I wish that I could say that I had purchased my first boat as intelligently as I purchased my second one. Unfortunately for most first-time boat owners that is about as likely as not having to endure the god-awful start up line "Do you know which are the two best days of a boat-owner's life?" from at least twenty acquaintances in your first month of ownership. By following some simple and inexpensive steps and considering lessons learned from first-timers, you can avoid the fulfilling the punchline and be on your way to a rewarding and educational hobby.
First, if you are already looking at actual boats in the process of buying your first boat, do not proceed any further until you can attest to the completion of the following checklist. I don't care how beautiful she is, if you already have a named picked out, or if its an incredible deal — do not consider buying your first boat unless you have:
* Detailed what you plan to do with your boat (overnighting/weekending, fishing, day cruising, wake-boarding, etc.)
* Ridden on (and preferably commanded) a similar boat on the body of water you will be using your boat in varying conditions
* Completed a boater's safety course approved by your State's Boating Regulatory Commission
* Considered the peripheral costs of boat ownership (storage, maintenance, fuel, insurance, and on and on and on)
* Truly determined if you are a "boat person" and if you have the time to dedicate to the hobby
* Realized whether or not you are capable of performing the duties of a boat owner and if not, can afford to outsource them
If you cannot with absolution answer "yes" to the above litany, it is not time to be buy your first boat. It is time for you to make friends with a boat owner, rent a boat, or to consider an alternative hobby. If you do not heed the advice above, you will find yourself fonder of the day you rid yourself of your first vessel regardless of how much you find that you love owning a boat.
When I purchased my first boat, a beautiful 30' Chris Craft Express Cruiser, I could only answer "yes" to the fact that I had completed a boater's safety course (which in fact I had done the weekend prior and not on the water but ONLINE - where all great captains master their seaworthiness). I found the boat via an online posting (bad idea #1), traveled to another body and type of water to sea trial the vessel (bad idea #2), did not trust my gut feeling that the boat may have some issues (bad idea #3) and did not consider sufficient alternatives before proceeding with the purchase (bad idea #4). I did however perform a full title search with vessel history check, command the vessel under varying conditions, consider the opinion of an independent and knowledgeable boat mechanic, and sleep on the decision prior to completing the purchase (good ideas #1-4),
These efforts are better than some and were sufficient for me to proceed with buying my first boat. Long story short, it ended in disaster with multiple breakdowns, a blown engine, A/C system failures, replacing multiple electrical system components, an entire year of stagnation while I considered what to do, and eventually with me donating the vessel to charity (I didn't even get to enjoy that blissful second best day of owning my first boat!).
For the purchase of my second boat, things went far more smoothly from the vessel search process through the first years of ownership. I am confident that she will continue to serve my needs for years to come. Here are some of the things I considered when buying my second boat:
* What did I really intend to use the boat for? (Day-cruising a busy inland lake with room for at least 6-8 people)
* How could I know I was looking at a reliable and well-maintained craft without the expense of going new? (a trusted mechanic helped me find it)
* Where would I store it or provide access to my chosen waterway(s)? (In the slip next to my broken down piece of crap!)
By learning from the mistakes of my first purchase, I knew for certain that I loved owning a boat and found it to be a rewarding experience and that was the foundation for forming new friends, extending family time and spurned new hobbies and education. A smarter first purchase would have only served to strengthen that position and potentially avoided a one-time frustration preventing me from experiencing a great passion. If you are in the market for your first boat, heed this captain's advice and do as I said and not as I did.