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Everything You Need to Know About Owning a Boat (Part 1)

Let's face it, boats are not easy things to live with.  There are many people out there who have been around boating their entire lives and are still learning.  Every boat is different and every boat owner has a different skillset of what they can and can't do.  We know a few people who've been boating for years or even decades and don't know how to drive a boat.  We know people who take to it immediately and can dock a large boat without any help.  If you have never been a boater or you are thinking about moving from a small boat to something much bigger (like we did) there are a myriad of things you need to know.  We're going to start with the most basic stuff and let you know all the things you need to know about owning a boat before you make a bad and costly decision by buying a boat that isn't for you.
A nice new Carver ready for you to buy it.
Feel free to post questions in the comments but we'll make this a multi-part series since there is a LOT to cover.  Hopefully one of the later posts will answer the question you may have.  If you feel like our advice isn't the way you'd do things feel free to comment and hopefully a different opinion will help someone who is thinking about boating.  One thing we've all learned from the internet is that there are as many opinions as there are people on Facebook.

1.  Should I buy a boat?

No.  You should have a lot of friends with boats and go out with them often.  Be a good mate, bring food and drinks, don't cause problems, and if you bring friends who've never been on a boat teach them how to act before they go out.

But I really want my own boat!  Fine, there are plenty of people who want their own boat, whether its to sit in a harbor and have an excuse to drink at 11:00AM on Sunday or they want to sail around the world.  Every boat owner has their own reason for owning a boat and none are wrong.  Your reason may be different than your best friend, so first off don't buy a boat just because your friend has one and you want the same one.  Think about what your uses are going to be.  Are you near a lake, river, or ocean?  Different boats handle different types of water differently and buying the wrong boat for your area will mean it will be used infrequently.  For example we love pontoon boats, they are practical, comfortable, and can be had relatively cheaply, but they are not for the Great Lakes or oceans.  They are for calm rivers and small lakes.  Yes, a Try-toon is pretty stable in rough seas, but there are better styles of boat suited to rough water.
Photo stolen from Premier Pontoons at, sorry!
Are you going to stay on it over the weekend, or live aboard?  Do you need a toilet?  Do you have children who like to swim?  Are you a good swimmer who can rescue someone if they fall in?  Do you have the money for all the additional stuff that goes along with owning a boat (much more on this later)?  How good of a car driver are you?  Do you know how to change engine oil?  Are you squeamish about pumping out toilet tanks and fear getting a little poop on your skin?  These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself when you start thinking about owning your own boat.

Make no mistake, boats are expensive and a lot of work to keep in good condition.  If you just want to fish on a small lake and don't care if the boat looks nice then there is a boat for you.  If you want to show off your business success with a big express cruiser and have the money for the upkeep there is a boat for you.  If you want to do just about anything in between there is a boat for you.  But you need to spend the time and effort (and sometimes money too) to figure out what that boat is.  Go charter a few different types of boats either by renting a small runabout at your local marina, or going to the Caribbean for a long week on a sailing catamaran.  Find out if you get seasick in rough water, or if you get claustrophobic in tight spaces when the rain forces you inside all day.  Find anyone you know who has a boat and go out with them.  Remember to bring food and drinks and be a good mate. Ask them what it takes to be a good mate.  Often times boat owners will decline help from newbies, we often do, but let them know you want to learn and ask them to do even the most trivial job or to watch them handle their boat.
Photo stolen from luxury yacht charter.  Because handsome couple and catamarans.
Recently we took out a group of experienced boaters, both sail and motor, and Kevin needed to take a toilet break while underway.  He asked an experienced sailor to take the helm at a slow pace in a straight part of the river with little traffic, something Kevin felt confident the experienced boater could handle.  A minute later Kevin was back at the helm and there were no issues but he found out that the very experienced sailor was a bit confused by the dual controls for the engines and transmissions.  If something had happened while Kevin was away it could have caused a small issue to get serious.  That's a mistake Kevin made in trusting that a fellow boater knew all the same things he does.  If that sailor had asked Kevin to rig his sailboat there would be a lot of confusion too since we aren't sailors and don't know a jib from a spinnaker.  When you ask a boat owner to handle their boat or to help out don't be insulted if they say no, it's their baby and they are the ones responsible for the safety of everyone on board.

Us taking a sailboat out would be like a Millennial driving a manual transmission car, we'd get nowhere.

2.  I'm buying a boat, what should I buy and how do I buy it?

Sometimes the type of boat isn't even as important as how you buy it.  Whether you have your eye on a neighbor's boat sitting on a trailer in their driveway or it's a huge yacht you want to live on you need to have a qualified marine surveyor take a look.  If you are looking at boats online in another city you might have to do some research on finding a surveyor.  Check out the National Association of Marine Surveyors for a certified surveyor in the area near the boat.  They know what to look for and will find every little problem before you buy.  If a seller isn't willing to have it surveyed you might want to seriously consider walking away and finding one who will.  When we purchased Cygnet we had a survey and a sea trial.  The survey consisted of the surveyor going over the entire boat and all the systems and finding any issues, of which there were a lot.  This allowed us to re-negotiate the purchase price of the boat and the surveyor paid for himself many times over.  He also went with us on the sea trial which consisted of the boat going in the water, testing the systems that could be tested, and running the engines to full throttle for an extended period of time to make sure the thing held together.  Our sea trial went well and afterwards we shook hands and sealed the deal.  Unless you really know what you're doing around boats we would not recommend buying a boat without a survey and sea trial.
Go to to find an accredited marine surveyor
So what should you buy?  We've touched on that a bit above but one more piece of advice we'd like to relay is to buy a boat that has been well taken care of.  If you are buying a new boat with a warranty there is less to worry about but try to look at reputable manufacturers and boats with name-brand systems that are known for reliability.  There are a lot of boat makers out there and it's easy to cut some corners when manufacturing just to save a few bucks.  Even well established brands like Sea Ray which is hugely popular in the Midwestern United States has diminished in quality over the years.  For those of us who know what to look for you can see it.  Not to say Sea Ray boats aren't still good, they certainly are, but our opinion is that they aren't worth the premium price they command from their reputation.
A typical Sea Ray owner disregarding the No Wake rule.
A couple years ago our friends were looking for a boat, and we happened to know of a boat for sale that was exactly what they were looking for.  The owner was a licensed captain who owned other boats and I knew him to be a very resourceful person who fixed things properly when they failed.  Our friends bought the boat, when there were problems but the previous owner helped them resolve some of them.  Buying a well maintained boat from a good owner has advantages.  Our friends have had to put money into the boat every year to fix things, but that's part of boat ownership, if the previous owner hadn't been so good at maintenance it might have been much worse.  Once you start looking at used boats and meeting the owners you'll know very quickly who takes good care of their stuff and who doesn't.
WeLaxation was and continues to be a well maintained boat due to caring owners.

3.  So what do I look for to know a boat is well taken care of?

Regular oil changes, impeller replacements, and proper fiberglass repairs are things to look for.  Where is the boat stored in winter (if it is) and how was it winterized?  Did the owner keep receipts of every repair and scheduled maintenance?  Did he or she do the work themselves and do they have anything other than their word to prove it?  Did they install any aftermarket electronics and how well was that work done?  What type of water was the boat used in and if it was a salt-water boat did they flush the engines after using it?  Is there fresh bottom paint on a boat that is sitting in the water for long periods of time?  Are the sails, lines, and ropes in good shape?  Does the owner have the proper size fenders and dock lines for this size boat?  Does it smell like mold?  All these questions and more will let you know whether the boat you are looking at has been properly taken care of.  Remember if it doesn't feel right to you it probably isn't.  If the owner or broker keep changing their story then that should be an indication that the boat might not be right.  Don't be distracted by the shiny things.  A Magma grill and nice stereo may be great options to have over a boat without them, but you can add those things later for probably a lot less than the cost to fix a poorly maintained boat.  

Next time, on a very special Water We Thinking:  I found the boat I want!  Now what?


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