1. Conduct your sea trial on a windy day in rough conditions. Otherwise, you might be disappointed in the vessel’s rough-water capabilities after taking delivery.
2. If the bottom is freshly cleaned and painted, the fuel tanks are less than full, and only a few people are on board for the ride, make sure to deduct an appropriate amount — possibly several knots — when calculating your own cruising speed and range at a given rpm with a full load.
3. At the helm, check for visibility while coming up on plane, once on plane, seated and standing. Check visibility close aboard when pulling alongside or backing into a slip, and check for windshield glare. Can you clearly read the gauges and electronics?
4. Do the controls operate smoothly and stay set where you leave them? How responsive is the steering — can you drive with one hand?
5. Make sure the noise level is acceptable (decibel readings in the low 80s or less at cruise) and that there are no unusual noises or excessive vibration. Can you move around comfortably with someone seated next to you? Is there enough seating?
6. How does she handle in a following sea, in a trough, or when the sea is broad on the bow? Note the minimum planing speed with and without trim tabs.
7. Is there plenty to hang on to at speed? Does the boat have a wet ride, rendering the cockpit unusable? Note at which speeds the boat starts to pound and the motion becomes uncomfortable. Running into a sea (without using tabs), check to see that the ride is smooth and dry.
8. On deck, check for sufficient cleats (two bow, two stern, and two spring cleats minimum) that are of adequate size for the lines you’ll be using. Is the ground tackle (anchor, rode, and windlass) sized adequately to hold the boat securely? Make sure there’s plenty of room for the anchor line and chain.
9. Check safety features like non-skid effectiveness, and coaming and rail heights. Do the transom door, cabinet doors and drawers stay securely latched in rough water and during hard turns? Do engine exhaust fumes get sucked into the cockpit by the “station wagon effect”? Are there sufficient grab rails in the saloon and cabin?
10. Be sure the engines shift smoothly at idle and that the boat doesn’t run too fast when clutched in at idle speed. Whether twin- or single-engine, can you back down with control? If it’s a twin-engine boat, how fast will it run on one engine without overheating, and can you readily steer toward the running engine?
Eric W. Sorensen is the author of “Sorensen’s Guide to Powerboats” (International Marine, 2002), which contains more sea trial procedures.