After reading through this blog and comparing them to pontoon boats, you’ve decided a deck boat is the better option for you. You’re about ready to make your purchase; you just have to narrow down a few options, first. What else do you need to know before you put your hard-earned money down?
Before buying your very own deck boat, we recommend taking the following steps into consideration:
- Renting a deck boat to get a feel for the experience
- Researching dealers
- Visiting dealer showrooms in person and checking out the boat (ask questions, too!)
- Narrowing down which features are must-haves
- Deciding whether you’ll go new or used
- Budgeting for the boat
- Knowing how to avoid a scam with a used boat
- Sorting out pricing for the cost of a new boat
- Getting your deck boat financed
- Choosing a warranty and/or extended warranty for your boat
- Buying insurance for your boat
- Learning how to boat safely through a class (optional but highly recommended)
- Planning a maintenance routine
That sure is a lot, huh? You may have thought you were on the cusp of buying a deck boat, but now you realize that’s not quite so. We recommend you read through this extensive guide before proceeding with a purchase. With everything we’re going to cover (and in extensive detail, too), you’ll be able to buy a boat with confidence.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Deck Boat
Renting a Boat
What made you consider getting a deck boat in the first place? Perhaps you have a friend who owns a deck boat and you’ve ridden along with them. You and this buddy may have gone fishing together or just enjoyed the pristine, quiet waters on a beautiful summer day.
If you have no prior experience driving a deck boat, then it’s hard to say how much you’ll truly enjoy owning one. Sure, you like riding in your friend’s deck boat, but are you prepared for all the hard work boat ownership requires? As the list above tells you, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s also quite expensive, and that’s putting it mildly.
We’re not trying to change your mind, but rather, we want to keep you from making a decision you could regret. After all, a deck boat is not like an inflatable pontoon boat that’s a few hundred dollars. At least if you didn’t like that, then it’s no harm, no foul. A deck boat is an investment of time, money, and effort, and quite a lot of all three.
Still, your friend’s deck boat has stoked the fires in you to get a deck boat of your very own. We still advise you to start with renting one. Even if you’ve driven other boats before, riding behind the wheel of a deck boat is its own animal. If you have no prior deck boating experience, then it’s even more imperative you rent a boat.
To find a deck boat rental company in your neighborhood, we recommend you go to Google or your search engine of choice. Type in “deck boat rentals” and the results should be tailored to your neighborhood. If they’re by chance not tailored, then type “deck boat rentals [city name]” with whatever city you live in.
Prices will surely vary depending on where you live. The manufacturer of the deck boat will also play a role in the cost, as well as how long you’re renting the boat and the year of production. New boats will always cost you more to rent than older ones from a few years back. The same goes for owning them, as you’ll later find.
Take your rented deck boat out for a nice test drive and get a feel for it. How does it turn, maneuver, speed up, and slow down? Do you love it or only feel lukewarm about it? It’s okay if you don’t enjoy deck boating. It’s better to find out now than to buy your own boat, which will then sit collecting dust (and mildew, barnacles, and other unwanted stuff).
Let’s say you rented a deck boat and fell even more in love. You’re so overeager to buy your deck boat right now, but you also want to do this right. Hence, you’re now at the stage where you’re looking up dealers.
We’ve covered the list of deck boat manufacturers on this blog before, but here’s a recap for you:
- Sea Ray
- Four Winns
We recommend starting on the websites of any of the above manufacturers. Most will have a dealers’ section where you can see which retailers around you sell these deck boats. If you cannot find any dealers in your neck of the woods, then a Google search will be your friend. Type in the boat brand you want and then add “dealers” and your city name. Hopefully, you find something.
You’ll want to reach out to the dealer sooner than later. At this point, we recommend sticking to phone or email communication only. You don’t want to head out of your way to the dealer’s store only to discover that you don’t really like the deck boat once you finally see it. You will have to check out the boat in person at some point, but not quite yet.
Instead, you want to discuss things like availability (breadth of models, new vs. used, etc.), pricing, and even a bit about financing. Really, you just want to know if it’s available. If you’re happy with everything to this point, then set up an appointment to come in and take a look at the boat.
Visiting Dealer Showrooms
Okay, so you found a dealer that has a boat you like and you’re finally ready to check it out with your own two eyes. You’re excited and nervous. After all, manufacturers can make their deck boats look awesome online, but you’re not sure how that translates to real life. You hope the boat meets your expectations.
You can walk into the showroom, see the boat in question, and stare awestruck. You feel ultra confident now that you’ve made the right decision. You’ve found the deck boat of your dreams. Or have you?
Before you sign any contracts, you need to get more information about the boat. Here are some questions to ask the dealer:
- Do you provide storage or will I have to take care of that myself?
- What about winterization and other services for the cold season?
- What kind of customer satisfaction index score do you have?
- Can I get my boat serviced here?
- How long does it take for servicing?
- Will you deliver my boat to me or will I have to pick it up myself?
- If my boat needs repairs or service, do you pick it up or do I have to drop it off at your store or facility?
- What certifications do your technicians have?
- What are the hours and days of your service department?
- How long have you sold boats?
- Can I test drive it before I buy it?
- What warranty do you offer? How long is it good for?
Print out the above questions and carry them as a checklist. Jot down the answers you get to every one of them. And yes, you will have to ask every question on that list. This may seem annoying, but when it comes to buying a deck boat (or any boat, really), you must leave no stone unturned.
Okay, so the dealer answers the above questions to your satisfaction. Great, right? Sure, but you’re not done yet. You also want to visit a few more dealers. Let’s say, for instance, that you liked three boats from three separate brands. You of course started with the boat that interested you the most, right? More than likely.
Now you want to visit the runner up and the third boat’s dealer as well. Why? You like the boat that’s right in front of you. That may be so, but you never know if you’ll like the other boats you see more.
For each dealer you do visit, you want to bring the same checklist with you and ask those questions. Then, go home and compare the answers of all three. Which has the best deals? Which offers the best services and warranties? Owning a boat is about more than just the boat itself. Your boat will need maintenance, storage, repairs, and servicing. If the dealer makes it hard for you to get those things, then you might want to reconsider if this is truly the boat and the brand for you.
Choosing the Most Important Deck Boat Features
You may have found a dealer in which to work with, but you’re still undecided on which deck boat you want. After all, there are so many shiny new boats to choose from that it feels impossible narrowing down your options. It’s actually easier than you imagined, at least if you go by features only.
Every new boat, be it a deck boat, a pontoon boat, or a speedboat, will have lots of bells and whistles meant to lure you in. These are nice perks, but they’re little more than window dressing. If you like to go fishing but your good-looking boat doesn’t have any fishing features, you’re going to feel disgruntled a few months into boat ownership. You fell for the boat’s looks to the point that you forgot that the features matter more.
They really, really do. Thus, you should make a list of features you cannot go without. These will surely differ from one person to another. If you do like fishing, then you’re going to want a deck boat with fishing rod holders, storage spaces, and a wide deck for your buddies to sit and fish with you.
Perhaps you’re more of a family man or woman. You’d like to bring your children and spouse onboard and maybe pull them on an inner tube or skis. In that case, you should make sure you get a speedy deck boat with the horsepower capabilities to support your high-octane activities.
If you have a large posse or often host deck boat parties, then you’ll need a sizable deck that has room for lots of passengers. You’ll also want to look into a boat that offers plush, comfortable seating for many people.
Even if you’re a casual boater, you should still be somewhat picky about features. Perhaps you want a Bimini top so you can get some shade on those hot days. You might crave lots of sitting room for stretching out on the deck and sunbathing.
As we said before, we can’t decide which deck boat features matter the most to you. You might fit one of the above molds perfectly or you be a combination of several. That’s all okay, but definitely don’t renege on the features that matter to you when buying your boat. You’ll only feel mad at yourself later when you have to go without.
Deciding Between a New and Used Deck Boat
Once you get the features selected, you now have another major decision to make. Namely, that’s whether you’ll go for a new or used deck boat. Now, if you think for two seconds, you might say this is by far one of the easiest choices to make in all the many you have to commit to when buying a deck boat. You probably think the new deck boat would work best for you, right? Not always.
First, we want to redefine what your idea of a used deck boat is. You’re probably envisioning an old, decrepit, rusty vessel. It turns out, for a boat to be considered used, it only has to be a year old. So yes, some people will sell a 2018 boat used. In fact, at this point, now that we’re so late into the year, you might even see some used 2019 deck boats.
Now, if you want to save money, then you’ll want to go back a few years, such as a 2012 or a 2015 boat. Third-party sellers aren’t dummies, after all. If they have a 2018 or 2019 model, they’re not going to shave off much more than what you’d pay for this boat new. That’s not always exclusively true, but go into your dealings expecting as much.
With older boats, sometimes the money you save on the initial cost comes back to force you to spend it in other ways. For instance, you bought an old clunker that needs repairs every few months. By the time you’re done fixing up your boat, you could have spent the money on a newer deck boat instead.
Whether you decide a used deck boat or a new one suits your lifestyle and budget best, you want to make smart shopping decisions. In the upcoming sections, we’ll offer plenty of tips and advice to prevent you from getting swindled or ending up with a lemon.
Budgeting for Your Boat
Speaking of what suits your budget, you know you have to have one, right? Now that you’ve selected whether you want a new or used deck boat, you can come up with a realistic budget to support your impending purchase.
If it’s a used deck boat you’ve chosen, the costs can and will certainly vary. The cheaper boats are priced anywhere from $13,000 to $42,000. The more expensive used deck boats are in the six-figure range. Yes, that’s really for a used boat. New boats will sit squarely in the six-figure range as well.
That’s just the start of what you need to budget for. While we’ll talk about some of these other points later, for now, we’ll say you must also set aside money for:
- A trailer
- Boat cover
It’s only when you factor in all these costs that you can create what’s truly a realistic budget for your new or used deck boat.
Getting a Quality Used Deck Boat
Okay, so let’s say of the two, you’re more interested in a used deck boat. You want to save money wherever you can, hence why going used seems smart enough.
To begin your search, you’ll probably head online. You can find countless resources for buying used deck boats, like BoatTrader.com, Boats.com, and even eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace. Of course, it’s one thing if you go on a site like eBay, spend $40 or $50 on an item, and get swindled. It’s another thing entirely to drop five or six figures on a boat and then not get it.
Sure, you could always go through eBay or PayPal to get your money back, but that’s not the best way to spend your time. Plus, you never want to have to deal with the stress of being in that situation in the first place, we’re sure.
That’s why you cannot afford to mess around when it comes to buying your used deck boat. You must have a sharpened intuition and let it guide you. If something feels off, such as the boat being surprisingly cheap or a little too nice-looking, you’ll often find later that your intuition was correct.
We recommend going through a reputable boat-buying resource only. The ones we linked to you above, Boats.com and BoatTrader, are two respected ones in the industry. Does that mean those sites are free of creeps and scammers? Sadly, no. You’re just a little less likely to run into them.
Keep your guard up as you search. When you find a boat you like, don’t take its price at face value. Instead, search for the boat elsewhere and see what other people are asking for it. If the price is suspiciously low, then get in touch with the seller and ask why. Very rarely does a seller feel generous enough to shave hundreds of dollars off the price of a boat just for the thrill of it. The boat probably has some hidden issue and the seller desperately wants to offload it. It could even be a stolen boat. Likely? Maybe not, but a possibility nonetheless.
If the price is too high, then you know to avoid that seller outright. Some sellers do exercise a degree of flexibility, in that they’re willing to lower the price somewhat if you try haggling. Others won’t budge.
Once you determine the boat price as fair, move on to the seller. What kind of reputation do they have among other boaters? Have people had good exchanges with the seller or bad ones? Keep this information in mind as you proceed.
Never buy a boat without seeing it yourself first. Seeing is believing after all, and images and even videos can be deceptive. If the boat has a rotting sidewall, for instance, then the boat owner might focus on the good side, obstructing the bad one on purpose. You’d never know it based on images and videos until you get to see the boat. Then you realize it’s a lemon.
When you meet with the seller, make sure they can provide proof that they themselves own the boat. Otherwise, you can’t say for sure that the boat’s not stolen. You should also check around for a sticker from the National Marine Manufacturers Association or NMMA. These stickers are a seal of quality. They prove the boat has American Boat & Yacht Council-approved materials and that it got flying colors on its factory inspection.
You also want to thoroughly look at the following:
- All furniture for tears, cracks, fading, and other damage
- Gauges for inaccurate oil pressure readings and bouncing
- Flooring for wood rot and mold or mildew
- Hulling for dents or lumps, especially near the boat’s deck
- Laminate surfaces for wrinkles, waves, bubbles, and cracks, all of which indicate cheapness
- Throttle and shift linkages for corrosion
- Outboard engine cowling for gas and liquid leakage or seepage
- The engine itself for excessive wear and tear
You’re still not done. You also want to ask for a test drive. After all, there’s no better way to get a feel for how your deck boat will run than to use it yourself, as we said in the section on rentals. If the seller expresses any reluctance for this test drive, that should raise some red flags.
If all goes well, then the deck boat you found will have passed the above criteria. If so, then you can shake hands with the seller, draw up a contract, and get the keys for your new—well, used—deck boat.
Keeping a New Deck Boat Affordable
If you’ve ever bought a new car before, then buying a new deck boat won’t feel all that alien to you. A lot of it’s the same.
You want to begin much like you did with the used deck boat. Instead of going through a site like Boats.com though, this time you want to work directly with the manufacturer or their dealers. Again, pick a boat you like that has the features you want and doesn’t exceed your budget.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go forward with getting this boat. Before you make any major decisions, you should review the fair market value of the boat in question. One site you can use for this is NADAguides.
Now, it’s not like with a used deck boat, where you can try to convince the seller to drop the price if you deem it too high. With a new deck boat, the price is what it is. You can either wait a year and get it used (for barely a fraction lower of the original asking price) or find a different boat entirely that’s more within your price range.
When you finally do choose a new deck boat you like that’s within your budget, do know that the dealer or manufacturer will try to get you to load it up with add-ons and extras. Sometimes you can review the prices of these add-ons on the manufacturer’s website ahead of time, but not always. Depending on what kind of add-ons we’re talking about, you could spend under $50 to more than $100. That’s per add-on.
Beware of packages, too. Most of these packages boat manufacturers offer are a series of add-ons grouped into one. Review the price of the package itself and compare it to the individual value for each add-on. If you’re paying more for the package, then you probably want to think about skipping it.
Also, know that you can forego any package you want. They’re all optional. If you like only a few features from a package but not all, then don’t waste your money. You’re much better off buying the few add-ons you do want individually than a bunch you don’t together.
Financing Your Boat
Unless you’re a millionaire, then rarely will you have the cash upfront for the full price of the boat. You may have enough for a deposit, but you don’t want to bankrupt yourself. That’s why, when making a major vehicular investment like a boat or a car, you’re typically offered financing.
You have several options to procure this financing for your deck boat. You can find a marine finance company or go through the boat dealer itself. If it’s more comfortable to follow the same route you would if you bought a car, then credit unions and even banks provide this financing as well.
You can choose from a few loans for your new deck boat:
- Second mortgage: This home equity loan comes either unsecured or secured. The latter tends to have lower interest rates. When you take a second mortgage, you’re saying the lender could take your home if you can’t pay for the boat. It’s very much terrifying, but it’s an option you have.
- Unsecured loan: Getting back to unsecured loans, these don’t put your home or anything at risk if you don’t pay them. With no collateral, prepare for interest rates higher than you’d get with other loan types.
- Secured loan: Like a second mortgage, a secured loan does involve collateral. This time, it’s not your house, but something else. If you’ve used auto loans in the past, a secured loan operates in much the same way. That makes them a familiar, low-interest option.
Once you choose the loan you’ll use for financing, you’ll configure what your monthly payments will look like. Going forward, it’s your responsibility to pay for the boat loan each and every month. Failing to do so can lead to disastrous consequences if you take out a second mortgage. Even with other financing loans, it’s still not a great idea to skip your monthly payments.
Choosing Your Boat Warranty
With such an expensive investment as a deck boat, of course the manufacturer will offer you a warranty. How long this warranty lasts will vary by manufacturer. For some, it’s a year, others five, some 10, and—with a handful of manufacturers—you can get a warranty that’s good for life.
For instance, Hurricane Boats has a Limited Lifetime Warranty for the customers of its deck boats. The boat components are covered for a year, the flooring five years, the vinyl five years, and the boat’s transom and hull under the Limited Lifetime coverage. If that seems a bit confusing, it’s because it is. Despite being called a Limited Lifetime Warranty, only the hull and transom have Limited Lifetime coverage.
That’s why, no matter what warranty you’re offered, we highly, highly recommend reading the fine print. If you bought a deck boat through Hurricane, you might take one look at the Limited Lifetime Warranty provisions and assume you’re good for, well, life. Then, when you’ve had the boat for two years and you need new gauges, you’d find out the hard way that your warranty no longer covers them.
For that reason, some deck boat owners opt to get an extended warranty. This can fill in the gaps your boat’s warranty doesn’t offer, or so it seems. Think of an extended warranty like another part of your insurance plan (more on this in a moment). Yes, it’s more money you’re shelling out in case your boat’s parts break and it stops working in the middle of the sea.
Is it worth it? That’s a decision only you can make. You might think it’s better to save your money and use it in case your boat does actually break. For some boaters, that might make more sense. Others like the protection offered through an extended warranty, even if they never have to use it.
Insuring Your Boat
We don’t recommend you go without insurance for your boat. Although it’s not illegal in most cases, marinas, lenders, and banks often demand you have some form of insurance. When you get your boat financed, you’ll be told to insure your boat as well.
Insuring provides funds in the event you cause an accident or get into one yourself when on the water. If someone gets injured, yourself included, the insurance could also cover that.
How much will you pay for deck boat insurance? It depends on how much you paid for your boat. Most of the time, insurers will take a portion of your boat’s value, 1.5 percent, and put that towards the cost of your yearly rate. Let’s say you got a cheaper deck boat that’s about $20,000. Each year, you’d pay $300 for boat insurance. The more expensive your deck boat, the more money your insurance costs.
You can get boat insurance through many providers. Here’s a list to get you started:
- State Farm
- American Family Insurance
- United Marine Underwriters
- Foremost Insurance Group
- National Boat Owners Association
If you already have insurance on home, life, or car with any of the above providers, it should be pretty easy and convenient to tack on boat insurance as well.
What kind of coverage can you expect with deck boat insurance? It changes based on the insurance provider, but here are some basic coverage provisions:
- Comprehensive coverage: If your boat gets damaged, stolen, or vandalized, comprehensive coverage can pay to get it back or even replaced.
- Bodily injury liability coverage: Should an accident occur on your boat and someone gets hurt, bodily injury liability coverage comes into play. This can pay for legal expenses, pain and suffering, lost income, and medical bills.
- Property damage liability coverage: Accidents cause damage. If you destroyed a structure, property, a dock, or a boat, you’d rely on property damage liability coverage.
- Collision damage coverage: Whether you were struck or hit someone else, collision damage coverage will cover your boat’s repairs. If you need replacement, you can get it with this coverage as well.
- Additional coverage: By paying extra on your boat insurance, you can get additional coverage. This may take care of uninsured boater accident injuries, personal property damage, oil spill damage, fishing equipment, and medical payments.
Mastering Deck Boat Driving
Your deck boat is all yours. You’re all ready to take her out for the first time and you couldn’t be more excited. That is, until you sit in the captain’s chair and find out that driving a deck boat is a drastically different experience.
Deck boats might often get compared to pontoons, but the two boats don’t handle very much alike at all. If you have no boating experience, then we strongly recommend getting some water training. You can always practice with a seasoned boater friend or family member if you have one. Otherwise, a boating safety class will get you seaworthy in no time.
You’ll learn how to dock your boat, how to drive in inclement weather (strong winds, thunderstorms, heavy rains), and maneuvering techniques. Even if you do know a thing or two about boating, if you’re switching to deck boats for the first time, it never hurts to take a class. You could even learn a new thing or two.
After all, you have a lot invested in your deck boat. Insurance can cover the cost of incidents and accidents, sure, but not 100 percent of those costs. You want to try to avoid danger and be the smartest and safest boat driver you can be.
Maintaining Your Boat
Last but certainly not least, we want to talk about deck boat maintenance. Now that you own a boat, you have to care for it. You’ll thus have to commit yourself to a maintenance routine. Some maintenance you must do every time you use the boat. Others, you can do monthly and more still yearly before you retire your deck boat for the winter.
Here’s our handy, dandy maintenance checklist.
For your deck boat’s steering, do the following:
- Check on your steering tube’s fittings, lubricating these with grease as necessary
- Don’t forget your cable-steering systems, as the steering-arm assemblies may need lubrication as well
- Move on to the hydraulic steering end caps and ram if your boat has them, changing out the seals if they’ve corroded
- Now, look at the hydraulic connections and hoses, keeping your eyes open for leaks and replacing as necessary
- If you have a non-power-assisted marine hydraulic steering system, then check for the fill cap near the pump body, refilling from time to time
To keep your boat’s electrical systems in tip-top shape, get into these routines:
- Test all electronics, looking for corrosion on the electrical connections
- Try out the lights to make sure these work
- Do the same for the helm switches
- Spend some time around the bus bars, fuse panels, and breakers, ensuring these have not corroded
- Test the battery switches and the batteries themselves
- Softly bend the battery cable section to see if it’s corroded
For your engine, do this:
- Clean out the fill tube and fuel vent as needed so fuel and vapor can move through the fuel tank
- Look for weathering, wear, and leaks in the primer bulbs and fuel hoses; change these out if you have to
- Change out the spin-in fuel-filter canisters as well
- Check all end caps and tilt rams by the power trim, covering them in waterproof grease if they need it
- Look at the engine’s battery cable connection and clean it using a wire brush
- Switch out the zinc in the engine
- Test the water pump in the lower part of the engine; you might want to change this out
- Take off the propellers to see if their seal remains intact; cover the shaft in lubrication while you’re at it
- Give your spark plugs a nice cleaning
- Top off engine fluids
- Swap out old engine fuel and oil filters for new ones
If you’re thinking of buying your own deck boat, you must prepare yourself for the realities of such. Having a deck boat means committing time to maintaining it. Between the costs of the boat itself, insurance, extended coverage, and a financing loan, a deck boat can be enormously expensive as well.
That said, owning one of these boats provides an excitement like no other. Thus, we’d advocate for you getting one, but considering all these points before you do. Good luck!