I wanna be on a m-----f----n' boat!
July 8, 2013 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Never owned a boat, but thinking about buying one. What should I know about boat-buying and boat-ownership? (As always, special water-droplet-ness inside.)

I'm not from a boat-owning family, but Mrs. jferg spent many childhood summers on a boat on Missouri lakes, and I've come to enjoy spending time on the water as well. So far we've been scheduling our lake time around my in-laws (who own a nice fish & ski boat), but as my F-I-L gets older and more cantankerous (which could be an entire ask.me post on its own), its becoming more obvious that we should look into getting a boat of our own so that we're not tied to them for our lake weekends.

So, we're doing some initial research into used boat buying, which mostly consists of browsing Craigslist. So before I go and do anything more than browsing, tell me what I should know about buying and owning a boat? I know how to drive a boat, load and unload it, and most of the basics. I have no clue (beyond common sense stuff) what the gotchas are in evaluating the condition of a 10- or 20-year-old (or more - I love the look of some of the older boats) boat. I do know that looking for a clear title on all 3 pieces is a requirement.

For context, the boat will primarily be used for fishing and swimming, though I suspect the ability to pull a tube or skier might be nice once the kids are a little older. It would need space for at least 2 adults and 2 kids (K and 2nd grade right now, but they seem to keep growing), but a room for a couple of guests would be nice. Ideally being able to put it in on a less-well-maintained ramp would be nice, but again, not a hard requirement. Doesn't need to be fancy or luxurious, something one step up from an aluminum fishing boat would be entirely sufficient. It will be used on (mostly man-made) lakes in Missouri, not rivers or oceans. It would be wintered in storage or in our garage, depending on space.

So, those of you mefites who are more boat-savvy than I, what should I be looking for in a boat, both type of boat and specific things to look for when buying? What am I not thinking about?
posted by jferg to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have owned two boats. Both are different from the boat that you're interested in buying (Here is my current boat, my other boat was also a sailboat). Boats are incredibly expensive. It costs me $315/month to keep my 27' boat in its slip. If you're always trailering yours, you may not have this expense, but then you have to consider 1) the cost of the gas to tow it around, and 2) the cost of the *vehicle* that is big enough to tow it around. You also have to consider the cost of the gas to operate the boat itself, which tends to be a lot for powerboats. My sailboat on the other hand, has "free" fuel, but it carries 6 sails, each of which costs about $1,500 new, and they last a few years.

Boating hardware is expensive, and things break. Go to West Marine and look at prices on even little things, like docklines. These are wear items that need replacing every once in a while. Look at other stuff that doesn't last forever, maybe on a small powerboat, props, for instance. Look at the prices on things like outboard motors. A new 150hp outboard will probably set you back over $10,000. Make sure you realize the prices of things before you start, and realize that if you're using the boat often enough, there will be plenty of things to replace. A lot more stuff tends to break and wear out on boats than on cars, the maintenance is much more intensive.

Also consider things like where you will use the boat. Are you always going to put it in the same lake? If so, would you rather have it in a slip than on a trailer? If not, how many seasons of boat ownership are you going to have before you get sick of hauling the thing around behind a giant SUV or truck that gets 12MPG and you can't park anywhere? The slip may be a cost that's worth it just to avoid the hassle. Is it going to be a pain to launch the boat while your kids wander around the launch ramp complaining about why it's not ready to go yet?

Depending on where you live, what are you going to do with the boat in the winter? Do you have a place to store it? Are you going to have to wrap it in plastic to keep snow out of it? What will the maintenance be to keep lines from freezing and such?

Are you thinking of buying a used boat? Figure out the cost of any work that needs to be done before you agree to purchase anything, because in my experience it's almost always cheaper to buy a boat in good condition for more money than buy a boat in poor condition and pay to fix it, even if you're doing the work yourself. Also, consider what sort of equipment you might want to add to the boat (trolling motor, fish finder, etc) and see how much that would cost, consider that by buying a boat that comes with those things, you avoid those costs.

If you want an older boat, hire a marine surveyor to inspect it before you buy it. This is common practice and the surveyor will tell you about any problem areas. I would not buy a boat with significant problems because it is cheaper to just get a newer/nicer boat than to try and fix an old boat. You may be able to find an old boat in very good condition. Fiberglass boats have very long lifespans if well cared for. But make sure that the boat is *actually* in good condition before you purchase one.

Clearly, I am still in favor of boat ownership, as I still have one. But you really have to understand the cost, and realize that most people only use their boats about a dozen days a year. It may be cheaper and easier to just rent boats unless you use yours more often than that. Also consider that you might get bored of it after a while, or your *kids* might get bored of it after a while and complain when you tell them you're going to the lake again.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

Boater's Law: The two happiest days in a boat owner's life are the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.

Boats are awesome, but they are a huge time and money commitment. Gas, insurance, safety equipment, toys, etc. Don't get me wrong, it can turn out to be the best thing you ever did - just don't go in with your eyes closed.

If I had one piece of advice it would be this: don't blow your whole wad on the boat. The extras/accoutrement you will need will add a good bit to your final cost.

Also, boats have a lot in common with motorcycles - your best bet is probably a well-maintained used boat from a person who has become disillusioned.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:58 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Some gotchas I can think of as a boat owner:

Where will you be storing the boat on the off-season (or when not in use)? (Looks like you've thought of this one.)

Can your vehicle physically tow the boat? Do you have the trailer hitch and wiring already installed?

Does the boat have a clear title? Does the trailer have a clear title? What kind of insurance will you get for the boat?

In your area, what kind of boat motor repair shops are available? I'm not sure if you are in a heavily populated area or not, but in some smaller towns, some marinas may only service one or two brands of boat engines or may not work on inboard or may not work on inboard/outboard motors.

Fiberglass boats are heavier than aluminum boats. Aluminum boats can be easier to repair if there is a break in the hull. Wooden boats are pretty but I wouldn't want to own and maintain one, personally.

What is the maximum capacity of the boat? What is the maximum engine size for the boat?

Definitely take it for a test drive. Make sure it has all of its lights and that they work.

I have to transport my boat long distances, so I need a canvas cover for my boat. You may or may not want a cover for yours.

Definitely familiarize yourself with boating laws in your area. You might need to get an anchor, a whistle or horn, flashlights, a bailing-type tool, an oar, a fire extinguisher, etc to fully comply if the boat doesn't come with them. You might need to legally have a life jacket for each possible occupant, and they might need to be a specific (bright orange) color. Or you might not.

In Minnesota, we have issues with zebra mussels and millfoil, so I think live wells are a big no-no here. I'm not sure if there is anything similar in Missouri.

My boat is 20-some years old and I found out the hard way that when the gas gauge said 1/4 tank of gas was left, there was not 1/4 tank of gas to be used. Either the gauge is wrong or there's crud in my tank - both very possible. But now I know to keep it above 1/4 tank and to also always keep an extra 5 gallon tank of the gas (mine uses mixed gas, it's a two-stroke) with me and the boat at all times.

My boat has a 60 horse outboard engine on it. It can pull an adult on a knee board behind it, but doesn't go too terribly fast. I'm not sure how much that is a deal-breaker for you. As kids, we had small aluminum boats with 15 horse motors on them that we could kind of pull ourselves around with, but that is much too small an engine for adults.

My dad's advice for buying a boat (at least in MN) is to look in the fall when people are selling and don't want to store it for the winter. That would be the best time for prices. And sell it in the spring when people are out looking to buy a boat.

The previous answers sound a little jaded to me. I've been a life-long boater and love it. My boat is an '88 Smokercraft and fits a lot of what you are looking for a boat. But I just have minimum insurance (about $100 a year) on it. It's an older boat, but it works for my needs.
posted by jillithd at 2:05 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great info so far, thanks. I already have a vehicle that can tow a not-too-heavy boat, and has been used a few times to pull my F-I-L's boat, so that's taken care of. Ideally, I would probably find a storage facility near one of the main lakes we'd be going to (Truman & Lake of the Ozarks, if anyone cares), and keep it there when not in the water, so would not be towing long distances regularly.

Are there significant pros/cons of inboard vs. outboard motors that I should be aware of?
posted by jferg at 2:19 PM on July 8, 2013

Expense is the one thing I know about them. According to my father in law, a lifelong boater who's currently almost a year into a multi-year retirement odyssey on the water, BOAT stands for Break Out Another Thousand. I am not a regular boater, but I would think that a lot might depend on your mechanical aptitude. On a smaller boat like what you're considering, a lot of maintenance and repairs ought to be DIYable if you're comfortable fiddling with wires and motors and such. But if you are mechanically helpless and need your machines to be super-reliable, an older boat might be a bad idea.
posted by jon1270 at 2:20 PM on July 8, 2013

Are there significant pros/cons of inboard vs. outboard motors that I should be aware of?

For me, where I boat, I get inclement weather. So my dream boat would have an outboard and then have a tall windshield and cover that leaves the outboard motor out. That way we can boat in inclement weather without inhaling fumes. You couldn't do that with an inboard or an inboard/outboard. But I use my boat mostly for transportation across a big lake.

Outboard motors are also easier to maintain, replace, and steal as they are all enclosed and you just really need to attach/detach the fuel line and steering components if you have a steering wheel. (I say steal because there has been a rash of engine thefts in my dad's area in Florida - so hopefully you'll store your boat in a secure area.) The all-enclosed aspect in my mind is a definite PRO, especially with the reduced complexity in maintenance.
posted by jillithd at 2:26 PM on July 8, 2013

Inboard vs outboard motors - depends on the size of the boat. An inboard is generally more powerful, more convenient, and has a better steering and control mechanism. But - any maintenance and repairs, and you're likely going to have to pay a guy on site, or have the boat hauled out to be worked on. Your outboard goes pear-shaped, and you un-clamp it, and haul it into the shop.
posted by stenseng at 2:27 PM on July 8, 2013

Outboards, especially newer ones, are generally more fuel-efficient, too.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:34 PM on July 8, 2013

Best answer: I owned a boat for awhile in South Florida, taking it into the Intercoastal around Jupiter and West Palm Beach. (Salt water.)

My boat was 16' inboard jet (ducted propeller) boat. This was really great in many ways because it's impossible to foul or wreck the propeller or get the boat hung up on anything because the bottom was flat except for a grille at the aft bottom that sucked in water and shot it out backwards. That (six seater) boat could go anywhere a canoe could go, which was really awesome for just fucking about in the little islands or exploring. It would also go like hell, easily doing 40+ knots (!), with a 175hp plant; enough power to tow any kind of inflatable toy or multiple skiers.

I spent several years picking it out and I was really happy with my decision. I spent a lot of time on that boat both with family and just by myself.

I suspect that a boat like that ($13K in y2k dollars) would be more expensive than you're looking for. On the other hand, that kind of boat had certain advantages:

1. Fibreglass + foam construction. Totally unsinkable. Even if it flips over you can hang onto it. This was important to me for safety: I had small kids.

2. Totally enclosed motor and propulsion system. Children or animals could not cut themselves on the prop or get hurt accidentally. It didn't chew up the waterways or damage fish, etc (the prop was behind a fairly narrow gauge steel grille).

3. All-in-one construction; the motor and the boat were made for each other. No question of overpower/underpower or being out of balance. It handled very, very well and we never felt, even when going very very fast, that the boat was going to react badly; it was fail-safe.

4. Lots of user-friendly features, like moulded in benches, a folding Bimini top, a swim platform, ladders, a sound system, copious storage spaces for safety gear, anchors, poles, paddles, built in cooler, all that necessary shit, plus all the required lights, as well as a bilge system and freshwater flush system all tested and working.

It wasn't perfect, though. In particular, the motor was a (self metering) 2 stroke, which means it was stinky and kind of loud, and not very environmentally friendly. These days 2 stroke engines are not even allowed on most freshwater waterways.

If I were to buy another boat, I would probably buy a monocoque fiber/foam hulled boat of similar design -- one that could not sink, and had various conveniences and comforts built in. But I wouldn't go inboard or jet, but with an outboard 4-stroke, maybe 50-75hp, with a caged prop. The cage would reduce efficiency a little but would quite enhance safety. The 4 stroke would be very fuel efficient, quieter, and hardly smell at all. You might want to go up to 100-125 for skiing, but if you're just going to tow people on inflatables you don't need that much goose.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:44 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For context, the boat will primarily be used for fishing and swimming, though I suspect the ability to pull a tube or skier might be nice once the kids are a little older

I recommend you start with the cheapest/simplest boat that meets the former qualification and trade "up" later if desired.

Most pontoon boats are a very simple aluminum construction and very easy to examine. Just searching near you got http://kansascity.craigslist.org/boa/3922749959.html and so many more.

When examining fiberglass boats, problems can be hidden deep inside:
Are They Fiberglass Boats Anymore? So you have to be much more vigilant in checking fiberglass and wood boats than aluminium.
posted by flimflam at 5:23 PM on July 8, 2013

Two words.... Boston Whaler.

More words... Buy used, outboard, four stroke. I would post your question at continuouswave.com. , the location of the most experienced boaters on the net.
posted by HuronBob at 7:13 PM on July 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, all - you haven't managed to completely scare me off, but going to monitor craigslist for a while to get a sense of what's reasonable. flimflam hit the nail right on the head with what I'm thinking right now, which is buy something basic now and upgrade later if necessary. Going to mark as resolved, but if anybody finding this later has anything to add I'd love to hear it!
posted by jferg at 1:12 PM on July 9, 2013

If you will use the boat on local lakes, you might need to pay day rates or get a season pass (out of state vs in-state; out of county vs in-county). Definitely look into state/county laws. For fishing, you might need a license also.
posted by cass at 1:21 PM on July 9, 2013

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