Your First Boat On The Lake: A Buyer's Guide

So you want to buy a boat to grace the dock at the lake house. Owning a boat at your lake home can provide you and your family with years of fun and memories. The following is a guide to buying your first boat with some tips to help you avoid making some common mistakes.

Where do you start? Obviously you need to decide what you your main activities will be. Are you going to be water skiing and wake boarding, fishing or just cruising around the lake and entertaining?

For example, a Lund aluminum fishing boat will be great for the walleye angler, but not so great for skiing and cruising with the family. And a pontoon boat with a huge open deck is cool for partying, cruising and as a mobile swim dock, but not for those with need for speed. So once you decide your primary needs then you can begin your research. Who knows, maybe two boats are in your future.

Talk to your neighbors and people who own the type of boat you want to buy. They are your best source of quality information and can help you avoid making costly mistakes.

Ask them what they like and especially what they don't and why. Find out where they bought it and if they liked the dealer and the customer service.

Be honest with yourself. What's your experience as a boater? You might want to read some books on operating a powerboat to get yourself up to speed on the jargon of boating such as Chapman Piloting & Seamanship. Also it would be wise to take a safe boaters course . To find out more you should contact your state's Department of Environmental Protection, the US Coastguard or the United States Power Squadron at

Just like buying a car you need to test drive some boats. And try to avoid the impulse to buy the first boat you fall in love with even though it may well be "the one." It'll still be there after you've shopped around.

New boat or used? Buying a used vessel isn't always a bad thing. Usually used boats are well outfitted and there is usually a lot of available information about older models.

The saying, "a great design never goes out of style" rings especially true with water craft. Many newer designs are untested and so the jury is out as to their longevity. Time on the water is the ultimate test of boat design.

Here are some resources to help you you're your research. ABOS Marine Blue Book, (800) 262-1954; BUC Used Boat Price Guide, (800) 327-6929; NADA Marine Appraisal Guide.

If you're determined to own a new boat, we suggest (and only after you've done your homework!) going to some boat shows and asking lots of questions. In addition to learning what the latest trends are you could also come away with your boat in tow.

Reason: Manufacturers are dying to unload the boats they transported to the show. They do not want to transport them back. So if you hold out till the end they are usually willing to make deals.

Do I need to mention the expenses to be considered? Your boating budget must cover insurance, accessories, dock lines and safety equipment including anchor, life vests for all on board. Also include docking (whether you own or a slip at the marina), dry docking, maintenance, yearly gas costs gas, trailer etc. Once you have a realistic budget in mind, you can proceed with confidence.

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