Choosing Your New Boat… Wisely

By Dennis Foster - January 23, 2017
The author discussing details at Dave's Marine in Webster, SD
In this article I will be conveying some of what I have gleaned over the years as it pertains to making one of (if not) the most significant of your outdoor investments. That being selecting the very best fishing boat to fit your personal needs and wants. Hopefully what I share makes picking out your dream boat just a little less stressful. After all, this should be a fun experience with anticipation building as you look over all the available makes, models and motors. With the advancements we have witnessed over the last couple of decades, todays boats have become far from just a floating means of conveyance.

Outfitted properly, they are now high horsepowered, finely tuned fish finding machines. They understandably also command loftier prices and buyer's remorse is the last thing you will want to feel after plopping down your hard earned money. Enjoyment from putting your new rig to use and the satisfaction of knowing you have received what is best for you, at a fair price and from people you can trust to back up and service your investment is…always the desired outcome. This goal is very achievable given you do some basic research.

The first thing you will want to have is a firm idea of exactly what you want the boat to do for you and your family/fishing partners. If you spend the vast majority of your time angling on smaller protected bodies of water with just one or two others in the boat, something in a 16 to 18 foot length and the 75 to 150 horsepower range may be plenty big enough for your needs. Either aluminum or fiberglass will provide a satisfactory ride given these parameters and the modest size will prove to be a bit more conducive to using the often more primitive ramps. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you regularly fish larger waters and wish to carry more in the way of passengers and equipment, a bigger boat would not only be favored, it becomes a necessity. Safety should always be your first concern.

In my opinion, if you spend the majority of your time plying big open water, then fiberglass is not merely a preference, it is a priority. I fully realize I may get a dab of argument from the die-hard tin men out there. Go ahead and debate it if you like, but facts are facts. Fiberglass just flat out offers a smoother, drier and ultimately safer ride than aluminum when encountering treacherous waters. The material allows for considerably more flexibility in design to direct the water away from the cockpit coupled with the strength and rigidity to bust through the nastiest of whitecaps-while acting as a natural shock absorber.

Fortunately, there are models from several manufacturers in this class that will get you to your destination and safely back. No matter what the conditions or how long the distance. Plus, some are laid out to fish quite well in addition to carrying about everything and anything you may ever need in the way of rods and tackle.

A good representation can be found in Lund's 8 models of the Pro-V GL Series that are purpose built and tournament tested to perform from the large reservoirs of the Plains all the way to the Great Lakes. Ranging in size from 18' 6" and 200 horses of Mercury's 4-stroke Verado power on up to the 21' 9" beast pushed by a 350 that I will be running this season. Considering the numerous options, there is something to interest most any serious angler.

Another quick opinion that many would readily agree with is that one should always hang maximum or at the very least, near maximum rated horsepower off the back. Pardon the pun, but an underpowered boat literally ends up being a drag. Or worse. Should you find yourself in hazardous conditions, the lack of power can severely limit your handling options and quickly become downright dangerous.

For a quick discussion on brand: You should seek a company with a proven record of innovation and a reputation for standing behind their products. Another consideration is attention to detail as reflected in the craftsmanship and consistent quality of fit and finish. After all, you could easily be talking about spending money equivalent to a new pickup purchase…perhaps more. You wouldn't accept a spartan interior or cheap uneven molding and poor fitting compartment doors, etc. on your pull vehicle would you? Why in the world would you settle for anything less on your new fishing rig? After all, we only get so many days on the water, they had just as well be spent in something as nice as possible.

I would further recommend doing some serious study on more than just the boat/motor package. There are plenty of reputable manufacturers with good to great models and motors to choose from. Look them all over, narrow your candidates and then select a good dealer. In my experience, this is the most critical consideration.

While kicking tires in the showroom or dazzling you under the bright lights and busy atmosphere of a sport show some may paint a quite rosy picture for you. That is all good and fine but when it comes time for scheduled maintenance or dealing with the occasional break down-where and who do you turn to? Now is the time for your dealer to represent you by standing behind the sale. You need help-not hype. This is the basis of an ongoing positive relationship. Believe me, the more professional and therefore successful dealers know this well.

As with a ladder, any dealership is only as strong as its lowest rung. Although service techs are for the most part, out of sight, in reality and over the long haul, they become the face of the dealership. Do not be bashful about obtaining opinions on service from current customers. It would even be wise to meet some of the staff and take a walk around the shop. Clean, orderly and well stocked with sufficient tools and equipment is an instant confidence booster. If you find the shop to be small, under-lit, under-stocked, dirty and or cluttered, you may be quickly headed for disappointment.

Other factors include having a good selection of parts and accessories on hand so as to help ensure you get quick, quality repairs and maintenance done right the first time. You also deserve fair pricing with accurate billing hours. Your boat is supposed to provide you with years of pleasure and dealing with those that make it become an expensive and ongoing problem can serve to quickly sour you. The guys in the shop are first in line and responsible for how this experience goes. But ultimately, it all reverts back to the business philosophy and integrity of the owners and management.

This opens further discussion of what you should expect during the sales process from a good dealer. This starts from first contact. Is the person answering the phone or who greets you courteous and positive? Does the staff have the knowledge and take the time to explain all features and options? Will they offer to let you water test the model or models you are interested in? Is there enough inventory on hand to be sure you have had a chance to weigh all possibilities? As opposed to being relegated to what they have left on the lot and need to move.

Better yet, are Pro Staff available to take you out for a day on the water fishing. This lets you examine and discern every single aspect of the boat. In real world conditions. It also lets you pose pertinent questions to the folks whose living depends on the boat functioning at all times and in adverse conditions. This becomes even more important as the price rises in the higher end fiberglass boats.

Once you have decided on the make and model, the next critical element to your ultimate enjoyment and satisfaction is getting her rigged right. This is imperative and attention to detail is critical. Mediocrity is not even remotely acceptable. Particularly with modern electronics. They demand that everything is hooked up correctly for them to perform their seemingly magic peering powers…properly. Power wires along with transducer and networking cables must be ran correctly to prevent any interference and not be in places where they can bind or catch on anything. Risking becoming nicked or cut. Sounds easy enough. But, is quite often neglected.

Even with more sophisticated brands such as the Raymarine units I have been using for years largely becoming plug and play machines; they still must be plugged into the proper places to play well together. As many of us run multiple units, this becomes even more crucial. Done well, we have full access to the utterly impressive amount of information right at our fingertips.

Traditional sonar has morphed into superior ClearPulse color chirp sonar complemented by both down and side vision capabilities. We also have amazingly accurate GPS chartplotters in conjunction with increasingly detailed background mapping from providers such as Navionics and others. My displays even utilize features such as SonarChart Live to instantly overlay and update our now personalized maps with up to the minute revisions. With this treasure trove of clues to the puzzle instantly at our disposal, we had just as well take advantage of it all. I personally have no quarrels with sharply tilting the field to my favor in a quest to catch more and bigger fish.

A new boat purchase is a major commitment in not just money, but even more importantly, your precious leisure time. As most of us do not have near enough of either, picking the perfect ride is of utmost importance. Do your homework, enjoy the journey and choose well my friends.

Author Dennis Foster
Dennis Foster
Dennis Foster is a Hunting/Fishing Guide and Outdoor Writer from Mellette, SD. If you would like to book a trip or have questions or comments, he can be reached through his websites www.dakotapheasantguide.com and www.eyetimepromotions.com.