Focus on Use When Buying a Boat

Years ago, I was in the market for a used boat. I came across a restored classic 40-foot wooden sloop with beautiful lines and I fell in love. The owner was a widow who practically paid me to take the boat, which reminded her of her deceased husband, out of her yard. Fortunately, I had a friend who came to look the boat over. I’ll never forget his advice. “I know this is a fabulous boat, but it isn’t right for you. I own a fiberglass boat and I’m forever working on it. I can’t imagine what this would require. It’s a retirement boat, something you putter on every day and keep up the bright-work. Besides you told me what you really want is a raceboat.” He was right — I had let my focus drift, and beautiful boats and good deals can make you lose focus.

In “Choose a Home for Your Boat,” I wrote that where you plan on docking your boat is something you should determine before buying. That will, to some extent, determine the size and draft of your boat. The next consideration when buying a boat is to focus on your intended use. Most people want a boat that is versatile. They might like to fish with a few friends offshore but occasionally would like to take the family on overnight trips.

The good news is that there are well-built boats in your size and price range designed to do exactly what you want—as long as the want list is short. Expecting a boat to do everything well will mean compromise on doing any one thing really well. So, make a list of how you intend to use your new boat the most. Prioritize it and pick the top two things on your list as your requirements when searching. Any more than two and you will have to be prepared to compromise the upper part of your list. Performance is something that should be on your list to think about. Better performing boats with bigger engines or larger sail plans often cost more and generally trade off comfort and volume for speed.

Now armed with your narrow focus on use and how fast you want to travel, along with your draft and size limitations based on your dockage / mooring decisions, you can begin your boat search within your budget. There are plenty of beautiful boats that will tempt your focus to be diverted, but if you follow these steps you will get the boat you’re dreaming of. In coming posts, I’ll write how power options, looks and styling, along with age and condition play into your search and budget.



  1. Mark says:


    Sound advice for anyone in the market for a boat, especially anyone new to it. I know how easy it is to get caught up in the beauty of a boat and how quickly you lose site of what you’re really looking for.

  2. Agreed. The other thing is that as you age your boat needs seem to age with you. When I bought my first boat, I bought a 19′ Four Winns runabout. Now 15 years later, I find I really need a Pontoon because the Four Winns sits in the ift all summer, and I end up going out on friend’s Pontoon boats.


  3. Steve S. says:

    Well said Peter.

    Terry, your comment brings up an interesting point. When considering the uses of your new boat you could consider what type of boats your friends have. Perhaps your friend would trade a fishing trip on his boat for a day wakeboarding with his kids on your boat. Having a different style of boat than your friend could allow both of your to enjoy the top three or even four activities on your lists.

  4. Drew says:

    It’s like seeing a pretty girl … they always make you lose focus. If you want a boat, make sure you get the one you want. It’s going to be with you for awhile.

  5. Yes, I do agree with Mark. I also would like to share some things about this. Sometime, This is Depending on how the boat was stored can affect how the upholstery has held up over the years. Check for ripped seams and color fading. Also check the boat cover if there is one.