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BRIAN JOHNSON ON OUTDOORS: Boat buying guide

Summertime is the time of year when people are drawn to the lakes, bays, and rivers. If you are going to enjoy the water and all that it has to offer, you or someone you know needs to have a boat.

I have heard that the two happiest days of a man’s life are the day he buys his boat and the day he sells it. I have also heard that BOAT stands for bout oh another thousand. In other words the repairs can get costly and they can come frequently. However, if you buy the right boat and take care of it, you can have years of pleasure and make some great memories.

There are many different types of boats from bass boats to bay boats, offshore boats to pleasure boats, bowfishing boats, duck boats … the list is long. In fact at the present time I personally have a pair of duck boats and a pair of bass boats. I guess you could call me a boat lover.

Through the years I have learned a thing or two that can help you when you get ready to purchase your next boat.

The first thing you need to do is to decide what type of boat you are going to buy. There are many boats that are multi-use, but it still important to figure out you needs. If you are fishing offshore, obviously that is going to take a different type of boat than you would need if you were running jug lines in the bayou.

When determining the best type of boat, don’t be afraid to talk to other boat owners or to seek out the advice of a fishing club. Ask to go for a boat ride or pay for a guided trip. This will be money well spent to help you decide the perfect fit.

Once you have decided on the perfect boat, the next question will be whether to buy new or used. This is totally a matter of preference and a matter of budget. New bass boats for example can cost up to $100,000. Offshore boats cost considerably more than bass boats. The advantages of a new boat are obvious. They are new, should be relatively trouble free, they require no immediate work, they are shiny, and everyone will think you are cool! The down side is the cost. If you aren’t able to buy your new boat with cash, most banks are more than willing to finance. In order to get the payment down low enough, it isn’t uncommon for the note to be 120 or more months long. That means you will be paying on this boat for 10 years. This is well after the new wears off! For me, the only choice has been to buy a used boat that I could afford to pay cash for.

Before you purchase your boat, you need to make sure that you have a large enough tow vehicle to handle it. Don’t expect to pull a 21-foot fiberglass bass boat with a small four-cylinder truck. You would be disappointed in the results. Every vehicle has a towing capacity. Make sure that the total weigh of the boat and trailer loaded down with gear and gasoline does not exceed the towing capacity of the truck. In fact, it has been recommended to me to try to stay below 85% capacity.

Speaking of towing … the boat trailer matters! In fact, it could be considered as the most important part of the deal. However, the boat trailer is often given the least amount of thought. This is especially true when buying used. Guess what though. … if the trailer is broken or a wheel bearing is bad, you aren’t going to the lake. Pay attention to the trailer! Unless the boat is a real light boat, tandem axle might be the best idea. One great advantage is that if you have a blowout or lose a bearing, you can still limp home on three tires. (I’ve been there and done that.). When inspecting the trailer, check for rust and cracks, make sure the lights work, and check the brakes. Push on the wheels to see if the bearings are tight and carefully inspect the tires. Not only will you want to look for tire wear, you will need to check for dry rot as well. I tire that has only a few miles on it but has been sitting for 10 years in not a safe tire. If you find issues with the trailer be sure to point them out to the seller and use them to help negotiate a lower price.

After a full trailer inspection, you will want to move to the hull of the boat. Crawl under the boat and check for and scratches, dents, or gouges. Check the transom to make sure it is strong. It is not uncommon for an older boat to have a weak transom. A good way to test this is to stand on the lower part of the motor and bounce a bit trying to make the transom flex. If it flexes, it is weak. Avoid it like the plague or plan to pay a $3000 plus repair bill.

Once this is done, move to the inside of the boat and check for soft spots in the floor, upholstery issues, carpet condition etc. Check inside of the boxes and in the area where the batteries are stored. If something looks questionable then ask questions. Take the time to go over every switch and control to make sure that they work. If the boat has depth finders or a trolling motor, you will want to check these as well.

Next is the main motor. In order to adequately check the motor, you should do a minimum of two things:

First check the compression on all cylinders (a simple YouTube video will explain how to do this). Next, insist on a boat ride. Pay attention to how the boat starts, how it shifts, how it idles, and how it sounds. Is everything smooth? Do alarms go off? Does it smoke excessively? If it is an outboard motor, is the cooling water steam strong? How is the steering? Are you satisfied with the way the boat handles? These are all things to consider before you lay down your hard earned cash.

As lengthy as this list is, it is not all inclusive. There are many other things that you can inspect when buying a boat so do a little research before shopping. Always keep in mind that a used boat is simply a used boat. You should not expect everything to be in brand new condition. In fact some things might not work at all. A broken gauge or messed up trolling motor might not be a deal breaker but it can be leverage for you as the buyer when negotiating the price. Always negotiate and ask for the lowest price. Most sellers are aware that you will do this and therefore ask more than they really want anyway. When you buy a used boat there is typically no warranty and you buy as is. Be sure to save a little money for the initial clean up or minor repairs that you will want to do immediately.

The final thing that I make sure to do is this: When buying a boat, as with any major purchase, I always pray that God will give me wisdom and guide me in my decision. Once I make the purchase I pray that He blesses those who get to go fishing in the boat and I even pray that he will help us catch fish! I read a story one time where He helped some fisherman fill there nets and I’ve been asking Him for help ever since!

Brian Johnson, originally of Port Neches, is pastor of First Baptist Church of Winnie, owner of DuckDogTrainer.com and outdoors writer for The News.