Ah, yes. The thrill of camping with a boat. Not only does a boat get you out into the lake, you just finished setting up camp beside, but it offers you great potential on various other aspects of camping. Examples would include fishing opportunities, sightseeing, waterskiing, socializing, and generally having access to places you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach and experience without some form of watercraft.
But there is a science behind buying a boat.
Sure, you could just take the guys from work you plan on camping with to the boat store, but they won’t be seeing your purchase in the same way you will. Chances are, your buddies are thinking about all the fun they will have on your boat with little or no regard for the cost of fuel, maintenance, licensing and all that other stuff that will slowly deplete your bank account. So, here is our guide to help you navigate through the process of shopping for a boat.
1 – What Are You Planning On Using The Boat For?
Although this may seem like a painfully obvious question, it happens to be a very important one. By first knowing very clearly – without the influence of your nutty buddies – what you plan to use the boat for, you will be able to effectively narrow down your choices and cut a ton of time off your search. Things to consider at this stage include: Is it for fishing? Where do you typically fish? Will it be used for other activities?
Will you need a boat large enough to hold you and some friends? Do you want a boat that you can goof around in for a few hours here and there or do you plan to spend all day on it? Are you using it to impress an ex-girlfriend/wife/parole officer/employer? Do you want one that is easy to load/unload or do you want one that will be bulky, difficult to move/store and use?
Hey, you have to look at all the angles here.
Some tips here would be to seriously take a look at the area around where you live. If the nearest fishing lake or river is several miles away, this is going to have an impact on your boat choice, unless you can find somewhere on that lake to store it and hopefully not at an expensive moorage rate. Plus, if you have to haul it any great distance, you’ll need a boat trailer. Oh, and your Honda Civic may not be equipped with the correct trailer hitch to drag your boat and trailer behind.
See? This is why your first step has to be a list of answers to the above-noted questions long before you head into the marina to kick hulls of new and used boats.
2 – Who All Will Be Using The Boat With Or Without You?
We touched on this point already, but it is an important factor. If you only intend to fly fish from shore, you clearly do not need a fishing boat. However, if you plan to fly fish in deeper water, you may still accomplish that goal with a belly boat saving you a great expense. It also means you won’t have to conjure a series of believable lies when the buddies call and suggest that the weekend weather forecast sounds like prime fishin’ and cruisin’ in the boat weather.
It is always a smart move to go for bigger than you need in case the family members decide to invite friends on the boat you didn’t know existed. Plus, bear in mind that the moment you purchase a boat of any size, you will suddenly discover you have more friends than you remember. If your plans are to have a party houseboat floating in the bay all summer long where the dress code is clothing optional, you may want to recalibrate your budget. However, if a boat with room for you and a six pack of beer will be sufficient, aim for that. Just be clear on the passenger limit before you start shopping.
3 – What Kind Of Weather Do You Expect To Boat In?
Hey, it’s a fair question. Here’s a tip that will go a long way in separating the real fishermen from the wannabes: if you wish to focus on ice fishing as your specialty, you don’t need a boat. Not even to have sitting on a trailer behind your vehicle ‘just for looks’ because well, ice fishing and boats just don’t work together.
However, if you are thinking of three season fishing, you’ll want to get a boat that provides at least some kind of shelter (an indoor steering wheel and seating area) for when it is cooler or raining or windy enough to force you inside. If you are a fair-weather fisherman, a boat with an open cabin will be just fine and won’t mess with your tan or the tan of the partially clad gals sprawled across the deck.
The point we are making here is that you could save a ton of time and effort and just pick up the first boat you see on your local Facebook bidding page, but it may not exactly fit your needs. Wrapping your mind around the correct selection takes time, and that will be a crucial thing to keep in mind when spontaneous shopping habits are your preferred method.
4 – What Kind Of Insurance Will You Need?
Okay, you could play Dirty Harry and skip all of this, but in reality, regardless of where you live, it is just good sense to insure your stuff. If you happened to have just dumped a bag of money into the purchase of a boat, insurance is the most logical next step before you head out to the lake. In fact, it would be a very wise move to saddle up next to your local insurance broker long before you make that boat purchase to find out what the requirements are for basic minimum boat insurance and what sort of add-ons exist. After all, you insure your vehicle and home, right? C’mon, you must carry insurance on something you own, and it serves not just to protect you, but it protects others. Reasons to consider insuring your boat include protection in case it catches fires, sinks or capsizes. Protection from storm damage and theft. Protection in case you get stranded or have any other type of accident. Insurance can be your best friend if you own a boat and if you plan to host others on your boat for any reason, liability insurance will be the best way to cover your butt. That’s in case something happens to someone while on your boat.
5 – How Much Money Do You Have?
We agree, there are so many different ways we could have asked that question, but the amount of money you budget for your boat purchase is only going to be able to cover a portion of what you are going to get. That means your boat will be part of the picture. As we hinted at earlier, you’ll likely require a trailer and the correct tow package on your vehicle so you can haul your boat to wherever you intend to drop a line.
Plus, there’s ongoing maintenance costs, fuel, storage/moorage fees, insurance, the cost of supplies (food, snacks, beer, etc.) and before too long you start to see the reason why we phrased the question we used as this subheading the way we did. So, the easy way to answer the question is with a two or three part budget. Your first part would be for the actual boat purchase. The second part would cover accessories and the third part would be for all the other incidentals. At least this way you’ll have a better grip on what you can afford and continue to afford as the years slowly slip by.
6 – Will You Purchase A New Or Used Boat?
There is no doubt that the price difference is going to twist you into the direction of used possibly. However, if money is no object (as in, you just won the lottery or a huge divorce settlement) new and the biggest possible new boat will be on the top of your shopping list. There is a good and probably several bad arguments for both. But first, let’s take a quick look at where a new boat will get you.
A – New Boat
Um, well, it is going to look pretty as soon as it hits the water. There is going to be some manufacturer warranties in place just as there would be if this were a brand new car. That will give you some serious peace of mind if suddenly you discover a grinding noise where there shouldn’t be one or some other do-dad fails or breaks or explodes in your hand while still under warranty. Plus, a new boat is going to be shiny and bright and probably the best chick magnet you have ever owned in your life aside from that classic muscle car you bought during your midlife crisis. The downside to having a new boat revolves around paranoia mostly. You’ll be nervous about scratching or denting it. You’ll be even most twitchy when you let someone else touch the steering wheel. Oh, and don’t get us started about fears of theft, running out of beer too soon because the onboard fridge is now too small and other minor things that won’t really matter a couple of years from now.
B- Used Boat
Your budget may force you to go in this direction. It’s not all bad but just like used cars, there are plenty of great deals out there and some of them happen to be disguised as lemons. But not all used boats are crappy. You may luck out and find the boat of your dreams and save a few bucks just because it has a few bumps and dents in it that won’t show once the boat hits the water. You can also save yourself a lot in insurance costs as well with a used boat versus a new one. But how can you tell a good used boat from one that just should be sunk and left to become an artificial underwater reef?
Here are a few things to examine that could tip you off on a deal or a rip off:
1 – The Engine
This is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. The heart and muscle of your used boat come directly from the one piece of equipment that is one part power and one part danger (it has spinning propellers, duh). For easy figuring, no boat ever made will operate without an engine. Well, unless it’s getting towed by another boat but that one will have an engine strapped to it.
What we are saying is that you need to check out the engine first if you are shopping for a used boat. This means testing it out, warming it up and listening to how it sounds when it’s running. Stop it to see how quickly it shuts down and fiddle with all the knobs and doohickeys. Check the oil to ensure that there’s no water mixing with it and even have a mechanic friend look it over. If the engine checks out fine on all counts, it could be alright.
2 – The Electrical System
If the engine is the heart of your boat, then the electrical is the circulatory system. It is where everything from lights and dials gets their juice in order to work properly. It also means that in order for you to determine if the electrical system on the used boat you are looking at works correctly you’ll have to take it on a test drive. While out in the water, turn stuff on and turn stuff off one at a time to ensure the things that need the power to operate are actually operating. Check the radio and anything else that lights up, twitches or makes a noise when it is supposed to. Also, stick your nose into the onboard fuse box (if there is one). What you are looking for is a couple of fuses that don’t match the others. It could be a hint that there have been some replacements. That isn’t always a bad thing, depending on why the fuses were replaced. That should be a question when you get back to where the seller is standing on a pier in the distance.
3 – The Pumping System
In case you’re not sure about this part, the pumps are used to filter water out from the boat and are a vital system that needs to be in shipshape (we waited so long to slip that in!). The pumps have to be operational and they have to work in two different modes: automatically and manually. Test ‘em to be sure that they do.
4 – The Floating Test
With the boat in the water, you will have to do a bit of work to see how it looks sitting there. Try hard to skip the admiring it part and look at it in a more critical way. The thing you should be looking for is whether or not the boat is floating evenly. A tilt of any kind could be a tip-off that there is a problem hidden somewhere inside the boat that could potentially become a costly repair or series of repairs.
5 – The Visual Test
You’ve heard of going over something with a fine tooth comb, right? Well, when shopping for a used boat you have to keep the same basic concept in mind when you do a visual check of the vessel. The main thing you are looking for is rot. General wear and tear are to be expected short of major damage. Should you spot rot of any kind it should set off alarms in your head and giant red flags. Rot is still a natural part of what a boat will end up collecting over time but if you spot a great deal of rot and you are looking at a much older boat, you may want to pass on this one unless you are purposely looking for a project that will keep you out of the water.
6 – The Visual Test – Part 2
When scouring every inch of the boat with a magnifying glass, you are also looking for signs of breaks and leaks. Essentially, if you spot something that has separated, is cracked or is pulling apart, you may have just discovered the start of a new place for a leak to develop. In reality, you’ve come across structural issues that could potentially turn your leisure craft into a craft project. You may be able to fix or fill some of the minor spots but duct tape is not really meant to keep a boat afloat. If you notice a lot of places where parts are pulling apart from one another, this points to serious issues you don’t want to examine any further. What you are hoping to see is that all joints and things are tight and have no obvious damage.
7 – Test, Test And Test Again
If you are serious about the used boat you are looking over and the seller is serious about moving it, then there should be no problem if you choose to do some additional tests with the boat. In fact, we strongly recommend that you run a series of tests on all systems and not just once and not just on the sunny day the boat is available. Take your time and spend a day with the boat and if it is still around a few days later, do it again. Try to simulate situations you may encounter when boating and see how the used boat acts. If all of your concerns are met with satisfaction, then you can start talking about price.
What Is A Good Used Boat Worth These Days, Anyway?
That is the $64,000 question and no, a good used boat is not worth $64,000. Well, not the ones we’ve looked at for fishing. However, just like used cars, the value is dependent on a lot of things. If you are buying your boat from a dealer, expect to pay somewhat more than you would if it was a private sale in someone’s backyard or on a slow day at the local yacht club.
Check online for prices for the same and similar boats in the same basic age range and condition for a loose guide on approximate prices. Remember, whatever you see online, unless it is on a reputable boating website, is going to be inflated to a degree. We’re not saying everything online is out of line, but a lot of it is so careful with what sources you are drawing your information from.
Maybe This Isn’t Your Year For A Boat
There is nothing that states you must have a fishing boat in order to be considered a true fisherman. All you really need for that distinction is a rod, reel, some tackle and a fishing vest. While it would be really nice to get out on the water and be able to troll the lake or fish on the side that is only accessible by boat, will it really wreck your day if you don’t have a boat? This is what you need to figure out when you start your search for a fishing boat. Do you really need one or do you just want to have one?
If owning a fishing boat is going to up your game a few notches, then possibly a fishing boat should fit onto your wish list quite nicely. You just need to take your time and do some additional homework along the way to ensure that your plans to buy a fishing boat doesn’t sink you into a debt you can’t land easily.
Tip #1 – New Or Used
The simple answer here is to buy used. Not only will it be more affordable, you’ll also have a vessel that’s already had the kinks worked out. But with used, you need to pay attention to various aspects of the boat. It’s a lot like buying a used car…you need to do some homework and research the particular boat(s) you are looking at to purchase.
Tip #2 – Budget
Here’s where the comparison to shopping for a used set of wheels really makes sense. Your budget will determine what kind of pontoon boat you can afford. Variables that will give your budget a workout will include the size of the vessel, the size/type of engine and the extra do-dads (commonly referred to as accessories) that are included. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a flexible budget, but just be careful not to overspend for the sake of having the most awesome pontoon boat on the lake. Leave that to the rich bankers, lawyers and celebrities.
Tip #3 – Purpose
This could be the single most important factor to consider before you start shopping and get blinded by all the boat bling. You need to have a clear idea on what and how you intend to use your pontoon boat. If your goal is to make it a party vessel that can dip into international waters so you can get away with some unorthodox activities below deck, you’ll need something with size. If you plan on just cruising the bays around the lake with family and friends, you’ll need something smaller – in the 15 to 20-foot range. Plus, why do you want one in the first place? Are you looking for a new form of recreation with bikini-clad babes or are you seeking a reliable fishing vessel you can spend a lot of time on regardless of the weather? The answer to that question will help to pin down the type of boat that will fit your needs.
Tip #4 – Inspection
Let’s say you’ve found a pontoon boat that you are particularly fond of. You’ve managed to ignore the sales pitch about it only being used on weekends by an elderly couple who vacationed in the area just during the summer months, but you want to look a little deeper. Well, this is the perfect time for you to request the opportunity to give the pontoon boat a closer inspection. If denied, walk away. A turndown for an inspection is the same as someone hiding a really expensive repair from you. But assuming you’ve been granted the opportunity for an inspection, what do you need to examine? Here’s a short list of must-do’s for you.
Inspection Part A – Hull
Since most of this part of the boat spends its lifetime swimming in all kinds of water, you’ll want to get a better idea of the condition of the hull. Should the pontoon boat you are interesting still be floating in water, request to have it removed and placed on a trailer for viewing. What you need to do after this happens is take a walk around the boat looking carefully at the bottom. Saying ‘Hmmm” and scratching your head or chin on occasion may or may not help your cause. That’s your call. What you should be looking for is any cracks in the hull or any repairs done to the hull. These are weak spots that could potentially turn into leaks and turn your pontoon boat into an anchor. Also examine the pontoon logs to see that they are straight.
Inspection Part B – Engine
This is the heart of any mechanical system so it has to function properly in order to be of any use. To find out more about the condition of the engine on the pontoon boat you are inspecting, ask how many hours are on it. Then ask to take the vessel for a spin in the lake. While doing so, listen carefully to how the engine sounds and pay attention to how it runs. Just as you would when buying a car, look at all the pretty gauges and buttons and observe that they are working properly. Stop and restart the boat a couple of times to check performance and when you get a chance, give the engine a good look to see if there are any oil leaks or signs of corrosion.
Inspection Part C – Electrical
If there are some important electrical items on board, you know, like a bilge pump, lights and a sound system, turn ‘em on. You’ll need to see how each of these things works and besides, nothing makes inspecting a used pontoon boat fun like some tunes. Make sure all electrical elements are functioning properly and that the battery isn’t as old as the barnacles on the hull.
Inspection Part D – Furniture
Hey, if you are going to party or just fish on your pontoon boat, you’ll want to be able to do it comfortably. This means taking a good look at the furniture onboard. Things to note include stitching – is it intact or starting to come apart? – and cracks. These could be signs of poor storage or that whoever had this vessel before you, they just let it soak in the sun or didn’t bother with repairs when needed. There is an important disclaimer here: you will have to allow for a reasonable amount of wear and tear regardless. Expect that to increase in accordance to the age of the pontoon boat. Deck seats that look deliberately slashed with a knife and unusual blood splatter are signs of a vessel you don’t want to own.
Inspection Part E – Deck
Just like in a home, the deck and flooring is a high traffic area that can show signs of wear quicker than most anywhere else on a boat. What you should be looking for when you inspect this important part of the boat is for hints of mold or mildew as well as any soft spongy spots as your walk or step anywhere. These issues can be fixed, depending on how deep the damage goes.
Spots that are damp and furry are quite simply trouble spots that could be enough reason to pass on this boat and cause you to start the process all over again with another boat elsewhere in the lot or sold privately.
Tip #5 – Take Someone With You
This is probably the trickiest of all the tips listed here. That’s because when you go shopping for your first pontoon boat, you really shouldn’t do it alone. However, the person you take with you has to be as carefully chosen as the boat you intend to inspect. You can’t really take one of your party friends as they will see the boat differently than you, as will one of your fishing buddies. Taking your spouse or daughter may also be problematic for reasons we’ll just let you imagine on your own. If you happen to have an acquaintance in your life that is level-headed, logical and can get through to you when your mind fogs over with all kinds of impossible scenarios, that’s the person you need to have with you. In other words, stay grounded and focus on reality when shopping for your vessel.