What do you look for when boat shopping?

March 20, 2019

With the Palm Beach Boat Show and various other spring boat shows just around the corner, and fun times of boat and boat window shopping ahead, I thought I could share some of the things I look out for in a boat from my perspective as an owner/operator. Walking around boat shows, it is hard not to fall in love with many of the gorgeous boats on display, which would most likely be mistakes to buy.  Indeed, the boats are all shiny (and new), they smell good (for the most part), and are displayed from their best angles, with some beautiful table settings, and stylish decorative bowls, picture frames, and throw pillows to accentuate the décor. Add to that perfect South Florida weather, and it is easy to lose track of what ultimately matters most:

How are you planning to use your boat?

2019 Miami Yacht Show

Before you go looking at boats, ask yourself how the “PhD of Boating” (compliments of @yachtcreators) applies to you: Purpose, How, and Design. Indeed, identifying what you need in a boat, driven by how are planning on using it, is key and will determine the desired design features for your ideal boat. Do you want to go fast, or does speed not matter? Are you more interested in the journey or the destination, or both? Do you plan to take a boat on extended cruising trips or only on day trips? Do you plan to spend much time at anchor? Do you plan to run the boat yourself or will you hire a professional captain and crew? Who will be on board with you? What climate(s) do you expect to cruise in predominantly? Do you prefer to hang out inside the boat, or spend as much time as possible outside? Do you like to fish, sunbathe, enjoy the water and use water toys, entertain friends with dinner and cocktail parties? These considerations will guide choices like: the type of hull, the type of propulsion, the size and location of indoor and outdoor areas on the boat, and the amount of shade or shelter from the elements you need on the boat that will best fit your needs.
For me personally, the amount of shade and shelter available in different areas of the boat is very important. Indeed, many of us are “nice weather sunny day boaters”, meaning that a single purely horizontal shade or awning is unlikely to cut it as it will only provide limited shade and only when the sun is directly above it. The strength of the AC system on board, and the ability to open windows to let the breeze in, are also important considerations, as is the ability to shelter from wind and passing storms, which you will inevitably encounter.

2018 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show

The amount of storage available on the boat is also essential to me, but depends of course on the use you are planning to make of your boat. As you are walking through a boat, ask yourself where you would put all the items that you will bring on board. The galley is an obvious place where you will need tons of storage, especially if you are planning on entertaining friends and family on board (those bags of potato chips take up a lot of space!), or if you are planning on some extended cruising and in remote areas (when fridge and freezer size are even more important). But also consider where you would store things like: large beach and swimming towels, water toys, fold-up bikes and games. And yes, bulky mundane items such as paper towels, (marine!) toilet paper, and cleaning supplies.

Additional points I look for on a boat are things like: the location of drain holes in galley and bathroom sinks (do they drain easily while the boat is at rest, will they drain while the boat is at an angle when in motion?), is much water likely to spill over the floor and counter tops, are there towel hooks within reach of the showers, where are the power sockets and USB chargers located and are there enough of them, and are there conveniently located cup holders to hold the drinks of the captain and passengers while underway? The quality of the fits and finishes and the hardware used is also important. Does the flooring creak? Do the cabinets and drawers have safety latches, and do they work correctly? Are the door handles sturdy, and do they actually close and latch the doors? Gadgets and gimmicks are fun, but also prone to breaking down. Overall, I like to keep it ‘safe and simple’, limiting features that are bound to stop working when you need them the most (electric opening roofs and things like fold-down balconies are really cool, but by Murphy’s Law will likely break down just as you are in a hurry to get away from an approaching storm, for example).

On the more operational side, things like the serviceability of the mechanicals and engines, the accessibility of water tanks, water pumps, and the strainers, which will need a regular clean in most waters, are important, especially if anything comes up while underway. Other use-determined factors include the need for stabilization, the size of the fuel tank and the boat’s fuel efficiency, which will determine the cruising range, the size of the fresh water tank and whether there is a water maker on board, and the size of the holding tank (though depending on where you are cruising, you can pump overboard … I know, gross).


Keeping in mind how you will be using your boat in practice will greatly help avoiding an impulse buy based on boat show dreams, and will help avoid a rude awakening once the buzz and celebratory bubbles wear off. The more thought you put into what you need on your boat before buying, the greater your enjoyment will be when out using it!


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