Buying any boat, new or used, is enough of a commitment to justify some really careful planning, including solid ideas of where you’ll keep the boat, who will maintain it, and where you’ll be able to launch it. If you’re planning to buy from a dealership, how can you tell if the dealer will stand behind your boat and your relationship over the long haul? Here are 10 questions you could ask right up front.
1. Why should I buy from you and not your competitor?
This is always a fun question because it’s blunt and to the point. It’s not an easy question to ask, I’ll grant you, but the answer is usually worth the effort because it can be revealing. Good salespeople at competent dealerships will take the question and run with it, rattling off all the reasons you should buy from them. Lesser salespeople at dealerships that don’t have all their departments in ship shape might stumble on it. Pay attention to their answers and you might avoid doing business with a dealership that is less than you expect.
2. How long have you been in business?
If they answer the first question well, this one will be a breeze and usually one that involves double digits. The longer a company has been in business, the more likely it has a bevy of satisfied customers. The Great Recession shook up the industry like nothing else in recent history, and odds are good that the boat dealers who survived lived through the experience for good reason and are probably safe companies with which to do business.
3. How long have you been a XYZ brand boat dealer?
This also is another important question. Now, just because a dealer hasn’t been a dealer of a particular brand for very long doesn’t mean you should shop elsewhere. The first two questions in this list are more important, but I think it’s good to know because it points up a dealer’s product knowledge, familiarity with the processes of that particular manufacturer, and ability to represent the brand. The longer, the better in this case.
4. When is your service department open?
Face it, we shop at a given dealer at least in part because it’s convenient to where we live. If you don’t like the service department hours, you’re going to find yourself taking your boat elsewhere for service. For example, if they’re not open on Saturdays, you’ll have to take time off work to take your boat in for service. At that point, you might consider buying your boat at the dealership where you’ll be having it serviced. Dealers likely are loathe to admit it, but service customers who bought their boats from them take priority over those who didn’t.
5. Are your technicians certified?
Exactly who will be working on your boat? As marine propulsion systems have become more reliable, they also have become more sophisticated, and not just any shade-tree mechanic can work on them any more. Look for certifications from the American Boat and Yacht Council, the Marine Mechanics Institute, Mercury Marine, and Volvo-Penta.
6. Do you offer pickup and delivery for service and repair?
For my money, if two dealers are willing to sell me the same boat for the same price, and one offers pickup and delivery for service and repair and one does not, I’ll go with the former every time. Pickup and delivery puts an extra element of service in the service department and it’s a huge and tremendously convenient time-saver.
7. If I bring my boat in for service, how long will it take?
If you take the time to bring your boat in for service during the week, it’s likely because you want it ready in time for the weekend. That’s not too much to ask and a competent boat dealer should understand that and be able to have it ready when you want to use it. Obviously, there are always outlying circumstances such as parts on backorder, but a dealership that commits to having its customers’ boats ready when they want to use them is one worthy of your business.
8. What is your customer satisfaction index score?
There is value in the customer satisfaction programs established by manufacturers and organizations such as J.D. Power and Associates. Those satisfaction scores can give you a good indication of the effort dealerships go to in satisfying customers. You can also check online sources such as seacompanion.com, ripoffreport.com, and the Better Business Bureau.
9. Do you offer winter service and storage?
As with pickup and delivery service, I’d rather buy from a dealership that has a facility or at least a system for winter service and storage. Winter service is a pretty big job on an engine or engines, but then you have to consider items like the trailer, shrink-wrapping the boat, and ensuring there’s no moisture buildup inside. The larger the boat, the more important it is to have someone you can rely on to do it for you, and to do it right.
10. Do you host any on-water events during boating season?
Rendezvous, poker runs, fun runs, raft-ups with like-minded boaters — all can be a lot of fun. It’s not a justifiable reason not to buy if the dealership doesn’t host them, but it’s a good indication of how involved the store is with its customers after the sale.
Boat Trader has plenty of Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.