TAMPA — Collin Heimensen has seen his share of first-time boat buyers.
"They are usually pretty excited," said Heimensen, sales manager for MarineMax in Clearwater. "After all, boating is a lot of fun."
A boat show, such as this weekend's Tampa Boat Show at the Tampa Convention Center, is a good place to see what's available without traveling from dealership to dealership. But before the would-be boat buyers get lost in a sea of options, Heimensen asks them three questions.
"What do they want to do and where do they want to go?" he said. "Then … I ask them where do they plan to keep their new boat?"
Sounds simple, huh?
Well, you would be surprised by how many people buy a boat, use it a few times, then wish they had purchased a model that was a little bigger or maybe more powerful.
So before you head to the show, do a little soul searching. Do you want to just go fishing? If so, do you like to fish inshore? Offshore? Both?
Maybe you're looking for a family cruiser. If that's the case, inboard or outboard? Is a bathroom a must-have option?
"There are so many things to consider," Heimensen said. "But once you decide on what you want, a boat show like this one has plenty of options."
The Tampa Boat Show has everything from small, inboard-powered ski boats to yachts that cost millions. But if you are new to boating, start at the Welcome to the Water Center, which features a dozen boats with a price point of under $250 a month.
"Boat financing is structured a little differently than car financing," Heimensen said. "You can get a boat loan that will last 120 to 144 months because boats hold their value."
Let's say you find something that fits your needs and your budget. How do you run it? That's the beauty of a boat show. Most shows offer a little bit of everything, including hands-on skills training.
Worried about docking that new bowrider? The Discover Boating Center offers on-the-water classes, taught by U.S. Coast Guard-certified captains, that range from one to three hours. You can learn everything from basic docking to anchoring and multivessel rafting. Advance registration ($15 in advance, $20 at the show) is recommended.
Anglers also can get help from the pros. Fishing seminars run 3-7 p.m. today, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and more Sunday from noon-4 p.m.
If you're a boat owner who wants to learn how to take care of your investment, stop by the Fred Shed for seminars on boat maintenance that cover everything from how to change a water pump to how to get the most fuel economy out of an engine.
There's also free, 30-minute powerboat rides at the Discover Boating Center, located at the Riverwalk entrance, from 1-4 p.m., weather permitting. And if you are feeling really adventurous, strap on some scuba tanks at the Be a Diver Pool.