10 things you must think about before buying a boat

By: Mark Robinson

Check out this no-nonsense guide to buying your first boat, be it new or used.

10 things you must think about before buying a boat
10 things you really need to think about before buying a boat.


1 How safe is your boat?

Can you outswim a shark? It’s safer to buy from a dealership with an accredited franchise for Aussie-built boats, plus a major brand of outboards and sterndrives. This is especially true if you don’t know a lot about boats and could be hoodwinked by a sharp talker. Buy from someone you know and trust rather than that unknown eBay dude.


2 How does it cost to buy a boat really?

Do you have the dough? Before buying a boat, determine how much money you’ll be able — or allowed — to spend on boating activities. This figure will take into account not just the purchase price of the boat, motor and trailer, but also the craft’s registration and insurance fees. Fuel costs are a biggie too, as is the cost of safety gear, a marine radio, an EPIRB, a fishfinder, and any other fittings you might need. Treating this matter flippantly could lead to family disharmony. Your wife could end up hating you and your boat.


3 What will you use your boat for?

Once your budget is sorted, pinpoint exactly what you intend to do with this boat. Is its "intended use" as a family runabout that can handle a bit of fishing and skiing? Is it a dedicated fishing or scuba platform?


4 What will your boat be required to do?

Once you know what you intend to do with your boat it’s time to consider the type of craft that will best suit that purpose. If your use is general and involves maybe a bit of fishing and an occasional waterski for the kids, then a general purpose craft with a cabin of sorts and an outboard that’s sufficiently powerful to pull skiers will serve the purpose. The dedicated diver or offshore fisher will have significantly different requirements.


5 Is a bigger a better boat?

All states have towing regulations that you need to be aware of. Weight limits determine your tow vehicle’s capacity. These limits are there to make sure dimwits don’t tow a loaded boat and trailer package that’s much too heavy for the tow vehicle. This is an important safety issue! The alternative to towing a big boat with a small car is to buy a smaller boat or a bigger car, but of course the latter is much more expensive. It’s a curious fact, but the larger the boat, the higher its price and operating cost, and these tend to rise exponentially — that means a lot — the bigger the boat.


6 Which boat brand is best?

Many manufacturers will make a boat that fits your exact needs, but only you can decide which boat you like best. Frequenting TradeBoats and reading Trade-a-Boat magazine can be a big help in making a purchasing decision. I can’t recommend one boat brand over another but I favour Australian-built boats since the top brands are equal or superior to the best in the world.


7 Will you buy a new or used boat?

There are convincing arguments for either but, generally speaking, you can save around half the price of a new boat by choosing a used one. Which, given the fact that you’re not likely to be satisfied long term with your first boat, makes those huge initial savings even more important. Somewhere in the two to five year-old range is the best compromise between cost saving and good condition. Again, I stress the fact that you should be safe if buying from a reputable dealership with major brand franchises. Be wary — very wary — of boat yards set up like used car lots with no franchises for major brands.


8 Outboard motor or sterndrive?

Weight relates to this decision, since sterndrives are heavier than comparable outboards. If you intend to moor your boat for any length of time then buy one with an outboard.


9 Take your boat for a test drive

New or secondhand, never, ever under any circumstances buy a boat without taking it for a test drive on at least a choppy, but preferably rough day. Ride quality is paramount. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll "only go out on calm days". The sea makes up its own mind about those things and can quickly turn on you. Wives and children especially dislike boats that pound, slam, bang and generally terrify everyone on board. Lots of boats can do so in a seaway so if the seller won’t arrange a test drive, say goodbye.


10 Never take boat warranty and boat insurance for granted

Never, ever take warranties for granted. With apologies to the trustworthy dealers out there, some of the sharks in the industry make it mandatory for the boat buyer to get warranty details in writing. If the dealer won’t do that, say goodbye to him too.

By way of a bonus, and in addition to the top 10 tips listed above, I’d like to add that invaluable advice can often be obtained from members of boating or fishing clubs as well as from members of the various marine rescue organisations around our coast. Joining a volunteer marine rescue organisation is a superb way to gain seamanship experience and provide a worthy community service.


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