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June 23, 2013

Wanna Buy My Boat?

If a pre-owned boat is your only option, here's how to score the best deal without getting burned.

Boat fever hit me harder than a jack crevalle slamming a mullet. I had just been assigned to Pensacola Naval Air Station and those emerald-green Florida Gulf waters beckoned. I had to get out there. But buying a new boat was out of the question at my pay grade, so I turned to the next best thing—I started looking at used boats, or "pre-owned" as they're now called.

Turns out, my particular cure had been traded in to a dealer: a 17-foot Triton tri-hull with a 40-horse Mariner. I signed the papers and proudly christened my acquisition Tax Refund. My wife had suggested the name Touchy Subject, but she didn't begrudge me the fun I had with that boat. Even though it was 20-odd years ago, my first-time experience is still common today: Less-than-new is the option many anglers take to pursue their passion.

"Everyone aspires to own a brand-new boat, but factors like budget restrictions and boating experience often steer potential buyers into the pre-owned market," explains Chris Thomas, general manager for the MarineMax Fishing Center in Houston, Texas. MarineMax is the largest U.S. boat retailer with 85 locations across the country. "On the average, 75 to 80 percent of those who first buy pre-owned step up to a new model eventually. The pre-owned route is a great way to learn the sport and we're in the business to grow boating customers."

Get Real
So where do you begin? Before you bolt off to the marina with a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket, take a reality check—your credit rating will thank you. Crunch the household budget numbers to determine how much you can actually spend. Consider insurance, fuel, oil and routine service costs, then try to factor in some unexpected repairs.

A marine survey or appraisal can uncover potential problems before the sale and is money well spent.

Storage for that rig can also be an additional drain on the wallet. Dry storage is priced by boat length, with added charges for taller profiles or wider beams. In-water storage can run into hundreds of dollars per month depending on the size of the boat and where you're located. If the boat is trailerable, make sure it meets home-owners' association covenants, or you'll have to find another place to keep it. And don't forget about tow vehicles. A crossover SUV is no match for a fully loaded 30-footer, and the need to buy a $50,000 pickup takes the shine off that $10,000 "bargain" you just brought home.