How the Industry Works: A Primer for First-Time Boat Buyers

Buying a boat is more complicated than many casual boaters realize.

Boat buyers need to do a good amount of due diligence to ensure they’re making the right investment. That means doing a thorough evaluation, including an inspection done by a professional inspector. Unscrupulous sellers may fail to disclose issues with the boat, disguise damage or decay, or even sell you a vessel that will transfer a costly lien onto you. Don’t let the excitement of buying your first boat cloud your good judgement!

You’ll need to decide whether you want a new or used boat, and where to buy that boat from — a dealership, a boat show, online, etc. Depending on what kind of boat you choose, you’ll go through one of two kinds of professional. New boats are sold by dealers, who are similar to salespeople at car dealerships. Used boat sales are overseen by brokers, whose role in the sales process more closely resembles a realtor on a home purchase.

Next, hire a certified marine surveyor to give the craft a full sea trial and inspection. They’ll take the boat out of the water and check its hull, inspect the engines and pumps, and check for any other potential problem areas. Seems costly, but when you’re making a major investment, it’s best to make sure that no major issues will keep your new boat dry-docked — or worse.

5 Questions Smart Buyers Ask When Purchasing a New Boat

Buying a brand new boat lets you customize your craft in ways used boats can rarely accommodate. Plus, new boat buyers don’t need to concern themselves with damage or wear-and-tear from previous owners.

That doesn’t mean that new boat sales don’t come with their own complexities. Here are five questions you should always ask before finalizing a deal:

  • What kind of warranty does the boat have? Not just whether or not the boat comes with a warranty, but what’s included in your warranty. Look into the fine print to confirm which components are covered and for how long.
  • How much and what kind of maintenance does the boat require? New boats come with lower maintenance costs, but they still require regular work on the engine, cleaning, hull repair, and storage. This will result in costs that many new boat owners don’t anticipate.
  • What kind of fabric is on the boat? Does your new boat come standard with all the covers you need for both storage and comfortable operation? If so, always inquire about the fabric being used on biminis and other covers. Not all marine fabric is made to the same standard.
  • What kind of financing is available? Getting a boat loan is more like securing a home mortgage than taking out an auto loan. Your boat dealer can offer some insights into financing options available.
  • Can I take it for a sea trial? Of course, you’ll want to take your boat for a test drive before you buy. Will your dealer set up a sea trial for you to test the handling and features on your new boat? If no, that should be a big red flag.

For more on what you need to know about new boat buying, check out this new blog post:

Pros and Cons of Buying a Boat at a Boat Show

Boat shows are a popular way for prospective buyers to check out what’s new on the market. For first-time buyers looking to find the boat of their dreams, shows offer a great opportunity to explore options — and even walk away with a new boat.

There are definite pros and cons to buying a boat at a boat show. Knowing what to expect before you arrive will help ensure you get the right boat and don’t get caught up in the moment.

Pros

  • Competitive selling environment can give buyers the upper hand
  • Special “show only” deals at expos
  • In-person experience getting aboard and exploring what you can’t get online
  • See several models at once and ask questions of competitors
  • Look into upgrades on a base model

Cons

  • More on-the-spot pressure to buy without doing due diligence
  • No sea trials available in many cases
  • Fewer used boats available — and the ones that are available are upmarket and pricey
  • Delivery can take a long time

 


Want more insight into whether or not boat shows are the best way to buy your first craft?

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The Boat Terms and Definitions All New Owners Should Know

First, you must learn the fundamentals.

Boat captains speak a language all their own. It’s one that’s evolved over the centuries to suit the unique experience of navigating on the open water.

Chances are that you’re familiar with some boat terminology. Some more uncommon terms are among the most important for new captains, however. For example, here’s a quick synopsis of terms for nautical directions:

  • Aft – a directional term; toward the stern (back) of the boat
  • Forward (or Fore) – a directional term; toward the bow (front) of the boat
  • Abeam – alongside the boat
  • Astern – a boat moving in reverse
  • Port – the left side of the boat when looking forward
  • Starboard – the right side of the boat when looking forward
  • Leeward – the direction away from the wind
  • Windward – the direction the wind is coming from
  • Heading – the boat’s direction at any given time
  • Yaw – to swing away from the intended course

Knowing this basic terminology helps ensure you’re comfortable in the language of boating — which enriches your experiences on the water. For a comprehensive list of terms, including critical parts of a boat and necessary terms for legal operation, check out this blog post:

What are Shade Tops and Why Do I Need One?

Shade tops help protect your new investment from the elements — and make your time out on the water more enjoyable by shielding you from sun and wind. 

A new shade top will give your boat a fresh brand-new feel, custom tailored in color and shape to suit your aesthetic. If your new boat was outfitted poorly by its previous owner, chances are new covers will likely be a priority item on your list.

Different types of cover are designed to fulfill different needs. Many are custom tailored to suit the characteristics of your boat, but knowing the basics will get you started on your search.

Common boat shade tops include:

  • Bimini Tops: Open-front top covers that shield the cockpit, bimini covers are made from canvas or a specialty marine fabric and mounted on a metal frame. They are designed to be put up or brought down as needed.
  • Enclosure Curtains: Often made from vinyl or acrylic, these curtains enclose your boat’s cockpit or deck area. They attach to a frame and extend outward, attached to the frame of a shade cover like a bimini to provide extra coverage.
  • Boom Awnings: Similar to awnings on a building, boom awnings cover a portion of the deck to provide additional shade for areas outside the cockpit.
  • Boat Dodgers: Sometimes called spray-hoods, boat dodgers create a protective area over the boat’s entrance and part of the cockpit area. Dodgers typically use metal frames and canvas to create this area, accented with vinyl windows.
  • Boat Covers and Boat Mooring Covers: Both are used to protect the boat when not in use. Boat covers cover the top of your boat, whereas boat mooring covers protect the entire boat from the top to down below the rub rail.

Different kinds of boat shade will require different marine fabrics to perform to their fullest capacity. We’ve gone into detail in this blog post, describing how different materials are better suited for some covers than others:

How To Shop For The Best Bimini Top

Good sun coverage is critical on the open water.

Bimini tops are among the most common kinds of shade coverage on modern watercraft. They are available in a variety of different shapes and types, each designed to suit the needs of yachts, sailboats, ski boats, and pontoon craft.

When shopping for a custom-made top to complement your new boat, there are important things to keep in mind. The make, model, and year of your boat will play a critical role in selecting the bimini top that fits properly, so bring this information with you when it’s time to go shopping.

Material is among the most important considerations you’ll have to make when shopping. Much of the difference between a custom bimini top and an off-the-shelf model you find somewhere comes down to material as much as construction. In order to prevent wear and tear, you need a breathable material that won’t shrink, tear, or stretch, and will be UV, water, mold, and mildew resistant. Miss one factor and you cut down the life of your new bimini top considerably. In other words, no common canvas will do.

Measuring your boat helps ensure that your exact specifications are met. Bimini tops can come designed with two, three, or even four bows. To get the right fit, start by measuring the area of your boat, including length, width, and height of the areas you’ll need the Bimini to cover. Remember: the most important measurement will be the width between the mounting points, not the full width of your boat.

Also, be sure to look for a bimini top that will support a high speed of travel when it’s open to prevent your top from tearing or even collapsing when you accelerate to cruising speed.

For more insights into buying custom bimini tops, check out this blog post on the subject:

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Keeping Boat Enclosures Looking & Working Great

Once you have your canvas shades and enclosures fitted and installed, you’ll want to keep it in good shape. Canvas enclosures aren’t cheap, and worn out canvas enclosures are expensive and time consuming to replace — and make your boat look ugly and unkempt until you do.

That’s why you’ll want to maintain your marine fabrics to ensure their longevity. Properly maintained marine fabrics stay vibrant, and prevent rips and tears that can become unsafe in time.

Make cleaning and maintenance a regular part of your boating experience. Soap and water go a long way, but there’s more to good maintenance than just that. Above all, keep an eye out for damage by regularly inspecting of all marine fabrics. Repairing wear and tear early can save you hundreds of dollars in fixes down the line.

Your maintenance process should include steps for:

  1. Inspection
  2. Cleaning Off Dust
  3. Washing With Cleaning Product
  4. Bristle Brush Scrub
  5. Resting
  6. Soft Bristle Brush and Warm Water
  7. Spray Down
  8. Repeat

For more detail and information on proper marine canvas care, check out our blog post on good enclosure maintenance practices:

The Different Types of Marine Window Material

Typically, boat windows are made from specialty textile sheets, rather than glass. The rationale is simple — more durable and flexible marine fabrics are better suited for everything the open water has in store for your craft. Out on the water, a broken glass window can be a major problem when inclement weather strikes.

Not all marine windows are made from the same stuff, though. Marine textile technology is always evolving and a variety of window materials are now available on the market, each suited for different uses and purposes. Many, like clear pressed polished vinyl, can be rolled back with your bimini cover to welcome the sea air. Others, such as polycarbonate, are nearly unbreakable — the preferred choice for more rugged use.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of cost. Some materials carry a lighter price tag than others. On the other hand, many materials that come with a higher sticker price will stay crystal clear and scratch free longer than their cheaper counterparts. Finding the right balance between ruggedness and flexibility, longevity and cost will be central to finding the right window for your needs.

For more insights into marine windows, here’s our helpful guide explaining the different materials (and what makes each one appealing):

Storing Your Boat

Sadly, you can’t be out on the water all the time. During the offseason, storing your boat is one of the more important aspects of boat ownership. Proper storage helps prevent damage that will lead to hundreds, even thousands of dollars in repairs when springtime comes back around.

For many captains, winterizing your vessel will involve little more than strapping a cover on it and parking it in the backyard. A lot of the time, there’s quite a bit more to safe storage than just that.

First, make sure your boat is hoisted above the ground on a trailer or jack stands, and that your engine, keel, and bulkheads are properly supported.

Check your engine to make sure it runs properly — if not, winter is a good time to get necessary maintenance and repairs done. Fill your gas tank up and use a gas stabilizer to prevent condensation from building up inside your tank.

Clear out your holding tanks and detach your battery for separate storage. Now, you’re ready to clean and cover your boat.

To help get you started, here’s our blog post with full details on how to properly store your boat when not in use. We have valuable suggestions on how to dry dock your boat without hassles:

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