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Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats

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Your First Boat

Part II

In Part I, we discussed the relative merits of buying a new versus a used boat. In this segment we'll take a look at the basics of trying to decide exactly what type, style and shape of boat that you think you need, versus what may actually best fit you purposes.

Part I
- Outboard -vs- Stern Drive
- Closed -vs- Raw Water Cooling Systems
- Brands

Part II
- Style
- Size-vs-Quality
- Luxury-vs-Utility
- Your Situation
- Where You Use Your Boat

Part III
- By Owner or Dealer
- Appraisals
- Financing
- Warranties

As a newcomer to boating, it's tough to make intelligent choices mainly because you don't have enough experience. That often leads to the situation in which the boat you think you want ends up not really fulfilling your needs. Of course, if you've got the money to spend, that won't make much difference. You just go out and buy another one. I'm addressing here primarily those who can't afford to make a first time mistake.

This is one of the reasons why I recommended an used boat as a good first choice. If your decision is a wrong one, the amount of money invested is far less. But let's say that you're determined to buy a brand, spanking new boat.

Style  The style or design of the boat is important only insofar as that affects the practical use of the boat. As we pointed out in our Bubble Boats article, there are a lot of boats out there with the latest in new styling that may leave a lot to be desired in terms of both ergonomics and safety. A newcomer isn't likely to understand that a boat with heavily rounded fore deck can be downright dangerous. But an experienced boater knows only too well that if you can't move around on it without fear of falling on your head, or overboard, fancy styling can be as worthless as wings on an elephant.

Style also seriously affects ergonomics. Ergonomics is the study of how manufactured products relate to the movement of the human body, the intent being to create more user friendly products. When it comes to boats, ergonomics is often badly overlooked, and many boats, particularly small ones, are anything but user friendly. We've seen some incredible examples of this lately involving boats with so much upholstered seating that the only place to walk around in the boat was ON the seating. Sure, the boats looked wonderful in the pictures. But the reality was that to use the boat, you had to walk on the furniture. Pretty, yes. Practical, no.

Size -vs- Quality This, in my view, is the most important issue of all. It's human nature that we all want the biggest item for the money. After all, we have been talking about ergonomics here, and that means adequate space to move around in. But as with everything in life, more space = more money. And lots more.

Builders and designers know that the way to attract your interest is to give you as much space as possible. They also know that to do that, they have to drastically cut costs somewhere in order to give you more space for your money. In other words, builders are always attempting to give you more space for basically the same amount of money. Unfortunately, this works against our desire for decent quality, as they have to use cheaper materials and construction methods to give you that larger space for less money.

Luxury -vs- Utility  Builders also know that people are constantly demanding greater and greater luxury in their boats. Naturally, more luxury costs more money. So, again, somehow, someway, the builder has to find a way to rob Peter to pay Paul. The more fancy interiors, the more high tech gizmos and gilhickeys boaters want, the more these things drive up the price.

So where does that leave you? Well, it leaves you with same conundrum that even experienced boaters find themselves grappling with. The age old question of quality and durability versus......shall we say, pizzazz! It's a question of utility and practicality set against the lust for luxury.

Your Situation   Now, if you live on a river or lake front property and have your own boathouse, you won't find yourself with much of a problem there because you can store your fancy new boat in your boathouse at little additional cost. But since few of us live under those ideal conditions, we need to first decide where we are going to keep the boat, and how we are going to use it.

A lot of boats in the stern drive category are just fine for those that have inside storage facilities available. All that upholstered luxury will do just fine if it's only exposed to the weather on the occasions that you use it. But it's another story again for the boater who's going to keep his boat floating at a marina where it's exposed to weather all the time. Here's where a boat that's a bit more Spartan and utilitarian will benefit the owner.

Where You Use Your Boat   We can draw a general rule of thumb that the more luxurious the boat, the less likely it's suitable for rougher water environments. It's pretty easy to draw distinctions between those boats that are designed for partying and day tripping, as opposed to those that are intended to get more vigorous use. You probably already know about boats intended for rougher waters have deeper vee hulls. And you've probably noticed that there's a huge gap in the market between the more rugged sport fishing boat types and the so-called "family cruiser" or runabout.

Is there any good meld between the two? Hmmm, not that I know of, which is why I said there was a huge gap here. Which boils down to the problem of making a more difficult decision between the elements of size, shape, luxury, practicality and performance. The problem being that if you are in a place like San Francisco Bay where the wind seems to be always blowing, buying a luxury boat with a flat bottom doesn't make much sense. No more sense than buying an upholstered cocktail barge and letting it sit outside in the Florida sun for 12 months per year.

Yes, making these kinds of decisions is difficult because, in all probability, your desires are going to clash with your as yet unrecognized needs. Yes, those four color boat brochures look wonderful. But are they really? What I've discussed to this point are some of the major mistakes that first-time buyers make. They become overwhelmed by the sheer good looks of the boat, while forgetting about the more practical realities.

If you are interested in avoiding these mistakes, you need to carefully consider the points of how and where you use the boat, as well as the storage situation when it's not in use. Buying a luxurious gadabout will be fine for those who live in more ideal locations where the waters are protected or calm most of the time. They're fine for those who have inside storage available, particularly for those who will not use their boats frequently.

Next, you should consider the utility value. Here's where style and practicality often cross swords, regardless of the size of boat you're talking about. For example, a boat with a cockpit filled with luxurious seating arrangements isn't going to be much good for extended cruising or other water sports. Can't you just see it now as your guest plops down his scuba gear or water skis on that sparkling white cockpit upholstery? Or what about when he or she heads down below dripping salt water wet after just having crawled out of the ocean? On your beautiful white cabin carpeting, that is.

If you're into nothing but the heavy social scene, these kinds of boats are fine. But if you and your friends are more heavily into outdoor activities, plopping down into that finely upholstered seating while dripping wet with sweat is not so fine.

Neither is heading out in rougher waters when all those finer delicacies of luxury are subjected to walls of spray cascading off the bow, and everything inside the boat getting bashed around and frequently flying through the void spaces, only to crash against some unfortunate delicacy.

Ultimately, if your investment in a boat means anything to you, you need to consider how you use the boat carefully. Choose one where the durability of its appointments matches your lifestyle.

- Referred in the article:
"Bubble Boat" at Yacht Survey Online

- Related Reading - Mid Size Boat Purchase:
Beyond the Glitz and Glitter at yachtsurvey.com


David Pascoe - Biography

David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

Over forty years of knowledge and experience are brought to bear in following books. David Pascoe is the author of:

In addition to readers in the United States, boaters and boat industry professionals worldwide from nearly 80 countries have purchased David Pascoe's books, since introduction of his first book in 2001.

In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

On November 23rd, 2018, David Pascoe has passed away at age 71.

Biography - Long version

Your First Boat - Part I

By far, the most frequently asked question we get in our emails is the one by first time boat buyers asking about what brand they should buy.

Your First Boat - Part II

In this segment we'll take a look at the basics of trying to decide exactly what type, style and shape of boat that you think you need, versus what may actually best fit you purposes.

Your First Boat - Part III

In Part II, we made the recommendation that an used boat offers excellent value and good prospects for reliability. But how old of a boat? And how do you go about completing a deal?

The Hull - to - Deck Joint

A Critical Look at This Often Under-rated Element of Boat Quality

Boat Specifications

Length, weights and other trivia

Dealer Service Qualifications

All Is Not Well in the Boating Industry

Sizing Up Serviceability

The Little Things That Add Up to Big Dollars

Related Reading:
"Buying A Boat" Section
at yachtsurvey.com

David Pascoe's
Power Boat Books
Mid Size Power Boats Mid Size Power Boats
A Guide for Discriminating Buyers
Focuses exclusively cruiser class generally 30-55 feet
With discussions on the pros and cons of each type: Expresses, trawlers, motor yachts, multi purpose types, sportfishermen and sedan cruisers.
Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats
Selecting and Evaluating New and Used Boats
Dedicated for offshore outboard boats
A hard and realistic look at the marine market place and delves into issues of boat quality and durability that most other marine writers are unwilling to touch.
Surveying Fiberglass Power Boats
2nd Edition
The Art of Pre-Purchase Survey The very first of its kind, this book provides the essentials that every novice needs to know, as well as a wealth of esoteric details.
Marine Investigations
Pleasure crafts investigations to court testimony The first and only book of its kind on the subject of investigating pleasure craft casualties and other issues.
Browse Chapters with Excerpt at DavidPascoe.com

Last reviewed June 04, 2014.