Like any other major purchase, buying a boat is a mix of pleasure and pain. Selecting that dream vessel is the pleasure. Deciding just what you want on it, and swallowing hard at the price tag rises ever higher, is downright painful.
What options will truly make your experience with the average runabout better? I ran down the list of options from numerous manufacturers, and came up with a few that make for a smart investment.
Canvas. Forget the low-slung convertible top. It's just not practical most days on the water. Instead, opt for a Bimini top. It will provide the necessary shade, and sit high enough off the cockpit floor to allow plenty of ventilation, not to mention room for passengers to pass underneath without ducking. A tonneau cover for the bow cockpit also gets my vote. On a cooler day, it combines with the walk-thru windshield to keep passengers in the main cockpit warmer. It also offers a spot to tuck away gear when you don't need forward passenger room. While a similar snap-on cockpit cover is handy, look at an older boat with one before you rely on it for your everyday needs.
Typically, the gelcoat outside the cover is noticeably faded or chalky from exposure to the sun. I prefer a trailerable mooring-style cover, which wraps fully around the boat's bondline. It will keep the gelcoat looking new far longer, and reduce maintenance.
Aye Tunes. For most boaters, a stereo is a must. But forget the optional multi-disc CD changer. It holds only a minimum of CDs, and those discs will be exposed to some pretty high temperatures in the summer months. A wiser choice for similar investment is an MP3 jack/iPod combo. The iPod can hold much more music, you can use it elsewhere, and it can easily be mounted in the boat. Check our Crutchfield for a variety of brackets that will keep the player secure, yet not mar its finish.
As to other options, consider that stereo remote at the helm. It allows easy selection of the right tune without digging inside the glove box or stowage to access the source unit. If you're really into your music, a second remote can be located on the transom for easy access while swimming.
Hit the Switch. Speaking of transom remotes, consider a remote trim switch, especially if you're a trailer boater who does maintenance on land. A transom tilt switch will save you from climbing aboard every time you want to tilt the engine to flush. It also allows you to easily drain the drive, or take pressure off the hydraulic rams, then raise the drive before towing.
Another useful switch is a battery on/off. This can save a day of boating if you've got something that draws down your battery. It's also a theft-prevention device, especially if the switch is located within a compartment that can be locked for security.
Look Beyond. Other items that make life easier? Select a bow ladder if available. It gets people away from the prop at the stern. It's also where you'll most often load people when nosed into a beach, not to mention the place you'll be scrambling to climb back aboard after pushing that same boat off the beach. I also like galvanized, as opposed to painted trailers. Even in freshwater, paint will likely peel over time as the metal below begins to corrode. Galvanized may not look as nice cruising down the highway, but its low-maintenance approach makes sense. It's also a must if you boat in saltwater.