Shopping for a Boat: When and Where to Buy
Shopping for a boat can be a long process, and even after spending days, weeks, or months narrowing down your choices (use our Boat Finder tool if you’re still puzzling over what boat is the best fit for your needs) you might be wondering when and where you should actually make the purchase. The options boil down to:
- Buying at a boat dealership
- Buying at a boat show
- Buying manufacturer-direct
- Buying a boat online
- Buying from a private seller
Buying at a Boat Dealership
Buying at a boat dealership has a number of advantages: most dealers service what they sell, so you’ll establish a relationship with the business that will likely be taking care of your needs in the future and will want your repeat business; dealerships tend to be extremely familiar with the specific brands they sell and service; they can act as an ally and a conduit between you and the manufacturer if warranty work is necessary; and they can assist with arranging boat financing.
Of course, as is true with any sort of business, all boat dealers are not created equally. You should feel comfortable interacting with the salespeople, make a point to check out the service department, and verify that you’re dealing with a Marine Industry Certified Dealership.
Buying at a Boat Show
When you buy at a boat show you’ll usually still be purchasing from a dealership, but it could significantly affect the timing of your purchase. Dealers are at those shows for one reason—to sell boats—and many offer discounts or special deals that are limited to the boat show. No one should ever feel rushed or pressured into signing on the dotted line, but if you go to a show prepare to purchase on the spot, you may get a better deal.
Most boat manufacturers sell through dealerships and will refer customers to their local dealers, but in some cases it may be possible to buy manufacturer-direct. Usually, this will be with smaller manufacturers that may not have a national dealer footprint. The experience isn’t very different from buying through a dealership, but you should always research the builder and make sure that it’s NMMA certified.
This ensures its boats meet not only U.S. Coast Guard minimums, but also to the more stringent standards of the American Boat & Yacht Council.
Buying a Boat Online
These days, some boats can even be purchased with the click of a mouse. With the exception of services like eBay usually this method of boat-buying is reserved for boats small enough to be shipped directly to a residence. It may be possible to get the best price by buying online, but remember that once you take delivery you’ll be on your own.
Buying From a Private Seller
Normally, if you buy from a private seller you’ll be looking at a used boat or possibly a new boat that was purchased unfinished. We listed this option last on purpose, because it’s often the least-desirable way to buy a boat. Sure, you may get what seems like a great deal. But this is a situation where the expression “buyer beware” is applicable.
Boat Buying Tips
Again, we want to stress that for many people the process of shopping for and buying a boat is a long-term endeavor that no one should be rushed into. Do lots of research, utilize our Boat Buyer’s Guide, and once you’re confident that you’ve found the best boat for your personal aquatic adventures, remember that:
1. You should take a sea trial, to so you know that the boat performs up to your expectations.
2. Make sure the financing that’s being offered is the best deal for you, personally. Read Boat Loan Basics, to understand all the options.
3. You may get a better deal if you buy during the off-season. It’s not worth sacrificing a season of boating to save a few bucks, but if the timing is such that the dead of winter is a convenient time to buy it can work to your advantage.
4. If you’re ordering a boat instead of buying right off the showroom floor, ask the dealer if they can pass on a discount by avoiding “floor plan” (credit they may use to buy boats for display). Some can give a slight discount for a boat that’s paid for before it’s built and delivered.
5. If you’re not concerned with having the latest and greatest, consider buying a previous-year model. Just as with automobiles, when the new model year comes out a dealer may be willing to discount older model left-overs.
For additional information on the buying process, be sure to visit our Boat Buyer's Guide. If you'd like to learn more about what type of boats are available, check out our Boat Finder tool or read Choosing the Right Boat: Buying Guide for Recreational Boating.