Buying a new boat is pretty much the same experience as buying a new car-you hope you don't have to endure the aggressive tactics of a sleazy salesperson, and instead get to enjoy the benefits of receiving assistance from a knowledgeable and friendly individual dedicated to helping you make the right decision. Here are some of the questions you can expect to hear from a salesperson you want to work with-this way, you can better tell when a non-desirable dealer is looking to use you to get a quick commission, regardless of your satisfaction. We spoke with a couple of longtime pontoon and deck boat dealers to see what they had to say. Here's what we learned.
1. What kind of boat are you looking for?
If you're a reader of PDB, we know what kind of boat you want to purchase. However, the dealer you just met may have something different in mind. Maybe he gets a bigger commission from selling power boats, and is motivated to get you into one of those. However, a good dealer will ask this question right off, because to her, which boat is right for you is much, much more important that what will line her pockets the most.
Be sure to stand firm in what type of boat you're looking for. Don't let the dealer steer you in a direction you're iffy about; at the very least, go home and do some more research if you find your convictions wavering. Don't make any major decisions after changing your mind on such an important issue.
2. What are you planning on doing with the boat?
If you only want to take the deck boat out fishing, you won't need a powerful top-of-the-line model. And conversely, if you want to take the kids waterskiing, an entry-level, family-friendly boat is probably not your best option. Many boat manufacturers offer several lines, each specifically designed for an activity in mind. Take some time to list the activities you most like to do on the water, and bring that to the dealer. It will make a big difference and save some time.
3. What kind of horsepower do you want?
Longtime South Bay dealer Tom Dicks works for Blackhawk Marine in Wautoma, Wis. He was careful to be clear on this point: "I always find out what they're planning on doing with the boat, so you get the right horsepower on it," Dicks explained. "A 75hp to 115hp Optimax is only a $1,000 difference overall, but can make a big difference in power when all is said and done."
Dicks is a believer in getting the right boat and engine for what you need the first time, rather than having to repower or even get a whole new boat later.
4. Where will you be boating?
Dealers will generally know of any restrictions local lakes and reservoirs may have. If you're planning on spending your weekends at a location with limits, they can help you choose the right boat for the job.
"For no-wake lakes, a 25hp four-stroke is smooth, quiet and efficient," Dicks elaborated. "But if you want something bigger, don't go less than 80 percent of the recommended horsepower for the boat-if not for you, than for the resale value."
5. What features do you want?
Boats these days come with a seemingly endless list of available options; you can end up with anything from a high-end party cruiser, complete with impressive subwoofers and lighted speakers, to a handicap-accessible boat with wide gates and lots of room, perfect for your elderly grandfather. Take the time to look over the available accessories and differentiate between the ones you can't do without and the ones you just really, really want.
6. What's your budget?
Once the dealer has got a good idea of what you need, it's time to talk price. Even with such specific guidelines, your new boat's price can differ by thousands of dollars depending on which manufacturer and model you end up with. Now it becomes a balancing game, trying to find a way to get everything you want for a price you can afford. And these days, staying within your financial limits is something that's on everyone's mind.
7. Trailered or not?
Will your new boat be traveling back and forth from the marina to your house? Or will you take advantage of a permanent slip? If you'll be doing the former, make sure your towing vehicle is properly insured and powered to handle such a load, and if you're planning on the latter, make arrangements to have the boat delivered to its new home. Both of these options can add cost to the bottom line, so keep them in mind even before you start looking.
8. Are you looking at a used boat?
"With used boats, you may be paying for someone else's mistake," Dicks warned. Sometimes first-time boat buyers will underpower or buy a boat that is completely wrong for them-and to be honest, wrong for anyone. "Once in a while I'll see a deck boat that is just a big V-hull with a deck boat interior in it," Dicks said. "But it's a slug; you can hardly get it to move." He recommended always looking at complete deck boats, which include a hull specifically made for this type of craft.
9. What questions do you have?
Finally, it's important to remember that the customer always has questions of their own. A good dealer will watch for that confused look on a potential boat buyer's face and be ready to explain whatever is on the newbie's mind.
"It's always worth educating someone and helping them out," Dicks said.