Welcome to the heart of the boat-show season. In January and February, dozens of domestic and international shows — about half of all events listed by DiscoverBoating — dot the calendar. Chances are, there’s a venue near you, and chances are, even if you’ve got a boat now, you’ll still go to shop.
Whatever your current boat-ownership status, we thought we’d take time to create a questionnaire for boat shoppers. How you answer these questions should steer you toward making the right choices. Below the list are some useful links for anyone hoping there’s a bright, new piece of fun fiberglass in his or her future.
First, let’s look at overall questions you might want to ask yourself to help you decide what kind of fishing boat to buy:
1. What kind of fishing do I want to do MOST of the time? Be realistic!
2. What are the usual water and weather conditions associated with that fishing? (This will help you determine the size and type of hull.)
3. What’s the depth of water in which I’ll be fishing most of the time?
4. If I truly want to fish offshore, how far will I normally run to get to the fishing? (This will help determine what kind of fuel capacity you’ll need.)
5. In colder regions and where foul weather is common, one of the main questions is: Does the boat offer protection from the elements?
6. If I fish in shallow water, will I often visit flats that are a foot or less deep, and/or will I ever need to pole my boat? Also, will I frequently negotiate open expanses of water to get from one shallow zone to another?
7. Do I want to fish in tournaments? If so, will I fish tournaments seriously, for money, or just for fun? Is run time to the hot spots key to success in those tournaments?
8. Do I want to be able to trailer my boat to different locations?
9. Which family members and friends are most likely to fish or boat with me, and what are their ages?
10. Besides fishing, what other uses will I have for this boat? Cruising? Overnighting? Picnicking? Swimming? Wakeboarding/water skiing/tubing? Hunting?
Next, let’s consider how well the boat is outfitted for fishing:
1. How many livewells does it have, how big are they and where are they located?
2. Does the boat have a release well should I need it?
3. How many rod holders does it have and is there space to add more?
4. Is there adequate storage for a cast net, assorted tackle and necessary safety gear, food and supplies?
5. Is there adequate deck space from which to throw a cast net?
6. Is the boat big enough to comfortably fish the anglers I would normally plan to take? And, is the space well laid out for multiple anglers?
7. Does the boat have a large enough anchor locker for the necessary chain and rode where I’ll anchor to fish?
8. Does the boat have deck space at the bow for a trolling motor? Does the boat come pre-wired for a trolling motor?
9. Is there adequate cockpit space for fish fighting?
10. Can I pass a rod easily around the engine(s)?
11. Are there any amenities for keeping/prepping baits?
12. Does the boat come with outriggers or mounts for outriggers?
13. Is there room for a downrigger and/or an outlet to plug in an electric rigger or reels?
14. Does the boat feature a seaworthy transom design; in other words, what’s going to happen if I have to back down in heavy seas?
15. Is the gunwale height high enough for comfortable stand-up fishing without being too high for shorter anglers to pump-and-wind?
And finally, here are a few questions about boat details that you might want to consider:
1. Is the console big enough for the electronics and gauges I want?
2. What about visibility over the console? How unobstructed is the view for me and perhaps for other helmsmen/women of different sizes?
3. If my boat will host family members and children, does it provide adequate safety for youngsters? In other words, are the gunwales high enough? Does the boat feature a broad enough beam for stability in all seas?
4. Do I need a cabin or other area for family members to retreat from the elements?
5. Do I want entertainment aboard? (TV, DVD, stereo, etc.)
6. How many cup holders has the vessel? Are they convenient to where guests sit?
7. Does the boat have ample seating?
8. Does it have any kind of platform or dining table?
9. If this is a family boat, does it have an optional head? Fresh-water shower?
10. And finally, is the boat comfortable, and do you feel safe riding in it at top speed?
That last question should lead you to sea-trial any boat that has met your parameters and is affordable for you and your family. Here are some links to sources that can help you further narrow down your choices.