck spaces, but also the speed that you might want for recreational activities such as water sports, entertaining, and fishing. A deck boat performs best in smaller bodies of water (like lakes and large rivers) and requires certain caution level in smaller rivers and inlets. They have flatter hulls and wider bows, giving them greater stability in calm waters, but they are less suitable for use in rough conditions. These boats are typically larger to accommodate the extra deck area up front. They can start at about 18’, but most are in the 25’ to 35’ range.
Pontoon Boats: A pontoon boat is a watercraft that uses 2 or more rows of sealed tubes, called pontoons, for buoyancy. These boats are easy to maintain, simple to operate, and can be the perfect choice for the first-time boat owner. One of the biggest advantages of pontoon boats is their stability on the water. A lot of pontoons have three hulls which makes them almost impossible to capsize under normal conditions. As mentioned above, pontoons have shallow boat heights, so you can easily maneuver them through shallow water and near rocky coastlines. Pontoon boats are quite slow, so it is not a great option if you are buying a boat primarily to go water skiing. They also don’t handle very well in rough water.
Tow Boats: There are dedicated boat models for skiing, wakeboarding, and wake surfing. Tow boats are so purpose-built that it’s practically impossible to use them for anything else. You can fish from a pontoon boat, but not a tow boat. Water skiing requires the smallest, flattest wakes possible. For the water-skier, the ideal wake is small and narrow with minimal propeller turbulence at 75 feet or shorter at boat speeds that range from the mid-20s to 36 mph. Whereas wakeboarders are looking to crank those wakes up so they can get big air. Boat speeds for wakeboarding range from about 18 to 24 mph. Wake Boats make a fairly large, well-shaped wake as they move forward. These boats feature a deeper-V-shaped hull. Tow boats, especially wakeboarding and wake surfing boats, are expensive. Price tags around $150,000 are common, and some high-end models can cost upward of $200,000.
Dual Console Boat: Dual console boats have seen a rise in popularity recently. They offer versatility for the future boat owner who likes the power and capability of a center console boat for fishing and who also likes to entertain. As opposed to a center console boat, a dual console boat has two consoles, one on each side of the boat, and often has more comfortable seating for entertaining purposes.
Cabin Cruiser: Think of a cabin cruiser boat like an RV. These boats are perfect if you want to spend longer on the water and take longer-term boating trips, because they’re equipped with living quarters in the boat itself. Even the smallest cabin cruiser boats can usually sleep four to six people, plus bathroom and cooking amenities. This likely wouldn’t be someone’s first boat purchase unless you’re planning on taking many extensive trips.
Pro Tip: What is the Difference Between an Inboard Engine and an Outboard Engine?
In the simplest of terms, the difference is how the engine is installed on a boat. An inboard engine is built into the hull of the boat and is concealed within an “engine room”. An outboard engine is the opposite in that it is latched on to the outside of the boat and is clearly and fully visible at all times. The two engine types use different mechanisms for steering and propelling the boat.
Step Two: New or Pre-owned?
When shopping around for a new boat, you’ll inevitably face the question: should I buy new or used? When deciding between a new or used boat, there is not a “correct answer.” You have to determine what is right for you.
Robert says: “There is no way in hell I would buy a new boat. They depreciate 10% per year for the first 5 years. All of them. There is nothing magic about a new boat either. They can be as screwed up as one that is 10 years old. In fact, a good owner can run through the new boat’s problems and have them corrected before the second owner buys it. Price is by far the biggest reason to go the pre-owned route.
“Unlike miles on cars, boats use hours on the engine to determine “age.” A boat that is under-used is just as bad as one that is run every day. Both put wear on everything. A boat literally will wear out just sitting still in a warehouse, unlike a car or a home. If the boat is an inboard, they need some work at 500-600 hours, usually on the risers and manifolds. It isn’t a big job, but for example, Keith did not know that when he got his Formula, and ended up spending a few grand on 2 engines to have it done. If an owner has maintenance records and can show what has been done (mostly bigger boats like Sportfish and Motor Yachts) it is really helpful.
“It is possible to find a Yacht Broker to help with the purchase. They can be amazingly helpful if they are knowledgeable and ask questions about what you want. They have no real ethics rules like realtors, and are inherently wanting to sell something they have listed, but keeping that in mind, you can still get value. The seller is paying 10% to the listing broker, and if you have a buyer broker, they are paid out of that money. I have mostly found one by seeing a boat, asking the listing broker to show it to me, and noting how the person treated me. You aren’t married to one, but they can find things the internet won’t tell you. The good ones also know the boats and can explain what to look for and what to avoid. For example, some brands of center console are known for rot in the transom. It’s costly to repair, but if an owner doesn’t do it, the motors fall off the back and the boat sinks. No bueno. Brokers look to make sure the known problems to have been fixed.
“Never buy a boat without a Marine Survey. A survey is like a home inspection, except more detailed and thorough. You can’t get a loan without one anyway usually, but even on a new boat, it can be very helpful. Basically, you are hiring a surveyor to give you an assessment of the condition of the boat and its value. They will nitpick every little thing they see, and unless you are an expert, you aren’t going to see that stuff. You can then discuss what matters and what doesn’t.
“It is possible to find a broker who is also a surveyor. To me, someone who got their captain’s license shows they are seriously into the industry. Some don’t have it, and that might be fine, but if you dedicate the hours to education and days to being on the water, you’ve probably picked up a few things.
“One thing that can be a selling feature is freshwater use. That just means the salt isn’t chewing up the insides of an engine or other mechanicals on the boat. Florida boats are usually the most beat up by sun and salt. Great Lakes boats are usually the cleanest. The downside to purchasing a used boat is that you’ll have to deal with wear and tear from the boat’s previous owners.
“If you’re buying from a private party, insist that the seller shows you a registration card and title with their name and address. The same goes for a boat trailer. Make sure the registration numbers match the make, model, and hull identification number (HIN). You will also need these if you plan to finance the purchase. Also, request and keep a bill of sale signed by the owner selling the boat. Ensure it clearly describes any warranty coverage, if offered.”
Questions to ask the seller:
- Why is the boat being sold?
- How many owners has it had?
- How, and how often, has the boat been used?
- Is it still under warranty — and is it transferrable to a new owner?
- How has the boat been stored and maintained?
- Has the boat had any major repairs?
- Has the boat had any modifications made to it?
- Can I have a marine surveyor inspect the boat?
- Can I put it in the water for a trial?
There are still plenty of advantages to buying a new boat. When you purchase a new boat, it usually has a warranty. So if you have any issues, you usually have the backing of a manufacturer’s warranty to reduce or eliminate the overall cost of repairs. Plus, you can get it equipped precisely the way you want. You are paying a premium, after all. Another advantage is that financing rates are usually better on new boats than they are on used boats. Because you have owned the boat from new, you know all the maintenance that has been done. But remember, you will pay for those perks. Boats depreciate as soon as you put them in the water.
Step Three: Research
Before buying, read, read, read. Spend time learning from other people and what they’ve found on boats. One of Mr. Flynn’s favorite sources is yachtsurvey.com by David Pascoe. He is a crusty surveyor who beats many boats up, but that is what you want to learn.
“I would read everything he had to say. I think he retired in 2018 but the site is still up. His posts are the reality of boating with no sugar coating. Don’t let it scare you away from boating, because knowing the reality going in is way better than being surprised. One way to think about it is that boat does not stand for Bring Out Another Thousand, it stands for Bring Out Another Ten Thousand.”
In your research, you should also look at as many boats as possible. Online is fine, but really looking at them teaches. For example, sighting down the side of the hull, do you see wavy marks or is it smooth all the way? Wavy suggests sloppy build techniques. Where are things located? Is the grab handle for passengers getting on in an obvious place you would grab if you could not see it, or is it located in a hidden area and not helpful in an emergency? Is the steering wheel in a comfortable position? Flat like a school bus or straight up and down?
Step Four: Select Your Size
The trick to buying a boat is to purchase one that is large enough to suit your needs without breaking your boating budget. The larger the vessel, the more features it’ll have; however, bigger isn’t always better — especially if this is your first boat. Sometimes, people buy a boat that’s too big, and then they’re reluctant to use it because it’s more complicated to operate. Most people recommend not going too large for your first boat. As a general rule, experts say that buy a boat that is 2 or 3 ft greater than your needs. An even more general rule of thumb is that:
Maximum # of Passengers = (Length x Width of the Vessel) ÷ 15
Here are some other size recommendations for different boat uses:
- Off-shore fishing: 30 feet and up
- In-Shore fishing: 17-22 feet
- Cruising: 20-30 feet
- Bay & Lake Boating: 20-30 feet
- Water Sports: 15-25 feet
If you are planning on making long haul journeys across oceans and seas, where waves and winds can get pretty rough, you should be looking at boats that are 30 feet and up. On average, a 20 ft length is a good boat size for a family. Most people on Instagram recommended a 21-23 foot boat.
Step Five: Determine Your Boat Budget
Determining how much you plan on spending on buying your boat is a totally personal and individual endeavor, but here are a few things to consider as you talk with your spouse or plan out such a big purchase. Before setting your budget for the actual purchase price of the boat, you need to consider things like insurance, storage, fuel, and maintenance. These are going to vary depending on the boat you purchase, where you live, and how frequently you use your boat, but BoatTrader.com suggests that a rule of thumb is to estimate 15 to 20% of your boat’s value for operating expenses.
Step Six: Go Boating Before You Buy
Before you buy a boat or even get that far into the process, it’s important to get some experience boating! If you’re able, try and get out on the water on a variety of different boats that you’re considering, especially in the areas you’ll take your boat. This will help you get a concrete idea of if that kind of boat will suit your needs and lifestyle. Once you’ve narrowed down your selection, make sure to take the boat out on a sea trial, which is like a test drive for the boat. Try your best to replicate the situations in which you’ll most commonly use the boat. Get a feel for it as both the driver and the passenger. This is a great time to ask the seller about any specifics, as well!
Step Seven: Calculate Costs
The cost of buying a boat is more than just the price of the boat itself, so be sure to plan for everything you’ll need to become a boat owner! Some costs you should consider are:
- Purchase Price
- A trailer to transport the boat
- Docking expenses, either for storing the vessel at a public dock or building your own
- Boat insurance
- Winter storage costs
Step Eight: Insure Your Boat
Like car insurance, boat insurance is an unavoidable part of boat ownership. Many insurance companies offer boat insurance, so be sure to reach out to your current company and see if you can add a boating policy. You might even save money by combining multiple policies! Many things determine the cost of boat insurance, including where you’ll be using the boat, what you’re using it for, the type of motor your boat has, the condition and age of the boat, and the boat’s monetary value.
Step Nine: Sign up for a Class
Every state has different regulations for the operation and registration of boats, but many require owners and operators to go through a boating safety class to receive a boating license. In South Carolina, boaters under 16 years of age must pass an approved boating education and safety course. Even if your state doesn’t require this, if you’re new to boating, it’s probably best to learn the basics to keep you, your boat, and your family safe! Many courses are available online, so you can fit the course into your schedule.
Step Ten: Buy From a Local Dealership
If you can, and if you’re buying new, go to your local dealership! With a new boat, you’ll get a warranty on it, and it’s good to be nearby so you don’t have to deal with long hauls to get maintenance done or anything fixed.