There is no such thing as the “perfect” boat, and whether you’re shopping for a new dual console or a used motor yacht, you will have to make sacrifices. But some sacrifices are bigger than others. Here are some major-league issues found on modern powerboats, which should give you pause. As you shop for your new ride, be sure to look out for:
1. Cut-out Transoms – Many would argue that having a cut-out transom is no big deal. And it isn’t, until a few big waves wash right into your cockpit. It’s true that this was much more of a problem a few decades ago, before builders started integrating quick-draining splash-wells and removable water dams to help prevent water from entering the cockpit. But for those looking at older boats, this is a major design flaw to be concerned about.
2. Inaccessible Fuel Tanks – Virtually every boat has access to the tank’s plumbing and sending unit, but the bulk of the tank is often sealed beneath a fiberglass deck. Savvy builders take the time (and added expense) to provide a way to remove the fuel tank(s) but many believe that since the tank is likely to last for decades, this isn’t such a big deal. This has always been a somewhat risky move; tanks can get punctured or corrode in certain circumstances, and cutting open the deck to get a sealed-off tank out is no fun. But this problem has grown ten-fold over the past few years, along with the increased use of ethanol. Thanks to phase separation, letting old fuel sit in a tank means exposing its interior to water. And after an extended period of time, that fuel can turn into a sticky mess that can’t be pumped away easily. In fact, a proper fuel tank cleaning can cost $1,000 or more, in some areas. That’s significantly more than replacing the tank itself—unless, of course, such a replacement requires sawing through the deck.
3. Absent Anti-Siphon Loops – Every discharge hose plumbed to a through-hull fitting above the waterline should have a loop that rises substantially, to prevent back-flowing. This is the anti-siphon loop, and despite the fact that it’s an ABYC requirement, builders sometimes fail to install it. As a result, if that through-hull dips below the waterline, the boat can start sinking.
4. Terrible Toe-Stubbers – You’ll find poorly placed T-top leg bases, hull-side supports, pedestal bases, or even hinges that protrude to such a degree that they cause a preponderance of podiatric pain. No, these aren’t exactly going to lead to catastrophic boat failure, but they can make for a miserable experience aboard. So avoid (or remove) them whenever possible.
5. Snap-Roll Cats – Powercats are inherently stable, and in some cases, too stable for their own good. When they go into a roll, the righting movement can be down-right violent. All models are different and this phenomenon can be better or worse depending on load and weight distribution; the only way to check for it is a thorough sea trial in varying conditions.
6. Bash-and-Crash Hullforms – Remember when everyone and their brother built a tri-hull? Yeah, their stability was great, but talk about a pounding! The trade-off is worthwhile in certain circumstances (think: calm waters and low-speed travel) but for people who end up in heavy seas, this design is a recipe for pain.
7. Stern-Drive Bellows – Yes, we’re making a pretty sweeping generalization with this one, but it’s warranted; stern-drive bellows regularly fail, and are responsible for countless sinkings at the dock. In fact, according to BoatUS, two out of every three sinkings occur at the dock, thanks to gradual leaks or slowly failing parts. Hint: replace these regularly, per the manufacturer's recommendations.
8. Pooling Water – Some boats have it on the deck, others on the helm, and some fail to give water a way to drain from the cabin. Wherever it pools up, standing water is a bummer on a boat. Boat Shopping Tip: Always spray down a boat you’re looking at with a hose, then watch to see if water drains well, or if it pools up where you don’t want it.
9. Sub-Par Scuppers and Deck Drains – Here’s another issue related to drainage, which can cause both discomfort and danger. In a perfect world, bigger scuppers are better. But they also need to have grates or screens protecting them, to prevent leaves and garbage from entering and causing clogs. Also, remember that scuppers that drain via hoses with lots of bends and turns won’t evacuate water very quickly, when compared to those with short, straight hose runs.
10. Over/Under-Powered Outboards – We Americans are power-hungry, and we love going fast. But on a boat, there’s a fine line between fast and too fast. And, it’s not terribly uncommon to run across a boat that is simply too over-powered for its own good. Any feeling of instability or chine-walking at high speed should be taken as a warning to be careful with that throttle. But by the same token, many boats are sold in an under-powered form. This is simply a matter of economics; smaller engines cost less. If that means you can’t get up on plane with three friends, a full fuel tank, and a cooler of drinks aboard, no one’s going to be happy.
Wait a sec—won’t most boats have at least one or two attributes that show up on this list? And if not, aren’t they going to have some other fatal flaws? Of course. Remember what we said earlier: there’s no such thing as a perfect boat. All designs, construction methods, and materials force trade-offs. When you go boat shopping the important thing is to identify the downsides, assign them a degree of importance to you, personally, and then stack them up against the upsides of the boat you’re looking at. That way you won’t be spellbound by shiny gelcoat and gleaming stainless-steel, and instead, you’ll make a well-reasoned and perfectly logical choice—as if there were such a thing as "logical" about buying a new boat, in the first place.