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How to Buy a Boat

Thinking of hitting the open water in your very own vessel? Keep these 5 things in mind before you dive in

Borrowing is great and renting is nice, but there’s nothing quite like bouncing over waves or fishing off a perfect-for-you boat that you actually own. But before you go shopping, here are five key questions to ask before you fish out your wallet.

Q: What kind of boat is best for me? A: Will an all-purpose boat do, or are you more suited to specific options like a bass boat, cabin cruiser, bowrider, centre console, aluminum fishing boat, cuddy cabin, sailboat, deck boat or jet boat? (Yes, there is a boat for every nautical need.) Ultimately, the choice comes down to preference, lifestyle, cost and potential use. Ask yourself: what are you going to do with your new boat?

But before that, consider the costs. All of them. Michael Whatley, founder of Bluefin Electric Marine in Vancouver, reminds you that once you have a boat, you have to park it somewhere. For someone looking for a small boat, backyard storage makes sense and is a great cost-saver, Whatley says, while someone seeking a larger vessel will likely need to house it in a storage facility, thereby increasing their annual costs.

Other factors to consider: the kinds of activities you’ll use the boat for, passenger capacity, whether it’s trailer-friendly, the kind of propulsion you’re looking for and how often you’ll use it. “If you only plan on going out for a few weeks or months each year, unless you have a disposable income, that should play in the type of boat you choose,” says Whatley.

Q: What certifications does a boat require? A: According to Transport Canada, if you’re buying a new boat in Canada, it’s important to ensure that it has a Hull Serial Number (HIN). Boats with, or designed to have, a motor should also have a Transport Canada compliance notice.

Another important consideration is an NMMA Certification, which lets buyers know the boat has been built to American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards, an organization which sets the bar even higher than Transport Canada. A Customer Service Index (CSI) is also nice to have since CSI awards are presented to manufacturers that receive a 90 per cent or higher satisfaction ranking from buyers of the brand.

Q: Is it OK to buy a used boat? A: It can be just fine, but before you buy, enlist the services of a competent marine surveyor for an examination, which will yield a rundown on the vessel’s interior, exterior, structural and mechanical condition. After closely inspecting every part of the boat—from the engine to the electrical system, the hull to the dash—you’ll receive a detailed analysis of the findings. Based on the results, you might choose to walk away if the repairs are numerous, or negotiate a better price if the fixes are likely to be expensive. Or, if all goes well, it can help you breathe easier knowing your potential boat is in good condition. It’s not mandatory, but a thorough marine survey is definitely recommended.

Q: What kind of upkeep do boats require? A: Whether you purchase a boat new or used, expect to perform regular maintenance. Whatley says boats that are in the water year-round should be pulled out every few years to have the bottom painted, the tops and sides cleaned, and necessary repairs/replacements should be performed on hulls, water pumps, batteries, etc. As for boats kept in the backyard or garage, their maintenance is more minimal, but their exterior and mechanical systems still need regular upkeep. “I advise boaters to think of boat maintenance as similar to what they’d undertake with their car, but the fixes are a bit more expensive,” he says.

Q: What add-on features should I consider? A: Again, it’s about personal preference, but Whatley is fond of a few basics. “A depth sounder is a must. Driving a boat isn’t like driving on a highway, and sometimes you need to know how deep or shallow the water is, and if you’re in the path of rocks,” he says. Other favourites include: flood lights for night driving, a horn/noise-making device, and—a must for every boat—an anchor. 

-by Liz Bruckner