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HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT BOATAre you in the market for a new boat? If so, there are many factors you should consider prior to making your purchase. Advanced planning and careful shopping can help ensure you get a boat you'll be happy with even after the initial euphoria wears off. Here are some helpful tips for finding a craft that ideally suits your needs.
by Ron Ballanti
by Ron Ballanti
First off, think about how your boat will be used and what type of craft will best fit your needs and budget. If you are in search of a recreational fishing boat, you will have different requirements than someone seeking a boat primarily for cruising. However, boaters may have secondary uses in mind for their vessels. Additionally, there are often important trade-offs when it comes to weighing the value of particular designs and features.
Before you think about anything else, consider the style of boat you want. For example, if you fish mainly within one-day range, and don't typically spend the night onboard, a center-console model may be the right boat for you. This design offers more fishing room than most other boat styles, and unobstructed, 360-degree fishability for casting and following hot fish. However, center console boats offer little protection from the sun or elements. They also don't offer the creature comforts afforded by other boat designs, such as berths or bathrooms. For this reason, center console models are usually not the best choice for someone looking for a family or multi-purpose boat.
Cuddy-cabin or walk-around boats compromise some fishing space and angler mobility, but they do offer a place to get out of the weather and amenities such as vee-berths, porta-potties, even small propane stoves. If you plan on fishing on multiple day trips, but also want a boat suitable for cruising with the wife and kids, you'll probably be happier in the long run with a cuddy-cabin.
If you are looking for a boat that is at home on the ocean, but can also be used as a family toy on freshwater lakes, there are many double-duty models available. These multi-purpose vessels often have dual consoles and a walk through to the bow. Bear in mind that this type of boat is usually only suitable for inshore and bay fishing, not for serious offshore trips.
Whatever style of boat you choose, whether you go with an aluminum or fiberglass hull, an outboard or I/O power, there are some very important features to look for if fishing is your main plan. One key onboard angling feature (and an area where may boats are lacking) is a good live-bait tank. Many factory-installed livewells are a joke when it comes to serious fishing. You need a tank of at least 25 gallons to carry one scoop of live bait. Generally speaking, the tank should be smooth and rounded inside, and taller than it is wide to minimize sloshing. It should also have an inlet system and pump that minimizes water turbulence and provides adequate water change-over every seven to 10 minutes. If a boat's factory bait tank is inadequate, examine your options for installing a custom tank. Sometimes you can plumb a transom fish box, cooler or storage area into a useful bait tank. If not, check to see if there is room for a free-standing tank on the deck or under a cockpit leaning post. On boats with limited deck space, it is often possible to mount a tank or diaper bag system on the transom or swimstep.
When looking over a prospective new boat, notice whether there is room to mount electronics - at least a sounder and GPS - where you'll be able to use these units easily. If you will be fishing, see if there is enough room between the console/cabin and the gunwales. If there's a step-up to the bow, is it easy enough to negotiate? Are the grabrails where you'll need them when the seas and the fishing get rowdy?
Another important consideration is storage. Make sure the boat has adequate dry storage for safety gear, clothes, paperwork and other important items. On fishing boats, take note of how many rod holders come standard. If there aren't enough or if the rod holders are not situated exactly where you want them, is there room to add some more? Remember, if you find a boat that suits most of your needs, you can usually customize it with extra rod holders, T-tops, downriggers and the like, if necessary.
A boat demo drive is also a must before purchasing any new craft. On the sea trial, you'll only have a short period of time to predict how a boat will perform during a lifetime's worth of conditions, so make it count. If you can, take her out on a breezy day and go out in the open ocean. This is the only real way to find out if she's a wet boat. Run into the seas, downswell and cross swell to see how the boat handles. See how she performs at trolling speeds, and what kind of wake she throws. Bring some gear and friend along for the boat test, and make sure the tank is at least half full. This will help you see how the vessel performs under real conditions.
We all get the urge every now and then, either to buy our first boat, or to trade the one we already have. That urge normally falls right in a time line with the local boat show going on over at the convention center, and it is a hard one to overcome. Seems that every year the boat builders add a little something extra, a lagniappe, that didn't come on the model we currently own.
Take heart if you are one of these poor souls. You have a lot of company out there. Lots of us get that urge every year.
There are a number of ways to overcome the urge, the most obvious of which is don’t go to the boat show! But if the urge really snags you, there is a method that you need to follow to overcome any emotional decision you may be trying to make.
If you are going to buy or trade boats, take a look at these issues before you go looking, and then apply the answers to any of the boats you find.
BUDGETFirst and foremost, sit down and determine just how much you can afford or how much you plan to spend on a boat. People who go out blindly, particularly when financing agents are on the premise, often spend far more than they originally planned. It’s even a good idea to get pre-approved for a loan if you are borrowing, so you can deal from a position of strength and virtually pay cash for the boat. You also can make a rational decision about how much money you want to spend prior to being influenced by the boats themselves.
USEJust how in the world are you going to use the boat? Are you a pure fisherman, or a family fisherman? Do you need a flats boat for shallow water only, a deep-V model for offshore angling, or a compromise boat – often called a bay boat? Does a bow rider or cuddy cabin better suit the needs of you family, or will they accept a pure fishing machine? You need to plan this out with your family in mind. Nothing is more miserable than a family of four trying to have an outing on a pure flats boat. It simply won’t work.
SIZEWithin your budget constraints, you need to determine just how big you boat will be. Do you plan to trailer it and keep it in your garage? If so, the whole rig can’t be longer than about twenty-two feet or it won’t fit in the garage. If you plan on a really big boat, can it be trailered? Boats over about twenty-five feet in length become very difficult to trailer without a large towing vehicle (at an additional expense!). Do you plan to store it or dock it? What kind of fishing do you plan to do? Offshore trips further than about twenty-five miles almost demand a boat capable of some very heavy seas – if only from a safety standpoint – and that means more size and more money.
POWERDecide before you look, on the power for your boat. Inboard? Outboard? Outdrive? I have a preference for outboards, but your circumstance may allow you to choose something different. For sure you need to consider one of the new four cycle outboards. Pollution and emission reductions combine with super gas economy to make them the right thing to do. Go to an inboard only if you plan to be in deep water at all times. If you plan to fish inshore anywhere near shallow water, strike an inboard off your list.
MAKEIf you have made all the decisions to this point without seeing an actual boat, congratulations! You have more will power than I do! But if you have, you can pretty well describe the size and shape of the boat you want. Know that multiple manufacturers will probably make a boat that fits your needs exactly. The difference will be a choice you will have to make personally. I can’t recommend one brand over another here, but I can tell you that some boats are built better than others. Is the fiberglass hand laid fabric or chopped and blown? A hand laid hull is the superior product – and it will cost more. Is the boat built from a composite material such as Kevlar? Does it have a liner or is it a speckled, rolled-edge boat? Both of these features affect the price. The best policy is to get on the web and find some independent evaluations of various models. Several saltwater magazines offer reports in every issue of boats they have tested. They list the good and bad points.
FINALLYThis last piece of the exercise is where it gets really hard. Remember, sales people are involved in this, and the pressure will be on to sign on the dotted line. Take your time, evaluate, and compare. It’s the only way to make a good decision.
You may note that I have not mentioned haggling for a good price. Just like automobiles, boats have a sticker price and a price at which the dealer will sell. Your job, once you pinpoint the boat you want, will be to get the best price. On that issue, I can’t help! I can only ask you to leave emotions out of it! That particular boat isn’t the last model they will ever make. Your life will go on if you don’t buy it today! So, don’t let the salesman intimidate you into buying.
I hope this helps some wayward soul that has seen the boat of his dreams and can’t let that money burn holes in his pockets any longer! Two last pieces of advice I learned from my father:
- In the long run, it always pays to go first class. Cheap prices usually mean cheap products. You get what you pay for.
- Everything always costs more than you originally though it would! (from Murphy, I believe!)
Types Of BoatsA number of factors come into play when choosing the right boat for you. One of the major classifications for recreational fishing boats is whether they are intended for inshore or offshore use.
Inshore Fishing BoatThese boats are used in shallow waters with land easily in sight. Inshore boats are normally smaller than offshore fishing boats and are a lot more affordable. They often have shallower hulls and lower gunnels, and are used on flats, lakes, ponds, and rivers.
An example of an inshore boat is the Pelican Predator fishing boat. This small lightweight fishing boat can be used to fish for a variety of inshore species. For example, it can be used as a bass, pike, or walleye fishing boat.
Offshore Fishing Boat
Offshore fishing is a lot more complex and dangerous than inshore fishing. An ocean fishing boat needs to be larger and sturdier to withstand the elements. Owning an offshore boat is an expensive luxury and is not affordable for the average recreational angler. For that reason, there are many saltwater fishing boat charters available to cater to the recreational anglers who do not own a boat that is fit for an offshore adventure.
Here is a video that demonstrates some of the excitement of offshore fishing.
Pontoon Fishing Boat
A pontoon fishing boat will normally have a flat bottom with two long tubes (called pontoons) to support it. These are low cost boats and are normally cheaper to insure than other types of boats. Pontoons have a shallow draft, which helps them avoid damage from underwater objects. They are normally better suited for calm waters with very little waves.
Drift Fishing Boat
Also known as the McKenzie dory or Rogue River dory, drift boats normally have a wide flat bottom and are known to be a lot more responsive than a rubber boat. These boats are often used by professional fishing guides and anglers for recreational fishing on faster flowing rivers.
Drift boats are normally constructed of three types of materials. These include wood, aluminum, and fiberglass. Each material is better suited for a different purpose. Aluminum can withstand punishment on quicker rapids, but makes a lot of noise. Wood makes for beautiful boats, but requires more upkeep. A fiberglass fishing boat is lighter than the other two and offers an improved rowing experience over the other two. You should consider these factors and your budget to maximize your drift boat fishing experience.
Jon Fishing Boat
The Jon fishing boat is characterized by its flatness and stability. These boats can range in size from 8' to 20', the most popular ones being around 14' fishing boats that are constructed out of wood or aluminum. The boats are known for their simplicity and ease of maintenance.
Jon boat fishing is practiced mostly in lakes and calm waters because the boat's flat overall design is best suited for such conditions.
Sport Fishing Boat
Sport fishing boats can offer some of the more exciting adventures an angler can have. These are fast and furious machines that take your whole fishing experience to the next level. Sport fishing boats take you far beyond what an inflatable or plastic fishing boat can ever offer. The offshore rigs allow the enthusiast to venture out on that exciting bay fishing boat trip for the giant fish that only the deep seas can offer.
Sport fishing boats can range widely in sizes and price. There is also a variety of designs for different purposes. Some are designed to go into the open ocean for the much larger fish. Other sport fishing boats are more modest in size and power and are meant for inshore lake fishing.
The boats need to be carefully matched to an appropriate fishing boat motor to extract the maximum utility from both. Fishing boat motors differ in size, power, fuel consumption, and intended use. When choosing a motor for your boat, it is highly advisable to consult a professional to match an appropriate motor to your boat.
Here is a video that discusses how important it is to match the boat to the engine.
Jet Fishing Boat
The jet fishing boat differs in its propulsion technology. They boat does not use a traditional propeller. Instead, the jet boat sucks in water and then expels that water through a smaller nozzle at the stern. This creates a jet-like propulsion. These boats can run in very shallow water and are highly maneuverable.
Top 5 Things To Consider When Buying A BoatThe allure of owning a boat is very real. The quality and enjoyment of your recreational fishing experience will be greatly magnified. However, before you make any rash decisions at the local boat show, here are a couple of very important things to consider.
- Your Budget
Be rational about your purchase and your finances. A recreational
boat is a luxury item, so don't buy unless you can afford one. It is a
wise idea to decide on your maximum budget before going to look for the
boat. Once you are at the dealer, your decision-making may be clouded by
the different bells and whistles that expensive boats offer. Avoid that
buyer's remorse by deciding from the very beginning what you can
- Decide What You Are Buying The Boat For
Your fishing ambitions need to be balanced with the needs of
those around you. A boat strictly for fishing is a lot different than
one purchased for both fishing and family recreation. It is important to
decide what kind of boat you want for the budget that you can afford.
This will save a lot of bickering later on when you are accused of being
selfish in purchasing a boat that only serves your own needs.
- Boat Size Planning
Do not get stuck with an elephant in the room. You must plan for
storage and transportation of the boat prior to purchase. The boat will
need to fit in the confines of the storage arrangements that you decide
on. Therefore, if you plan to keep the boat in your garage, measure all
the dimensions first, to ascertain that the boat you buy will not
disrupt your space and lifestyle.
It is also very important to try and imagine the perfect size of boat for you within your budget. A boat that is too small to serve your needs will not make you happy for too long. You will be wishing that you had purchased the bigger boat instead rather quickly. The same stands for a boat that is too large for your needs. Carefully deciding on the right size of boat for you is of great importance.
- How Much Power Do You Need?
When you are looking for a power boat, an important consideration
is the motor. This decision often determines how fast you can go, fuel
consumption, and the types of bodies of water it is best suited for. It
is immensely important to match the motor to the boat. A mismatch will
diminish your utility from both the boat and the motor.
- Shop Around
It is important to do your research first, before you venture out
with the purchase in mind. The internet is a great resource that allows
you to browse hundreds and thousands of boats. This will give you an
idea of what you may be looking for and the kind of price ranges that
you can expect.
Never rush to make your purchasing decision. Some boats can have quite steep price tags, so you must make sure that you do your due diligence before making the purchase.