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When buying a boat, consider how you'd like to play on the water before picking your craft.

Those shapely forms can be difficult to resist, conjuring images of lazy afternoons spent sunbathing on the bow, or drinks on the water at sunset. Purchasing a boat can be an emotional decision; the very look of the craft striking a consumer in the part of the brain that demands "buy it now."

But dealers also urge potential buyers to walk around back, and become familiar with a less tantalizing, but perhaps more important part: the engine.

Engines represent a large percentage of a boat’s value, and they’re often the chief culprit when something goes wrong. As alluring as the boat may be, knowing what type of service an engine demands, and its frequency of maintenance, can be among most important parts of the process.

“Whether you’re hauling out once a year or keeping up, you want to keep up with engine service recommendations,” said Tim Gredick, broker in charge at Charleston’s HMY Yachts. “Whether it’s this year or next year, that’s what's going to cause an issue in your prime time — if you don't keep up with those cooling systems and maintenance intervals, and then you have an overheat or a breakdown during the main part of the season.”

Offshore fishermen are often very attuned to engines, given they depend on them to get out to fishing grounds faster, and to get back from the Gulf Stream. But engines may be an afterthought to potential buyers with different purposes in mind.

“With motor yachts or cruisers, they’re looking at functionality — can we have 20 people on board and cruise around the harbor, whether it’s going to be fun,” Gredick said. “The motor yacht crowd isn’t as big into the engines and add-ons a fisherman would be … They're definitely different personalities.”

Dealers also advise buyers to have a plan. Where will you keep the boat? Where will it spend the winter? And perhaps most critically, what will you use it for — fishing, wakeboarding or just cruising up the creek?

“Is it going to be fishing boat primarily with a little bit of cruising, or is this going to be a family boat that you're going to dock-dine, take jaunts to the beach, short booze cruises, and maybe fish every now and again?” asked Jim McClure, general manager of Charleston’s Butler Marine. “Those are questions I need to ask to make sure I get them pointed in the right direction.”

Online boating forums offer other tips, like the knowing how water wears on open-cockpit fixtures, merits of new versus used, and the steeper depreciation curve on lesser-priced craft. And above all, know your budget.

“It’s so easy to look at a boat and … think in the summer, $400 a month, I won’t miss it. But when winter comes a long, that $400 a month is still looking at you,” said veteran boater Tom Hensarling, vice commodore of the Cruising Club of Charleston. “You’ve got to be reasonable about it, and not jump in and go wild.””