On the Move

See-Worthy Boat Shows

By Gary Diamond
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, December 31, 2004

DURING THE NEXT FOUR months, thousands will visit one or more area boat and outdoor shows. While some will merely browse the endless aisles of items for sale, others will visit the shows in hopes of finding new boats at bargain basement prices.

Whether you're seriously shopping for a new boat, or just looking for ways to update an existing craft, the shows offer attendees a one-stop mall where comparison shopping is just a few steps in any direction. Every conceivable type of boat -- from inflatables to canoes, runabouts to luxury yachts and an array of personal watercraft (PWC) -- will be on hand. Climb aboard, sit at the helm, hang onto the steering wheel, close your eyes. You can almost feel the ocean breeze blowing through your hair. And, if you're not careful, the ocean spray under your feet: Organizers recommend that those who intend to board boats wear appropriate shoes to avoid slipping.

Dealers offered the following advice for first-time buyers:

• Shop for a boat that fits the entire family's needs. Some may be avid recreational anglers, while others enjoy marina-hopping and dining at waterside eateries. Youngsters are often a bit more adventurous and wish to try their hand at whitewater rafting, kayaking, water-skiing or ski-boarding. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as an all-purpose boat, but the show's dealers will be more than happy to provide you with a list of options to simplify the decision-making process.

• Look for a boat and motor that are suitable for the area you intend to sail. Not sure about the type of hull or propulsion? Talk with the many manufacturers' representatives that are often at the shows and they'll steer you in the right direction, as it were.

• Ask specific questions about the boat and its limitations. For example, if you enjoy offshore fishing for tuna, dolphin, wahoo and other big game species, does the boat have sufficient fuel capacity and range to reach those offshore destinations? Will the craft's fish boxes hold a couple of big bluefin tuna, and are options such as saltwater wash-down systems and live wells available?

• A number of exhibitors will have a vast array of small boats available, including kayaks, inflatables, aluminum jon boats and party barges (pontoons). Ask about specific load capacity for passengers and gear, and advantages or disadvantages of various materials used in the boat's construction.

• Boating safety is of particular concern, especially where there are youngsters involved. Be sure there are safety rails, a deep interior side depth and easy access to personal flotation devices and other safety gear. Decks should be clutter-free with recessed fittings that prevent tripping hazards.

• If that day on the water involves swimming in a sheltered cove, make sure the boat has a built-in swim ladder or swim-platform that makes for easy boarding. Or, if you're thinking about sailing over the horizon to some distant port that's more than a day away, does the craft have adequate storage compartments for clothing, cooking facilities, sufficient berthing space for the entire family's comfort, and a portable toilet or head with a holding tank?

• Inquire about first-time boat buyer incentive packages. Some dealers and manufacturers offer free packages that include fire extinguisher, life jackets, mooring lines, anchor and anchor rope, cooler chest, compass, and in some instances, a free VHF radio and depth finder.

• Shop for the best deal on financing. Although most dealers work with several financial institutions, you may find better interest rates by shopping several of the shows' banks and lending institutions.

Safe boating is everyone's responsibility, therefore, after signing on the dotted line, stop at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources booth and sign up for a safe boating course. Maryland law requires that all persons born after 1972 must take the course and possess a safe boating certificate in order to operate a boat in Maryland waters. This also includes the operation of personal watercraft or jet skis. Virginia does not mandate a safe boating course.

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