If a day on the water is your antidote to stress, make sure your boat doesn't sink your mood. These eight tips can help you choose the right new or used boat – and avoid a floating lemon:
- Read ratings for watercraft and engines, the same way you'd narrow the field when you're searching for a new car.
- Tap into word of mouth. Talk with owners of the model you're interested in and visit online forums dedicated to the type of boating you'll do. You'll get an unvarnished look at potential problems. You also can talk with service shops about parts availability and overall cost to maintain.
- Avoid the upsell by knowing the specific features and options you want (and which ones you don't) before you're standing face-to-face with a salesperson.
- Inspect the boat for cracks or lines in the hull. Also look for bubbles or layer separation in fiberglass. Those can tip you off to poor construction in a new boat or maintenance problems in a used model.
- Ask to see maintenance records for used boats. Deferred maintenance or repeated repairs can signal defects, hard use or simply an aging boat. If you're buying used from a dealer, ask for the previous owner's contact information so you can ask about problem.
- Get an out-of-water marine survey for older or heavily used boats. It's the same idea as having your own mechanic check out a used car before you buy.
- Be wary of quick-sale cash deals. Boat theft is as much a problem in the Northwest as in other regions of the country. Look for a 12-character identification number, likely on the upper-right section of the transom (required on boats manufactured after 1972). If it's been removed or altered, walk away.If you're buying from a private party, ask to see personal ID and proof of ownership – a registration certificate, bill of sale or legal title.
- Check the boat's insurability. Older wooden boats and high-powered boats, for example, may not qualify for every insurer's coverage (including PEMCO's).
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