Consumer Guide: Choosing The Best Boat

If you are shopping for boats, there are several things to consider, including price, size, sail/power, and amount of time you will be using the boat.

So you've just retired and are looking for a leisure toy for you and your family to enjoy. One of the most popular leisure activities is boating. Boating is not just for the retired, however. There is a wide range of boat owners just as there is a wide range of boats. From wooden skiffs to mega-yachts, there is certainly a boat for everyone.

When you are deciding what type of boat you want to purchase you must first consider price. The size and style of your boat will depend largely on the amount of money you are willing to spend. Once you have selected a price range you must decide on the type of boat you desire. Do you want a sailboat or a powerboat? If you want a sailboat you should know how to sail or be prepared to learn how to sail. While sailing is extremely fun and can be more relaxing than sitting on a motorized boat with a noisy engine, sailing entails much more work than puttering around in a powerboat. Once you have determined your level of commitment to learning how to operate your new toy you are ready to narrow your selection down even further.

If you have chosen to purchase a sailboat you must decide on the type of rigging you prefer. Sailboats generally have one to three masts, with a range of rigging""from the most simple to the most complex. The size of the boat will depend largely on the number of people you intend to sail with on a regular basis. If it will be just you""along""sailing the ocean blue, you may want to stick to a thirty to forty-five foot model as opposed to an eighty-foot schooner. On the other hand, if you have a large crew, do not try to squeeze them onto a twenty-one foot boat. There are racing boats that have a limited interior (for the sake of speed) and there are sailboats that act more as a floating hotel with room for televisions, furniture, etc. If you intend using the boat to sleep in make sure there is enough space for you in the cabin area. If you want to utilize the boat strictly for day sails the interior should be of less important to you.



If you decide on a powerboat you will need to choose a design that appeals to you on an aesthetic level, however you must primarily consider handling and maneuverability. Boats can have one or two engines, also called "screws". The engine can be an outboard (meaning it is on the exterior of the boat) or an inboard. Boats can come equipped with single or dual propellers and may have additional aids such as a stern or bow thruster. Thrusters were originally used by commercial vessels and large pleasure boats, but this has been changing as more manufacturers offer them for smaller single-screw boats.

Thrusters consist of a small propeller mounted inside an athwartships tunnel through the bow (or stern), just below the water line. This propeller is driven by a reversible electric motor, which is controlled by a helm-mounted switch (another words the captain can control the thrusters while he is at the driving wheel). This allows the thrust to be directed from either end of the tunnel and will push the bow either left or right. These devices are not cheap, however they aid tremendously in docking. The cheapest thruster goes for roughly five thousand dollars.

Single-screw inboard boats are the least user-friendly boats according to most boaters, and as a result, often come with bow thrusters. Without the thruster the boat is difficult to maneuver, particularly going backwards. Propwalk, where the rotation of the propeller results in a paddlewheel effect that causes the stern to move sideways, can make docking difficult. The cause of propwalk is attributed to the downward propeller shaft angle of most inboards. During docking if the boat drifts to starboard (towards the right) the stern will tuck into the dock (if the dock is on the starboard side) and you will dock beautifully. However if the dock is on the port side, the stern will kick away from the dock when you throw it into reverse. If you are concerned with your ability or desire to learn how to dock a difficult boat you should not get a single-screw inboard engine if you do not intend on purchasing a bow thruster as well.

Single-screw outboard engines are more manageable because of the location of the engine. The propeller shaft is mounted in a gear hosing that can pivot from side-to-side to direct the propeller's thrust. This allows for a far more precise directional control than the inboard design. Single-screw outboards are easier to handle than inboards, however they are no match for the two-screw boat.

The twin-screw boat has good maneuverability that comes from being able to control the output of its engines separately. The standard inboard model is believed to be the most maneuverable craft for medium to larger vessels. The reason for the twin-screw's superior performance is that it gives the most accurate control over the bow than any other propulsion system. Two-screw vessels of a small to medium size will not need a thruster of any sort.

The type of boat you purchase should match your commitment to learning how to drive it. Sailing vessels and single-screw inboards are for boaters who know what they are getting into. Novice boats desiring a boat with range and power should probably stick to the twin-screw variety or at least a single-screw accompanied by a bow-thruster. As your familiarity with boats increases so too will your ability to drive them, so it is sound advice to start simple.

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