Buying a boat can be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle: it requires you to spend lots of time (and patience) assembling different pieces, and the end result can be frustrating.

To minimize the hassle, some boat manufacturers offer complete turn-key "packaged boats" that are ready to launch. With one decision (and one check), you'll have a well-matched boat, motor and trailer combination at a price that would be hard to equal if you bought the pieces individually.

bass boat package from tracker

The 2015 Tracker Pro 160 comes with a 20HP motor and a trailer.

Bass boats, runabouts, deckboats and cruisers are all available as packages from most major manufacturers and, even better, banks and lending institutions are making loans readily available for packaged boats. For an inexpensive $25,000 boat you can expect up to a seven year loan and payments as low as $350 to $400 a month for an outboard-powered runabout that's ready for the water.

Start your boat quest by being honest with yourself: how do you plan to use the boat? If you're a fisherman, look for center console or bass boats that give you everything you need to fight the big ones. Watersports enthusiasts will want to have sufficient power and towing points,comfortable seating, as well as stowage for wake boards and water skis. For general family boating, you should consider all-purpose bowrider runabouts or mini-cruisers that have space for overnighting.

This isn't to suggest that you can't fish from a cruiser or wake surf behind a fishing boat, but you'll get the most enjoyment from your boat if you tailor it to your needs. The uses for a boat are limited only by your imagination: you can waterski, explore, swim, fish, skindive, or simply spend time in a healthy atmosphere.

By nature, packaged boats are trailerable, so you are free of the costs and difficulties encountered with larger boats which require slips, annual haul-outs and increased maintenance. With a trailerboat package, you can easily tow it behind small cars or sport trucks, store it in your driveway, and launch it whenever you want. Many smaller boats can be stored in your garage for all-weather protection. Bayliner, for example, even researched garage sizes and then designed boat and trailer combinations to fit inside.

But, if you've never owned a boat or are considering your first packaged boat, what should you look for? Here's a quick buyer's guide.

Factors To Consider:

How many people will you need to carry? A family of four obviously requires four seats, but what about guests?

If you plan to do your boating in the ocean, then you'll need a boat that offers protection and seaworthiness offshore. For rivers and lakes, you'll want a boat with speed and nimbleness.

Quality Checks:

Even a novice boater can look and feel and touch quality. Are corners rounded for safety? Are seats and bunks sized for real people? Are the switches waterproof? Is the swim ladder sturdy? Is the windshield solid or flimsy?

Inspect the nooks and crannies because you want a builder that takes care to do a good job even in the hidden areas. Sharp edges, loose strands of fiberglass, screw ends that can snag your hands or clothing, and unfinished wood are all symptoms of sloppy construction. Look under the cleats and grabrails to make sure they're through-bolted with sturdy backing plates. See if the gas tank can be easily inspected for corrosion and, even more important, if it can be replaced without tearing up the boat.


Some boats simply don't have adequate stowage, so you need to run down a mental checklist (or even a written one) to see where you'll put everything from fishing rods and waterskis to sun cream and charts. If the boat doesn't have an integrated cooler or a refrigerator, then you'll want space for an icechest to keep drinks and food cool. Don't forget all the Coast Guard equipment, such as life jackets and flares, as well as boat gear like anchors, dock lines and fenders.


While every packaged boat comes with a standard engine, you may want to upgrade to a more powerful optional engine. Larger engines often boost resale value, and faster speeds on the water are fun. But don't forget, larger engines not only cost more up-front, they burn more fuel, too.

If you have qualms about whether a boat will easily pull tow-toys or isn't fast enough, contact other owners to see if they're satisfied.


Packaged boats usually have trailers custom-fitted by the manufacturer, so make sure the dealer hasn't substituted a local brand. The manufacturer's custom trailer assures you that the rollers or bunks are properly distributed to provide good support. A custom trailer is also likely to be lower than a generic brand, which makes for easier launching as well as more stable trailering.

Other points to consider on trailers are an optional electric winch (believe me, your back will appreciate it!), a removable trailer tongue to prevent theft and simplify stowage, and step pads for boarding the boat. Be sure the trailer has sealed wheel bearings to prevent rust, waterproof taillights that won't short out (LEDs are best), and if it has a freshwater flushing system, so much the better.

Shopping Price

Packaged boats uniformly include the basic boat, trailer and engine but, from that point, the range of equipment varies considerably so you'll want to do some comparison shopping. Make up a chart that compares the various boats, their standard and optional equipment, and the prices. You may find that the more expensive boat is actually a better buy because it includes all the equipment that you'd want to add to a lower priced boat.

As you compare boats, don't forget the "add-on" prices above and beyond the cost of optional gear. You'll probably find considerable variation in delivery charges and dealer preparation charges, which will affect the final price.

Buying The Boat

Gather brochures, inspect boats in showrooms or at boat shows, and compare the construction and performance claims. Make a list of items to check, and don't hesitate to get the opinions of experienced friends. Finally, before signing on any dotted lines take the boat for a sea trial, and make sure it performs as you expected. Most important, take your time and don't be rushed into a decision.

Choosing the right dealer is just as important as picking the right boat, since you may need warranty work and you'll probably be returning for maintenance and repairs in the future. Is the sales staff knowledgeable about the product line, have they been to the factory, and do they have on-water experience with the boats?

Don't forget to check into the after-sales service, too. You'll want to buy from a dealer who has an on-site service department with personnel trained in both engine and hull repairs. There should also be a parts department for engine parts and boat gear.

Before you sign on the dotted line, ask for a list of recent customers and contact them to find out how they've been treated and how well they like their boat. You'll quickly find out which dealers take care of their customers, and which don't.

Packaged boats take the work and worry out of new boat buying, so use your common sense, shop around and you may have a shiny new boat in your driveway soon!

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on in August 2000.