Whether you're looking for a new bass fishing boat or a luxury yacht, the boat buying process can get complicated. Boats seem to come in an endless array of sizes, designs, materials and purposes. If you're not careful, somewhere in the flurry of upholstery choices, wood types and finishes, and engine options, you can completely lose sight of the budget. That's why it's a good idea to plan ahead, and set out to do your shopping at the right time and in the right place.
The Forbes Sailboat Buying Guide notes that purchasing a boat is a highly emotional experience. But even as you follow your heart, it pays to be rational. Sometimes, it pays big. So we gathered some tips and tricks from the best minds in the business to help you get a great deal on your boat purchase.
1. Timing can make or break you.
So when is the best time to buy a boat? For most buyers, winter is prime deal time. According to Boating magazine, "Late fall is pretty good too, when everyone wants to move inventory." However, the answer is a bit more complicated. Christine Kaplan, owner of the 40-year-old brokerage City Yachts, said timing is a regional question. "If you live in California, the best time to buy is 24 hours a day, all year long." But if you're located in the Northeast, where there are definite on and off seasons, you should always aim for the off season.
"You want to buy when the owners are paying for the boat, but not using it," said Kaplan, "Not at the start of summer." Owners and brokers are more willing to cut you a discount when business is slow, and they have several months to wait before hitting the water again.
2. Regional boat shows are rife with deals.
Seattle, Newport Beach, North Carolina, Florida, New York, even Dubai and Europe -- take your pick of a location, and save big on your new boat. Many of the big boat shows happen in winter, specifically December in warm climates like Florida. In colder locales, you can look for boat show season to start early in the spring. Kaplan notes that these events are often a great place to get good prices on the boat you've been wanting.
Besides discounts on a huge selection of boats, you don't want to miss out on the information you can gather at the shows. Discover Boating said, "Boat shows are a quick and convenient way to get familiar with manufacturers and compare their products." You get to check out a wide variety of makes, sizes, hull shapes and speeds, and maybe even take one for a spin. Many boat festivals invite you to bring the whole family and take part a fun day of demonstrations, seminars and activities. Even if you don't take home a boat that day, you might make a few good memories in the process.
3. Shop local, but always shop around.
Just like with any major purchase, don't go with the first dealer you meet, and don't take the first boat you see in the local classified ads. You will spend a lot of time using your boat, so do your homework. Discover Boating explains, "Shopping around gives you an opportunity to compare and contrast prices, models and more. Finding the right dealer always works wonders in the long run, for your pocket and your fun."
If you're new to the process of buying a boat, Kaplan recommends that you shop with a nearby brokerage. "That way you get the best service possible," she said. "Deal with someone who's been in the business a long time." Kaplan notes that the right boat for you will depend on what you're going to do with it. A local dealer can talk with you about where and how you want to do your boating, and point you in the right direction.
4. For some boat purchases, you need a reputable broker on your side.
"The more expensive the boat you are considering, the more essential it is to have a good broker," advises Forbes magazine. "A broker will bring a huge body of knowledge to the process, understanding about different makes and models of boats, and a network of other brokers to draw upon for information."
Much like a car broker, the right boat broker saves you time and worry. A broker can act as your voice of experience and reason, conduct thorough market research, and make sure you're getting the right boat at the best price possible. In some cases, you never even have to set foot in a dealership at all.
5. Finance your boat through a marine lender.
Kaplan explains, "If you're going to finance your boat, you should always go through a marine lender, not a commercial bank." Unlike marine lenders, "Banks just don't understand the product." In the world of finance, boats fall into a strange middle ground, somewhere between a car and a home. Like cars, boats depreciate in value, but like a vacation home, the interest is usually tax deductible, Kaplan says.
Even though it's a niche market, Kaplan notes that marine lenders are very competitive. So do shop around for the best financing terms you can find.
6. Let an independent agent shop for boat insurance.
The best way to save on a boat policy is to talk with a local, independent agent, such as a member of the Trusted Choice® network, about your options. Unlike a captive agent who only offers products and services from one insurer, an independent agent can shop multiple boat policies from many different carriers, to find the coverage the best fits your boat and your boating habits. A Trusted Choice agent can also advocate for you with your insurance company if you ever have an accident, and can give you straight answers about how much coverage is right for you.
7. Enjoy the experience.
"The most important thing is to have a good time," said Kaplan. "I got into this business because I love the atmosphere." And that's a great point. You're buying a boat. How amazing is that? So don't stress, and don't rush. Take your time. Savor the adventure, and let yourself fall in love at just the right time.