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The Smart Buyer - Expert Advice for Attending Shows

I’ve conducted interviews over the years with many well-known boatbuilders, designers, naval architects, and propulsion and construction experts, and they usually offer advice that’s useful to boat buyers — tips that can help you navigate a boat show or guide you through the boat-buying process.

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I’ve cobbled together a few of these pieces of nautical know-how from boatbuilders such as Intrepid Boats president Ken Clinton and naval architects such as Robert Kaidy. These guys know what they’re talking about. I’ve also sprinkled in some of my own tips.

Before you attend a show, familiarize yourself with brands that interest you. Do some homework by reading boat reviews, examining company websites and talking to knowledgeable boating friends. Even before that, make sure you know how you and your family intend to use the boat. “Find out what boat or equipment works and doesn’t work for your family’s boating lifestyle,” marine surveyor George Gallup says. “Are you looking to day-cruise, overnight, fish? Does the boat work for the entire family?”

Boats aren’t inexpensive, so avoid buying one that’s packed with, say, fishing equipment if you intend to use it primarily for water sports or cruising to the beach.

Once you know the type of boat you want and have homed in on a few brands, you’re ready hit the docks at a show. Boat shows give you a single venue to look at lots of boats in just a few hours. “When you go on a single boat on one particular day, it often may seem impressive, but when you go on several of the same type of boat — one after the other the same day — you really start to see the quality difference,” says Michael Peters, president of Michael Peters Yacht Design. “Because these boat-show comparisons are minutes apart, you really understand the difference between the vessels. So you can weigh the pluses and minuses of each boat, which will help you make smarter buying choices.”

All of the decision makers attend the shows, so you can negotiate in a competitive climate, and you can find good deals. “There really are deals at a boat show,” Clinton says. “We all spend a lot of money to be there, and we make it worthwhile for people to go and purchase.”

Ask questions. “The boat show exhibitors are there to answer questions to help you with your decisions,” says Gallup, who exhibits at shows. “I always appreciate it when consumers come up to my booth with a list of questions. That way, we get to interact in a meaningful way, which hopefully helps the consumer.”

When inspecting, you can usually judge the overall quality of a boat by looking at its workmanship and fit and finish. “Crawl around and look in places you normally wouldn’t — under coamings, for instance,” says Robert Kaidy, CEO of Ocean5 Naval Architects. “There shouldn’t be any raw glass or fingers of pointy, catalyzed resin. That’s an indication of the whole quality.”

Gallup tells buyers to “open up every storage area and lift all the cabin sole hatches and to look beyond the obvious.” Take notes and digital photos for comparisons. “When you look at a number of vessels, you can’t remember everything,” he says.

Narrow your choices to maybe two or three boats and make some appointments to sea-trial them. Only sign a purchase agreement that’s contingent on a delivery date, survey or inspection, and sea trial.

“Go run a boat if you’re considering purchasing a boat,” Kaidy says. “Run the boat yourself and operate it in the loading conditions that would be similar to the way you will load it. Operate it at various speeds and conditions. Turn the wheel hard and make sure it doesn’t exhibit strange properties. Bring it on and off plane to make sure the bow doesn’t rise too high. See if the boat can get up on plane when it is loaded with people. Experience the boat before you buy it.”

Adds Clinton: “Everyone can tell you how great their boat runs, but you need firsthand proof.”

In addition to a sea trial, visiting the factory is important, Clinton says. “A factory tour can not only tell you a lot about the product and how it is made, it can also give you some insight into how busy they are and how secure the company is.”

October 2013 issue