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Boat Shopping Tips from a Local

BECU spoke with Bob Hawley, Owner and Manager of Boat Country, a local business operating for more than 20 years. Bob, a third-generation boat businessman, gave us his tips when watercraft shopping.

BECU: Thank you for speaking with us! Now that the weather is nicer, are people boat shopping?

BH: Spring is actually our busiest time of year. The best time to buy is before summer: Factories will offer some pretty attractive incentives for the buyers in the form of rebates and incentives. When you get into late summer, sometimes you get into supply issues, and the incentives have all run their course.

BECU: Who is your typical buyer?

BH: All ages – we're mostly everyday working folks selling to everyday people interested in fishing and crabbing the Puget Sound.


We of course have young families looking, but the bulk of our customers are a little bit older; their family has grown – they finally have time for fishing!

BECU: Do you specialize in fishing boats?

BH: Absolutely. We specialize in two facets of the business, selling mostly crabbing and fishing boats ideal for Puget Sound local weather. The bulk of our business is aluminum fishing boats primarily 20 – 22' and below. 

BECU: Why aluminum?

BH: The trend has gone away from fiberglass to aluminum. Aluminum dominates the market tremendously. Statistically speaking, the fiberglass market has declined, while aluminum gains steam every year.  For one thing, aluminum are more affordable than fiberglass boats. There are new regulations for emissions, which drives up the costs, plus everything in a fiberglass boat is petroleum based – so the overall expense of a fiberglass boat has gotten astronomical.

Then you have an aluminum boat: Technology has advanced so much, what with the welding and cutting, that they can really do nice stuff with aluminum now. Aluminum are durable, long-lasting and lightweight – they have a lot of advantages. And, a lot are multi-purpose boats.

BECU: As in doubling between a fishing and speed boat?

BH: Oh, sure. It's a great compromise if you want both options. We sell Smoker Craft, and rather specialize in family-type fishing boats – get on the water skis, pulls the kids in the inner tubes, all that good stuff.

BECU: Okay, let's get to the numbers – what is the typical size or sales price sold?

BH: In the new stuff, utility boats can start anywhere from 5 – 6K on up, although your average new boat is in the upper teens – mid-twenties. 


However, as we do such a variety of used, that can really vary. A hot item right now is a used 16 – 18' aluminum boat – they're very hard to find. People who can't afford to buy new seek in the 8 – 12K range for the aluminum.

BECU: You mention you have a variety of used. Does it range in styles, too?

BH: We're the largest used boat dealer in the state of Washington. We do a lot of consignment and brokerage; we have our own trade-ins, and we sell a lot of boats for a lot of folks. We typically sell 34' and below, which is quite a variety. It could be a cruiser, a ski boat, a fishing boat, anything.


When it comes to used, we generally have anywhere from 75 – 150 used boats at any given time, and all shapes and sizes.

BECU: Would you recommend used over new?

BH: It really depends on your needs. New boats can typically get better financing and interest rates – as well as covering most of the product. Honda carries a 5-year warranty; Smoker Craft carries a 6. These days, you have long, very good warranties on anything new.


My advice to anybody in the used end of it is just to make sure it's professionally checked – and make sure you put it on the water and run it around before it's purchased.

BECU: Can you get a warranty on a used boat?

BH: There are such things as after-market warranties out there, but typically, you can only buy them with late-model boats. Your money is better spent on getting mechanical inspections and surveys.

BECU: We talked size of boat – where do people store them these days?

BH: Nowadays, a lot of people have criteria that it can fit into their garage. So many people can't just park their boat in the street. Most neighborhoods have that problem – it's very common for people to define, “it has to fit.”

So we do things to get specific lengths: Swing tongue is a common option.

BECU: A swing tongue?

BH: Yup; it's a joint on the tongue that you can shorten or lengthen. It lets you fit a boat in the garage. We sell enough that by now, we know which boats can get in the garage's length. 

BECU: Okay, so it fits in the garage. How big of a car do you need to tow?

BH: You might be surprised! A lot of vehicles are capable of pulling. Every vehicle has a weight rating – you just have to find out what your rating is. In most cases, the average SUV can pull a 2,000 lb. payload, which fits many 16 – 18' boats.  We've even hooked boats on to Subarus and Hondas.

BECU: How about launching – easy or difficult?

BH: Typically, our boaters are fairly new to launching. Since their biggest fear is launching, we go through the whole process of launching and retrieving.

BECU: Do all boat dealers help with launching?

BH: A lot of places are landlocked, but they do it on land as best they can. We're a little bit unique in that we can teach people on the water. We're at Dagmar's Marina, where we have a private 8-lane boat launch right next to our lot. So, we offer launch training on every boat sale. We take you out on the water and go over everything on the boat, so you're comfortable with the trailering and boating process when you leave.

BECU: Should I try renting instead?

BH: You can. And we get calls all summer long with people wanting to rent a boat. However, the problem with renting is that the rental might not suit what you want to do. And these days, you have to have a boater education card in order to rent.

BECU: How do I get a Boater Education Card?

BH: You can acquire one online; it takes a couple of hours. The laws in Washington have changed, and it's mandatory now, depending on your age.  I've done it; I've got my card! Even if it wasn't the law, I'd recommend it for people.

There are even U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary classes that take it up a notch. A little boating education goes a long way.

BECU: You're clearly an expert!

BH: Well, my grandfather started our family in this business. So you could say I'm a third-generation boat guy.

BECU: Where do you like to go boating?

BH: The Puget Sound is pretty unique – there are a lot people from all over the country who come here and spend time in the islands. Personally, I grew up in Bellingham and we're out in the islands all the time.

BECU: Finally, tell us your no. 1 tip for people considering buy a boat.

BH: First – find the layout you like. Then, it's very important you get a sea trial and run the boat when you buy it. All the boats look pretty nice and beautiful on the showroom floor. But there are a lot of boats that don't run that well on the water. If you're going to buy anything, whether it's new or used, test drive it. They don't always work as well as they look!