Looking for the Right Answers?

Start with these 13 questions

Published in the January 2012 Issue January 2012 Feature PDB Staff

If you're thinking about buying a boat and are overwhelmed by the choices and all the different dealers, don't worry because you're not alone. When it's time to start looking, usually the best place to start is at a boat dealership. A good dealer should be able to help find the right boat for you and your needs. But just as important as finding the right boat, finding a good dealer is almost as important.

You will maintain a relationship with that dealership beyond the purchase of your boat. After you select the right dealer for you based on cost, performance, location, use and skill, then it's time to ask them some follow up questions before you make that big purchase.

1. How long have you been carrying this brand of boat?

This will help you understand how well the dealer knows its product. A dealer that has been carrying a specific line for years will know how that line does in your area.

For example, maybe the best body of water in your area requires pontoons with three logs because the lake is usually a little rough. If a dealer is in its first year selling boats and suggests a two logged pontoon will be fine, you might want to question him.

2. What is the horsepower range on this boat?

Especially with pontoon boats, buyers today want to know how fast a boat can go. If you're in love with a particular engine brand or size, make sure the boat you're looking at is rated for it. And just because the deck boat you're looking at is rated for a 220hp engine, it doesn't mean you have to go that high. It's true that in most cases you won't be sorry for going with more power, but be smart when it comes to your engine selection. The bigger the engine, the smaller the lake.

3. About how fast and how far will this boat go if I have six passengers and a full tank of fuel?

Most dealers should have a good feel for its boats and should be able to answer this question. Of course they won't know an exact number, but they should be able to give you a good estimate.

Tests done by engine manufacturers typically only have one or two people on board with no added gear. You want to know what this boat will do when loaded if you plan on spending a lot of the time on the water with your family.

4. What kind of wake does it throw out for water sports?

There is a reason why more pontoon and deck boats have wakeboard towers on them. Anyone with active teenagers will know, this is a mustask question if your family is into water sports. A lot of boats today come with at least a standard ski/tow eye so you'll want to make sure the boat you're looking at has a way for you to pull tubes or skiers.

5. Is my vehicle powerful enough to pull the boat?

The nice thing about these trailerable boats versus others in the boating industry is that most tow vehicles are rated to pull a pontoon or deck boat. But it's important to ask this question so you don't wear out your vehicle's transmission pulling more than it can handle. Just because you can put a hitch on it, it doesn't mean your vehicle can tow. Pontoons are some of the lightest boats in the boating industry, but you still have to be smart when towing.

6. What service do you offer and what kind of parts do you stock?

Some places can only sell you the boat, while others offer a full service department. Knowing what your dealer can and can't do upfront might influence your decision of where to buy. If you have to travel over 100 miles out of your way to get your boat serviced then it might not be such a great deal in the long run.

And knowing what parts are in stock will give you an idea of how long your boat could be on the shelf if something went wrong.

Is your shop open on the weekends?

The average person does most of their boating on the weekends. So if by chance you happen to have a problem or emergency, it would be nice to know your dealer was open to help. It's ironic that many dealers became dealership owners because they loved to boat. But because of the demand from its customers, many dealers hardly find time to actually enjoy boating.

Do you offer pickup and delivery for service work?

This is more important for those who plan to put their boat in the water and only take it out to be serviced. It's common for those with lakefront property to not even own a trailer. The boat is docked in front of their place and so getting it to the shop can be difficult.

What type of guarantee or warranty does your service center offer?

A good mechanic should stand behind his work. It's a good idea to know the answer to this question before you buy the boat.

Does your dealer represent manufacturers participating in the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) Customer Satisfaction Index program? This is a program that measure the consumer's relationship and satisfaction with manufactures and dealers. This program uses stringent criteria that judges operations, facilities, professional sales/ services processes and customer satisfaction.

10. Do you offer "water" trials?

You wouldn't buy a truck without driving it first, so it shouldn't be asking too much to drive the boat before you buy it. In-water boat shows are the easiest way to try boats out, but most dealers should be willing to get you out on the water if you're getting serious about buying.

If it's a new model that isn't on the lot yet, you should at least try out a similar boat so you can get a feel for the company that manufacturers the boat.

11. Will you commission the boat or offer training?

There are a lot of boat safety courses that every boat owner should take, but in addition to that it would be nice to know if your dealer could offer you some training on your own boat and show you how to work everything before turning you loose.

A lot of dealers know that this can make or break a lot of deals for new buyers and so many are willing to help get you comfortable.

12. What else do I need to buy?

Buying a boat is just the beginning. You'll need an anchor, fenders, rope, an oar, an orange ski flag and of course life jackets, just to name a few items. Try negotiating a few of these things when buying the boat, but there are quite a few must-have items that every boat should have.

Some items are for convience, but others like approved life jackets for everyone on board are required by law. Make sure your dealer goes over what you're required to have on board.

13. What is your turnaround time to call back customers?

You may not be able to get your boat in right away, especially if you're trying to get in the week before Memorial Day. But knowing how fast the dealer will get back to you is good to know. They might not have the answer you're hoping for, but hopefully they respect you enough to call you back quickly. With that in mind, don't wait until the last minute and expect your dealer to drop everything to get you out on the water. Plan ahead or plan to wait a little.

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