Every spring I think about buying a new boat. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that there is nothing wrong with my old boat, except that it is old, and I am a sucker for anything new and shiny with a lot of horsepower. So last Monday, the first day of nice weather we have had in months, I decided to take a test drive with my daughter, who I hoped would convince my wife that it was time to upgrade. Jenn Vinci-Dilkey of Largo's Indian Springs Marina was willing to humor me even though she knows I'll never trade in my center console for something with a real bathroom instead of 5-gallon bucket, which is why Mrs. Tomalin doesn't like my fishing boat. After much discussion, Vinci-Dilkey suggested I consider Monterey's new 260 Sport Cruiser. The boat has a trailerable, 8-foot, 6-inch beam, which means I would not have to store it at a high-and-dry. Below decks, the cruiser has all the comforts of home, including a small TV, which my 6-year-old would have been watching had she not convinced our host to share the wheel.
After a quick trip to Caladesi Island State Park for French fries and ice cream, we cruised back to the marina, where I informed Vinci-Dilkey that I loved the Monterey, but I wanted to see some of their other models as well.
"Monterey has a whole line of Sport Cruisers," she said. "You should take a look at the 280."
That boat, coincidentally, will be one of the dozens of new models on display at this weekend's Tampa Bay Boat Show at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
This year's show will feature everything from center console fishing boats to the previously mentioned sport cruisers.
Many dealers will be pushing "bay" boats, the hottest seller in this market because they are probably the most versatile watercraft manufactured.
Bay boats, which vary in length from 20 to 23 feet, can run in fairly shallow water yet still handle a chop if the waves kick up on the inland waterways. On a day when the seas are calm, a bay boat is big enough to even run to nearshore artificial reefs.
But before you sign on the dotted line, think long and hard about your boating needs. Do you want a fishing boat or an all-around family vessel, such as the Monterey 260 Sport Cruiser?
Once you decide 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 likely 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.
Another factor to consider is storage. Do you plan to trailer the boat? If so, will you keep it in your garage? On the side of your house? In a boat yard? If you store the boat away from home that will add to your monthly expenses.
Your best bet is to take a pad of paper and a pen, walk the show and take some notes. Go home and sleep on it, then go back the next day and narrow your choices.
Don't be afraid to sleep on it again and go back a third day.
The educated consumer always gets the best deal.