Hard to believe that at one time seat belts were optional equipment in automobiles. Much as I am loathe to make comparisons between cars and boats—they are more different than alike—it sure seems to apply in this case. And no, I am not about to not recommend seat belts in boats.
However, it’s not difficult to imagine someone at some car company way back when in a meeting about seat belts—most likely Volvo—saying something like, “You know, that ought to be standard.”
As many options lists as I pore over in the process of covering the runabout and tow boat markets for Boats.com, I keep arriving at a similar sentiment regarding a few pieces of equipment that really ought to be standard. Really.
Let’s start with a depthfinder. Every boater needs to know how deep the water is. Every one of them. So why is a depthfinder optional on so many models? If boatbuilders would offer them, maybe they wouldn’t see so many “claims” about hulls “delaminating” or face so many destroyed sterndrive lower units. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could imagine that excluding a depthfinder is actually a way to develop repair business for their dealers. So let’s not even go there, if it’s not too late.
Other items I see all too often on options lists are canvas covers and bimini tops. Why? Every boat needs a cover, regardless of where it’s stored, and because the majority of your boating takes place during summer days, it just makes sense that a bimini should come standard. I can remember going boating when I lived in Florida, and with no bimini top, the summer sun is just brutal. Same goes for all those times I was out on the Colorado River. The sun is so merciless that a bimini is a must -- but for some reason it costs extra on so many models.
I also think a bow filler cushion and a removable dinette table should come standard on all runabouts and tow boats. If it's not immediately clear why these items should be standard, I’ll tell you: They're the kind of features you don’t realize you must have until you have used them at least once. For example, the first time you put the bow filler cushion in place, it’s likely you’ll never remove it. The “playpen” it creates is not only utilitarian, but it also makes it more fun to ride up front.
Likewise, the dinette table is something you may not realize you need until you use it. Think about it this way: You bring fold-out tables to your tailgate parties at the stadium, right? So why wouldn’t you need one for serving lunch or a snack during a day on the water? Laptop eating is uncomfortable and messy on a small boat.
Of course, I don't think any of these items are as important as safety belts in a car. But they go a long way in rewarding entry-level buyers with features they might not realize they need. Preventing new boaters from damaging their boats and helping them maintain and enjoy them represents the kind of forethought that turns novices into lifelong boaters, and you can’t put a price tag on that.