Boat Buying 101

An old boat sitting on the grass

I was sitting quietly and looking wistfully into the distance while thinking about how much I’m going to miss my old, wee Formula Vee race car now that it’s been sold. The thought of looking for another race car did enter my mind but was now gone in a flash. My wife had entered the room and without batting an eye she looked straight at me and said: “We need a boat.”

“A boat?” said I. “…a boat? A BOAT?” I kept on repeating the two words like some babbling idiot. “Yes, a boat.” she said with that firm authority she musters when I know she’s made up her mind. Ummm, where did this come from? I know we had mentioned how much fun it might be at the cottage to have a boat, but I was thinking along the lines of a kayak or perhaps a canoe.

Nope, we need a real honest-to-heck boat. She said it again with even more conviction. Well, I said, what do you have in mind? Oh, I saw a lovely used boat online. It was 35 feet or maybe 45 feet or something… with a very nice cabin and living area, I quickly cut in: “Whoa! Hold everything!” For one, we haven’t got the space for such a thing and we also can’t afford to put gas in it let alone buy something that big! She thought for a moment then said: “perhaps you’re right… it was very nice though.”

OK, we agreed that we’d better rethink things and this time figure out what we’re trying to accomplish and what we actually need to achieve this lofty goal. We discussed our requirements.

Now, last summer, my son-in-law had rented a rather large pontoon boat and we had all piled onboard and taken the grandkids down the river and out onto the lake on a day-long fishing expedition. A grand time was had by us all and we found the large flat deck area of the pontoon boat very roomy and handy. My wife thought one of those would be a good boat to have. OK, a pontoon boat it is. We started to search the internet for something nearby but had a bit of a rude awakening. These things are bloody expensive! We were also having troubles finding one with a trailer. Ahh, the trailer. And the weight. And the size again. It turns out we had recently sold our full-sized SUV that had been doing sterling service towing race cars and whatnot and replaced it with a more compact and fuel-efficient version. Trouble was, it had nowhere near the required towing capacity. Then I had a chat with a friend who is fairly well versed in these marine subjects. He told me don’t get a blinkin’ pontoon boat! They have “Drunken Party” written all over them and attract the marine police units like flies to fruit. (Now that I think about it, I don’t believe fruit was the word he used.) Now, I don’t know what kind of pontoon boats he’s been on, but it did give me pause for thought. Hmmm… we’re going to need something else.

My wife then remembered seeing one of our neighbours at the cottage with a low, sleek boat that was silly fast and still had a big, flat deck and even some weird-looking upright seats for fishing. She showed me a picture of a 25-foot bass boat that had a gigantic, million horsepower outboard on it and an equally sizeable price tag. Ahaa! The price was an immediate red flag and we’re not really into competitive fishing and certainly don’t need to rocket between fishing holes in a set time. We just want to dangle a couple of lines in the water with the grandkids for heaven’s sake!

I suggested a small aluminum 14-foot fishing boat with a small outboard on the back. I figured that would be cheap, easy to store and super for little fishing excursions with the little ones.

“Absolutely NOT!”, said my wife. “I want a boat with a real cockpit area, a windshield and a steering wheel… the whole works.”

I said how about a smaller runabout/ski boat? They’re fairly easy to handle and would be great for tubing and whatnot with the kids. Nope. Upon further consideration we figured we’d need more room and definitely more seats. We also needed something less “hot-roddy”.

OK, now that we’ve established all these parameters, we have indeed narrowed things down to the perfect over-water conveyance for the Kawartha Kottage. We need a bow-rider. It should be under 20 feet with a trailer and within our meagre budget and that means used. The search began in earnest.

Well, it turns out there are quite a few of these boats around. There’s a great range of makes, spanning many years and in a wide variety of conditions, from absolute junk through the inevitable “projects” to really nicely maintained and well cared-for examples. The prices are fairly reasonable for an older, used vessel – even the ones in spectacular shape that had been coddled. Things are looking up.

Another call to a boat-savvy pal had me educated as to what to look for when scoping these things out. Watch for spongy, cracked or dodgy transoms, especially on the outboards. Improperly mounted motors can damage the fibre-glass and allow water to enter into the wooden structure underneath, turning it into a rotten, soggy mass. Repairing this kind of thing will quickly remove the “bargain” part of the purchase price. The same can be said for poorly drained interior floor areas where stringers have chipped or cracked fibre-glass that can allow water to enter between the inner and outer shells and delaminate things. I was also advised to seek out a boat with the original gelcoat, not one that had been repainted. Many sins could be lurking under that shiny cover-up.

Also, unless you don’t mind forking out sizeable amounts of funds for re-upholstery, make sure the tops, tonneaus, interior seats, cushions, carpets and so on are in good condition right from the get-go. Fixing them later almost never happens and the boat quickly starts looking really bad. All the while, sitting on these rips and tears with bare legs and bathing-suited bottoms is not going to be much fun.

Now, we should address the mechanicals. The motor, outdrives and controls should all work as originally intended and the prop and lower unit should be in good order with no nicks, scrapes or damage and no alien noises should be emanating from any of these devices. It’s a very good thing to have a complete and succinct record of service and maintenance that’s been done on the boat over the years. The trailer should also have a similar provenance.

OK, with all this in mind, it’s time to seriously start looking for “our boat”. I’ll keep you posted about our quest and any results that happen… good or bad. Keep watching our social media pages for updates and insights.

Let the games begin!


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