By: Scott Way
The first question to ask yourself is- are you a hobbyist, or a purist? If you live for pre-dawn boat launches that demand scalding coffee on a frigid morning in search of the elusive morning bite, you’re a purist. If you’re a recreational boater that likes to toss a line in the water a couple times a season and would appreciate a rod holder or two, you’re a hobbyist. There’s nothing wrong with either one, it just means your style is going to affect how you prioritize your needs while shopping for a new fishing boat. As you can imagine, there are umpteen different styles, shapes, and brands to consider, so many that it can be daunting to narrow down what you need. To help increase your chances of you reeling in the big one, here are 10 practical tips to help find the right fishing boat for you.
1) WHERE ARE YOU FISHING?
Fishing boats can be surprisingly geographical in their design and function. There are noticeable design differences between freshwater fishing vessels for inland lakes and rivers, and open-water boats for deep ocean fishing. Style even varies depending on country or region, much the same way auto manufacturers have designs catered to specific regions (i.e., small sedans in urbanized countries that prioritize commuting efficiency). Your first order of business is to decide where you’ll be fishing 80% of the time. It’s called the 80/20 rule. In a perfect world, we’d have a tool (or a boat) for every possible scenario, but since we (usually) don’t you should cater your purchase towards what you’ll be doing 80% of the time. If 80% means flatwater fishing on inland lakes and rivers, and 20% day cruising with friends and family, focus your search on a specialized fishing vessel that suits the water you’ll be boating. If it’s the opposite, focus your search on a vessel for family cruising with a greater focus on family comfort and functionality. If you know where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing 80% of the time, you can focus on step two.
2) WHAT DO YOU NEED? (NOT WANT)
Let’s say you’re set on a flatwater fishing boat for inland lakes and rivers. The next things to consider are; do you need a boat you can trailer and haul from place to place? Or do you need something you can leave at a marina and access as needed? Even if it’s primarily a fishing boat, do you need something for entertaining guests for day trips or overnights? Would you benefit from something that’s capable of wakeboarding or waterskiing for kids? Will you primarily use the boat by yourself, or will you always have a few friends/crew with you? Will you be using it often (i.e., every weekend) or just a few times throughout the year? If you’re travelling solo, a small craft you can launch and maneuver yourself may be the ideal choice. If you’ve got a crew of friends or family, a larger boat may be better for fitting everyone and providing a variety of functions to make the most of everyone's time on the water. To narrow down your search, try putting together a ‘Top 5 Features’ list to guide you in the right direction. 5 things to consider are:
- Ideal size/length (trailer or non-trailerable)
- Typical crew size (1-5 people? More?)
- Fishing specific or multi-purpose (Jon boat, bay boat/skiff, multi-purpose fishing boat, cuddy cabin, center console, bass boat, cruiser, etc)
- Overnight capable or day use only
- What fishing features do you need the most? (rod holders, downriggers, livewell, general storage, technological equipment, etc)
3) DETERMINE YOUR BUDGET
You should always go into a major purchase with a strict budget. Be practical and honest in your assessment of your finances and what you can safely afford. That being said, your budget should have considerations for long term expenses that will affect the total cost of the purchase. The purchase price is only part of the equation, there’s also insurance, storage, maintenance, fuel, repairs, and general upkeep that will affect the lifetime cost of ownership. As an example, if you’re deciding between a couple used boats consider the possibility of spending slightly more upfront on one that will have reduced maintenance costs down the road. Similar to a car, it’s possible to end up sinking money into your boat for repairs/maintenance while still paying it off, which isn’t ideal. If there’s a similar boat that’s 1-2 years newer and with less hours that will hold up longer (and its within your budget), it’s worth considering the added up front cost. Never go over budget, but your purchase should have considerations for associated long term costs of boat ownership.
4) COMPARE YOUR OPTIONS
Once you’ve determined your expected usage, your top 5 features, and your budget, now's the time to narrow it down to a few different options. Keeping your wish list to 2-3 boats will keep you from getting overwhelmed. Spend time online researching the differences between each. There’s no point going to a dealer until you know enough about each product, otherwise you’re likely to get overwhelmed with all the information that will come at you. Spend time on the manufacturer’s website and get acquainted with the differences between each model. This will help you prioritize what you really need, versus what you really want (and can afford). There are several great resources to help you compare and contrast models, as well as find your nearest dealer.
5) FIND YOUR SELLER
You may find someone locally who’s selling the boat you’re after, but chances are you won’t get that lucky. Thankfully there are lots of resources to help you find the boat you’re after. You can start by contacting the manufacturer and they can direct you to the nearest marina or dealer. The biggest online resource for Canadian boaters is BoatDealers.ca, which will direct you to your closest dealer carrying the brand and model you’re searching for. It also includes pricing, product specifications, and in many cases a 360 virtual tour of the boat so you can get familiarized with each model before seeing them in person. You can also use social media to get referrals for buyers/sellers with things like Facebook Recommendations.
6) GIVE IT A ONCE OVER
Once you’ve identified the boat you’d like to buy, now it’s time to see it. Meet the seller/dealer face to face and ask for a chance to give the boat a once over. If the seller is being honest, they’ll have no issue with you hopping aboard to take a look around. Examine the exterior first and make sure the hull is in good condition with no evidence of damage or repairs (unless that was noted in the sales description). If you find anything worrisome that wasn’t in the sales ad, consider that a big red flag. If the boat has been well maintained you’ll be able to tell, so be wary if the boat is dirty or doesn’t show signs of regular maintenance. That means the boat has likely been exposed to the elements for long periods, so there could be underlying issues beyond what you see at first glance. If you see red flags during your initial once over, ask for clarity. If the explanation doesn't satisfy your concerns, walk away. There are other boats.
If the owner appears forthright and the deal is progressing, ask for an opportunity to give the boat a thorough inspection. If you have a friend who knows boats, bring them with you for help. Even better, if you think it’s worth the cost bring a marine surveyor to perform a proper inspection. It will cost you, but a surveyor knows what to look for and will detect things a novice boater might miss. As part of the inspection you’ll want to go through everything- hatches, storage compartments, transom, engine, all of it. You’re not likely to find issues in areas that are highly visible like the helm or the deck, so look closely in the nooks and crannies. Check lockers and storage for cleanliness (it’s an indicator of overall care), check the propeller for damage, and see if the engine is well greased and shined up. Little details like these are tell-tale signs if the boat has been well maintained. Even a new boat should get a thorough inspection in case there are any defects that could cause issues down the road. If it’s possible, ask to go for a test drive with the owner/seller.
8) CONSIDER OPERATIONAL COSTS
Just like your budget, there are operational costs that need to be factored into your purchase. Insurance, gas, maintenance, spare parts, winter storage, winterizing, slip rental costs, and unforeseen issues will all come into play at some point. Boat insurance will protect you if anything unpredictable happens, but you’ll want to check the specifics of your policies. In some cases a home insurance policy will cover your boat, but not always. A home insurance policy may also only provide minimal with lots of exceptions, so proper boat insurance may be worthwhile. It’s worth understanding the particulars of marine insurance so you don't end up in a jam.
If you can, determine your boat’s exact value before speaking with an insurance provider. Boat dealers use ‘blue book’ values to calculate trade-in allowances, and that same figure also allows insurers to set values and for marine surveyors to set evaluations. There are lots of helpful resources for setting used boat prices, and this will help you determine if the boat you’re considering will still be affordable once the associated operational costs are factored in. You’ll also want to confirm the status of any warranties or manufacturer/dealer support that may still be active with the vessel (and whether this will stay applicable if the boat changes ownership).
9) GET TO KNOW THE OWNER
This may seem silly, but it isn’t. If you’re spending a significant amount of money on a boat, you should spend time with the salesperson/owner to get a feel for them. If the boat is new, inquire about the history of the brand/model and how it’s received in the industry (and do some research to make sure the story you hear corroborates with the evidence you find). If the boat is used, inquire about how often it was on the water, how it was cared for, how it was stored, and how long it’s been sitting. A boat that hasn’t seen much use may not have wear and tear, but if it’s been sitting the elements may have done damage you’ll want to find (electrical, wiring, water damage, etc). If the boat was well used, it may have more wear and tear superficially, but could be well cared for with regards to the engine, transom, hull, etc. It’s always smart to ask the seller why they’re getting rid of the boat- are regular repairs and frequent upkeep the reason? Are they upgrading? Are they reluctantly selling because they don’t have time to fish? These are worth knowing as they could be an indicator of trouble ahead. Be sure to ask for all maintenance records, repair invoices, or other relevant paperwork so you have a history for the boat and its condition. You should also receive a bill of sale, the title, and proof of payment if you make the purchase. If you take the time to get to know the owner, you may be able to talk your way into a better deal as well.
10) CATCH DINNER
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve found a fishing boat that matches your criteria and your budget. If the seller is reputable, the boat has a good track record, and it’s got everything you need, then it’s time to take the plunge. Be prepared for inevitable maintenance over the years, boats aren’t different than cars and will need some upkeep from time to time, but if you’ve done your research and made a smart choice you’ll have a boat that will give you joy for years to come. If you’ve purchased new, you can enjoy the experience of naming your boat, which is a proud part of ownership. If you’ve purchased used, you may have saved yourself a chunk of change that will allow you to add accessories you always dreamed of having. Hit the water and catch dinner!