The Smart Buyer - Whose boat are you buying?

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One happy aspect of our recovering economy is that it has rebooted the boat-purchasing cycle. After such a downturn, there’s often reduced inventory, which presents a challenge to those in the market for a good late-model used boat. How do you winnow the wheat from the chaff and select the best boat from what could be a limited supply?

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Let’s assume for the purpose of this article that you’ve already narrowed the possibilities. You’ve decided on the type of boat you’d like, maybe even a manufacturer. You’ve even determined the model years that fall within your price range. Now all you have to do is find the boat.

There are many ways to approach this decision, but I’ve found that it’s not nearly as important which boat you buy as it is whose boat you buy. If you’ve spent any time in a marina or around boats, you will have noticed that some vessels are better maintained than others. No different from cars or homes or a work desk — some people just do a better job of taking care of their things. Now consider the fact that boats are a complicated assembly of systems, and it’s no surprise so many of them are inadequately maintained.

Yet most of us find it difficult to objectively assess a used boat’s condition. If you really like the boat you are about to see, your mind turns to the excitement of owning it the moment you step aboard, to all of the fun times you could have underway with family and friends. Let’s hope the boat is in top condition for showing, but a good cleaning and wax job can also hide years of neglect. So what you need is information — and not just about the boat but about the current and previous owners, as well.

When you look at a used boat, ask the owner or broker whether you can see its records. We regularly see used-boat ads touting vessels that have been “professionally maintained” or “maintained with an open checkbook.” Those assertions are great, but get supporting evidence. There is no boat better cared for than that of a persnickety owner, and that’s whose boat you want to buy. An attentive owner should have good maintenance records. Work receipts will give you an idea of the owner’s organizational habits and a sense of how well the boat has been maintained.

I’ve been accused of being a tad obsessive about the maintenance of my boat, Liberdade, and I keep organized records that I can share, should I ever decide to sell. A good starting place for any prospective buyer would be the maintenance schedule, which has been made much easier to keep on today’s smartphones and tablets. Thanks to cloud storage and synchronization features, I can keep a master on my desktop computer, yet always have the information at my fingertips on my phone or tablet.

There are several good maintenance programs and apps available for download. What they have in common is lists, reminders and easily accessed data, such as manuals and parts numbers. Studies have shown that the mere act of making a to-do or task list increases your chances of performing the task; setting a reminder on your device makes follow-through even more likely.

I could also share my maintenance and repair records. This is a running list on an Excel worksheet of all work performed on the boat. It includes the task, the date, who did the work and the cost. There is a column indicating whether it was a one-time improvement, maintenance or a repair. It also has a helpful column for the part numbers of frequently used items, such as filters. This simple system also gives me the ability to total and track the boat’s annual maintenance costs.

Another valuable feature for prospective buyers and sellers is the ability to store boat manuals on a tablet. Some manufacturers are including tablets preloaded with manuals at the time of purchase. Although this is great if you are buying new, it also is surprisingly easy to assemble these manuals for your current boat or a used boat you might be considering. Most manufacturers have manuals available for download as PDF files. A good PDF storage and management app will then give you simple access to all of your manuals. The quick reference this provides to maintenance schedules and procedures will make performing those tasks that much easier.

Keeping your information organized will make maintenance easier and help you enjoy your boat more. And when it’s time to sell, it will leave no doubt about the type of owner you have been. Let’s hope you buy your next used boat from the same kind of owner. 

June 2015 issue