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How Do I Pick The Right Boat?
Applying the 10% Rule to Avoid the Pain-in-the-Wallet Syndrome

The following article by Jim Kalvin was published in the April 2009 issue of “Waves.”

I've been asked many times over the years, “How do I pick the right boat?” Valid question – the possibilities are endless when it comes to size, type, style, color, price, creature comforts, possible uses, and propulsion.

My response has always been the same. First, I ask what you want to do with that boat: Fish? Ski? Cruise? Camp? SCUBA dive? Lunch and dinner trips? Sail? Race? Or simply mess about the waterways?

The answer usually includes a combination of two or more of the above activities. I then ask how often you plan on using the boat. Would you be a year-round boater or seasonal enthusiast?

Personally, I'm guilty of "mixed use" when it comes to my time on the water. There have been days on our Sailmaster sloop when we have sailed out to a really nice dive spot, enjoyed a beautiful SCUBA experience, and headed back to the pass under full sail while enjoying a magnificent glass of wine and watching the sun set while trolling a mylar skirt tipped with bally-hoo in the hopes of picking up a nice kingfish on the way in.

(Try adding THAT to a sales brochure!)

And, on occasion, I have been known to take my late construction barge (lost to Hurricane Charley) to a waterfront restaurant from time to time. There were always a few who gave us the "look," but most folks just smiled and didn't bother to ask any questions.

I believe that being on the water is what you make it - no matter what type of boat you are in or on. That being said, I would ask a second question, "Are you getting the boat for free?"

If the answer was "yes," or anything remotely close to "free," I would advise running in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. To me, a free boat means that someone else has already discovered that it will cost more to fix the boat than it's worth. They're merely trying to pass off the cost of repairs to someone else. Of course, there are exceptions.

Back to the question about picking out the right boat, there are several very important things to consider:

  1. You’ll want the boat to be safe.

  2. You’ll want the boat to be able to do what you want it to do.

  3. You’ll want to find one that that you can afford to maintain.

The third item raises some important topics, like...

  • Will you be working on the boat yourself? Or will you have a trained professional available to perform your routine and annual maintenance?

  • Will the boat be under warranty? Would this warranty be from the builder or the seller (they are not always one and the same)?

  • Lastly, where are you going to keep the boat?

With dockage prices all over the map, the last point has been a moving target of late. That being the case, I'll leave that (dockage) out of the following scenario. As for the balance of the previous items, and the annual cost of owning a boat, there is something I've been able to offer that has been key to helping people with their decisions for a long time. It's a constant and has proven itself over the years, no matter what kind of boat I might be applying the rule to.

We call it the 10% rule.

What that means is that you will likely spend 10% of the value of your craft each year in repair, maintenance, fuel, and insurance. If your vessel is over 60', your percentage could be higher - depending on the aesthetic features on the boat. For instance, a boat with a lot of varnished teak is going to have a maintenance item that other vessels will not.

So, if your boat costs $25,000.00, you can bet that you will spend $2,500.00 on annual service, monthly up-keep & cosmetic work, gasoline, and insurance. A $100,000.00 vessel will cost $10,000.00 per year to maintain, and so on.

As the vessels get larger, the percentage will vary some, but it will actually increase for those that do not use - or take care of - their boats regularly. We often lump "repair & maintenance" into one category, but believe me when I say that "repair" is much more costly than "maintenance".

Maintenance is what is done to prevent repairs.

Though it's difficult sometimes to talk yourself into spending your folding money on maintenance items, it won't be any easier on you when the lack of maintenance bites you harder on down the road. Hence, the words "preventative maintenance" were put side-by-side in an attempt to make people aware that spending money on maintenance up-front will save repair dollars down the road.

Realizing that you WILL have maintenance costs, even with a new boat (I don't care WHAT the salesman told you!), will help you get into that new vessel (or pre-owned boat) with your eyes wide-open. Once you are on the water, your comfort level, the style of boat, and where you are will allow you to enjoy your time afloat in a variety of different pursuits.

The old adage for some has always been, "the two happiest days of a boater’s life is the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it." To me, that represents a boat owner who got in over his/her head on maintenance and up-keep costs, and the vessel then became a pain in the wallet.

My personal adage would be, "the happiest days in a boat owner’s life are all the mornings when he/she will have the discretionary time to leave the dock!"

Jim Kalvin is a native Floridian and a career mariner with 25 years in the Marine industry in Southwest Florida. He has been a contributing editor for Scripps-Howard, Southern Boating Magazine, and Marine Business Journal. He is currently the General Manager of Diversified Yacht Services, Inc.

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