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Take advantage of boating off-season winter months to research, shop and buy your next new or used boat

If you are in the market for buying a boat – new or used – winter can be the perfect time to go boat shopping.

In most areas, boating comes to a standstill during the winter months. But even if you can’t get out on the water, you can still actively shop for your next boat.

Sometimes even if you didn’t think you were in the market for a boat you end up online researching and daydreaming about that next boat anyway. Boaters usually have a little extra time on their hands during the winter months to do that.

To get a jump on the spring buying season, winter boat shopping is the way to go. Here are some tips to make the most of winter months when you are shopping for a boat.



Tips for Winter Boat Shopping

Research boat models and types online. A favorite pastime of many boaters is looking at boats for sale online. I personally prefer the big sites like yachtworld.com to explore boats by size, type, price, geographic area and more.

If you are checking out a certain model expanding your search to include a broader geographic area will show you more variety in price and options offered on that boat model. And for the right boat you may be willing to go out of your region to buy it – sometimes you can find a better deal in another state or province, or find an option that you really want (like a hard top).

Our last two boat purchases were made out of state and it was worth it to get the boat model and price we were looking for (particularly since we got a repo boat deal on our last boat upgrade).

Get a boat guide to compare models. Not sure what boat type, brand or model is right for you? Pick up a copy of the latest PowerBoat Guide (<—–this is the 2017 edition) that gives you a comprehensive listing of all powerboat models, both old and new. It lists boats in categories (like motoryachts, cruisers or sportfishing), and then brands, sizes, models and boat years in an easy to reference order.

Each listing has a photo, interior floor plan layout images (which I find VERY helpful because cabin interior is important to me), and descriptions with boat highlights/options offered.

A price range for boats by model year (resale high-low values) is also listed in the back of the book. (note – this book is a little pricey but worth it when you consider the investment you are making in a boat).

marine appraisal guideCheck out resale values of boats. If you are serious about making an offer on a used boat, then be sure to invest in the latest NADA Marine Appraisal Guide (<—-this is the 2014 edition, which appears to the be the latest available right now) to ensure you are well-informed of the resale value of the boat.

Market comparisons online are good, but actual appraisal values of a boat that take into consideration condition, engines and options will give you the best fair value range.

The NADA Guide is similar to the Kelley Blue Book for cars. This book can be used in addition to the Powerboat Guide. The book is updated three times a year so you get the most up to date information (make sure you buy the most current copy – new versions are issued in January, May and September for the previous quarter).

Attend a winter boat show. Sometimes stepping on board a variety of boat types and models is the best way to determine what type of boat is most comfortable for you. You can get to see the biggest variety of options in boats by attending a boat show.

There are usually some great boat shows in the winter months – both smaller regional shows and larger international shows (like Miami in February). If you are in the market for a new boat, dealers are always offering incentives at boat shows and are ready to make you a deal.

Winter is also a great time to buy a new boat because you can ensure there is plenty of time for you to get the options you want and get delivery in time for the start of boating season.

Don’t wait for spring to inquire about a boat. A lot of times used boats for sale are wrapped up for the winter and can’t even be looked at until the shrink wrap comes off in the spring. Not a good way to sell a boat, but this is often the case.

We sold our last boat during the month of December because the boat broker we used opted to keep our boat in the water (with the safety of bubblers) and keep it highly visible past the end of boating season. (This can be a great advantage of buying and selling a boat with a dealer). So don’t assume that just because it is winter, cold and even snowy in your area that you can’t look at a used boat that is listed for sale.

Many brokers take off around the holidays (they seem to disappear the last few weeks of December and return early January), but they are usually ready and willing to show boats. It may be difficult to do a sea trial during the dead of winter, but you can at least get the process going… look at the boat, check into financing and even make an offer dependent on a sea trial and survey.

Getting a Deal Buying a Used boat

If you are in the market for a used boat, the two windows of opportunity where you can usually get a good deal are definitely spring and fall. And here is why…

The end of a boating season in the fall (around September and October) is a good opportunity to cut a deal because sellers need to start planning for winter storage if their boat doesn’t sell. In many cases they will shrink wrap their boat for the winter and essentially put their boat sale on hold until spring.

Not only do they have to put out more money to winterize and shrink wrap their boat, but their chances of a sale during winter become slim. Sellers are usually eager to cut their losses and make a deal to sell their boat before winter.

The other big boat buying opportunity is in early spring (March and April). Sellers are facing a similar scenario of increased costs if they do not sell their boat before the boating season starts. There are spring maintenance costs, boat slips or dry storage costs that they will need to incur to keep their boat in good selling condition and readily accessible for buyers.

Selling a boat before the peak boating season starts will save them money. And in many cases these sellers already upgraded to a larger boat at that point, so they may be holding onto two boat payments and boating expenses (a dilemma known as the two boat owner blues).

So be sure to make the most of the spring boat buying season in the winter months!

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Diane Seltzer

Founder & Editor at My Boat Life
Diane is the founder of MyBoatLife.com as well as the boating lifestyle site for kids BoaterKids.com. She is also active in the boating industry, serving as the marketing director for a marine sunshade product, SureShade, and founder of Marine Marketing Tools, a collaborative site for sharing marine marketing best practices. Diane is also the author of the children's book The Amazing Adventures of Boat Girl.

4 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you mentioned that September and October are some of the best times to buy a boat! I’m planning on buying one so my family and I can start trying new things! Knowing when the best time to buy one is will definitely save some money and allow us to spend money on more fun things to do as a family.

  2. I liked that you pointed out that buying a boat before pick boating season can save you money. It is good to know that most boaters have already bought their boats already. My father has been wanting to get a boat for a long time and this is really good thing for me to tell him about.

  3. Thanks for the tips for buying a boat! My wife and I really want to buy a boat this year, so we are trying to get information on where to start. I like that you mentioned to think about the resale value of a boat when purchasing. It makes sense that you would want to think about how much you could sell it for when you want to get rid of it in the future. I will make sure to do some research in this area.

  4. Thanks for these tips. I assume that the same set of guidelines can be considered for scouting a prospective boat to rent. From my experience, it is always advantageous to bring along a nautical mechanic to inspect the motors of the said boats.

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