Buying the Right Boat

Choose the best boat for you, not the best bargain.

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Cheap boats! They're stacked up along the roads in coastal communities across the country and ready for the taking. Some hard-luck owners will even pay you to take their boat off their hands, right? How perception gets out of hand. There are a lot of boats for sale, and for those with the means to act, it's a buyer's market. But settling on the wrong boat because the price is right will come back to bite you in the end, so don't settle.

Starting with a price point and looking for a boat to meet it is backward thinking. Before crunching any numbers, figure out what exactly you want to do with a boat and what type meets your needs. Here are a few thoughts to help you decide what type of boat works for you.

Blue Water
Fishing offshore puts a special set of demands on a boat. Look for one with a true deep-V hull, which means it has at least 17 degrees of deadrise at the transom. If your goal is to run far and fast in search of fish, look for a boat with a 3-1 length-to-beam ratio and a sharp forefoot to slice through waves when combined with that deep-V transom deadrise.

Boats fit for offshore duty should have the hull fastened to the deck with through-bolts rather than screws or solely adhesive. The best builders run the bolts into a backing plate that's glassed over along the hull-to-deck joint and also bonded with an adhesive. Boats with screws or blind rivets may not stand up to the rigorous pounding over the long haul.

How far are you running? If you're staying within five miles of shore, a single engine should be fine, but if you're ranging far and wide to chase fish, the redundancy of twin engines is an important safety feature. If you can test-drive a boat, see if it can climb on plane with just one engine. If not, it's a long ride home at idle speed.

On the Hook
If you plan to spend most of your time bottomfishing, a boat with a wider beam provides more stability at rest, so look for a boat with a smaller length-to-beam ratio. Trailerable boats usually won't exceed 8 feet 6 inches in beam to comply with trailering laws, but if you're leaving a boat in a slip, there are more wide-body fishing boats to choose from.

If you're going to be hauling and dropping anchor several times a trip as you move from spot to spot, look at how the bow is configured for anchoring. Does it have a pulpit? Is there access to the anchor locker from belowdecks (look in the cabin if the boat has one) to undo tangles and, if you have a windlass, jams? Is there secure footing on deck and a protective bow rail for the person handling the hook? Bow rails that measure to the knees or below on an average-size person are merely cosmetic and just big enough to trip over. If you're serious about anchoring offshore, look for a boat with bow rails that come to at least midthigh.

Getting Skinny
Fishing protected bays opens up a wide range of boats and styles, from rolled-gunwale flat-bottom skiffs to modified-V center console bay boats. There are some parameters to think about in making your decision. How shallow do you want to get? If you'll spend your time in three to 20 feet of water, most small boats will have the proper draft. The shallower you want to get, the narrower your restrictions. Can you get away with a trolling motor, or does the sight-fishing you plan to do require a small, light skiff you can pole?

For sight-fishing, don't judge a boat just on weight and draft. Hard chines on the waterline can cause fish-spooking hull slap and reverb. Sounds travel faster through water than air, so any noises your boat makes will alert nervous flats species before you see them. Look for flush hatches that don't slam or rattle, and listen to how the boat echoes as you step on the sole. Silence is golden.

Buy Now
There are dozens of other factors to consider, such as whether you really need a cabin (most berths in walkaround boats become gear stowage), an enclosed helm (if you fish in bad weather) or a head. Once you narrow down exactly what you want, start looking for it in your price range.

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Dealing With Dealers
From Craigslist and eBay to government auctions and foreclosure sales, there are plenty of places to buy a boat without hitting a dealership. But dealers have something no one else does - the backing of the boat company. Going through the local dealer might still be your safest bet. Just remember their purpose is to make a profit, so know the right questions to ask. Here are three good ones.

  • What comes standard? The advertised low sticker price might mean the boat is stripped, and you'll wind up paying for necessary "options" like rod racks, raw-water washdowns and a compass.
  • Where is your service department? Find out their service record and how the boat manufacturer honors its warranty claims.
  • Can I get that in writing? If the dealer offers to install your electronics, waive 20-hour service fees or winterize your engine for free, make sure the spoken words find their way into print. Otherwise, they're empty promises.