The Ins and Outs of Buying a Boat

You’ve made the decision to buy a boat and are asking, “Now what?” We caught up with Bill Irwin, Vice President/ Sales & Marketing at Irwin Marine in Laconia, New Hampshire and retired executive/boating enthusiast Bob Madaio to get their thoughts and advice on getting on the water.

Both agreed step one is attending a boating safety class. Some states (like New Hampshire) require a boating certificate (in New Hampshire everyone 16-years-old and older who operates a motorboat over 25 horsepower on New Hampshire waters must have a boating education certificate). These classes teach basic water safety including the “rules of the road” for boating. These classes are offered frequently and can be located on each state’s website.

“Once they’ve been to school, they need to decide what they want to do with the boat,” Madaio said. “Do they want to fish, fish and family, or overnight? One person or family? Do they need to tow a skier or tuber?”

Madaio’s experience with boating was easily offered, “A 22- or 25-foot-long boat is big for a first time buyer.”  

Irwin jumped in, “It’s often a good idea to rent a boat first. Renting a boat gets you out on the water very cost effectively. You also get the option of trying different boats (paddle, sail, power) without having to finance a purchase.”

When buying a boat, it’s important to consider how the boat will be used and where it will be used. “In New England, we have two boating seasons. One is with the boat in the water, and the second is when the boat is in winter storage,” cautioned Irwin. “Buyers need to think about where the boat will be kept in the summer (rack or slip or slip/valet) as well as winter storage. Some trailer their boat and the trailer also requires storage.”

A preowned boat is something to be approached thoughtfully. Madaio said, “Power boats have hour meters (rather than odometers) and you want to consider a boat with low hours and a single owner. You want to have the engine checked by a knowledgeable technician who can access and review the engine computer.”

“Boat manufacturers generally don’t have a ‘certified preowned’ checklist list like a car,” shared Irwin, “So when we take in a boat, we have our certified technicians go over it.”

Boat hulls are often made of aluminum (lightweight), fiberglass or wood. “Our technicians check floorboards for rot and check the transom (rear of the boat).  On larger boats, we recommend an independent marine survey. We thoroughly check the mechanical systems.”

Both Irwin and Madaio caution against buying a boat off the side of a road. You need to get a boat in the water and run it. You need to know a boat before buying it.

While some people like to “tinker” on their boats, many are busy and are looking for a reliable summer boat. This leads to purchasing a new boat.

There are many brands of boats and motors. Some large companies have boat and motor divisions. Buying a boat/motor combination where you intend to boat was recommended by our experts. Madaio said, “You need a dealer with a great sales and service combination or boating will disappoint.”

Madaio recommends a first time power boat buyer stay with a craft that is under 22 feet, and with a “middle” engine. “Underpowering will disappoint, and overpowering can be dangerous with an inexperienced operator,” he said.

When purchasing a new boat, make sure you obtain any required safety gear as well as items to protect your investment. These include life vests for everyone on the boat, lines (rope) for the bow and stern (front and back), fenders to prevent damage when docked, etc. Madaio also recommends a GPS on any open waters for marking location. He also recommends carrying a set of tools and spare propeller for any propeller-driven boat.

One last word from the experts who have spent their lives near water and with boats. Both agree boats and alcohol do not mix. Stay sharp operating a watercraft.

Do you have tips to share about first-time boat ownership? Please share in the comments below. For information on financing a boat purchase, click here.

Click here for more information on financing a boat.

You might also be interested to read:

6 Boat Types to Get Started on the Water 

6 Boat Types to Get on the Water
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Hanscom Federal Credit Union
Hanscom Federal Credit Union

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