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Sea Trial Tips



Taking a new or used boat for a spin is not as easy as test driving a new car. If you're just “tire kicking,” a dealer may be understandably reluctant to splash his inventory—particularly in salt water. One suggestion, if you want to familiarize yourself with one or more boats, is to ask the sales person to put you in touch with owners. Perhaps a local guide has one of the models you're considering; a charter would be an excellent investment. Rental services and boat clubs are another good way to narrow your selection, as are in-the-water boat shows.

Okay, so your demo is arranged and your deck shoes are laced up tight. Make the most of your time. Here are a few things to focus on:

Number one, I recommend you let the seller pull the boat away from the dock. No matter how experienced you are, every boat handles differently.

Secondly, try to bring the number of people you usually fish with. If you normally fish with four guests, try to have four additional people with you, so you can tell if the boat is suited for it. Is there enough seating for everybody to be comfortable? Try to arrange the ride on a day with the kind of sea conditions you're likely to face on a typical day of fishing. If you're getting a new boat to run across open water it'll help if you can run her into a chop. If a boat rattles or pounds in a 2-foot chop, I want to know about it before I buy it.

If the boat leaves the water running through the chop, make sure she lands stern first and quietly. If the steering isn't comfortable to you, ask if it's adjustable. Stiff steering may be the seller's adjustment preference, or it could signal trouble with the steering system.

With some older mechanical steering, the steering will get stiff before it freezes altogether.

Move your crew around. Will water come in the scuppers with everybody in the stern? Will the boat plane easily with everybody across the transom? Will the trim tabs adequately compensate for typical loads?

With the seller's permission and supervision, maneuver the boat around the dock once you're used to it. Better yet, find a buoy and practice backing up to it, maneuvering alongside, and approaching the target both into and against the wind and current. Is this a boat you'd feel comfortable docking?

Pay attention to fuel burn and load. Most engines are designed to be most efficient at 80 percent of their maximum load. If it takes more than 80 percent of maximum RPM to reach cruising speed, the boat may be underpowered, or you may want to check with the engine manufacturer to see if the motor has the best prop for your needs. FS

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