onsumers planning to buy a boat in the next few months have a real edge. Sales of new boats
are slow and dealers are anxious to sell. Belt-tightening on the part of current owners means
that the used-boat market is also glutted. So, with the fall-winter boat show season ready to
start, BoatU.S. has some tips for those of you who want to test the waters — and maybe even
make a purchase. First, in addition to wearing comfortable shoes and packing a handful of C
energy bars, prepare for the boat show circuit by first researching
the types, makes, and models of boats that fit your interest and
budget. The Internet is the perfect place to start. Boat manufacturers’ websites provide photos and specs for their models, and
they usually list the shows their dealers will be attending. Getting
information about new-boat prices and the cost of options is a
bit trickier. Manufacturers and dealers usually don’t list these
figures on their sites, but prices found on brokerage sites such as
Yachtworld.com will give buyers an idea of what to expect.
Speaking of prices, timing is everything. Under no circumstance should you buy a boat the first day of the show. In fact,
you might get a better price if you wait until the last day to make
an offer, when the dealer is contemplating hauling his unsold vessels back home. Again, knowing what’s a good price will help you
Better yet — and this takes a lot of self-control — write down
boat show prices and visit the dealer after the show is over. On his
home turf, the dealer does not have to adjust prices to reflect the
cost of renting show space, hiring extra dealers, or paying transport fees. Other BoatU.S. resources for buyers are listed below.
The most important lesson to be learned from the recession that
started nearly three years ago is the importance of keeping debt
— whether from mortgages, loans, or credit cards — at a manageable level. The boat you lust after may be bigger and flashier, but
making the payments on a boat you can actually afford, and afford
to use and maintain, is priceless. Be aware that the sales ticket is
just one part of the cost of ownership. Sales and personal property
taxes, insurance, storage fees, and fuel will add to your expenses.
In addition, routine maintenance can run anywhere from about
$50 per foot per year for do-it-yourselfers to about $150 per foot if
others are hired to do the work. Anyone who’s ever owned a boat
will agree that having a cash reserve on hand can take the bite out
of unanticipated repairs, an engine breakdown, or other damages.
Although dealers will have some great financing packages
available at shows this winter, don’t head for a show without
pre-qualifying for a boat loan. Know in advance how much debt
you can manage safely. Thinking clearly can be difficult when the
boat of your dreams is just a few yards away and a friendly dealer
is making an offer that sounds too good to refuse.
Banks usually require no more than 10 percent down, but this
cushion can get eaten up quickly if sales tax and registration fees
are rolled into the loan amount. Pay these fees in cash. In addition,
making the largest down payment possible, preferably at least 15
to 20 percent, can help offset the 20- to 30-percent depreciation
that occurs when new boats leave the showroom. At all costs,
avoid using a credit card to make a down payment unless you’re
able to pay off the balance within a month. Credit card interest
rates are far higher than fees charged by lenders.
New boat sales lagged for at least the past 24 months, so
it’s likely you’ll see last year’s models for sale at this year’s
shows. Leftovers may be a year older, but they’re probably pretty
close in features to their newer versions. Upgrades from one year
to the next are usually superficial. Expect to see significant mark-
downs compared to current models. Negotiating lower prices on
options such as electronic gear or trailers is another way to
sweeten the deal. Ask the dealer or, better yet, call the boat and
engine manufacturers directly to verify that their warranties will be
in effect for their full terms when the vessel is sold; you’ll need the
hull identification number and the engine serial number when you
call. Manufacturers often place limits on warranties when vessels
sit on dealer lots because leftovers are sometimes cannibalized for
The online BoatU.S. Consumer Protection Database
( BoatUS.com/consumer/database.aspx) contains thousands of
firsthand reports about boats, marine engines, and boat dealers.
After narrowing down the list of boats in which you’re interested,
consult the database for reports, as well as for general information
about how boat and engine makers handle consumer issues.
Two free guides, The BoatU.S. Guide to Buying and Selling
a Boat and The BoatU.S. Guide to Marine Services, are available
online at my.BoatUS.com/consumer/about.asp.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s database of defect recall campaigns
is available online at www.uscgboating.org.
If you have boat-buying questions or need consumer
guidance, contact the BoatU.S. Consumer Protection Bureau,
703-461-2856, or e-mail consumerprotection@BoatUS.com.