How to Find the Best Boat for You

There might be ice on the lake, but winter is a smart time to buy a boat. With a calendar full of boat shows and sales at the dealerships, this season offers fantastic deals and plenty of time to consider exactly what you want. Three local experts offer their tips to help you score the boat you want and make your boat buying process fun and easy.

Don’t think you have to win the lottery before you start looking:
“Affordability is the number one concern,” said Lee Bakken, manager of Frontier Power Sports in Fergus Falls. “For first time boat owners, I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there that it’s expensive to own a boat.” It’s not, he insists.

The statistics back him up. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the leading trade organization for recreational boating in the U.S., reports that 72% of boat owners reported an annual household income of less than $100,000.

There’s a boat for every budget, from small fishing boats to tricked out pleasure crafts built for speed and everything in between. And getting a loan you can afford might not be as hard as you think. “With boats, there’s a lot of banks that will stretch those payments out,” explained Bakken. “The reason they’ll finance them longer is a boat doesn’t depreciate as rapidly as some other products. So you can make it very affordable.”

Once the papers are signed, maintenance and expenses for upkeep are minimal for most users. “The new engines are very fuel efficient,” said Bakken. “Most people in our part of the country change oil once a year and add gasoline as needed.”

So come in with a budget and idea of what you can realistically afford to pay per month. Remember that you want the best possible boat for your money, but you don’t want to be so stressed out about overspending that you can’t get out and enjoy it.

Involve co-buyers from the start:
“You get it a lot,” explains Brian Cain, marine salesman at Outlet Recreation in Fargo. “Maybe the wife is here, or the husband is scouting first.” Cain and his colleagues will take the time to learn what the customer needs, answer questions and show them some great options. Then the customer will explain that they’d love to buy – they just need to get their partner to come in first. When they do, the entire process starts over. And the buyer who made initial contact has to listen as the second buyer asks the same questions they themselves asked just a few days before.

“In reality,” Cain said, “it would be nice if both decision makers were here.” Cain added that he’s happy to take as much time as both partners need to feel confident in their purchase. But working together on the project from the start is a much more efficient use of both buyers’ time. If you’re already planning a visit together, take a few extra minutes to sketch out a budget and write down any questions in advance. You’ll be on the same page and mentally prepared so you can focus on browsing the showroom instead of figuring out what to ask on
the fly.

Know how you’ll use your boat:
When you walk into the showroom or a boat show, be ready to answer a few key questions. (Don’t worry, you already know the answers.)

“When people come in, we ask them ‘Where are you going to use your boat?’” said Bakken. “What size of a lake? Are you going to fish? Are you going to ski? How many people are going to be in it? Are you going to be towing a skier or kneeboarder?

Salespeople aren’t being nosy – they’re being practical. “If they’re on a super small lake, putting them on a 25-foot boat isn’t really feasible,” Cain explained. “It can’t even get to top speed. And some (lakes) have length restrictions. So usually, it’s going to be size first, and then we go to floor plan.” Motor size is the last piece of the puzzle.

Marine dealers are in the business of matching customers with the perfect boat for their needs, so be honest. If it’s just the two of you now, but you’re expecting twins and want to take them (and a bevy of their cousins) out for a pontoon cruise in a few months time, say so. If you dream of water skiing, but haven’t actually tried it yet, mention that too. A professional will help you make the best choice for both your current and ideal boat ownership scenarios.

Decide which conveniences are wants and which are needs:
If you’re new to boat ownership or haven’t shopped around in a while, the electronic bells and whistles can seem overwhelming. “From trolling motors and depth finders, everything is going Bluetooth,” said Bakken. “The technology is endless.”

The advances in technology help to make boating safer and more convenient for users. And that’s a benefit for everyone.

“All of the new boats are loaded with the latest technology,” added Nate Harms, general manager of U Motors in Fargo. “From GPS to cruise control, the amenities focus on ease of use that both new and seasoned boat owners can appreciate.”

Some new improvements are less flashy, but no less popular. Towing covers are pre-fitted, without the snaps of yesteryear, which saves customers time and energy. And interiors have been re-tooled too.

“Flooring in fishing boats is going away from carpet and into vinyl floors just because of ease of maintenance and cleaning,” explained Bakken.

The towboat market has also followed a similar trend. “The introduction of synthetic flooring options to the marine industry in the past couple of years has been huge,” explained Harms. “It is less maintenance, more durable, and looks great.”

None of these advantages are strictly necessary, of course. But they do make using your boat more convenient, which means more fun on the water.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a lake place:
A lack of waterfront property doesn’t mean a boat is out of reach. “Today’s boats are easier than ever to transport, unload and enjoy,” explained Harms. “With Fargo being only 35 minutes from some excellent boating lakes, anyone can load up the family, hitch up the boat and enjoy a weeknight on the water.”

“Trailers have gotten better so they’re easier for a person that doesn’t a have cabin to get a nice bunk trailer and pull it back and forth,” added Cain. Numerous Minnesota lakes and river-based state water trails offer public access for hours of boating fun. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers downloadable, county by county guides at

Consider usage before buying an extended warranty:
“Most manufacturers have a standard three year warranty on outboard engines,” said Bakken. That’s adequate for most people in the Midwest, who will only be

using their boats for a few hours a day on the weekends. But if you live on the water all year, you want to take a sunset cruise every night or if you want to triple the time you spend fishing, it might be worth asking your sales rep about extended warranties.

For boat owners who spend more time on the water than the average user, the extra investment is well worth it. An extended warranty can cover unexpected expenses and provide extra peace of mind. “It’s like health insurance for your boat motor,” said Bakken.

Find a dealership you click with:
“At the end of the day, it’s not only about the boat, it’s also about the dealership,” said Harms. He and all the dealers interviewed for this article indicated that a dealership and a salesperson should be willing (and excited) to go above and beyond the basics to make a customer feel comfortable, both on and off the water.

So don’t be afraid to take the contact information your sales rep offers and don’t be shy about asking questions. Inquire about services that the dealer offers – from winterization to conveniences like a delivery option. If you’re a new boat owner, it can be very reassuring to have an experienced employee actually get out on the water with you and walk you through everything you need to know.

The right dealership for you is the one that will walk you through the process, answer your questions and be available for follow-up and service. A true professional knows that helping you find the right boat for you is important. But helping you make memories on the water for years to come is the real goal. ~L&H

by Alicia Underlee Nelson


A Beach Fit for You

by Dave Pedersen

Every year there seems to be more reasons to spend more time on your lake home dock as it becomes more unique and fun from morning to night.

The traditional dock may stay the same, but what can be attached is every changing, including sectional systems allowing you the opportunity to create your own space. Docks have become a gathering, entertaining and relaxing space for more and more lake homeowners.

“People are spending more time on their docks, mainly due to the comfort that is now available,” says Cindy Gray from FLOE International. “I used to have a bench on my dock and I would sit there for about 10 minutes and then leave. Since I have purchased FLOE’s aluminum swivel/rocking dock chairs, we live on the dock. We bring our coffee down there in the morning and enjoy many sunsets sitting on the dock.”

Donavan Rasmusson started working for a company called ShoreMaster based in Fergus Falls, 30 years ago. He is now an owner of Lake Area Docks and Lifts with stores in Pelican Rapids, Brainerd, Battle Lake and Cross Lake.

“Your dock used to be only used to get to your boat lift, now it is your entertainment center,” said Rasmusson, who adds that a lot has changed in the last 10 years.

Two years ago the company added furniture along with curved sections. New products include paddle board and kayak racks attached alongside the dock. He says dock space has not lessened to accommodate all the accessories.

“All benches and furniture are what they call off deck, hanging over the water,” notes Rasmusson. “The toys and equipment you play with, including water mats, can be stored on adapted sides so they don’t take up floor space.”

Along with curved sections to alter the design and make bigger platforms, most of the top dock manufacturers offer several different styles of decking used to highlight what you want. Rasmusson says, “My most popular product is the wood grain aluminum decking by ShoreMaster that looks like cedar.”

Voyager Industries based in Brandon also offers dock design and construction allowing for endless configurations without sacrificing stability. Voyager sells a special line of furniture just for docks. A swivel chair comes with a foot rest. Seats are in the form of a sling which dries off rapidly, unlike a cloth cushion.

“Dock sections and quick attach accessories can be added at any time to ensure your dock investment will meet your future lakefront needs,” said Tom McMahon from Voyager Industries. “Most recently, Voyager Dock launched a two-slot paddle board rack that quickly integrates with Voyager Dock Systems.”

Comfort has been introduced to dock accessories, resulting in more enjoyment on the dock.

“Today, especially with modular dock systems where you can create many different configurations with sundecks, the dock has become an extension of people’s living space,” says Gray. “A lot of people will have multiple docks on their property for different activities such as swimming, water sports and fishing.”

An example of how lake homeowners are customizing their docks to a desired shape is Wave Armor floating docks, built to allow you to easily attach additional accessories and components. There are floating Wave Ports for boats, canoes and personal water craft. You drive the crafts right up on the port that blends in with the dock.

“We have 10×5-foot sections that attach together,” said Kati Werner at Wave Armor. “We also have lower-down sections so you can have feet in the water. You can attach a kayak assist section to help you in and out.”

Dock accessories can create a visually appealing, decorative and festive atmosphere. Some examples include using bumpers with rounded corners that change the design, putting attractive hexagon solar lights on top of poles, and utilizing wedge sections that create a small slip for boats and lifts where there is limited space.

A company called Lifeform LED manufactures underwater LED lighting systems to add color even at night. The five LED configuration dock light starter kit produces intense light output shining both far and wide.

“Not only does the light improve your dock safety, they attract fish, make night swimming fun and take hanging out on the dock at night to a whole new level,” said Dennis Sand from Lifeform LED. “You can add up to 14 additional lights anytime.”

Boat lifts are also becoming more user friendly. FLOE is the first on the market with its Maxis Canopy System. With the push of a remote button the end of the canopy raises to allow room for towers and bimini covers when entering the lift.

The canopy sides are extra deep for great side protection and have mesh ends and sides for better air flow. The tilt is 11.5 degrees, which is just enough to get in a tower.

FLOE also has a new item called Float-N-Roll. It’s a float that goes inside the lift so you can float your lift to any location. Once you get it in place, you use a cordless drill on the level legs.

Other big sellers in accessories for dock companies are steps versus ladders and flag poles, allowing people to more prominently show their patriotism.

People want convenience and maintenance-free products, that is why people with older docks made with cedar and carpet decking are going back to re-deck with maintenance free materials.

While the lake home may always be the area that gets the most attention, putting some TLC into your dock and boat lift space can transform your shore into a more welcoming, attractive space. ~L&H


Winterizing Power Sports Equipment

By Dave Pedersen

There is more to maintaining a boat or personal water craft besides the motor. Marine vehicles should be protected inside and out, especially in cold climates, fully protecting your valuable recreational asset. Winterizing is an important step in maintaining your water craft.
You can winterize your power sports equipment by taking it to a local marine service center or you can do it yourself.
You should remember that your insurance policy may not cover damage done by lack of maintenance or neglect.

If you decide to do it yourself, the checklist should include:
Change the oil and oil filters.
Change the lubricant in engine transmission or the outboard lower unit.
Apply fogging, if called for by manufacturer.
Drain the boat’s fuel tanks as much as possible.
Fill the boat’s fuel tanks completely full.
Add biocide and/or stabilizing agents to fuel.
Change the fuel filters.
Add antifreeze to the engine’s cooling system.
Add distilled water to batteries, charge completely and disconnect.

Before you begin, plan ahead by gathering all the necessary items to perform the task. Add to the checklist tasks or specific products recommended by the manufacturer’s manual.
There are good reasons for why all this maintenance is necessary. After running your boat all summer, it is likely that water, acids and other byproducts have built up. It’s important to change the oil to prevent corrosion and excessive wear which can lead to loss of power, poor fuel economy or engine failure.
Fresh water expands in volume by about nine percent when it freezes and can push out wards with a force of tens of thousands of pounds per square inch. That expansion can crack an engine block, damage fiberglass, split hoses or destroy a refrigeration system.

An analysis of 10 years of freeze claims from the BoatUS Marine Insurance claim files found that more than three-quarters involved cracks in the engine block or the exhaust manifolds that occurred because water remained in the engine or cooling system during a hard freeze.

A customer came in last spring saying his new inboard boat won’t run right, said Tyler Neumann, service manager at Frontier Power Sports in Fergus Falls. “It turned out the engine was cracked because he said he did not know to winterize it. It cost him about $10,000.”
Repairing freeze damage takes time and all too often involves a complete engine replacement.
In The Boater’s Guide to Winterizing, you’ll find the list of items that would have prevented more than 95 percent of the freeze claims handled by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program in the past decade.

To protect the engine against damage from freezing, run antifreeze through the engine. For the best protection use marine engine grade antifreeze, either one rated to -60 or -100 degrees. Do not dilute the antifreeze or it will not perform correctly.
To protect the inside of the engine until spring you must fog the engine to protect its moving parts. You can spray them into the carburetor while the engine is running or apply it through spark plugs holes while the engine is turned over.
Winterization starts with prepping the fuel supply long before the day you haul out for the winter. The engine’s fuel supply should be treated for storage during the last week or so of your boat’s in-water use. Neumann says they used to tell customers to fill the gas tank and add a stabilizer. However, he adds that ethanol in today’s gas is not good for boats at all. It breaks down the gas and gums up the engine in a short time. Now he tells customers to drain the tank as empty as possible and stabilize the rest. If a tank is empty there is no need for a stabilizer.

If your boat is small enough, simply disconnect the batteries and bring them home. Add distilled water and charge them occasionally.
For larger boats, disconnect the batteries, add distilled water and then periodically reconnect and charge them using shore power.
There is a benefit in removing batteries and storing them in a warm environment. The cold saps the juice out of batteries, providing less cranking capacity. The other benefit is that the cable connections get cleaned when the battery gets put back.

To double the life of a battery, there is a charger, called a battery tender, available that you can leave on the battery all winter. It will not overcharge the battery, sensing the level of charge, only working as needed.

The old chargers would overcharge and ruin the battery if left on all winter. Plus, batteries have gone way up in price, so it makes sense to keep yours maintained properly.
Winterize the hull and interior of the boat. First, do a thorough examination of the hull, keeping a careful lookout for blisters in the gelcoat.

Also check for stress cracks which most often occur near the bow. Finally, pressure-wash the hull to remove dirt and debris.

Fall/winter is a perfect time to put the shine to your boat’s gelcoat, restoring or maintaining your boat’s shiny finish. By washing and waxing the boat before it goes into storage you will have less work to do when spring arrives.

Storing your boat outdoors in shrink-wrap or indoors each has their own advantages and disadvantages. If you store your boat outdoors, be sure to choose a sturdy boat cover and support structure to withstand heavy snow.

If you want to keep mice from causing trouble keep your boat away from buildings, including indoor storage areas. Neumann adds he has tried everything to keep them out but nothing seems to stop them, even mouse poison or shrink wrap.

The work you do at the end of the boating season will extend the life of your craft and is well worth the time (and money) to do it right.

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