Time for a New Boat?

Bentley pontoon

by John Tiger


It’s here—boating season is in full swing. Maybe you’re happy with your present rig; maybe you’re tired of it and dreaming of a different ride. Though the off-season is typically the best time to save on a new boat, in-season is the time that for used rigs, the selection may be better. At the very least, trying out rigs is much easier in the summer months, especially up north.

Older pontoon with Evinrude 70

Though it makes more sense financially to buy used, there’s nothing like being the first to own a new rig. But if you’re going to spend all that coin, get what you want and buy it right.

  • Buy at the right time; there are great deals in the off season and during boat shows to entice buyers to buy. In-season, it makes sense to buy mid-summer or later in the warm months, as dealers are looking to move current model year inventory to make room for next year’s models. Cash back, “free” options and upgrades, financing incentives, extra warranty, free storage, even a free trailer are commonly used as bait for new boat buyers. Don’t be afraid to spend time with dealers going through all the deals.
  • The dealer’s representation and reputation is at least as important as the boat/engine brand and reputation. This is a very, very important lesson to learn. Boat dealers are not in any way like car dealers. In today’s world, it doesn’t matter where you bought your car-any dealer will service it with a smile. Not so with boat dealers; even today, they are still very territorial and will make no bones about servicing customers who bought from them first, and all others have to wait. That’s vital in a short boating season!
All banged up


Buying used is a great alternative. Used boats come with warranties too; it’s all in where you buy and the deal you make. Speak with local dealers before you consider; many won’t work on rigs older than a decade. Says Kim Hubbard, owner of Centerville Marina (www.centervillemarina.com) in Chesapeake, Virginia: “We broker boats for our good customers, but their boat must pass a $150 multiple-point check before we will stand behind it.”

Tips for buying used:

Check message boards on older models; ask lots of questions about durability, quality and reliability.

If you can, steer clear of rigs older than the mid-90s. Quality and features have come a long way in the past fifteen years or so, and rigs built in the 2000s will be more reliable and easier to maintain.

  • Excellent outboards include all the modern brands: Mercury, Evinrude/Johnson, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Tohatsu. All of these engines are quite good and have reliable service histories. Mercury MerCruiser and Volvo Penta are the only brands to consider if you’re looking at stern drive rigs. If you stick to engines made 10 years ago and newer, you’ll be buying reliability and newer technology.
  • Try to find boats and engines that have documented usage hours. Typically, anything over 400 or so hours should be considered carefully; the lower the usage hours the better, with good maintenance and upkeep records. Later outboards—those four strokes and direct-injected two-strokes built after 2000 or so—will typically last far longer than older models. It’s not uncommon to buy newer engines with well over 500 hours that are still in excellent condition, and will last another 500 hours or more easily. Older two-strokes built before 2000 are usually at their lifecycle limit at this point.
  • Spend a little extra to hire a marine surveyor. This reveals any anomalies with the boat, and lets you know if you’re simply buying someone else’s headache. Surveyors can be found at the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) and the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS)


Most times, the boat outlasts the powerplant. If your boat’s still seaworthy and you feel no need to replace it, consider repowering. Outboard hulls are great for this, and are often repowered many times in their life before they’re put out to pasture. There are many large outboard dealers who specialize in repowers. Rob Gina, owner of Boatwrench (www.boatwrench.com) in Orlando, Florida notes “We repower hundreds of outboard and stern drive hulls every year. It’s a viable option considering the cost of a new boat.” When repowering, consider upgrading related systems; for example, perhaps upgrade from cable to hydraulic steering, and upgrade the controls and dash instruments for the newer engine.