How to choose a boat
Deciding how you’ll spend your time on the lake will point you in the right direction
By Kenneth Boone
Runabouts, wakeboarding boats, cabin cruisers, pontoons, bass boats, personal watercraft, deck boats, bow riders, center console fishing boats … With such a wide variety of pleasure boats on the market, how do you know what type of boat you should buy?
It’s a question that befuddles many people on the lake, especially first-time boat buyers.
According to Lake Martin boat salesmen, the best way to decide what type of boat you need is to first decide what activities you want to do in your boat.
Some people want a boat that’s loud, fast and showy; others seek slow, smooth and shady. Some boaters spend 90 percent of their time with a tow rope in the water while others are looking for a sleep-aboard so they can use their boat as a floating cabin.
Justin Shields, a salesperson at Blue Creek Marina, said the first thing he does when visiting with a new customer is to ask questions like, Have you owned a boat in the past? Do you have friends who own boats and have you ridden with them? What do you want out of your boat?
“It is all about the lifestyle and what you’re going to do in your boat,” said Shields, who has a decade’s experience selling boats. “The bottom line comes down to lifestyle.”
For example, if a boater intends to spend about 50 percent his time cruising and 50 percent on watersports, then he’s not in the market for a fishing boat or a cabin cruiser. But there are a number of runabouts and pontoons that could meet both of those needs.
“Pontoon boats are probably the most popular. It’s the most cost-effective if you have multiple families you want to entertain. It seats 12-17 people. With a large crowd, you can spend all day on it and have room to breathe,” Shields said. And a pontoon is perfectly capable of inducing thrills in skiers and tubers.
However, Sheilds is quick to point out that boaters’ needs change over time.
As those kids who learned to ski behind a pontoon grow into teens, the idea of being pulled behind a pontoon boat loses some of its charm.
“It doesn’t deliver in an exciting way,” Shields said.
Kowaliga Marina Manager Bo Bierley says the factors to consider include the normal number of passengers, specific features offered, smoothness of ride, budget, safety, and motor styles, to name a few.
As an example, Bierley said, “Some people like the inboard/outboard because the extended platform gives more usefulness on the back of the boat. Some like the outboard because it’s easier to maintain.”
Bierley said the key to helping a customer make the right decision is to pay attention.
“You talk a lot less than you listen,” he said.
He also suggested people in the market for a boat visit www.discoverboating.com, which he said is an excellent resource.
Bierley said that once you’ve got your choices down to two boats, a demo ride can be a “really, really good way” to make the right decision.
“Bring everybody down who’s normally going to go with you and take 30 minutes to an hour and touch, feel and experience the boat,” he said. “It’s an investment and you want to make the right choice. That’s probably one of the best tools to determine that we’ve got the right fit.”
David Hare, co-owner of Alex City Marine, said he recently helped a customer who bought his first place on the lake, got a boater’s license two weeks later and began looking for his first boat the next day.
“He thought he might want a ski boat,” Hare said.
But by asking questions, listening and offering advice, Hare helped his customer come to better understand of his needs.
Hare learned that there would usually be 10 people on board which narrowed it down to a deck boat or a pontoon, then discussed price to determine whether the boat would be new or used, then further determined that there was no need for a trailer.
So the customer who came in looking at a ski boat took home a pontoon that was better fit for his specific situation.
Here are some other observations made by Lake Martin boat dealers:
Most people who trailer their boats stay away from big, wide pontoon boats that are hard to manage on a trailer and choose smaller runabouts or fishing boats instead.
Lake Martin is unusual because it is so large and can get very rough on busy holiday weekends or during storms. Bierley said that the length of a boat has more to do with the smoothness of the ride than any other factor. Like a long-wheelbase on a car, a long boat will have a smoother ride, whether it’s a runabout or a pontoon. Steven Yearkey, co-owner of Alex City Marine, said he’s sold on the smooth ride of a pontoon boat. “A pontoon boat never jars you, it may rock a little bit, but it never, ever jars you.”
If you are looking for a quiet ride, it’s important to realize that there are three sources of noise on a moving boat: engine noise, water hitting the boat’s hull and wind noise. A four-stroke outboard is extremely quiet. A pontoon usually has less hull contact with the water. Wind noise can be controlled by a windshield and closed cabin design.
If you plan to leave your boat in the water – say you have a dock but not a boat lift – then pontoons might be a better choice because their metal pontoons can spend years in the water with little ill effects. A boat with a gel coat hull will blister over time if it is left permanently in the water.
Deciding what type of boat fits your needs is a tough decision, and when you boil it all down, there may not be one answer. There may be two. In fact, that’s the facts of lake life for many, if not most, people on Lake Martin.
Drive along the shoreline and take a look at what’s docked in single-family boathouses. Many lake houses have two or even three types of boats, usually for very different uses.
“Me personally, I’ve got two boats, a bass boat for fishing and a pontoon boat for the family,” Yearkey said. “My wife doesn’t care anything about bouncing around on the water.”
Bierley estimates that 60 percent of Kowaliga Marina’s customers have more than one boat, maybe a runabout and a personal watercraft, or a pontoon and a fishing boat.
Hare said, “Most of the people who have a place on the lake, just about all of them have two boats … Something for pleasure and something for fishing. And if not, they’re going to have something for pleasure and a personal watercraft. Just about everybody has at least two.”
Sheilds said Lake Martin is a “pontoon boat-and-something lake.”
“It’s definitely a two-boat lake,” he said. “No doubt.”
Finally, no matter what your wants and needs, the decision of what type of boat to buy is very often not completely up to you, as Bierley said he’s learned helping Lake Martin boaters.
“Momma has a lot to do with what kind of boat we get.”