Before you label me a flip-flopper, yes, I have previously in this space advocated focusing your search on big name brands. And that’s still a good approach. However, like any skilled politician (if you can think of one) will tell you — I’m not a flip-flopper. I just adjust my opinion based on new information as it becomes available. Or maybe as it dawns on me…
I got to thinking about that advice and I found that it was something of a disservice. There are lots of great, small-volume builders who offer high-quality boats. Their names might not register with some used-boat shoppers, because these companies don’t have the marketing budget of, say, Sea Ray or Bayliner. But they are certainly worth considering. The live links below will take you to the builders’ listings on BoatTrader.com.
I seem to recall reading about a study somewhere that the Rinker name had the unfortunate distinction of being one of the least recognized names in the boat business. This, despite nearly a hundred years of building boats. A couple of Rinker family members even race tunnel boats with Rinker Boats’ sponsorship.
Despite the lack of brand recognition, Rinker Boats has been offering a fine array of runabouts, cuddies, deckboats, and cruisers for years. Now under management of the Nautic Marine Group, Rinker has a network of dealers all over the country who will service used boats just as readily as those under warranty.
I’ve been through Rinker’s plant, too, and the way they put things together makes sense. One of the nice things about searching for a used Rinker is that, because the company has been in business for so long, they’re not difficult to find.
If you do a Google search on Maxum boats, you won’t find any of its new models to lust after. In fact, you won’t find much of a website, either. You see, Maxum ceased operations in 2009 in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008. But don’t let that scare you. Maxum was a Brunswick company, and it turned out some good product, from runabouts to cruisers.
That Maxum is no longer in business is as much a function of bad luck as it was corporate decision-making. The boat business was in shards in 2009. Brunswick is a publicly traded company that must deliver value to shareholders. Brunswick sold some brands and shuttered Maxum. But I drove a bunch of them in the early 2000s, and their quality was on par with that of larger boatbuilders.
Here’s another boatbuilder that got the dirty end of the stick in the Great Recession. The company closed its doors in 2012, but it’s on the uptick again, with more than a hundred employees and some 50 dealers, according to a news report on WALB.com, my local ABC and NBC affiliate.
That’s current product. In terms of older product, Caravelle had a lot to offer, from a full line of runabouts and Sea Hawk center-consoles to its performance-oriented line of Interceptor models.
The Inteceptors were always a favorite of mine because they straddled the line between family runabout and go-fast boat so delicately. It was the kind of boat that allowed, say, a dad to bring home a boat with a performance flavor that wouldn’t raise red flags with mom.
Ebbtide has long been turning out solid boats that stand up over time and offer good value to buyers. The reason it might be overlooked is one of exposure. Ebbtide simply doesn’t have a marketing budget on par with Sea Ray or Cobalt, but its boats are built to high standards.
The small, privately held company knows that word of mouth is critical to its success, and it believes in building boats that last longer than the loan term.
“Boats are products that are entirely built by human beings,” said Ebbtide president Tom Trabue. “There are no machines to pop them out, so there are many, many opportunities to have mistakes and things like that, and if you skimp you know you’re asking for trouble. And we just don’t do that. I’ve just never believed in that. I believe that if a family buys one of our boats and wants to keep it for 10 years or 15 years or whatever, then that boat ought to hold up.”
If you have never heard of Bryant Boats, well, they’re worth investigating. Having toured the company’s plant, I know how well-built they are. And having driven a number of Bryant boats over the years, I can recommend them easily.
Located in Sweetwater, Tenn., Bryant Boats is a family business founded by Jim Bryant and his son Joe, who are still active in the business. Just last year, former MasterCraft CEO John Dorton purchased a majority stake in Bryant Boats, so Bryant’s exposure level seems poised to change. Dorton has already grown the dealer base and added product, but the workmanship was already in place.
“They have always put quality first,” Dorton said. “I know it’s kind of an overused word. But their warranty expenses were among the lowest I’ve ever heard of, so that tends to tell you that you have a great product out the door.”