The perfect boat?

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There's no such thing as the perfect boat so stop looking for it, writes John Willis.

The perfect boat?
The perfect boat?
What does the "perfect boat" look like? The simple answer is there isn’t one for all applications so stop trying to find it.

Marine dealers regularly see anguish on the faces of prospective buyers as they agonize over their first, or next boat. The perfect boat for fishing offshore is nothing like the perfect boat for family cruising, nor is it close to what you’d need for specialised impoundment fishing or tournament waterskiing. Unless your bankroll is suited to the purchase of a number of specialised rigs, the challenge for the average boater is to purchase a package that will be serviceable in a large range of applications.


So how do you go about finding what’s best for your needs? Start by answering these questions.

• Is your primary interest fishing, cruising, skiing or diving — or a combination?

• How many people on average do you expect to take out in the boat, and what is a sensible maximum?

• Are kids involved?

• Will your usage be primarily inshore, impoundment, river and estuary, or offshore?

• How far will you travel?

• What weight can your car tow?

If you know the answer to any of these questions then the purchase of your new boat is somewhat simplified. Unfortunately, the average family man who wants to take his mates out fishing one day, the kids out waterskiing the next, and then do the chicken and champagne cruise on Sunday afternoon, may have more problems to ponder.

That’s because life is full of compromise, and you’ll be better off once you realise that the perfect boat has never been made. Instead, a good, well-serviced boat will give plenty of enjoyment within its capabilities, whether new or second-hand.


The most commonly requested boat from a first-time buyer is an easily towed half-cabin for the family. This is perfectly understandable, except that many older half-cabin designs provide very little deck-room for activity, which means they can be quite frustrating and confined. There is no quicker way to disenchant mum or the kids than a day on the water with an inappropriate boat, or the insecurity and arguments that arise from an inexperienced operator.

The notion that the cabin is for the kids is probably the greatest fallacy in boating. The fastest way to make kids seasick in any sort of choppy conditions is to confine them to the cabin, and you certainly don’t want them bouncing around in there if the going gets rough.

Half-cabins can provide some excellent protection against the elements, including that big greenback wave over the bow that catches you by surprise. A cabin can also provide a secluded toilet area via a Porta-Potti or similar. The structure creates an excellent foundation for a canopy at a suitable working height, and in today’s damaging sun, decent shade is essential, especially when you recall that harmful UV rays are amplified on the water.

The raised seating of a half or cuddy-cabin design means there’s less fatigue than a low-seated runabout but it may not be quite as comfortable. If fishing is your primary activity, the constant up and down effort from a low-runabout seat can cause fatigue. It also slows down your reaction to sensitive bites from finicky fish like King George whiting and bream.

Half-cabins do, however, allow for a greater area of enclosed storage for all the items that can clutter up a runabout. Items like the picnic basket, fishbox, tackleboxes, ropes, gaffs and harnesses, diving and skigear can all be conveniently stored out of the way. However, a cabin can also create weight distribution problems when all the boat’s occupants are out on deck.

This is where runabouts and bowriders have many advantages. True, they don’t have the solid structure of a cuddy or half-cabin, which is why most experienced operators prefer to stand at the helm in rough seas. However, they have windscreens that provide convenient lean or walkthrough access that makes anchoring easy, as well as access to the foredeck for boarding from riverbanks and moorings. Runabouts can be fitted with pedestal swivel-seats to gain maximum deck room, or even with back-to-backs for comfortably seating extra passengers. In fact, these low and thickly-upholstered seats can be a little more relaxing during long hours waiting for elusive snapper.

Anglers make up most boat buyers and their priority is usually maximum deck room. I assure you, there’s nothing worse than trying to work a pitching boat without decent gunwale heights and suitably placed strong grabrails. Nowadays, runabouts can be fitted with a combination targa/bimini canopy for fold-back shade. If the framework is upgraded to heavy duty 25mm stainless or aluminium, and perhaps combined with a rocket launcher, the structure will provide secure grabholds for rougher seas or higher speeds. The rocket launcher keeps all of those clumsy fishing rods out of the way when not in use while detachable clear sidecurtains and screen-infills allow all-weather covers, making the runabout quite flexible for many applications.

Traditionally, waterskiing has been the realm of the runabout or dedicated ski package, but the average family can use just about any package, provided it has the horsepower. I know plenty of kids who learnt to ski behind a cheap tinnie.


Power to weight is an important consideration, and it’s false economy to expect a rig fitted with minimum horsepower to cover all the prerequisites for the average family. Low horsepower can also be dangerous in a following sea where you must have the power to remain on the backs of waves, particularly while navigating river mouths and sandbars. Low horsepower will also overwork an engine, leading to higher fuel consumption, wear and tear, and in some cases even engine detonation.

Divers must be acutely aware of their horsepower requirements due to the large payloads with SCUBA equipment, weight belt, and so on. An old boat builder friend of mine calculates horsepower requirements as the laden weight of the boat, plus double the average weight of a person of 75kg (note that 75kg is only half the weight of many anglers I know… divers must be skinny little characters).

If the answer to these questions leads you to a large payload but low towing weight, then perhaps an aluminium boat is right for you. On average, an aluminium boat package will weigh approximately one third less than similar sized fibreglass alternatives. This is not only due to hull weight, but also because aluminium boats traditionally have a considerably wider beam and shallower vee angle. This allows easier planing through reduced horsepower and all of the associated cost savings. Fuel price is obviously a major consideration with our spiralling petrol costs.

The down side is that aluminium boats traditionally ride harder, are cold in winter and hot in summer. They will, however, put up with more abuse than fibreglass, and can be easier to manage on poorer quality ramps and beach launchings. Thankfully, the average family is reasonably well-serviced by boat ramps in most popular localities.


An appropriate trailer can mean the difference between enjoyable boating and the nightmares commonly experienced by ill-informed and under-equipped boaters. My best advice to new boat buyers is to make sure you buy a drive-on style trailer and learn how to use it before you take the family on the water.

I deal with many new boaters who think they’ll regularly take four, five or more of their mates out fishing, from a small trailerboat, on a regular basis. My response is to get greedy.

In all seriousness, in today’s busy day and age, and with the pressures of family and career, how many mates do you think you’ll get together on that perfect day when the weather and tides are right (and the bite is on)? Trust me, you’ll wait at the boat ramp once for that unreliable mate who slept through the alarm (we all know one of those). After that you’ll quickly realise that you need to be self-sufficient to attain any sort of boating pleasure.

The size of the boat is not roportional to the amount of fun you have. In fact, more often it’s the opposite.

There is less guilt to keeping a rarely used cheaper boat in the driveway than the expensive masterpiece you feel obliged to use at every opportunity. I know of many people who derive as much pleasure from kayaks as others do from a large cruiser. If fishing is your pleasure, a smaller boat can often be the most functional, particularly in freshwater. Bluewater sports are obviously a much more serious matter.


When your endless search for the ideal boat finally seems fruitful, you’ll be tempted to take a self-confessed "experienced" mate along for advice. We have a name for this "mate" in the trade. We call him the "Prick Advisor".

Boat owners regularly believe that their boat is the only boat, and that you must buy the same one even if your needs are actually very different. You’ll be amazed at how many times jealousy, or the "keeping up with the Jones’" routine influences a buying decision.

This seems particularly true in the case of used boats. If you need advice, get a professional and independent adviser to comment on structural and mechanical condition, and get them to advise on suitability while they’re at it. However, be very careful not to use an opposition dealer, or anyone who has an interest in selling you another boat package. Some people just can’t help themselves when there’s a dollar to be made.

Also be prepared to pay the right price. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people who thought they found the perfect boat but let it slide by because they couldn’t bust the seller on price. Good second-hand boats are particularly hard to find. When you do find one, use your ability to haggle, but if you need to pay the asking price and the boat meets all of the criteria, pay it.


At the end of the day, don’t despair. It’s great to be on the water no matter the size, shape and construction of the boat. The other good news is that the resale of second-hand boats tends not to suffer from rapid depreciation. This means that, if for example you paid a reasonable market price for your boat but then discover that your purchase doesn’t meet your needs, you can consider it a relatively inexpensive learning experience to trade over to another and more suitable boat.

It certainly pays to purchase from a reputable dealer, and seek out an experienced salesperson within that dealership. You’ll know them when you meet them. The experienced boaters are not necessarily the ones that talk the loudest, or the most. In most cases, purchasing through a reputable dealer will be cheaper in the long run than learning the hard way with a private gamble. You’d be amazed just how many boat owners have been misled about the age of their rigs, and are often ignorant about inherent problems.

Dealers are a competitive bunch and that means their prices must also be competitive if they’re to survive. They also lack the emotional attachment of a private seller, all of whom believe that their boat is the best.

It’s easy to check the relative price range of used boats. TrailerBoat classifieds provide a large range, and this can be expanded by the multitude of dedicated websites.

Finally, don’t forget that equipment like electronics, canopies, upholstery and baitboards can always be added to a package. It’s great if your prospective purchase is already fitted to your requirements, but the bottom line is to make sure the basic configuration, horsepower and trailer are your number one priorities.

In the meantime, while your search for perfect boat continues, remember this important rule: life’s better with a boat (no matter what type it is).

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