Cheap(er) Boating!

Coast Guard Boat

There’s an old chestnut that the two happiest days of a boater’s life is buying a boat and selling a boat. What can you do to keep those two days as far apart as possible? This column is about that.

For Starters

First, never compromise safety for dollars. The sea, as I keep reminding you, is a hostile environment. It makes no sense to scrimp on safety gear or on the boat’s inherent sea-keeping abilities. With that said, there is no sense being on a boat if you aren’t having fun. So, before we start, safety and fun are the two unalterable goals of the exercise.

If you are contemplating buying a boat as we head towards the “high season,” be sure you buy just enough boat — and no more. There are some real bargains out there in marinas, boat showrooms, and the internet — and many of them are there because the skipper bought more boat than he needed and, subsequently, could afford. If the bays and creeks are your goals, you don’t need a 40-foot boat, no matter how cheaply it is priced. Big boats are just inherently more expensive to maintain. From bottom paint, to dockage charges, to just having more “stuff” aboard, it all adds up. And the fuel costs are not two times for a 40-foot boat versus a 20-foot boat, they are likely to four times (my guesstimate.) It just takes a lot more energy to move a larger boat through the water.

Cheaper v. Longer?

On balance, longer wins. Cheap-grade vinyl “windows” for cockpit and flybridge enclosures will soon discolor and crack. I’ve used higher grade Strataglass in the past and it lasted much longer, saving lots of money in the long run. I’m wary of “discount” motor oils. While you may still change the oil each season, which makes the brand oil seem more expensive, I wonder what is going on with the engine that the oil is protecting.

DIY – Do It Yourself

The more maintenance and repair work you can do well yourself, the more you’ll save. But know your limits. Certain things should be left to trained professionals. Tackling these projects is asking for trouble and big expenditures. Examples might include working on electronics, refrigeration and repairs inside the engine — that that cheap oil may have precipitated . . .

Things that many can do or can learn to do include engine repair (remember, these are car engines modified for a maritime environment — and didn’t you tinker with the car engine when you were younger?) Many maintenance items can be managed by the weekend mechanic — such as changing an impeller, a raw water pump, a thermostat and alternator. Starting problems may need no more than a cleaning of battery terminals. Changing a solenoid, replacing bilge pumps, inspecting connections and perhaps adjustments, and repair of deck and plumbing leaks are not outside your consideration.

Be a student of the game. Go to seminars at boat shows. Read boating magazines and invest in marine how-to books. The right tools are better than money in the bank. They may be expensive, but if you use them well, they can save you a fortune.

Avoid wearing out things unnecessarily fast. Use good chafing gear to avoid abrasion, which can ruin a line in one blow. Good chafing gear (old garden hose wears like iron) is very inexpensive and can save big bucks. The boat itself will wear out faster if you drive it hard and fast. And you’ll save a LOT of money if you throttle her back.

And don’t forget your insurance. Do you have what you need and no more?

All food for thought . . .

If you are interested in being part of USCG, email me at [email protected].

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