This is a consumer advice column written by the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana. It appears Thursdays in Business.
Buying a boat is a significant investment. Before you go to a boat show or boat dealer, take some time to plan what you want and need in a boat.
Why? Every year, BBB receives hundreds of complaints against boat dealers, marine sales and service and suppliers. Most complaints allege contract disputes and failure on the part of the business to provide agreed-upon services or products.
Determine how much money you have to spend on a boat and related costs (insurance, registration, safety equipment, boat cover, accoutrements, storage, repairs, fuel, trailer, additional warranty, etc.).
Will you need financing? If so check with your local financial institution for financing rates. A boat dealer may offer financing.
What kind of boating are you planning? Ocean, large lake, river or quiet lake? Sailing, paddling or motoring?
What are your plans for the boat? Will you be fishing, tubing, water-skiing, sailing or cruising? Will these activities require you to purchase other equipment?
Where will you keep the boat? Marina, on a trailer at home, rental storage area? What will the storage cost?
Are you required to take classes in order to get a license to drive the boat? How much is the license registration?
How much maintenance is required, and will you have time to perform the maintenance yourself or will hire a company to perform it?
Make sure you know exactly what is included in the price of the boat. Make sure any extras are in writing. Get the delivery date in writing.
What is the manufacturer's warranty and what does it cover? Will you need to purchase warranties on other equipment?
Do you and your family know how to swim? If not, look into swimming lessons.
Navigating a boat show
Research exhibitors ahead of time. Visit the boat show's website to educate yourself on the various boat dealers and manufacturers who will be in attendance.
Ask the right questions. Make sure the boat will cover your wants and needs. Find out what extras are included in the price and what items you will need to purchase.
Get all promises in writing.
Be sure to document with whom you spoke and all verbal agreements (sale prices, add-ons, etc.) made or mentioned. Obtain a business card before you leave and set a time to follow up after the show. Don't be pressured to put down a large deposit for fear of losing out.
Research the boat dealer before signing a contract. Go to bbb.org to see a company's business review and any history of complaints. Make sure you look up the manufacturer of the boat as well.
Bring someone with you who is not as emotionally or financially connected to you buying a boat. This individual may provide a different, yet helpful, perspective when talking with dealers or manufacturers.