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Be a well-prepared boat buyer

There are two types of people who go to boat shows: shoppers and buyers. If you count yourself among the latter, count your lucky stars. There has never been a better time to buy a boat. And if you consider yourself among the former, now might be the time to switch teams. The stock market just took a dive, houses aren't selling, and the economy, in general, has the blues. So why buy a boat? Manufacturers want to move inventory. But before you break out the checkbook, do some research. Here are some tips to help you before the Tampa Bay Boat Show on March 13-15 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg:

A list of desires

In the Tampa Bay area, one of the largest boating markets in the country, sales are roughly split between fishing and pleasure boats.

If you are shopping for a fishing boat, would-be buyers may want to look at center console bay boats and traditional flats skiffs.

The "bay" boat is the best seller in this difficult market. Many anglers have rid themselves of their offshore boats and moved to these smaller, lighter and affordable multipurpose crafts.

These boats have become increasingly popular because they can run in fairly shallow water yet still handle a chop if the seas kick up on the inland waterways.

On a good day, when the seas are calm, a bay boat is big enough to even run to nearshore artificial reefs.

But if it is a pleasure boat you are looking for, the key features you might want include a cuddy cabin and bathroom. Then again, if you have kids who want to wakeboard, you might be more interested in a tow boat.

So the single most important thing to do is determine your needs.

What's the cost?

Once you have decided what you want, set a budget. How much do you want to spend? Do you plan to pay for the boat in one lump sum or through monthly payments?

When you settle on a specific model, check the used boat ads for resale value. If you buy the boat now, what will it sell for in two or three years?

Beware of hidden costs. Make sure you understand what you're paying for. To do that, you have to learn the lingo. Boats have their own nomenclature. If you don't know what something means, ask.

Talk to your friends who own boats and ask them what they like and don't like about their boats. It may save you a lot of headaches.

Where will it go?

Another factor to consider is storage. Do you plan to trailer your boat? If so, will you keep it in your garage? On the side of your house? In a boat yard?

If you live in a deed-restricted community, make sure you know the rules before you come home with a new boat. You might have to find someplace else to keep it.

If you store your boat away from home, that will add to your monthly expense. Dry-dock storage at a marina is expensive and hard to come by. Keep this in mind when setting your budget.

Insurance is another factor. You will pay more insurance for a performance, or "go-fast," boat than a fishing boat.

Once you have answered these questions, you will be ready to play let's make a deal.

Fast Facts

Fishing school seminar schedule

March 13

10 a.m.: Rick Frazier: Wade fishing

11 a.m.: Bill Hardman: "Gold" in the Gulf

Noon: Troy Sapp: Shallow-water tactics

1 p.m.: Matt Carter: Light-tackle tips

2 p.m.: Chuck Rogers: Catching cobia

3 p.m.: Paul Hawkins: Fly-fishing Tampa Bay

4 p.m.: Neil Taylor: Confessions of a kayak fisherman

5 p.m.: Chad Carney: Free-diving for monster fish

March 14

10 a.m.: Tyson Wallerstein: Timeless tackle tips

11 a.m.: Dave Walker: Secrets of stalking fish

Noon: Paul Hawkins: Fly-fishing Tampa Bay

1 p.m.: Rick Frazier: All about artificials

2 p.m.: Neil Taylor: Getting started in kayak fishing

3 p.m.: Doug Hemmer: The inshore grand slam

4 p.m.: Dave Zalewski: Old Man and the Sea, 30 years of charter fishing

March 15

10 a.m.: Mike Manning: Fishing the North Suncoast

11 a.m.: Jim Huddleston: Gator trout

Noon: Jay Mastry: Tarpon tales

1 p.m.: Rick Frazier: Bridge and pier fishing techniques

2 p.m.: Dave Walker: Snapper secrets

3 p.m.: Neil Taylor: Kayak fishing for snook, trout and redfish

Get safety smart before throttling up

Since late 1996, Florida law requires that anyone 21 years of age or younger must take a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators-approved boating education course and carry boating education and photo identification cards in order to operate a vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or more. But it's a good idea for all boaters to take a safety class anyway.

To get a boater education card, prospective students can either take an approved, on-site class (see below) or contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at www.myfwc.com to learn more about an online "How to Boat Smart" course. The FWC also offers a correspondence course that may be obtained by calling (850) 488-5600 or writing to the FWC, Division of Law Enforcement Boating Safety Section, 620 South Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600.

Florida law also requires mandatory education for those who have had a criminal violation of state boating laws, a noncriminal violation of state boating laws if it involved a boating accident or two noncriminal boating safety infractions occurring within a 12-month period. Violators may only take "on-site" boating safety courses.

To find a boating safety course near you, contact:

Boat US (toll-free 1-800-336-2628, or www.boatus.com) or United States Power Squadron (toll-free 1-888-367-8777 or www.usps.org).

Also, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers regular boating safety classes throughout the Tampa Bay region (http://cgaux7.org).

FAST FACTS

Tampa Bay

Boat Show

When/where: March 13-15; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg

Hours: Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10-7; Sunday, 10-5

Admission: $2; children 16 and under free

What's there: Area boat dealers and manufacturers will have boats of all sizes, with marine supplies and accessories. Comparison shop in one location, and lenders will be on hand. Plus, Times Outdoors Editor Terry Tomalin has brought together his band of captains for the return of Gulf & Bay Fishing School. Visit www.tampabay

boatsale.com.

Be a well-prepared boat buyer 03/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 5, 2009 3:30am]

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