Boat Buying Guide

Hometown Buying Guide

Saving a buck? In these times it seems that every dollar counts. That’s why scouring the national marine market for a “good deal is so tempting for boat buyers, especially these days.

Let’s start with the premise that no one really needs a boat, but that you want one for your family and for you. That being stipulated, it becomes more imperative that boat buyers select their retailer first. Then you find the boat for your family.

Frankly, nearly all the boats built today are good products. And, like cars, they are pretty much alike. The engines have improved substantially over the years too. It is the dealer that counts. Dealers vary considerably in their ability to deliver the boating experience you deserve, for the money that you spent. We are immediately talking “value” here, not the almighty price. It’s not quite so simple. The “good deal” will quickly fade.

It’s very tempting to think of the “staggering deals” that must be out there now, with the economy the way it is. By using the internet you can see the photo of the boat and believe your own eyes. Not so fast. Those “super deals” may quickly equate to the bank re-po homes on the market, or the flood or storm damaged autos out there. Think twice, and look in your own hometown to select your retailer first.

A boat purchase, like an auto, is considered a major ticket item. If you don’t like the offer of the local Chevy or Toyota dealer, you pick another one. After all, you will get perfect service from any reputable auto dealer handling the same brand.

That’s where the similarity stops. Auto dealers are paid at their full labor rate and at full retail parts prices by their respective manufacturers to do warranty work on your car, no matter where it was purchased. So, the auto dealer can make a fair profit doing warranty work for you. They like it.

Boat builders treat their retailers much differently. Boat dealers are poorly reimbursed for doing most warranty work. And, there is a whole lot more warranty work necessary on a boat than on an auto these days. We don’t have any 10-year factory warranties on boats. Do you wonder why?

The seasonal nature of boating strains any dealer to promptly service your boat when it needs help. The selling dealer is obligated to keep you on the water when problems arise. If that “dude” is somewhere else, or in another state, you’ll need a trailer, a vehicle powerful enough to tow it, and personal time to get it there. You’ll also need to hope he’ll schedule your repair while you wait. “yah shuure Ole!” He sold it for peanuts, and you expect prompt and reliable service. Not likely.

It’s not that the local dealer won’t do warranty repairs on boats sold by others. They will, and they do. But remember the key word here is “promptly.” That local dealer is totally obligated to serve his own customers “promptly,” and first. Then he’ll see you.

Remember, there are 24 potential boating weekends in Minnesota at the very best. Now, take out a few weekend days for bad weather, and two or three weekends for lack of prompt local service and you’re quickly back to “value,” not price. Your family isn’t saying “excellent choice,” to you any more.

Let’s assume you are a great “handyman” and don’t even need any help. That likelihood fades fast when we remember the technical nature of today’s boats and engines. The computerized nature of these “beasts” brings a whole different reality. All of a sudden you may not be such a handy person. You are right back to “value,” and that can be found at your local dealer. Be sure to put your emphasis on selecting the right one. That’s key!

Talking about the “handyman” in your family, there is high probability that he or she is more talented at re-habing the bank re-po house mentioned above than any recent model boat or engine. Yes, I know you worked as a dock boy at the marina, but that was 10, 20 or even 30 years ago, and things are not so simple anymore.

Cruiser buyers are exposed to substantially greater disappointments because of the added systems on those rigs. Start with two engines, now synchronize them, steer them, two fuel systems and service them. Add a third engine if the boat has a generator.

Now, add a sanitary system, a fresh water system, a sound system, a galley with refrigerator, a separate icemaker and an electronic navigation package. Whoops, there’s the air conditioning/heating package and a 110 volt dockside power package too. What else? Oh, what about the condition of the hull, the deck and the canvass package. Think about the upholstering, the carpet, the cabin, the dinette and the instrumentation.

The writer is entering his 43rd year of boat retailing, and can count disaster after disaster (mostly coming from out of state) where boat buyers wanted to save a buck, or a thousand, or even 10’s of thousands of dollars. Nope, it is not good judgment to be out there chasing distressed merchandise. Those repossessions are there for a good reason.

Dealers who were forced out, in an economic downturn were the marginal to poor operators to begin with. They stored their inventory outside where it was exposed to the elements (now you have a well used boat). They routinely cannibalized parts from new boats to make an emergency repair for another customer. Those zombie operators forgot to winterize engines, or didn’t stabilize fuel in the tanks for demo boats that were in the water, last season. One could go on and on, but the reader gets the picture. Just forget it!

Do your homework first, select the right hometown dealer, and break his arm for the best price.

If you still insist on taking a chance on something you found on the internet, be sure to run it through your hometown dealer, so he’ll service it for you. He needs to make a buck too. He can also advise you about your choice. Your obligation is to keep your family on the water, every weekend to remain a hero in their eyes. Families Rock!