At boat shows, it's best to shop till you drop

OUTDOORS

January 25, 1994|By PETER BAKER

The Chesapeake Bay Boat Show opens a nine-day run at the Baltimore Convention Center on Saturday, and with retailers eager to sell boats and financing rates low, the show presents consumers with a good opportunity to buy a new or used boat.

Last August, the 10 percent federal tax on portions of purchase prices for boats in excess of $100,000 was lifted, so big boat sales are expected to rise this year after several poor years for builders.

Financing rates are close to all-time lows and entry-level sailboats and powerboats in the $4,500 to $15,000 range can be financed with payment plans that work out to between $120 and $200 per month.

According to National Marine Manufacturers Association figures, the cost of the most popular boat purchased in America -- a 17- to 19-foot outboard-powered runabout -- will range between $9,760 and $16,590. With a 20 percent down payment, NMMA figures that the monthly cost at current financing rates will be from $149 to $175.

Aluminum fishing boats with outboard motors can be purchased for roughly $127 to $157 per month, and a catamaran sailboat can be sailed away for between $121 and $152 monthly.

Of course, if you're interested in something larger than the average family might be content with for day cruising, fishing or day sailing, the purchase price will rise quickly.

But whether your interests lie with a two-seater jet ski or a 50-foot motoryacht, finding the right boat should be your priority, and boat shows are great places to shop.

So plan to make a day of it. If the kids are too young or disinterested to the point of distraction, leave them home with a sitter. Put on a pair of comfortable, soft-soled shoes, leave the heavy coat in the car, slip a note pad and some pencils or pens in your pocket and get to the show early.

Weeknights, when the show opens at 5, could be your best time to buttonhole a salesman.

When you enter the show, pick up a copy of the show directory, which includes a floor plan of the hundreds of boats on display, and plot a course that will take you to the kinds of boats you are interested in.

If, for example, your primary interest is in a fishing boat to be trailered and used only in freshwater, some of the best buys are aluminum boats with outboard motors. Aluminum requires little maintenance, and outboards run only in freshwater have long lives when regularly maintained.

If the fishing boat is going to be used in fresh and tidal water or only in tidal water, you may want to gravitate toward a fiberglass hull with an outboard built specially for saltwater use or an inboard-outboard configuration that is freshwater cooled.

Although hull coatings on aluminum boats have been improved a great deal over the years, aluminum still requires a heavier maintenance schedule than fiberglass when used in saltwater. Outboards or raw-water cooled inboard-outboards also require more maintenance than freshwater cooled units.

The blessing of boat shows to consumers is variety. Decide on the type of boat you want. Cruise the show aisles and take notes on base boats and standard equipment or options such as live wells, recessed coolers, electronics, trolling motors, ski packages, etc.

Be certain to see how boats are laid out, whether side decks are wide enough to walk on, whether mooring cleats are large enough to handle mooring lines and properly backed so they don't pull through the deck. If you can get to them, check the joining of the hull and deck, the stringers and the hull, the bulkheads, the through hulls, Walk through the boat and see if the foredeck or casting platform flexes beneath your weight. If the boat has a head or porta-potty, determine whether anyone but a midget or a contortionist can use it.

If you have one, take along a camera that develops its own prints and take pictures of the boats you have looked at. Keeping track of a half-dozen different models will be easier this way.

Having found two or three boats that meet your criteria, compare the lists of standard equipment and the dealer's price for optional equipment you might want installed -- and then go a step farther.

With your list of optional gear, head for the aisles where booths have been rented by vendors of accessories and equipment. Chances are that you might find better prices there, even if you have to install some gear yourself.

Then sit down, add up the costs and see how close you are to your projections. If it seems to work, go off and find the lender -- at the show or elsewhere -- that will make you the best deal, and then complete a deal of your own.

It may seem that you are in danger of shopping till you drop, but that's what boat shows are all about.

FACTS AND FIGURES

What: Chesapeake Bay Boat Show, a complete display of boats ranging from jet skis and other personal watercraft to a 52-foot motoryacht as well as vendors of marine equipment and accessories, loans, guide services and other items related to water sports. Also a schedule of workshops and seminars.

Where: Baltimore Convention Center

When: Saturday through Feb. 6. Show opens at 5 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets: $7 adults, $3 for children under 12.

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