Everyone knows there is a certain logic deficit when it comes to buying a boat (Paul Grimes put the question best: Is there any logic to owning a boat? See also Buying a boat: first-time buyers’ guide). But it's amazing to see how even the sort of person who dreams in logical patterns manages to make a hash of buying a boat. Planning prevents poor performance, as the saying goes, but too often, boat buyers can be their own worst enemy. I know... I've done it to myself.

Boat buying blunders

Buying a boat should be fun and exciting... but sometimes it isn't. Photo by Gary Reich.

To get the broker's point of view on the matter, I visited Walter George, director of Annapolis Boat Sales in Maryland, USA. George sells new and used boats and has been in the business for well over a decade, selling, amongst others, centre-console and dual-console fishing boats. If he can’t help fix what ails me, then no one can.

1. Shop til you drop

Everyone wants a good deal and to spend the least amount of money possible, but “overshopping” is a great way to miss out on the perfect boat. “We totally understand that people want to get the best deal," George says. "But we also see people who shop around too much. They look for the perfect boat at the perfect price, and to such an extent where good deals slip right out from under them. They never end up finding a boat and get frustrated.”

Being successful in buying a boat requires realistic expectations about how much a particular boat is going to cost with the options you want. This means knowing as much as you can about the boat you want, including its availability, popularity, and pricing. Popular and fast-selling boats typically command higher prices, so if you go hopping from dealer to dealer looking to save a thousand bucks, you may never end up being able to buy what you’re looking for—others will scoop up the boat before you do.

Additionally, consider the service and maintenance costs when you buy a boat. While lots of folks think their relationship with the dealer ends at the sale, you’ll always want a good service and warranty department in your corner for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. Sometimes it’s worth waiting for a good local dealer to have the boat you want, knowing they’ll be invested in keeping you happy after the sale closes.

While you likely won’t be able to get any service departments to confess to this, I can tell you as a former service manager that boats purchased from our dealership always got priority service over ones that were bought elsewhere. The best price isn’t always the lowest price.

2. Forgetting financing

George says another pitfall that buyers fall into is assuming they can get financing, when in reality, marine finance requirements may be more stringent than you think: "Prospective buyers can prepare by knowing what to expect.”

In the USA, if your credit score is under 700 you’re going to have some difficulty getting a boat loan, while borrowers who have a score above 730 are going to get the best rates. In the UK, companies like Promarine Finance lay out their requirements quite clearly online.

  • Deposit 30 per cent

  • Customer to have three years full time employment, no adverse credit

  • It helps if the Customer is a homeowner or has a personal guarantee from a relative who is a homeowner

  • To have had no more than two addresses in three years

  • 3 months bank statements

  • If a limited company or business - minimum time trading three years, two years' accounts, three months' bank statements, directors' guarantees

Given the above information, a same-day decision is possible, however, the best plan of action is to prepare the documentation and approach a few lenders before you start searching for your boat. That way you'll know where you stand before you find your dream boat.

3. Confusing used for new

When it comes to buying a pre-loved boat, check your expectations at the door; they can often mislead you. “A used boat is a great way for folks to buy a boat that fits their needs at a price they can afford,” George says. “But unfortunately I find that a lot of used boat buyers get aggravated when a used boat isn’t as perfect as a new one.”

Indeed, when looking at used boats remember that they’re just that—used. While you shouldn’t expect to buy a used boat that is falling apart or unseaworthy—unless that’s exactly what you’re looking for—you should expect some imperfections. Gelcoat may not shine like it used to; vinyl seating and canvas covers may have faded; hatch linings may need replacing; the head may not smell like flowers. Know that these cosmetic items have little to do with how well the boat runs or how safe it is. But don’t expect that new boat smell when the one you’re buying is four years old. And if you're worried about hidden defects, consider hiring a surveyor before buying.

4. Mistaking wants for needs

I want an Everglades 435cc. Heck, who doesn’t? But what I need to suit my budget and crabbing and fishing expeditions here where I live on Chesapeake Bay is a 19-footer. George tells me another mistake boat buyers make is not being able to separate their wants from their needs, and that means they miss out on lots of boats that would suit them just fine.

“I’ve had people walk away from a boat because it didn’t have a head. Five years ago you could barely get a centre-console boat under 30 feet with a head. There are features people demand that they may never end up using. A head is a good example.” George adds, “Other folks will pass up a perfectly good boat because it doesn’t have the exact fishfinder they’re looking for, or maybe they feel as if they have to have twin outboards when one will work just fine for their type of boating.”

Before you start your boat shopping—new or used—sit down and figure out what features you’ll actually use, and ones that’d be nice to have. Just like when you go to buy a house, everything is a compromise of one sort or another. For example, you may want a boat with joystick steering, but an old-fashioned wheel would work just fine. And if you can't sort out your must-haves from your wants, a good dealer like George can probably help figure out what’s right for you.

For more expert boat buying advice, see: Five secret tips for boat buyers or Buying a boat: first-time buyers’ guide.


Written by: Gary Reich
Gary Reich is a Chesapeake Bay-based freelance writer and photojournalist with over 25 years of experience in the marine industry. He is the former editor of PropTalk Magazine and was the managing editor of the Waterway Guide. His writing and photography have been published in PassageMaker Magazine, Soundings, Fly Fishing in Salt Waters, Yachting Magazine, and Lakeland Boating, among others.