You hear the stories at the local watering holes all the time — those tales of woe from people whose boats don’t quite measure up. We call them “shoulda, coulda, woulda” stories. The mistakes people make when shopping for a boat are often the same, and you can learn from those mistakes by avoiding them altogether.
1. Not Using Every Resource Available
Sure, BoatTrader.com is a great resource for finding a used boat. But obviously it’s not the only one. The more particular you are about getting a specific make and model of used boat, the more you will need to look under every rock you can find, metaphorically speaking. Check out Craigslist, and do Google searches on the boat you want. For example, Google “Sea Ray Sundancer 260 for sale” and see what pops up. There are all kinds of metadata sites you’ve never heard of that search through local classified sites and for-sale ads, but they can be really difficult to find. Google makes things simpler by finding and ranking those other sites. And don’t be shy to click on the second and third pages of Google search results. Sometimes the best listings and information are on sites that aren’t as optimized for Google searches as others.
Tell your friends at the sandbar or the local watering hole where you go boating. You never know who they know and what kind of boats their friends might be looking to sell. We live in a world where connections have never been more important. Put yours to good use.
Another good source is forum sites, where you can register and discuss what you’re looking for with like-minded people. Take that Sea Ray 260 Sundancer, for example. You could log on to cruisersforum.com and create a WTB post. WTB is Internet-speak for “want to buy.” That sets in motion a lot of people who might know someone selling theirs. There are also plenty of dedicated owners’ forums for the major boat brands. In this example, Club Sea Ray would be a good resource. Check your forums daily — there’s a lot of churn in the information exchange there.
2. Not Being Patient
How many times have you been lost, only to turn around and then eventually learn you hadn’t gone far enough before turning around? In other words, you lost patience, and gave up before you had a chance at success. Finding a specific kind of used anything can be tough. Finding a specific kind of used boat is no different. It takes dedication, as pointed out above, but it’s probably more important to exercise a great deal of patience in finding what you’re looking for. Keep looking. Keep going. Give yourself a chance to succeed. Turning back early is no way to do that.
3. Focusing on Price, Not on What you Want
There’s a saying I’ve come to enjoy more and more as I age: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten.” I think that quote is attributable to Aldo Gucci. I don’t know if Gucci ever owned a boat, new or used, but he would have made an intelligent shopper. If you find yourself faced with a choice of a lower-priced boat that doesn’t have everything you wanted, and a boat with a higher price, yet all the equipment you were looking for, in two or three years you will have forgotten how much money you saved. Most likely, you’ll either wish you had anted up for that bimini top or gone to the expense of adding one. Focus on what you want. Price comes second.
4. Not Casting a Net Wide Enough
True story: I once drove from Orlando, Fla., to Nashville, Tenn., to buy a car. I drove up Saturday, checked it out on Sunday morning, then drove home Sunday afternoon and arrived home late that evening. Why?
Because it was clean and well-kept enough for me to consider, it was the color I wanted, and it had the equipment I wanted — and not what I didn’t want. It was also the closest one to me, not that an 1,800-mile round trip in 24 hours strikes me as close. I took a buddy with me and we made a road trip out of it. We drank some beers in Nashville and played some pool and made some great memories.
My point is that I kept widening my circle till I found what I wanted. I could have waited for one to come to me, but when you get impatient it’s better to cast a wider net than it is to settle. I probably would have driven to Chicago if necessary. There’s a fine line between a hobby and mental illness. I get that. But I got the car I wanted, and that’s what counts.
“Oh, well, I can’t find a clean Sea Ray 260 Sundancer, so I guess I’ll just find something else.”
We had names for that kind of person in grade school. Quitter was one of the kinder choices.
I suppose you should be certain that your expectations are realistic. Maybe there aren’t many 10-year-old Sundancers out there with less than 100 hours on them, with full canvas, twin big-blocks, generators, and air conditioning, for less than $25,00. Rather than settling for something you hadn’t set out for, maybe take a look in the mirror and be sure your goals are realistic. But don’t settle. That never works.
A previous version of this article appeared on Boat Trader in November 2015.