Boat Buying Advice

10 Common Boat-Buying Mistakes

1. Not Considering Future Needs

Think ahead. Families with small children should take into account how they will want to use the boat as they get older.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes kids
Think these boys will be happy with simply riding in the bow as they get older?

People who are new to boating should assume that they will enjoy the sport and will want to expand the use of their boat in years ahead. A family with varied on-water interests should try to define the limits of what future use they may want to use the boat for. Then, buy a boat that will handle those activities. Most boats are designed for specific purposes so it’s smart to make sure to find one that fits a given lifestyle. Don’t buy a ski boat if the plan is to go fishing.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes wakeboarding
Those kids are probably going to want to try wakeboarding and there are boats built for the sport.
10 Boat Buying Mistakes
They might want to “hang 10” and surf the boat’s wake and, you guessed it, there are boats built for that purpose, too.
10 Boat Buying Mistakes family fishing
Many families start their kids fishing early and a center console is designed for that. Some boats are “fish & ski” designs with the versatility built-in, and they might be a good idea for a family with a range of boating activities in mind.

2. Getting too small of a boat.

Boat ownership is expensive, so it is natural to want to buy the smallest boat to fulfill basic needs. The trouble is that after a season most people outgrow their boat and want a bigger one. Trading in boat #1 for boat #2 means paying two sales commissions. Most people can actually save money by getting a large boat first.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes bayliner 160
Buying a 16’ boat might seem smart at the time, but most people outgrow them pretty quickly. Also, they are usually limited to protected water and small lakes and rivers.
10 Boat Buying Mistakes bayliner 180
But spending just a little more money for an 18’ or 20’ boat will deliver a more substantial boat that can perform a greater number of tasks in larger lakes and in some coastal locations.

3. Not Consulting a Spouse or Significant Other

This is a very big no-no. Consult the spouse early and often. For most couples we know, the spouse has veto power over large family expenditures. Get “buy in” before proceeding. Consider letting a spouse select the boat (with guidance, of course) for best results. Many people use the videos and Captain’s Reports on to introduce their spouses to the boat of their dreams to start a discussion.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes couple
To ensure a happy purchase, consult a spouse or significant other throughout the buying process.
10 Boat Buying Mistakes performance boat
This guy didn’t consult his ex-girlfriend before buying this performance boat which is strictly a one-trick pony. It has no sleeping accommodations, doesn’t entertain well, is hard to maneuver around the dock, makes a lot of noise, and is difficult to fish from. Now, he’s out looking for a new girlfriend.
10 Boat Buying Mistakes bass boat
If the spouse isn’t into a boat built specifically for bass fishing, don’t bring home a bass boat. They are specifically designed for certain kinds of fishing in certain locations.

4. Not Doing Adequate Research

A boat is probably the most complex thing a person will buy, often more so than even a house, with which most people are familiar. was designed to aid buyers in this research. Drill down and read everything we have available about the type and size of boat desired. Watch the videos. An informed consumer is far more likely to have a more satisfying experience than one who is not.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes floor plan
The Chaparral 226 SSi has a number of important features, but without experience or lots of research the prospective buyer will miss them.

5. Taking Advice from Internet “Trolls”

When researching a boat purchase, be careful about putting too much weight on negative comments found on Internet forums. Writers often have an ax to grind or are upset with a dealer and have transferred that displeasure to the product. Some posts are even made by boat or engine dealers or employees against a competitive brand. In some cases, a legitimate complaint is no longer valid because the company has changed hands or has corrected the problem.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes internet troll
Be careful about taking advice from forum trolls. Some take great pleasure in mindlessly bashing brands that are not their favorite.

6. Assume Buying a Boat Is Like Buying a Car

Most boaters have no idea how few new boats are sold each year – the number is about 200,000 per year over 15’. That’s about how many automobiles are sold in the U.S in less than five days. As a result, everything about the boat buying process is different than car buying.

For example, some builders of popular brands will not start a new boat build until there is a serious deposit. In larger boats, very few are sold each year altogether. And only the largest dealers can afford to have a wide selection of boats on hand. That means that consumers must do their research at home, then visit dealers and get to know what their options are. Don’t assume a dealer will have just what you want in stock.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes car shopping
There are few similarities between car shopping and buying a boat.

7. Squeezing the Dealer Too Tight

While many car dealers operate on as little as 3 to 5% margin per car, they also sell thousands of automobiles each year. A boat dealer sells only a few new boats each year but still has to pay high property taxes, mortgage payments, have a staff, pay for training, and all of rest of it. Car dealers get rich -- boat dealers do not. Most are in it because they love boats and boating. Consumers driving the hardest bargains trying to get a “good deal” often get a good deal less.

8. Assume All Boats Are The Same

Again, many boat buyers assume that the laws, protocols, and government standards that operate in the automobile industry are also in effect the boat industry. Not so. U.S.C.G boatbuilding requirements are few and very narrowly defined. For example. Only boats that are 20’ or smaller, powered by a 2-hp engine or greater, are required to float level if swamped – and sailboats are exempt. Further, ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) standards are strictly voluntary. The best builders conscientiously follow virtually all of the standards, but small builders often pick and choose what standards to follow, if any at all, beyond the USCG requirements. And, there are no state “Lemon Laws” for boats. All of this means that careful research of the integrity of the boatbuilder is important, as well as the features of the boat.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes builder integrity
Boatbuilders with integrity stand behind their boats – those are the brands to buy.

9. The Best Place to Buy a Boat Is at a Boat Show

This canard is not always true. There are actually other times and places that boats can be purchased for better prices. For example, December is often a good month to buy because a dealer is trying get a boat off his books and bank floor plan by the end of the calendar year.

June and July are often good months for deals because the dealer wants to make way for the new model year which begins in September. Traditionally, more new boats are sold in July than in any other month.

Having said all of this, a buyer should know that...

10 Boat Buying Mistakes boat show
Having many of the boats side by side makes a boat show a good place to get on a lot of boats at once and compare features, construction, and finish. Dealers used to train their customer to wait for boat shows for the best price, but that trend has changed in recent years.

10. Looking for a Fire-Sale Boat

The days of the fire-sale boat are over. In the wake of the 2008 financial disaster, many dealers were forced to sell boats at invoice simply for some cash flow. Nevertheless, a significant percentage of dealers went out of business, never to return and never to be replaced. Likewise, the number of builders has contracted by over 50%.

Today, most responsible builders monitor dealer inventory and are careful not to overproduce. Many, in fact, require a serious consumer deposit before even starting a build. This policy is in the best interest of the consumers as well as that of the dealers and builders themselves.

10 Boat Buying Mistakes sea ray boat
Sea Ray boats have one of the largest dealer networks in the world and they are all linked to provide up-to-date inventory availability.

As a result, a boat buyer who knows exactly what brand and model he or she wants would be wise to contract for it in advance, depending on the size of the boat. These days most boats over 30’ are built to order.