When you shop for a new boat, you’re putting a lot on the line: your hard-earned cash, your future fishing experiences, and your sanity, for example. How can you be sure you make the ideal choice? You can’t ever be 100-percent confident – that’s a simple reality of life – but by knowing about these 10 things to consider when you go boat shopping, you should be able to make a wise choice. Maybe, just maybe, the perfect choice.
1. The right split between comfort and fishability. These two factors play give-and-take rolls in virtually every fishing boat you’ll look at. The most common example can be found in the seating. More seating equals more comfort, but also eats into fishing space. And not all seating is created equal. When it comes to bow seats, for example, backrests greatly increase their comfort – but they also get in the way when it’s time to fish. Another example of this give-and-take can be found in the size of a center console. A bigger console makes more room for a head compartment, but it also eats into the deck space you want for maximum fishability. So every time you look at a boat keep this fishing versus comfort tug-of-war in mind.
2. The right dealer. The dealer you buy from is going to play a huge role in how satisfied you are, or are not, with your boat. Just like cars, virtually all new boats have a bug or two to be worked out. Will the dealership be responsive? What if there’s warranty work to be done in the future? And, let’s not forget about regular maintenance. Naturally, we hope you’ll start your search with one of the dealers advertising right here in FishTalk. If nothing else, you already know that they care about the angling community and they’re playing a role to help us bring you this magazine. But beyond that, we’d always recommend asking an unfamiliar dealership for a reference or two. Do your homework on Google, while remembering that there are (way too many) trolls out there, and no single review or comment should ever be taken as gospel. And spend some time just talking with a dealer, to find out whether or not you’re comfortable with him or her.
3. The right size. Bigger is definitely not always better. Light-tackle aficionados are often best served with a rather small boat, which can be used for shallow-water casting. Those of us who tow our boats to distant fishing grounds will find a smaller boat easier to handle. And if you want economy in your boat, size certainly matters. On the other hand, bigger boats do tend to handle rough seas better. And if you like hauling a large crew on a regular basis, you’re going to need a relatively big boat. But when it comes to LOA many people over-buy and end up moving down in size a few years later, so consider this factor carefully.
4. The right hull design. Many people think that deep-V hulls are the way to go, period. But, what if you don’t go out much when it’s rough, and stability is important to you? In that case, a semi-V might be a smarter choice. What if speed trumps all else? Then a stepped-bottom hull design is likely to be the best pick. We don’t have the space to get into all the different options here, but this is an aspect of a boat you should research prior to any purchase.
5. The right construction. Truth be told, there are very few crappy boats out there – the Great Recession weeded out most of those builders. There are, however, certainly different levels of construction quality. Forget about the catch-phrases you see in all the catalogs and marketing materials like “wood free” (virtually all boats are), and “stainless-steel hardware” (virtually all boats built for saltwater have it). Instead, when looking around at a boat show, eyeball things like fit and finish, vinyl and canvas quality, and pipework quality. These details provide insight into how a manufacturer approaches boat-building in general. Then, when you’re back at home researching the construction quality of a specific model in depth, check for things like stringer construction, hull-to-deck joint type, and the varieties of resins used.
6. The right accessories. If you enjoy live-lining, obviously, you’ll want a good livewell. If you’re into trolling for striped bass, the number and placement of rodholders takes on added importance. And if you want to head out into the bay or ocean weather-be-damned, radar will be an important item to consider. The list goes on and on – the key factor here is that you make sure that the boat you choose fulfills your personal needs. Wait a sec – why not buy a boat that’s more of a blank slate, and customize it yourself? That’s certainly an option, but remember that aftermarket accessories rarely fit a boat as well as those that were installed at the factory, and may not be serviced by the dealer who sold you the boat.
7. The right control system. Here’s another factor few people consider ahead of time, which can make a huge difference in how happy you are with a boat: For people who are a bit stressed by docking, modern joystick controls are a dream. Many of us find digital control systems vastly superior to cables and shifters. And some people prefer digital displays while others would rather have analog gauges at the helm. Yet time and again, people fail to take these factors into consideration prior to purchasing a boat.
8. The right powerplant. Since we could argue all day over which brand is the best, instead we’re going to focus here on size. If top-end speed isn’t the most important thing in your life, you may want to get a boat with something less than its maximum power. This will save you on up-front cost, and in most cases, maintenance and running costs. There’s a down-side to consider, though. Boats with larger powerplants tend to be easier to re-sell and bring a higher price. So if you can afford the larger engine, from an investment standpoint it may be a good move.
9. The right gunwale height. Those new to boating tend to get boats with very tall gunwales, because they feel safer inside. On top of that, young children are less likely to end up in the drink if they’re corralled by tall fiberglass walls. But experienced anglers know that low gunwales make landing fish a lot easier. That tall sides act like a sail, increasing drift speed and making docking tougher when there’s a breeze. That they raise a boat’s center of gravity, which lowers its stability. As with all aspects of boat design there are trade-offs to be made, so before you make them unknowingly, think through what’s best for your needs.
10. The right price. Naturally, everyone wants to get the best deal possible. That’s why you wander the floor at the boat show, and shop ‘till you drop. The best advice we can give you is to establish a firm budget, and be prepared to ignore it completely when you finally find the boat you love. The attached Flow Chart (which we saw on Facebook) might help.