Memo to first-time boat buyers: There are no brakes -- or turn signals. But there are thousands of other bells and whistles that might help get you out on the water and back safely.
Before you start peeling off the hundred-dollar bills, think about why you're buying a boat. Then consider storage, financing, insurance, fuel, maintenance, new or used, power or sail and how to avoid getting stuck in shallow water (or, in nautical terms, running aground).
The biggest mistake people make, Keith Ammons said, is buying the wrong boat.
"They want to fish, and they buy a boat for water sports," he said.
Known as "The Boating Guy," he works for the National Marine Manufacturer's Association. He first asks three questions:
- What do you want to do -- fish, spend the night or go for an afternoon outing with the family?
- Where do you want to do your boating -- fresh water, saltwater, along the coast, at a lake?
- What kind of budget do you have?
If you have small children and just want to have fun for the day, he suggests a bowrider or deckboat. They have lots of room for family and friends and are good for tooling around calmer waters. The kids can go swimming off the back.
The price can range from $10,000 to $40,000 for these 17-to-22-footers.
Heavier, more powerful boats might come with a 130-hp sterndrive engine and some electronics. For $40,000, you get a more powerful engine, nice cushions and other equipment.
Engines can be outboard, inboard or sterndrive. Each has pluses and minuses on basic cost, fuel consumption, noise level and ease of maintenance.
Capt. Dennis Forgione, who owns the charter boat Free Spool, based at Haulover Inlet, suggests that buyers do a little research about the manufacturer before buying.
"It's so easy to just go to a show," he said. "All boat-show boats look great. Spontaneous buying is a mistake."
Open all the hatches, and examine a boat carefully. Even if you're not sure what you're looking at, you can recognize good or poor workmanship.
"They can make boats look real pretty on the outside," Forgione said.
And make sure you get the price of everything. Some boats don't always come with electronics or safety equipment, which can be thousands more.
And keep resale in mind.
"You're probably going to sell," Marshall said. "It's not important to you at the time you're buying," but it will be.
There are books and Web sites -- just as for used cars -- on used-boat prices. Brokers have access to recent sales figures as well.
Marshall also suggests that you deal with someone who has marine credentials, who's been around boats and the water for a while.
And once you've decided to buy, "a safe boating course would be a really good idea," Forgione said.