Recreation & Destinations

How to Choose the Right Boat

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It’s just about time to hit the water for another great boating season. Here are a few things you need to know about selecting and maintaining the perfect watercraft.

The popular MasterCraft line of boats is built for a wide range of water activities, but it’s especially loved for watersports and speed. (MasterCraft Boats of Chicago photo)

The popular MasterCraft line of boats is built for a wide range of water activities, but it’s especially loved for watersports and speed. (MasterCraft Boats of Chicago photo)

As soon as the snow recedes and the ice melts, people look longingly at the lakes and rivers and wish for a boat of their own. Area boat retailers offer some pointers about selecting an appropriate watercraft.

The first question that prospective buyers need to ask themselves is what they want to do in the boat. Whether it’s fishing, skiing, cruising around or doing a little bit of everything, how you use the boat will determine which craft is right for you.

Gordy’s Marine in Lake Geneva is a Cobalt and MasterCraft dealer, and sells boats suited to a variety of uses.

“The higher-end Cobalt is a runabout, general-purpose luxury boat with a deep-V hull for a smooth ride,” says Tom Whowell, owner/partner and director of boat sales for Gordy’s. “It’s good for cruising, tubing, skiing – it’s a great choice for all-around, all-purpose boating. If you’re into touring the lake, entertaining or luxury cruising, Cobalt is a good choice.”

But, if loud music and fast action are more preferred, consider the popular MasterCraft line, says Whowell.

“MasterCraft is made for watersports,” he says. “With its high-powered stereos, towers, racks and other accessories, it’s good for kids or adults who love speed and movement. These boats are super-cool, super-fun and super-easy to drive. They have a flatter hull geared toward performance. What’s really popular with this line is the wake-shaping devices. If you want a smoother or rougher wake, you can have whatever you want with the touch of a preset button. People are loving this kind of tech and it’s really driving sales.”

Jeremy Anderson, sales manager at Gage Marine, in Williams Bay, Wis., on Geneva Lake, also sells MasterCraft and says the line is a good choice for wake surfing enthusiasts.

“Surfing is quickly becoming the hottest watersport on all of the lakes around us,” Anderson says. “It’s relatively easy for all ages to learn, the speeds are slow, and when you fall it doesn’t hurt. It’s also easy to do when the lake is busy because you’re right behind the boat. MasterCraft’s Gen2 Surf System, which generates and controls the wake, is the most advanced surf system on the market.”

Gage Marine also carries the Bennington, Boston Whaler, Monterey and Centurion boat lines. If the plan is to cruise the lake and view the cabins and shoreline, a pontoon might be a good fit, says Anderson. In particular, he recommends the Bennington, one of the most popular pontoon brands available.

“Pontoon boats are probably the fastest growing segment of boating right now,” Anderson says. “You can get pontoons from 20 to 28 feet long, with a small outboard or all the way up to a big V8 sterndrive in them.”

In the past, pontoons were little more than a floating platform. Those days are gone.

“Pontoons aren’t the same as your grandparents had,” Anderson says. “Today they’re made for watersports, and they have larger engines that are built for better performance. Almost none of them have carpet anymore. Instead, they use faux teak or Seagrass floors that are easy to hose off and clean up easily. The 24SSRX is one of our most popular models. The new Blackout Edition is really sharp.”

Randy Drozd, service manager at Five Star Boat Center in Fox Lake, agrees with Anderson that the modern pontoons have come a long way. Many past models, he says, looked chintzy and lacked aesthetic appeal, but many newer models are fairly elegant and stylish.

“The Larson Escape line of pontoons is very classy,” Drozd says. “The interiors actually look almost like a car. They come with everything you could possibly want and are very versatile. You can go fishing, skiing – do whatever you want.”

Drozd recommends that, when looking for a new boat, prospective buyers should remember that boating is a social activity. Accordingly, it’s hard to determine how many seats you’ll need by simply counting family members.

“Kids are always bringing friends, or you’re inviting relatives, too,” he says. “Each boat has a capacity plate that tells you the weight and number of people who are safely and legally allowed aboard. Once you know how many people you’re going to have on the boat, make sure it’s legal and you’re looking at the right size.”

Another good rule of thumb, Drozd says, is not to judge a boat’s capacity by the seating arrangement.

“Just because a boat has eight seats doesn’t mean you should have eight people in the boat,” he says. “Make sure you pay attention to that capacity plate.”

Once the search is narrowed down to a couple of options, the next step is to take it for a spin.

“If people are looking for a boat – any old boat – the best thing for them to do is come in and take a look at everything we have, and try some out on the water for themselves,” says Anderson of Gage Marine. “We believe in ‘try before you buy,’ so that we know you’re getting the right boat for you.”

Another important factor, when purchasing a boat, is the kind of support you’ll receive after making the purchase.
“A lot of places will sell you the boat and you’ll never see them again,” Drozd says. “But the support is what it’s all about. I’d say 80 percent of people who buy a boat are new boat owners, and they approach it like they’re buying a car. Truth is, boats are different and the new owners need guidance.”

There are several questions to consider before you buy.

“What happens after the sale?” Drozd asks. “Customers need to ask, ‘If I have a question, can I call you? Can you help me out?’”

Keeping your boat properly maintained and serviced can help to prevent a weekend ruined by boat troubles, says Whowell, of Gordy’s.

“There are only so many weekends in the summer, and you want to be able to get the most out of them,” he says. “You want to make sure your boat is ready to go or easy to repair right away.”

Proper service begins with a reliable dealership, one that will have your back if something goes wrong.

“If you don’t know boats, know your dealer,” says Whowell. “Know that your dealer is there to support you and build a long-term relationship. It’s not only about the product but how the dealer supports its products. It’s about the overall boat-owning experience.”

Before buying, be sure to visit some potential marinas and boat sellers, to find out who makes support a priority.

At Five Star, customers are reminded ahead of the spring rush to get their boats prepped.

“I’ve seen people do this with their lawn mowers, too, waiting until the grass is already tall before getting their mower ready to go,” says Drozd, laughing. “We like to call our customers ahead of time. It helps us to keep everyone happy, because they’re not all coming in at the same time for repairs, and it helps them to be able to jump into their boats when they’re ready to hit the water. Many owners want to come to the lake for the weekend, jump into their boats and go have fun. If there’s a problem, it can ruin the whole trip.”

Prospective owners should also consider how marinas treat non-customers.

“A lot of marinas won’t work on your boat if you didn’t buy it from them,” Drozd says. “We are absolutely not like that. If you have a problem, we’ll fix it, no matter where you got your boat.”

Local experts agree that it’s best to do your homework before making any boat purchase. If you know what you want to do on the water, who you’ll have on the boat and which support team is prepared to help in an emergency, navigating your boat purchase will be smooth sailing.

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