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Buying a Boat - Should I Buy New or Used? (written by Captain Frank Taylor)

So, you have decided to buy a boat.  The only question is, should you buy a new one or a used one.  As a person who has done both, let me take a few minutes to provide a little insight. 

I purchased my first boat in 2002 at The Atlanta Boat Show.  Prior to that, I had spent months doing my research and I knew exactly what I wanted.  I actually was not planning to purchase a boat that day but when I saw the one I wanted at a great price, I decided it was time to pull the trigger on the purchase.  I bought a 2002 Wellcraft Martinique 2400.

At the time, I had very specific reasons for buying new.  My main reason was the fact that a new boat comes with a manufacturer’s warranty.  Now, I have always been quite handy with tools and have been working on my own cars since I was a teenager but I felt a boat was a different beast and that I had to learn how to work on a boat.  Of course, there are other advantages that come with buying new.  You get the latest technology and styling in a vessel that has no engine hours and no one else’s wear and tear on it.  Newer technology usually translates to better efficiency and therefore lower fuel costs.  Whether that is a significant savings or not depends on how often you use your boat. 

Financing can also be a little easier with a new boat.  Most lenders have higher interest rates and shorter loan terms for used boats compared to new boats.  If you are looking at a boat that is more than 10 years old, it starts becoming more difficult to find a lender who will loan you the money to purchase it.  If you do find a lender, you will likely be paying a higher rate. 

My 2002 Wellcraft served me well but after 15 years filled with week-long coastal cruises and weekends spent at the lake on a 24 foot cruiser, I yearned for something with more space and more amenities.  I go to multiple boat shows every year so I was well aware of what prices were for new boats in the size range that I was looking for and frankly the thought of paying that much for a boat did not sit well with me. 

After much thought, I realized that I actually knew what I wanted but I just did not know if I would find it.  What I wanted was a late 80’s model Wellcraft cruiser that was in excellent shape and in the 32 to 36 foot range.  Luckily, I did find it.  I ended up purchasing a 1988 Wellcraft Gran Sport 3400.  Here is why.

First, I have always loved the Wellcraft models from the late 80’s.  Every time I see one, I find my head tuning completely around as it passes by.  One might think that a beautiful model in a bikini was laying across the bow.  In addition, I was very pleased with the service that my first boat (also a Wellcraft) gave me.

Second, buying an older boat would allow me to get more for my money.  When comparing the price of a new boat with that of a used boat of the same size and features, there is just no comparison.  Sure, a used boat does not come with a warranty, has a number of hours on the engines, generator etc. and does not have the latest technology but in my opinion, the money you are not spending far outweighs what you are giving up.  A brand new comparably equipped boat of the same type as my Gran Sport these days will easily set you back six figures and the first figure is not a “1” or even a “2”.  Sure the new boat will have all digital gauges, have more efficient engines, the latest styling and even a gadget or two that mine does not have.  But I ask you, “is that really worth over $300k?” I realize that for some people it is, but I do not fall into that category.

Third, you actually get a bigger boat.  Have you noticed that new boats are getting smaller and smaller?  Think about it.  A Sea Ray Sundancer 340 built in 2017 is not the same size as a Sea Ray Sundancer 340 built in 1988.  And it is not just Sea Ray that is doing this.  All boat manufacturers have been shrinking the sizes of their boats while using a number to make you think you are still getting the same size boat.  They are not just getting shorter but narrower as well. 

I spend a lot of time on Lake Lanier rafted up with friends.  As mentioned earlier, the boat that I purchased is a Gran Sport 3400, the number of course, indicating that it is a 34 foot boat.  One of my friends has a boat that incorporates the number 380 in the name, thus indicating that his boat is 38 feet in length.  When rafted up together, my boat is still longer.  Why the difference?  His boat is 15 years younger than mine. All of this translates to more space.  More space means more comfortable.

At the end of the day, I am extremely happy with the decision I made on the purchase of my second boat.  As a matter of fact, I can truly say that I will never buy a new boat again.  The amount you save by purchasing used far outweighs the benefits of having a new boat.  If you decide to buy a previously owned boat, I do have a few suggestions:

1.        Do your research on the manufacturer and model of boat you are looking at.  This can tell you any issues that exist with the design, if any, and what things to check for when looking at a perspective purchase.

2.       If the boat is being offered by a broker, check and see if you can talk to the current owner.  Find out how they used the boat, why they are selling it and any other historical information that you might be able to glean from a conversation with him/her.

3.       Unless you are knowledgeable about boat systems and construction, get a survey done by an accredited marine surveyor.  Yes, this will cost you money but it is much better than purchasing a boat with problems that the previous owner did not tell you about. 

4.       Take it out for a cruise.  I would never buy a boat that I have not sea tested myself.  Even if a survey shows that the boat is in good shape, it still does tell you how it feels to be at the helm. 

5.       Finally, take your time.  Don’t rush the purchase.  Wait until the right boat comes around for the right price.  You don’t have to buy the first boat that you look at.

Good luck and happy boating!

Captain Frank


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