And the winner is … (drum roll, please) … your boat … I hope. The best boat is one that meets your needs without unnecessary compromise. Boats by nature are, from drawing board to end use, an exercise in trade-offs. This is why there are so many boat designs on the market, spanning an even greater number of price points. Needs are quite varied and boat manufacturers have attempted to address these with vessels particularly suited for: fishing, cruising, water sports, speed, accommodations, carrying capacity and so forth.
Selecting the right boat should be based on how you want to enjoy the water, and to a lesser extent your personality. Regardless of what a salesman might tell you, if a boat is really good at one thing, it probably suffers functionality in another area. I have skied behind bass boats and fished from ski boats, but neither is the same experience as the other way around.
Evaluate boats based on your most frequently intended use. What do you want to do? How many people will you typically have aboard? How fast do you want to go? How much are you willing to spend on gas when it hits $5 per gallon (again)? How often do you plan to be on the water? What is your tow vehicle capacity? Prioritize your functional needs and decide what you are willing to compromise on.
The personality piece includes more subjective aspects such as the lifestyle statement you want to make and your demands for fit and finish. Factor in the reality of your budget because a loan payment is only the start. Consider the cost of maintenance, storage, repairs, insurance and fuel. These vary widely, from very little on a small run-about to crazy expensive on an off-shore style go-fast boat. Like luxury cars, higher-end boats might get “A” for cachet but maybe an “F” for cost of ownership and operation.
Manufacturers also juggle trade-offs when it comes to the hull lamination materials, resin and hardware used. Generally speaking, you tend to get what you pay for. Higher-end boats demand higher prices from the use of lighter, stronger materials, better resins, higher output power plants and better finish detail.
This doesn’t necessarily make them “better” boats for you. An 18-20-foot Bayliner bow rider is a half to a third the cost of a Mastercraft (or similar) wake boat. The “best” boat to meet the needs of a small family, limited budget, occasional use and low cost of ownership might be the former, even though materials and construction are not as “high end.”
If you are making a first-time investment, bum rides on as many different types of boats as possible and don’t rush to a decision. Ask boat owners about their experiences and how much they spend on gas and maintenance. Consult online reviews at boating publication Web sites.
Spending a summer researching and refining your priority list will bring an overwhelming list of variables into clear focus. With patience and diligence, the boat you choose will cause the least amount of compromise and provide many years of satisfaction and enjoyment. Good luck, have fun and boat safe.
Jonathan Bloom is a USCG licensed Master and ASA certified sailing instructor. He can be reached via www.BayDeltaFun.com.