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What To Look For In A Boat Sea Trial

What To Look For In A Boat Sea Trial

Often our customers ask us what they should look for during a boat sea trial. Used boat sea trials are quite different than sea trialing a new boat. Here we break down both topics: 

 

brokerage/Used boat Sea Trial: 

Taking a used boat for a sea trial is nothing like taking a car for a test drive.  Think of it as more of a home inspection. You are looking to see if the boat is safe, performs as it should and that everything works as it should with no major deficiencies. The sea trial comes AFTER you have a contract and a deposit – industry standard is 10% - of an agreed upon price pending survey and sea trial. It is rare occasion that a demonstration ride can be arranged on a used boat prior to an accepted offer and deposit. You shouldn’t expect the seller to arrange a demonstration unless there is a contract in place.

Hiring a surveyor is a MUST for a sea trial!  You wouldn't buy a house without a home inspection would you...? Besides if you are financing, the bank will require it. Most insurance companies also require a survey for the purchase price or agreed upon value to insure the boat.

It's the seller's and or broker‘s job to make sure the boat is ready for sea trial with proper safety equipment, at least a half tank of fuel and all systems in working order or as represented in the listing.   

We ask our clients to consider these items below before sea trial:

 

11 Recommendations for sea trialing a used/ brokered boat

  1. Hire an accredited marine surveyor to accompany you on the sea trial.  The broker(s) you are working with can suggest one or you can go to the SAMS or NAMS website to pick one of your choice. Remember the surveyor works for you and you alone.
  2. Hire a mechanical surveyor to inspect the motors and generator (if applicable). Generally, a certified marine mechanic of the brand of motor in/on  the boat is the best route as they will have the proper equipment to inspect the motors.
  3. Do a short haul and power wash. The boat is pulled out of the water for hull bottom and running gear inspections. This insures the bottom is clean and clear of any growth so during the sea trial,  the performance of the boat is not hindered but accurate to specifications. 
  4. Cleanliness - How is the boat presented? First impressions are only made once and the boat should be as clean as possible including bilges and engine room. This indicate how the current owner has taken, or not taken, care of the boat. 
  5. Watch how the broker/ owner/ hired captain runs the boat. This will tell you a lot (sometimes all you need to know) about how the boat handles. Does he just go full throttle getting up on plane and then slows down to cruise?  Does he come up on plane slowly?  Is he constantly trimming the boat, motor and tabs (if applicable)?  The salesman should show you how the boat runs at all speeds, trim levels and evening backing down in reverse - think bigger inboards.  I stress this to anyone who has ridden with other brokers and then ridden with me.
  6. Listen to the boat. That is, listen to how the boat rides.  Is it quiet?  Does it rattle or shimmy or shake with crossing boat wakes or the waves?  Does everything stay closed?
  7. Helm and crew visibility and comfort - Can you see easily over the helm and bow at all speeds? Can your crew? Are they going to be comfortable sitting down while the boat is running? 
  8. Head, quartering and down sea ride - Ask the salesman to run the boat in all those conditions. The boat should ride to your expectations in all those conditions.
  9. Power plant - Does the boat have enough power with its current motors to take you and your family out for a day on the water. Does the motor(s) sound like it’s struggling? Any oil or coolant leaking? Engine temps are in spec, etc.? Also check the minimum planing speed for the hull
  10. Maneuverability at the dock and at sea - Do the engines push the boat to speed and rpms projected for the hull/ motor package?  Does the boat perform, run and ride as it should?  
  11. What electronics are on the boat?  Are they up to date?  Do they all work?  Can they be updated if older?  Can you easily see them in the sun?

Post Sea Trial

After the sea trial, any discrepancies or major issues that are brought to light by the surveyor(s) are up for negotiation with regards to the final sale price.  However,  if the survey results show only minor things, roll with the negotiated price knowing that it’s a used boat and things don't always work as they should. By doing so, the seller will in good faith take care of the smaller items most of the time before closing and delivery/ pickup of the boat. At this point, its time to close and start planning you new adventures.

 

New Boat Sea Trial 

When you ask to go on a sea trial on a brand new boat, you should have already have a good idea of the boat you are serious about buying, and that it will also work for your family. It may be beneficial to narrow down your search, rather than sea trialing every boat you like but have no intention of buying.

A sea trial is not the time to take all your friends for a boat ride. Your family or an experienced friend is a different story since they share in decision making. Too many people on a sea trial creates a cramped environment that makes it more difficult to look around the boat, listen to the salesman and the boat itself, and put her through her paces. Save the big crowd ride for the maiden voyage, and tell the guests to bring the refreshments.

The sea trial is where everything meets the water: all your research, all the info given to you by the salesman, manufacturer and of course,  your boating friends. The boat should perform the way you expect and the way the salesman presented it. The only surprise should be that sea trial exceeds your expectations.

We ask our clients to consider these items below before sea trialing a brand new boat. 

 

11 Recommendations before sea trialing a new boat

  1. Dock appeal - When you are walking up to the boat at the dock,  you should be giddy about going for a sea trial.   You should be able to see yourself, family and friends getting ready to enjoy this boat after your purchase.
  2. Cleanliness - How is the boat presented?  First impressions are only made once and the boat should be as clean as possible including bilges and engine room. A new boat should be spotless; it reflects on the dealership and how they will attend to you as an owner.
  3. Pick a sea trial day in less than ideal conditions. This does not mean sea trial during a hurricane.  But it does mean that you need to experience the boat in real life conditions; every boat performs ideally in flat calm water with little or no wind at idle tide.  If possible, pick a day that its blowing 10-15mph and the seas are 2-3 ft so you can get an idea for how the boat will run in real life conditions.  In other words,  take a sea trial in conditions that you go boating in often.  
  4. Stability at the dock and out at sea - Does the boat pitch and roll when you are getting on and off the boat?  Does the boat have a jerky roll (also called a snap roll) when at idle, trolling and even at cruise speeds?  Is the boat unusually affected by shifting weight - crew members walking around - while at speed?
  5. Maneuverability at the dock and at sea - Is the boat easy to move on and off the dock?  How does it handle wind and tide?  Does the boat skip or blow out in a turn at speed?  Does the boat carve in a turn?
  6. Watch how the salesman runs the boat - This will tell you a lot (sometimes all you need to know) about how the boat handles. Does he just go full throttle getting up on plane and then slows down to cruise?  Does he come up on plane slowly?  Is there a lot of bow rise getting up on plane? What's the minimum planing speed?  Is he constantly trimming the boat, motor and tabs (if applicable)?  If Seakeeper equipped,  run the boat with and without the Seakeeper. The salesman should show you how the boat runs at all speeds, trim levels and evening backing down in reverse, particularly bigger inboards sportfish boats.  I stress this to anyone who has ridden with other salesman and then ridden with me
  7. Listen to the boat. That means listen to how the boat rides.  Is it quiet?  Does it rattle or shimmy or shake with crossing boat wakes or the waves?  Does everything stay closed?
  8. Head, quartering and down sea ride - Ask the salesman to run the boat in all those conditions.  The boat should ride to your expectations in all those conditions.  
  9. Power plant - Does the boat have enough power with its current motors to take you and your family out for a day on the water. Does the motor sound like its struggling?  Are their different power options that you should look at?
  10. Operate the Boat Yourself - Ask the salesman when you are in open water and away from other traffic and obstructions to run the boat.  Run the boat how you would normally operate it if you owned it - You're not going to run 40 knots all the time are you...?  If warranted,  ask the salesman for guidance for best running angles and trim. 
  11. Helm and crew visibility and comfort - Can you see easily over the helm and bow at all speeds?  Can your crew?  Are they going to be comfortable sitting down while the boat is running,  at the sandbar and or on the hook?

Once the sea trial is over, you should be able to determine quickly if the boat you just demoed is the one for you. If this happens, GREAT! Time to spec out your boat, wire a deposit and sign on the dotted line. If this doesn’t happen, then let the salesman know the boat isn’t right for you and your boating needs. Either way our job is guide you to the boat that meets all your expectations and requirements.  

 

Article by Brad Herndon

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