Speed boats are quite unlike other boats; they’re worlds apart from those plodding motor yachts, fish-scented center console boats, and moderately-powered runabouts. Even their lake-bound brethren, high-performance pontoon boats, share little with true speed boats. Their purpose is singular, and their requirements are rather extensive when compared to other types of craft.
So when you go shopping for one, you need to do your homework. Whether a 60 MPH two-seater or a 200 MPH turbo-cat is in your future, make sure you check out these five things before signing on the dotted line.
Obviously, this is a rather important feature in a speed boat. But remember that sheer power is not the end-all be-all item to consider. Reliability and longevity are two things that many speed boat buyers tend to disregard, at their peril.
Many speed boat engines are designed to run fast, run hard, and live a short life. That’s why most come with a very short warranty—usually no more than a year and/or 100 hours of operation, and sometimes as little as 10 hours of operation. As a boat buyer, obviously, you need to recognize the risk. If you’re buying new, remember that you may need to do major repairs or even replace a powerplant in just a year or two, and you need a financial plan that takes this into consideration—more than one speed boat has been purchased, used for a short period of time, then sat neglected because the owner didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to pay for a new engine. And if you’re buying a used speed boat, you’ll be well served by shelling out a few bucks to pay a marine mechanic to examine the powerplant (and drive unit(s), when applicable), prior to making a purchase.
In a speed boat, handling isn’t just a matter of convenience or pleasure; it’s a safety issue. At speeds of 60 or 70 MPH many boats can get a bit “squirrely” or chine-walk, which is an extremely dangerous situation. So just think of how much trouble you can be in if this happens while travelling at 100 MPH, 150 MPH, or even more.
The only way to tell how a high performance boat handles is to take it for a sea trial, period. Don’t believe what anyone else tells you because even if correct from one standpoint, it may not be correct about you, personally. An example: Bob is a highly-experienced driver who’s handled 150 MPH stepped-hull boats for dozens of hours of running time, and he finds the handling of a Speed Boat X perfectly acceptable. But Joe, who’s used to handling straight deep-V’s, may find Speed Boat X downright scary. You, personally, are a completely unique case. So before deciding if a boat is the right one for you, a sea trial is mandatory.
Many speed boats are designed solely to go fast, with only a minimal crew. That may be fine for the die-hard race fanatic, but most of us want a boat with at least a little bit of versatility. And yes, there are plenty of choices out there. Those who want a cabin with a king-sized berth, air conditioning, and a full helm can look at boats like the Nor-Tech 420, which can run in the mid-70s with a pair of Mercury Racing 525 EFIs. If you enjoy wetting a line from time to time, you can look at boats like the Midnight Express 39 Open. Powered by a trio of Seven Marine 557 HP outboards, it’ll run you up into the upper 80’s but still has the flexibility and accouterments to go fishing when you like. Or for you guys who enjoy toting along a crowd for a ride—a really, really fast ride, that is—boats like the MTI 48, a 160 MPH cat that has no cabin but does sport cockpit bolster seating for six, should do the trick.
To attain those eye-watering speeds without shaking apart, speed boats need to be built strong—extremely strong. Most that hit triple digits are more than mere fiberglass, with Kevlar or carbon-fiber construction. But it’s tough (read: nearly impossible) to judge things like hull layup strength when you’re buying a boat. The best way to approach this issue is to do your research; look into a builder’s history closely, google the builder’s name along with search terms like “hull failure,” and if at all possible do a plant visit and see how the builder does things, first-hand.
If you’re looking at a used boat, do the same type of research, but be sure to include the model and year of the specific boat you’re looking at. Boatbuilding companies change hands a little more often than you might think, and different owners and plant managers do things differently. That 2010 model might be built as tough as they come, but the 2011 and 2012 models could be a completely different story.
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness
This is true of all boats, and should be considered by all boat-buyers. If you’re buying a new boat from a dealership, you can learn a lot about the dealer by looking around his showroom and shop. It’ll clue you in to how detail-oriented he or she is, and gives you some insight into what sort of service you might expect down the road. Looking around a builder’s plant can gain you even more insight into what’s in store for you, if you purchase one of their boats.
For the used boat buyer, the overall appearance of the boat will tell you how much the current owner cared about the boat. Boats that look dirty and neglected are probably just that—neglected. You can bet that an owner who doesn’t bother to keep his boat clean probably hasn’t always kept up with regular mechanical maintenance, either. Chances are that someone who’s nuts about keeping their boat spic and span, on the other hand, has kept up with maintenance—and probably saved the records to prove it, too.
Are these five things the only ones you need to think about, when you go shopping for a speed boat? Of course not; buying a boat of any sort is a complicated affair. But these five biggies must not be ignored. For some other tips on things to look for when you go boat shopping—whether it’s a speed boat or a tug you plan to purchase—these articles should also be a help.
10 Tips for Getting a Great Deal on a Used Boat
10 Minute Walkaround
3 Tips for Negotiating Boat Prices
Top 10 ways to be a Savvy Online Shopper
How to Buy a Boat: Tips for the First Time Buyer
Survey it Yourself, From Stem to Stern