Brochure Savvy

By Tom Neale

If you're buying a boat, the ads and brochures can be both very helpful and very amusing. Use them to get the help but don't overlook the fun part.

Photo of Tom Neale looking under the helm of his boatThey're going to put a WHAT in there.

There are some boats with head compartments in which, no matter what you do or how you do it, you turn on the shower. It may be with your elbow or with your head or with your butt, but you do it. And it's not that you wanted to take a shower just then, you probably went in there for some other reason. But the head space doubles as a shower and you're going to take one no matter what. Also the roll of toilet paper is going to share your shower because it's sitting out fully exposed to spraying water. Sometimes there's a protective cover over the roll but its main job seems to be to hide the fact that the roll is empty until you lift said cover. But you'd never imagine these issues when you look at a fishbowl image of that head area in an ad or glossy brochure. They can make these spaces look ballroom big with no problems evident except that it looks like perhaps you can't even reach the toilet paper from the location from which you might want to use it and you would have to stand on tiptoes to turn on the shower.

This sort of exaggeration has been going on for a long time in all sorts of marketing, including boating. But the ingenuity can be amusing. I'm looking forward to what they do with photos of the "cabin" under the center console in some center console boats. I think this cabin is a great idea, and when I grow up I'm going to get a center console with a cabin under it. But what I really want to see is how far they go in ads and brochures with their fish bowl photography "complimenting" the spaces there. I mean, you know you're going to be able to reach the toilet paper, so why raise the issue?

And then there are some boats with galleys that have the sinks under the deck overhang so that you bump your head every time you lean forward to see what you just lost down the drain. Of course if you're not very tall there's less of a problem except that you can't see out the port light which the promo picture featured as one of the pleasures of washing the dishes. But never mind. These sinks are often so small in real life that about all you can do in them is wash a moderately sized radish. In these boats, of course, the stove is also under the deck overhang which means that if you badly burn the beans you can get the double delight of bean and boat flambé. But the photos seldom include the people who don't fit the spaces and never include burnt beans and boat.

These are often the same boats that have luxurious faux leather lounge sofas. The pictures make you dream of leaning back and relaxing while entertaining a dozen or so of your friends. But if you actually sit in them you slip off the seat because it's far too narrow to accommodate your average ordinary human backside. Some yachts admirably resolve this issue by having the interior deck hang over the sofa so far that it catches your neck when you try to lean back. When you're forced to lean over forward in order to sit in these sofas, it's hard to slip out of the seat.

We've been talking about human accommodations (or lack thereof) on some boats. Now let's turn to mechanical accommodations, which also affect humans. The placement of the raw water pump seems to be a particular problem on some boats. The photos don't show this particular problem, but no wonder! The raw water pump on the engine is situated where you can hardly see it, much less take a photo or get to it to change the impellor. And pumps for the head, such as macerator pumps and vacuum pumps are generally heard (but not seen) under a bed. Nothing is more conducive to a good night's sleep aboard than the thump thump thump of a pump moving you-know-what from your guests. It puts the pleasures of the proverbial pitter patter of rain on the deck to shame.

What I'm talking about here is that what you see in the slick boat ads and slick brochures may not be what you get. But there's a different angle to this with some boats. In these, what you do see when you look through the hull is a strong indicator of what you are getting. I've been on boats that, when you're inside and find an unpainted hull section (usually behind a section of built in structure), you can see the light of day outside streaming in through the hull. This isn't necessarily cause for alarm. It is fiberglass, right? Light should be able to shine through a glass hull, right? Sure. But I don't know enough (I'm sure you've figured that out by now) to say how much light shining through is too much light, meaning the hull is far too thin. However, I think it's safe to say that when you're looking through the hull and see not only light but the legs, arms and bodies of people walking by on the dock, there's a problem. I'm absolutely certain there's a problem in my mind. And I've been on various boats at boat shows and actually seen this. But I've never seen photos of this phenomenon in the ads.

So I've been ranting about a few of my pet peeves with the designs and portrayals of some boats. But my peeves don't mean that there aren't great boats, new and used, out there to buy. I know. I've bought a few over the years. And when I sell my current 53 foot motorsailer I'm looking forward to buying another nice boat. I'm just pointing out the obvious: that marketing boats, like marketing anything else, involves ... well, marketing. And the caveat "buyer beware" is true for boat buying like anything else.

But a huge difference is that with boat buying it can be immensely fun becoming aware. If you know what you're looking for, it's fun to look. If you don't, there are qualified surveyors and experienced friends who can help you. And the ads and brochures do help, despite the occasional tendency to do some "marketing." They help with making comparisons and they help with making judgments when you actually see the real boat. And now we're moving into one of the best times of the year to look and see what is and isn't good. It's boat show season. Go to as many as you can, have fun. Look beyond the fancy pictures. Look at what's really there. Buy a good boat. Have fun out here on the water. 

Tom Neale is Technical Editor of BoatUS Magazine, with a lifetime of liveaboard and cruising experience. Read more of Tom Neale's articles here.

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— Published: October 2015

Tom's Tips For Understanding Fancy Boat Ads

  • Compare them with new car ads. We in the boat buying market get a lot more respect than car buyers.
  • Always keep in mind basic parameters such as length, beam and type of boat. If it's a 20 foot boat you're really not going to have a walk in sauna even though a photo looks like it ... .unless it's really a 20 foot floating sauna.
  • If it's a really special 20 foot boat with a walk in sauna, figure that you can't do much else in it except enjoy the sauna.
  • Study the relative proportions of the boat and the people in the photos (if there are people in the photos).
  • Also study what the people are actually doing and whether it's relevant to what you'd want to be doing in that boat. If all you want to do is sit around in formal evening attire, and that's what the models are doing, maybe that ad is relevant to you. If you want to use the boat for some serious fishing, maybe your friends who look and act like the beautiful-people models won't really want to come aboard.



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