Boat Styles for Lifestyles

When you think about it, there are almost unlimited combinations of boat features that attract boat buyers or leave them cold. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and form follows function — but within those ideas are a lot of requirements and preferences related to geography, free time, skill-sets, interests on the water, and, of course, money.

beneteau barracuda 9
The Beneteau Barracuda 9 can be configured in a variety of ways.

All of these factors end up determining the overall style of the boats we look for. For an idea of some of the wildly different styles that float our boats, have a look at these video reviews by and editors.

The Hunt Harrier 36
The Hunt Harrier 36 – classic New England looks in three possible power configurations.

Traditional, graceful New England looks, available with three different propulsion packages:

Purposeful, adaptable, winner of “Best Powerboat Under 30 feet” at the 2012 Newport Boat Show:

Well-rounded cruising and pleasure platforms, tested on the Tennessee River:

From the venerable builder of tough, unsinkable blue-water boats:

And for pure comfort and fun on lakes and rivers:

See you on the water!
– Editors



Finding the Right Boat Dealer

A reputable dealership is likely to provide good service after a sale, whether you’re buying used or new.

You have three choices when it comes to buying a used boat: private party, broker, or dealer. There are advantages to all three, and it’s ultimately up to you. However, if you’re focusing on dealers, here are a few tips to help you find a good one.

First, a boat dealer is someone who maintains an inventory, someone who stocks boats. Many dealers also offer service departments, and maintain ongoing relationships with the builders whose boats they offer. They have a physical presence and reputations that they need to protect to maintain a stable business in their communities.  So dealers often have a bit more at stake than brokers and consignment houses. This can translate into excellent after-sale followup and service.

“If you’re going to buy at the dealer level, you need to start with a reputable dealer,” said Scott Shogren of Pier 57 Marine in Gurnee, Ill.  “Even if the dealer you like doesn’t have the boat you want, you should still work with that person to find you what you’re looking for, because a dealer with a reputation is going to look out for his customers’ best interest.”

One thing you have to accept when you buy from a dealer is that you might have to pay a bit more for a given model. If price is the most important selling point to you, then maybe you should buy from a private party. Shogren said that customers who shop solely on price can be difficult to satisfy.

“The first thing a consumer should do is align themselves with somebody they’re comfortable with, somebody who can offer them all the resources they need, whether it’s financing, service, transportation,” Shogren said. “The second thing a consumer should do, when they do find the boat they want, they should not rely on the dealer to tell them what the boat may or may not need.”

That’s when you need to get an impartial surveyor, something we’ve covered in this blog before. The key is to find a dealer who is willing to address problems a surveyor might find or make appropriate price adjustments to compensate for repairs the buyer will have to make later.

Another advantage of buying from dealer is that you have a little bit of recourse with a dealer if you find something wrong. A  private party might not even even take your phone call. Think of it like buying a used car. If you buy a used car and you have a problem with it first day and you to go back to the dealer, chances are he’s going to do something. Even if he doesn’t pay for it, chances are he’s going to do something to help.

“I think it’s a dealer’s job to look after the best interests of the consumer,” Shogren said. “We work so much on referral and repeat business, and it’s because we treat people right the first time around.”

Brett Becker

Buying a Boat? Start With a Cash Price

cash price
In opening talks with a dealer, it’s a good idea to establish a cash price before discussing trade-ins and credit.

Many of the used models you’ll find for sale on are offered by dealers, and that’s a good thing because there are pluses to buying from a dealer over buying from a private owner. If you prefer to buy from a dealer, here are a few tips that can help you get the best deal on a used boat. (Oh, and I got these tips from a dealer who does a lot of transactions on used boats, so this is sage advice.)

Even if you plan to finance your purchase or trade in your current boat, make your approach as a cash buyer with no trade-in. Why? That lets you focus on negotiating the best price. If you involve financing in the talk about price, things can get a bit nebulous — for both parties. Pretty soon, the conversation involves a price that goes up with low interest rates and interest rates that go up with when the price comes down. Also, if you mention a trade-in too early in the conversation, it can get very confusing. Save it for later in the discussion. The same logic applies on a used car lot, too, by the way.

Once you have settled on a price, then ask about interest rates. There is less wiggle room here because your credit score, among other factors, is what drives the interest rate you can get. Realize the cost of borrowing is low these days, so if the dealer isn’t flexible enough on financing, you might benefit from seeking financing through your bank or your credit union.

Once you are satisfied with price and interest rates, then you can talk about a trade-in. Now that the price of the new boat and the interest rate you’ll pay on the new loan are settled, all you are left with is establishing the value of your trade. There are no other factors to muddy the deal. The other factors have been settled.

In a nutshell, what you’re doing is isolating each step of the purchasing process. That allows you to focus on one thing at a time, and enables you to do your best at each step. Like multitasking, if you try to accomplish all three at once, you end up not doing any of them very well. And that’s not a good thing.

Brett Becker

Boat Financing: Credit is King

High credit scores and liquid funds are the keys to securing boat loans these days. Photo courtesy of

Four years ago, some marine lenders only cared about credit score. Some only cared about your debt-to-income ratio. Some banks cared more about your liquidity position. And some banks only cared about your net worth.

Today, all of the banks care about all of those things.

“In today’s lending environment, you’re looking at having a minimum credit score of 700,” said Dave Patnaude, vice president, marine client manager at Bank of America. “You’re looking at having a debt-to-income ratio, which is your gross monthly income versus your monthly obligations, of 42 percent or less. In terms of liquidity, banks want to see some kind of liquidity, whether that be cash in the bank, stocks, bonds, whether it be a 401k or an IRA. A liquid asset is anything that can be turned into cash within 30 days or less.”

Banks want assurance that if you lose your job after getting a loan, you will have cash reserves to carry you for six, twelve, or eighteen months. If would-be buyers are in a situation where their reserves can only carry them for two or three months, they likely will have a problem getting approved.

Realistically, if you meet debt-to-income and liquidity requirements, you need to check your credit score, but to keep from pulling it down, do no more than two or three inquiries. Patnaude added that the number of lenders has decreased as a result of the defaults. A few years ago, he said, there were 15 national lenders that offered marine and RV financing. Today there are around five.

Banks also want to know the boat they are lending money on is worth the price. You can do some of the prep work for them by researching the market yourself. Try the buyer’s guide advice at, which includes advice about how to use NADA Guides, for starters.

Once you have your financials in order and know the value of the boat you are focused on, consult your lender to get preapproved, what Patnaude humorously calls “armed and dangerous.” But what if you must first sell your boat? Still, go through the preapproval process just to be certain you will qualify.

“A good piece of advice would be before you sell your boat, go ahead and get prequalifed on the next boat, even while you have your current boat,” he said. “Just explain to the loan officer, ‘I want to apply based on not having my current boat loan,’ but having a new boat loan on this boat for this purchase price with the intent of putting this amount down.

“I would highly recommend that because I’ve already come across two  people in the last six months who sold their existing boats and went to apply to get new boat loans, and found out that they couldn’t qualify. So then they had no boat.”

And that’s a lamentable place to be.

Brett Becker




2012 Newport International Boat Show Report

The remote control underwater HydroView has a max depth of 200ft.

I am usually a little skeptical of “new” boats being last years’ models with a touch more freeboard, another foot in length, or a few more bells and whistles. This year’s Newport International Boat Show had its share of those new boats, but what really struck me was the gadgets and trends. The coolest new gadget was an underwater camera that could be hung over the side on a cable, or better yet placed in its own remote control vehicle, the HydroView by Aquabotix. You can control the $3,995 Hydroview with your iPhone or laptop to check out your boat underwater, or just view video from beneath the waves. The AquaLens camera alone (with led lights) retails for $475.

The second best new gadget was the Garmin GPSMAP 5215 unit with touch screen. Touch screens aren’t new, but the ability to touch an object on the 15-inch chart display and go to it without pushing other buttons was new, simple, and cool. This Garmin gives you the ability to interface the Bluechart G2 charts with Sonar/Radar/Weather sensors and add features like auto guidance routing. The auto-guidane feature allows you to touch where you want to go while automatically giving you a route that avoids hazards.  The 5215 is fabulous, albeit a bit pricey ($6,099)—and scary to a traditionalist like me, who loves electronics but doesn’t use them solely without paper backup. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn to let go with technology like this.

hunt rib
This Hunt design RIB has teak decks and a varnished table.

The trends from boat builders were threefold. First, almost every large new sailboat, at least the cruising ones, had a fold-down stern platform. The second is ever more powerful powerboats. I’m not sure who needs four 350HP engines on the transom of a 36-foot boat, especially given gas prices these days, but I guess if you’re buying one of these new boats it is all about impressing other people with your power.

The third trend was wood. Not just wood but wood trim to excess, all highly varnished. Even the giant RIBs, a class previously devoid of wood, had enough wood trim and teak flooring to put a Wally Yacht on notice. The wood trend extended to a comeback of sorts for the numerous “traditional” boat builders, those builders of classic wooden boats such as the Artisan Boatworks and the modern look-alikes such as the Callinectes Runabout. The highlight of the show for wooden boat buffs was the Rockport Marine restoration of the 1924 William Fife designed schooner Adventuress, WOW!

As usual, I had fun re-connecting with acquaintances in the boating industry, seeing the new products, and gauging the crowds’ reactions and moods. I did miss my buddy Jeff’s annual after-show party, but otherwise it was a great show.

Buying a Boat with a Partner

Shared activities should be the foundation for buying a boat with someone else.

Partnering with someone else to buy a boat may be a good option for people with common interests. The partnering advantage comes from shared activities as well as shared economics. You don’t always have to use the boat together, but I’ve never seen a boat partnership work solely as a time-sharing agreement or as a way to save money.

I’ve known several sets of boat partners over the years who have made the compromise work with varying degrees of success. Before I describe them though, I have to say I don’t think I myself could make it work. I’m very particular about my boat; I want things, like the coiling of lines, to be done in a certain way; and I like being in charge. That said, if you have the flexibility, the will, and the right partner, let me describe the scenarios where boat-owning partnerships have worked.

1. Find someone who likes to do the same kind of waterborne activities you enjoy—fishing, for instance.
My buddy Charlie and his brother Bill own a small powerboat together. Yeah, they’re family, but what makes owning a boat together work for these guys is their love of fishing. They usually go out together and also share the maintenance and costs right down the middle. I mentioned them in my blog about installing a fishfinder thru-hull not so long ago.

2. Two professionals, an architect and an engineer, who love to race sailboats.
They both had the means to own a Beneteau First 42 sailboat individually, but they were short on free time. That made sharing a boat work for both of them. They raced together, alternating helm time from race to race, and then they divided up the remaining weekends and time on the boat according to their individual cruising needs. They also had complementary personalities: one DIY and the other who was happy to pay the expenses to let himself out of the maintenance side of the equation. They both got to race and recreate without feeling the need to be on the boat every weekend. I sailed with them for eight years before buying my own boat.

3. Boat partners who own their own cruising boats and buy a smaller sport boat to race together.
These friends have instant crew, but keep the family boats separate.

4. A group of five who share a single boat.
This group found themselves crewing together, became friends, and when the owner changed jobs and moved out of state, they decided to maintain their time together by collectively buying the boat and becoming partners.

Splitting costs alone may have you going in two different directions.

As I said before, you have to have the right match of personalities and a common activity. And you also need to sit down and write out an understanding of how the partnership is going to work, from maintenance costs, to labor, to time-sharing. Who is responsible when one of you breaks something? Don’t forget to agree in writing on how to dissolve the partnership amiably, when the time comes for one or both of you to move on.

This last piece is a key component in a boat-owning partnership. Being able to sell your share when you want out without negatively impacting your partner or forcing an unwanted boat sale must be thought out and agreed to in advance.

Boat-owning partnerships are not for everyone. If you are simply trying to limit your financial exposure while having access to a boat, chartering may be a better option for you. However, if you want someone to share time, activity and the economics, consider finding a boat partner.

Boat Canvas: Increased Value and Comfort

flybridge enclosures
The flybridge enclosures on these two boats can range from $6,500 to $12,000 depending on material and design complexity.

Buying a used boat has one big advantage over buying a new one: all that expensive equipment a new owner purchases to outfit his boat comes standard on most used ones.  One item that is rarely included with new boats is canvas: dodgers, biminis, cockpit covers, spray hoods, enclosures, lee cloths, sail covers…the list is nearly inexhaustible. Canvas protects both your boat and the people onboard from the extremes of sun and weather, and it can also help extend the boating season in colder climes. Its custom colors and designs give your boat a unique personality, and it also tells the boating public that this is a well cared for and functional vessel.

Many times when you’re looking at a used boat, especially if it is ashore, the canvas is off or stowed. And owners often fail to list canvas in the general equipment list.  So ask about the canvas package onboard—and by all means inspect it or have a canvas professional evaluate it.

To get some answers about the value of canvas I went to a local sail and custom canvas maker, Graham Quinn of Harding Sails in Marion, MA.  “We have buyers who may ask us to service and inspect canvas, after they’ve bought the boat,” says Quinn, “We’ll go through the inventory and make recommendations. And occasionally we’ll get potential buyers calling us about canvas we’ve maintained and serviced for the current owner. The buyer wants to know how old it is and in what shape. Very rarely does a marine surveyor get involved in evaluating canvas.”

Note the handy handle on this dodger.

I asked Quinn to give me some ballpark pricing for canvas products found on a hypothetical thirty foot boat. Please note, there are plenty of options on canvas products ranging from design complexity to the material used. One example would be opting for a high quality thread such as gore-tex, which will often outlast the canvas. Pricing in your region or sized to your boat may vary, too, but here is a rough value of the canvas on the boat you are about to buy.

  • Dodgers (Sunbrella fabric): $2,400 to $2,800, including the frame. A simple frame may cost $400 so if you have an existing dodger in tough shape you could simply replace the canvas on the old frame. More expensive upgrades may include straps for the frame, welded-on handles, gore-tex thread, and vinyl strataglass windows, which are more scratch resistant.
  • Biminis (canvas only): $1,200 to $1,600. For a 3 bow frame w/strap add $800. Design upgrades include zippers to go around stays, vinyl windows, etc.
  • Wheel covers (2 varieties): One piece cover for wheel and binnacle, $550. Separate wheel  & binnacle covers (recommended): $700
  • Tiller covers: $90
  • Cockpit covers: $800
  • Spray hoods (for launch or power boat w/2 bow frame): $1,600
  • Enclosures (flybridge): $6,500 to $12,000.  Add more for hard acrylic like EZ2CY.
  • Sail covers: $30 per running foot (approx $300). Numbers or relief for lazy jacks will cost more.

Canvas packages can add tens of thousands of dollars to the value of a boat, so why wouldn’t you look for a used boat with an existing top-flight canvas package? Pictures on sites like show the added value of canvas. When in doubt, ask the broker or owner specifically about existing canvas packages, and consult your local canvas pro for an evaluation.

Buying a Boat? Where Will You Keep It?

Boatbuying can be accompanied by a sort of weird, narrow-focus fever, and it’s common for fever-bright buyers to get way down the purchase path without carefully considering the practicalities and costs of storage. Whether you’re buying a new or used boat, part of your focus needs to be on where you’re going to keep it – not just during the boating season, but when it’s laid up.

A slip in a protected estuary is great, but if you live 50 miles away and want to work on your boat, trailering might be a better option, especially if you can keep the boat at home for free. But trailering also has its challenges and costs.

To help you in your decision-making, here’s some collected wisdom from the experts at Boat Trader and

The basic issues:

How Do I Store My Boat?

Two articles covering rack storage:

Rack storage can be efficient and cost-effective. Make sure the operators are responsive to haul and launch requests..

Rack Storage vs. Wet Dock

Is Dry Stack Storage Right for You?

And a related article about whether it might make sense to own your own lift:

Buy a Boat Lift to Protect Your Investment

If you keep your boats alongside your own dock, what’s the best way to protect it?

Mooring Whips – Necessary or Not?

If you intend to trailer your boat to and from the water, be aware of all the possible expenses:

Owning a Trailerable Boat: Hidden Costs

What’s involved in owning or renting a mooring in a harbor?

Town Moorings

It can be tricky to balance storage and mooring expenses, travel time to the boat, storm-protection issues, and other hassle factors.  But it’s all part of the game. Keep us posted on how you manage, and fair winds this season.

Doug Logan

Bow Riders: Top 10 Considerations Before you Buy

Editor’s Note: Thinking about buying a bow rider? Alex Smith explains what makes these boats so appealing for a wide range of uses.

The ubiquitous bowrider is at once the epitome of feel-good leisure boating and a design style frowned upon by the powerboating purist. There is a rather tired and outdated notion that a bowrider is a shallow, lightweight, flighty craft in which far more attention is paid to style and peripheral accessories than to dynamic ability.

Bowriders like this Bayliner 215 are named after the V-shaped seating section in the bow.

But is that fair? Well certainly, the classic bowrider tends to embrace the needs of family boaters by using relatively shallow hull angles to help maximise running efficiency and increase inboard space. And (as the name suggests) they also employ an open bow, enabling occupants to make the most of the sunny conditions in which they tend to be used. But to criticize them as somehow unworthy on account of these undeniable assets is absurd. On the contrary, a bow rider should be a stylish, sociable and versatile boat with an efficient and easy-running hull – and the more it satisfies these key credentials, the better it is.

The classic bowrider layout
Up at the bow, the classic bowrider incorporates a V-shaped seating section. You should make sure there is sufficient length to enable you to sit facing forward in comfort. A bow ladder and a table fitting to generate a proper gathering space is also a great asset – and if there is also an infill cushion to turn the entire front end into an unbroken sunbathing area, all the better. Some speakers and perhaps even deck lights add a bit of style and up the ante for parties afloat, but don’t forget the practicalities. Look for a proper complement of grab handles and cup holders and check for properly drained under-seat storage.

Bow layout
The typical bow layout

Move back into the cockpit through the step-through screen and a small bow rider will generally use a full-beam aft bench and a pair of rotating bucket seats for driver and navigator. Even on the smallest craft, this should enable five people to face one another, ideally over a central table. An integral seat bolster for the helm and navigator is a very handy feature, enabling you to drive at pace with the wind in your hair, and angled foot braces are also useful for those keen on a vigorous drive. While you’re at the helm, check that the screen doesn’t come too close to your head in a comfortable sitting position and take note of whether it is tinted. Similarly, is the dash matte colored and appropriately angled to avoid too much glare in the midday sun?

Read on: Bow Riders: 10 Key Considerations Before you Buy

Used Boat Shopping: Caveat Emptor

Having spent time at the Miami Boat Show this year, I still feel a bit dizzied from the shimmer of polished stainless and the intoxicating smell of fresh fiberglass. Long nights at South Beach bars probably didn’t help, either.

As I wandered the show, which many exhibitors said felt busier than it had in years, I marveled at how fortunate some people are to be able to go to Miami to purchase a new boat. Then I thought of the greater majority of boaters who buy their boats on the secondary market—and if you’re reading this—from the listings on

If you’re not at the point where you can shop for a new boat, doing your homework can help you find the best of what’s on the used market. Photo courtesy Miami International Boat Show.

Truth is, the marine market needs used boat buyers because they eventually purchase new boats. If you’re not at that point yet, don’t worry. I’ve assembled a list of tips for avoiding the pitfalls of shopping the used market. There’s a lot to the art of finding a good used boat, and you’ll discover the obvious fine points along the way. What I hope to offer here is the less obvious but equally important.

Research online. Once you have an idea of the kind of boat you want and need, online forums are a good way to get opinions on different brands of boats. Many will be conflicting and biased—and some will be penned by nitwits—so be aware of when and how much salt to take with the advice you find. It will be a good way of collecting anecdotal evidence of people’s experiences with different kinds of boats.

Hire a surveyor. As important as it is to seek owners’ opinions, it’s even more important to seek an expert’s opinion. Hire a surveyor for any boat you’re serious about buying. This probably isn’t news to anyone, but it’s important enough that it bears repeating. Figure about $10 to $20 a foot for an inspection, and a couple of hundred bucks for a sea trial. While the surveyor is there, you might consider having him perform compression and leak-down tests on the engine, particularly if it has more than 500 hours on it. Simply put, a compression test shows the engine’s ability to generate cylinder pressure, and a leak-down test demonstrates its ability to hold that pressure.

Pay attention to the trailer. One more mechanical detail to consider is the boat’s trailer. Believe it or not, lots of new-boat  buyers don’t invest in a quality trailer because they know they’re going to trade up in a few years. Because they’re not going to keep the boat more than three or five years, they don’t spend money on a quality trailer. They just go for “good enough.” So, the next guy who thinks he’s found a bargain on the boat—that’d be you—could end up spending a lot on trailer repairs or a replacement, which might make what was a sweet deal not so sweet after all.

Consider tax advantages. Another little-known tip for buying a used boat is that there may be tax advantages to buying from a dealer, particularly if you have a trade-in. Depending on where you live, you might be taxed only on the difference between the trade and the boat you’re buying. For example, if you buy a $35,000 boat with a $20,000 trade-in, you only pay tax on the $15,000 difference. If you buy from a private party, you’ll be taxed on the full price. There isn’t one website to point you to, so check with the DMV in your area and neighboring states. It might make sense to shop across state lines.

Be ready to look inshore. It also might make sense to shop elsewhere if you live on the coast. You will be better off buying a boat that was used solely in fresh water than one used strictly in saltwater, or even one used sporadically in the briny stuff. There’s no way to tell if a saltwater engine has been flushed regularly,  because the damage comes from the inside, not the outside, and what it costs in transportation to get it home is probably less costly than the internal damage from salt water.

For good or ill, buying a boat is tinged with emotion, which is why you need to be aware of a boat’s shortcomings before you fall in love with it. Doing your homework now saves time and money later. A few years on, when you can afford to buy a new boat  at the Miami show and toast your latest purchase at some swanky art deco hotel, you can rely on the manufacturers’ warranties. Until then, caveat emptor.

Brett Becker