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Preparation is key to boat buying at Tampa Bay Boat Show

ST. PETERSBURG — How do I know I am getting old? My knee aches. I switched to "lite" beer. And if that isn't bad enough, I'm seriously considering trading in my fishing boat for a vessel with comfy cushions and a Porta Potty.

My boating buddies might consider that blasphemy, but before you demand that I surrender my "man card," let me make my case.

The bay boat is probably the most versatile watercraft manufactured today. A favorite of anglers such as me, these versatile boats vary from 20 to 23 feet in length and can run in fairly shallow water yet still run offshore on a good day.

Small, light and affordable, these multipurpose crafts can do just about anything. And as far as maintenance goes, all you have to do his hose down the blood and fish guts and you are ready to go.

But there is a drawback to the bay boat, and that is its lack of bathroom facilities. On several occasions I've tried to explain to my wife that a plastic 5-gallon bucket has a myriad of uses, but she remains unconvinced.

So, once again, I'm headed to the Tampa Bay Boat Show, which runs today through Sunday at Tropicana Field near downtown St. Petersburg, to see if I can find a vessel that will suit the whole family.

Set a budget

The first thing boat buyers must determine is what they need verses what they want.

I'd like to have a 36-foot, triple-engine center console with a Mack-Daddy stereo system and fighting chairs mounted on the bow and the stern. But then I'd need a rich benefactor to fill the fuel tank so I could chase kingfish 100 miles offshore and not have to worry about gas bills.

So before you hit the showroom floor and become dazzled by all the fancy boats, set a budget. How much do you want to spend? Will you pay for the boat in one lump sum or finance it through monthly payments?

And before you buy, check the used boat ads for resale value of the model you have in mind. What will it likely sell for in two or three years?

Know your needs

If you plan to fish, and that's it, then the size of the live well or the number of rod holders will probably be important factors.

But if you're looking for an all-around pleasure boat, the key features you might want include a cabin and bathroom. Check to see if the amenities you want are standard features or options. For the best deal, find a boat that is a "boat show special," which means loaded and ready to go.

This year's Tampa Bay Boat Show features many 2012 models, including two that I recently tested — Chaparral's 264 Sunesta deck boat and Robalo's 247 dual console from Indian Springs Marina. In both cases, the dealer is offering deep discounts to move inventory.

However, you will also find great bargains on 2011 models that have been taking up space in the showroom. Most year-old boats have no wear and tear on the engines and are usually sold at or near dealer cost.

Decisions, decisions

I liked the versatility of the Robalo Dual Console. This 24-footer had the functionality of a fishing boat, yet comes with an optional "comfort" package that includes cabinets in the bathroom.

But Chaparral's Sunesta, one of the best-selling deck boats on the market, has custom bucket seats with flip-up cushions, to take some of the wear and tear off my aging knees, and several insulated ice chests to keep an assortment of beverages cold.

But in the end, I have really no say as to if and when, I will upgrade. That will be decided by a higher power.

.Fast Facts

Tampa Bay Boat Show

When: Today and Saturday,

10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg

Information: Call (727) 342-5721;

Admission: Free. Parking: $5

Fishing advice: Come hear Captain's Corner correspondents Bill Hardman, Neil Taylor, Pat Damico and Jim Huddleston offer tips on everything from artificial lures to fishing the wrecks.

Reading material: Tampa Bay Times Outdoors Editor Terry Tomalin will sign copies of his new book, Everyday Adventures, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.

Preparation is key to boat buying at Tampa Bay Boat Show 03/08/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2012 9:05pm]
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