Step Right Up and Drive Away

By Tom Neale, 11/1/2007


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“She’s got an I-pod docking station and DVD player and 8 speakers in the stern. She’s got XM satellite radio with remote control buttons on the wheel. She’s got a nice little fiberglass shower that also holds a cute little Porta Pottie and a recessed toilet paper holder. She’s got a special bay for an Igloo Cooler, and she’s got seats for 12 so you can have a real party with that cooler. And take a look at this wrap around control console that makes you feel like you’re flying a 747…”

“But excuse me…”

“She’s got 4 glass holders within reach of each seat and each seat will recline, incline and upcline for your maximum comfort in any activity or lack thereof….”

“But EXCUSE me…”

“She’s got a midship stateroom right down there underneath where you drive from. It’s a pretty nice midship stateroom for a 24 foot boat. She’s got a one burner alcohol stove so you can cook if you want to and she’s got a filler for her V bunks so you can make them into a single…”


“Whataya mean friend, of course she floats. Here’s a picture of one just like her floating in this brochure. And look at all the pretty girls she’s keeping dry.”


Mel and I went with some friends a while back to look at a boat they were thinking about buying. It was sandwiched in with many others in a dealer’s lot beside a busy highway in Florida. We’d met our friends years ago in the Bahamas. They had owned a 70 plus foot motor yacht for years. Its tender had been around 20 feet long. The couple had cruised their yacht thousands of miles, including all the way to Venezuela and back—by themselves. Retired from that sort of boating, they were thinking about something to knock about in locally.

Choosing a Dealer

1. Ask the dealer tough serious questions about any boat you’re considering. Do your homework before you do any serious shopping.

2. If a dealer can’t answer your reasonable questions, go somewhere else.

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The salesman was doing his job: “And tell me, where do you think you’d like to take this boat…if you buy her, I mean.”

“Oh, we thought we’d run down to the Dominican Republic,” was the instant reply from the lady. The salesman looked puzzled, but not for long. “Well I’m not exactly sure where that is, but I’m sure she’ll give you a nice ride to wherever it is.”

“Why are these cleats just screwed in? Why aren’t they through bolted with backups?” I broke in.

“Cleats? Cleats? Well let’s see. Oh yes, one end is screwed in, sure. But the other end is bolted in. So that’s OK,” he confidently shot back.

“Can I look at the engine space?” I dared to ask.

A moment of silence. A second moment of silence.

“Well sure, knock yourself out. But there’s a 5 year warranty on that engine.”

After a brief (but not too brief) while of sliding seats out of the way and unsnapping snaps and pulling latches and raising a substantial part of the aft end of the boat, Viola! It was there. The engine. For the size boat and engine, the spaces around it weren’t unreasonable and the compartment was not overly cluttered. I was pleasantly surprised. Then I realized there were no batteries.

“Where do the batteries go?”

“Oh, well, we put those in when you buy the boat.”

“OK, but where do you put them and how many and what size.”

“Oh, it doesn’t take much because, you see, these engines have alternators and they’re pumping out good ol’ lectricity all the time.”

“Even when you anchor?”

“Why’d you want to do something like that?”

He never did tell me the size and number of batteries that came with the boat, or exactly where they went. There were no tie downs or battery trays to be seen.

But the pace moved rapidly on. “We can put’er in the water and take’er out and you can see how well she does,” he said. “All you need to do is put down a down payment and sign the papers. It’s only for insurance, you know. If you don’t like the boat you can get it all back. Not a problem.”

There was a disconnect in progress. Or maybe it’s better to say, there had never been a connection. The dialogue above is dramatized just a bit, but not much. The guy trying to sell the boat was doing a good job trying to sell the boat—to someone. But he was talking to somebody who wasn’t there. I guess that “somebody” was what he had come to expect walking onto his lot.

I got the impression from him that he was accustomed to dealing with people buying boats who think that running them is going to be like driving a car. You just jump in, turn the key and away you go playing with all your bells and whistles. You don’t think about things like how well it floats, (or how long it floats), how well it handles the sea, how well it responds in high winds, how well it hangs together, how stable it runs on a plane, how well components are installed and lots of other things. You don’t worry about things like cleats, for example, because you never have to tie your boat up except in ideal conditions as for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon at a riverside restaurant.

This scares me. We all know that there are folks out there like that. These are people driving missiles that can quite easily put a nice big hole through my boat or your boat. Even if they, by luck or happenstance, miss your boat or mine, they can still cause enough other damage so that folks like you and me have to keep paying more and more for our boat insurance every year in order to cover all the losses they cause.

But here I am talking “they—us” and while that sort of mentality may work in some places, it doesn’t work well out on the water. Despite all the advertising hype and pretty pictures, we’re all out here together in what is, in reality, a hostile environment. Sure, there are beautiful rides and perfect beaches and splendid sunsets. But there are also the storms and waves and there’s this gnawing reality that we’re artificially floating on the top of a world of water in which we can’t survive without special equipment that’s working well. And much of the wet world extends on and on, not only around us, but very deep underneath us.

Despite the bad press that always focuses on the few, most boaters are aware of this. If you look at people attending classes in boat shows and other places, and if you take a glance at various threads on the BoatUS and other chat rooms and if you just hang out around the docks you see that there are a lot of boaters who are very deeply concerned about boats and seamanship. They may not always agree with each other but at least they care and try to learn more and try to share with others what they’ve experienced. If you look at all the U.S. Power Squadron and Coast Guard Auxiliary courses you see people every day getting into boating and learning the rules and skills. If you look at dealer and manufacturer sponsored events such as cruises and seminars, you see that a lot of effort is being spent to educate, and you see a lot of us are showing up and learning.

More and more dealers and manufacturers are offering quality training to customers, at least at a beginning level, when they buy boats. Some of these courses are only class room or computer based instruction, but many include on-the-water instruction. This is the “right” thing to do, but it’s more than that. It makes good business sense. It makes it more likely that the new customer is going to have a good experience and come back for more. I think this is good. If I were in the market for a new boat, I think I’d want to give my business to those dealers and manufacturers who are tuned in to this concept. It’s one way of voting effectively for more educated and better trained boaters.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale