Boat buying 101

Jim Duncan of Duncan’s boats shows all the storage compartments in the 18-foot Bayliner Element XL.

No matter where you live in the Lowcountry, there’s an alluring body of water nearby. Tranquil streams, gently winding creeks, broad rivers, picturesque lakes and a boundless ocean are all within hailing distance of your home.

But if you don’t own a boat or you lack a close friend or a sympathetic relative who does, you might miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of all Mother Nature has to offer along the Carolina coast.

Before you buy a boat, you’ll need to decide exactly how you’ll use your new toy and how much you can afford to spend to buy and maintain it. You can get into a small, used fishing boat for as little as a few thousand dollars, or you can spend $2 million or more on a yacht that can be your home away from home — or even your permanent residence.

Most of all, you’ll need advice from people who make their living buying and selling boats.

“Typically, the first thing I do when a customer comes in is ask them questions and find out exactly what they want to do with the boat, whether it’s water sports, fishing, cocktail cruises or a mixture,” said Gordon Platt of Charleston Boat Emporium.

Platt, who has been selling used boats on consignment for the past 12 years, pointed out that if all you want to do is fish, a bay boat is the best option. He said if your plan includes near-shore fishing, in the ocean but within about 30 miles of the coast, you should be looking at a boat at least 18 to 19 feet long. If you’re doing your fishing offshore, however, nothing under 24 feet will do, and another safety measure is recommended as well.

“If you’re fishing offshore without a partner boat, it makes sense to have twin motors,” Platt warned. “If one motor breaks down, you can still get back to shore.”

Jim Duncan, who has been at the helm of Duncan’s Boats in North Charleston since 2000, said a boat with a center console works well if you’re going to spend all your time on the water fishing. However, he said a runabout or deck boat is more comfortable for cruising with friends and family members.

“If you ride around Charleston County, you’ll see a lot of center consoles, and people think that’s what they need because everyone has one,” he said. “But a center console is not the most comfortable boat.”

He added that a runabout or a deck boat would be wise choices if you are going to use your boat for more than one purpose. You can take it fishing, but it also can serve you well as a ski boat or for cruising on the Lowcountry’s lakes, streams and rivers. If you want to live on the boat for a few days or longer, however, you’ll have to step up to something a little larger.

“If you want to spend the night, you’ll need a cruiser,” Duncan said. “That’s a totally different animal. It’s going to have a galley where you can cook, a place to sleep and a head. On a 24-foot cruiser, you can go to Georgetown or Hilton Head and stay on the boat without having to get a hotel room. With a 32- to 35-footer, you can go all the way down to the Keys.”

Platt and Duncan agreed that you can save money by purchasing a used boat, but Duncan warned potential buyers not to take on someone else’s problem.

“Used boats are a good way to start, but you have to be careful,” he said. “If you buy from an individual, I highly recommend you take it to a dealer to have it checked out first.”

According to Tommy Harkin of NorthPoint Yacht Sales, who has been sailing and boating in the Charleston area for more than half a century, some people purchase yachts and use them as a second home. Most yachts that are spacious and luxurious enough for this purpose cost between $100,000 and $500,000, he said.

Chuck Laughlin of St. Barts Yachts, where you can spend as much as $1.7 million on the floating home of your dreams, pointed out that it’s important to find a reputable dealer with a solid service department.

“Work with somebody you are comfortable with and share with them your dreams, expectations and desires,” said Laughlin, who has been in the business for 28 years. “Make sure they are listening to you. Then go out as a team and find the boat that matches your criteria.”

That certainly is sound advice, whether you are in the market for a small fishing boat, a yacht that can be your first or second home or anything in between. TL