Try Before You Buy


Chartering a boat can help you select the right vessel for a lifetime of adventures.

LET's BUY A BOAT! So begins a new adventure, and like every journey, it starts with excitement and anticipation. But in this case, it's also fraught with the peril and expense of purchasing the wrong vessel. Most long-term active boaters buy an average of three boats to get one that best suits their needs, and each boat more clearly defines their likes and dislikes. Given the depreciation in a boat, this can be an expensive exercise.

The first challenge in selecting a boat is knowing how to use it. Will you be a day boater, rafting up with friends at a nearby anchorage? Will you need a boat with a cockpit large enough for all your fishing friends? Will you spend weekends cruising to nearby marinas and towns? Or do you plan to live aboard on extended voyages that include open-water passages? Is it possible to know how to use a boat until you get one? Many people buy a boat after being introduced to the lifestyle by a friend or family member. If you join them in their type of boating, you're likely to buy a boat similar to theirs, which should suit your needs. If only it were so easy. Are you sure they had the right boat, even if they told you how much they liked it? There is a condition called post-purchase rationalization, in which someone who makes an expensive purchase overlooks faults to justify the decision. High-ticket items should involve careful research, and consequently, many people who haven't done enough research are reluctant to admit they made a poor choice. This doesn't mean you shouldn't ask people if they like their boats. On the contrary, you need to survey as many people as possible to get a good sample of honest opinions. The internet makes this easier than ever. Many brands have owners' clubs with websites where you can post questions to owners. Some clubs allow perspective buyers to join and attend gatherings where owners may open their boats for tour. Boat style websites are another resource. Sites like Trawler Forum, Downeast Boat Forum, Cruisers Forum and Saltwater Sportsman Forum for Center Consoles are valuable for finding different opinions to factor into your decision.

One of the best and least expensive ways to experience several types of boats without buying is to charter. This allows you to test drive a boat for a long enough period of time to get a feel for the boat. However, certain aspects of boats do not show up immediately or at a boat show. Take the couple who bought a new boat but weren't using it much. When asked why, they said they couldn't sleep with the sound of the water slapping under the hull. Their express cruiser had a step in the hull right next to the master cabin, and the slightest ripple of water got trapped under the step and resonated loudly into the cabin. Another example: the boaters with a new sport fishing convertible with stairs to the upper helm that were too steep to comfortably go up and down when the boat was at the on-plane angle when underway. They hadn't noticed the problem when the boat was resting level in the slip at the boat show. Both of these owners sold their boats shortly after buying them. Many aspects of a boat can only be seen by spending extended time aboard. One manufacturer encouraged a perspective buyer to spend a few days aboard its boat; of course, they were hoping this would demonstrate all of the wonderful aspects of the boat and result in a sale. The buyers found a charter company with this boat available. A long weekend aboard brought several issues to light and helped them realize they had to continue their search. This was a boat they had fallen in love with at a show.

Beyond how you will use the boat, where you use it is equally important. Boaters on the East Coast of Florida, the western shore of Michigan or in most of California have very little protected or even semi-protected bodies of water for boating. They are either in a marina basin, the narrow Intracoastal Waterway or in open water. Sea and wave conditions can vary widely between the open ocean and places like the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound or some of the Great Lakes. Many shallow semi-protected waterways have shorter steeper waves spaced closer together than the ocean.

Choosing the correct hull shape to comfortably handle different conditions is key. A flat bottom hull or broad bow comfortable in rivers and protected water would be very uncomfortable in short choppy waves typically found in locations like the Chesapeake Bay or Lake Erie. Developing local boat styles like the Downeast Lobster Boat, the Chesapeake Bay Dead Rise or the Northwest Salmon Troller speaks to the importance of how hull shapes have evolved for local water conditions. While these regional examples are workboats, they have influenced pleasure boat design.

Choosing the right type of boat is not exclusive to categories such as power versus sail, and each has many subsets. In power boating, it is difficult to compare a trawler to an express cruiser or a down east style to a sport fishing convertible. Each was designed with a specific use in mind. Likewise in sailing, with distinct differences in boats such as catamarans and mono-hulls. Different keel and sail configurations within the mono-hull category also make a big difference in the type of sailing each boat can do. Catamarans have also been adapted as powerboats with great success and are unique in layout and handling.

By chartering a boat, you can experience different styles of boats in various conditions. You may decide to buy a boat on the East Coast even though you live on the West Coast, or you may find you like the Great Lakes and leave a boat there for a few seasons to enjoy the area.

The size or cost of a boat should not be sole determining factors. Spending more money on a large or new boat does not mean you bought a better one. Small boats have crossed oceans, and good deals on used boats are plentiful. Also remember that even the right boat is not a perfect boat. All boats involve compromise. The goal is to minimize items that are not in line with your needs.

When some people consider chartering a boat, they think of Caribbean vacations, but many charter companies offer a variety of boats in U.S. waters. Chartering helps you define the types of boats you may like and presents a great way to find the right one to extend your adventures into years of happy boating.


Southwest Florida Yachts

Chitwood Charters

Canadian Yacht Charters

NW Explorations

Cruise Annapolis

MarineMax Vacations

The Moorings


Marina Costa Baja Baja California Sur, Mexico

Green Turtle Bay Grand Rivers, Ky.

The Wharf Marina Orange Beach, Ala.

Sugarloaf Marina Port Colborne, Ontario

Star Island Yacht Club Montauk, N.Y.

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