By Pete Robbins
Looking to buy a new boat? The time may never be better than right now to make that purchase because a perfect storm of technology, the economy, boat motor innovation and industry conditions is creating some hard-to-resist opportunities for boat buyers.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
"We're selling a ton of 20- and 21-foot Ranger bass boats, and lots of 18-footers in our aluminum lines," said boat retailer Bill Day.
If either of those options is the direction that you're heading, Day said that the first part of the year is typically the best time to act. Not only can you attend the boat shows where the various brands will compete for your attention, but you also may be eligible for the many packages and rebates that are available.
Brands like Phoenix and Bass Cat have put together discounted combinations that don't skimp on any accessories or horsepower, and other makers add all sorts of throw-ins if you purchase a premium ride. Or, if you just want to upgrade your outboard motor, there are buying incentives right now that can make that easier.
CREDIT IS BACK
If you're not planning to pay cash, there's also the matter of favorable financing terms. Interest rates are at or near historic lows on both boats and motors.
"The product is better than ever and rates are cheap compared to the history of recreational financing, which started in the 1950s," said Jim Coburn, former director of the National Marine Lenders Association.
"But we expect rates to go up very soon, and perhaps even more as we live out the year 2017. Availability will be great and there will always be plenty of lenders because boat loans perform very, very well. Taking a look back, even during the recession there was great capacity."
That means you can wait if you must, but your current buying power is better than it was in the past, and almost certainly more than it will be in the future, since both rates and boat prices will no doubt go up at some undetermined point.
PLENTY OF EXTRAS
Of course, no matter how low the rates, prospective buyers rightfully want the best deal they can get. That doesn't mean you can get a 2017 boat at 2007 prices, but if you look at it as a value proposition, you're getting more for your hard-earned dollar than you received 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
All-fiberglass hulls don't rot like those with wood cores of years gone by. Two decades ago, no one had GPS in their boat. Now, not only are the units bigger and more detailed, but they're color instead of black and white, and fitted with exceptionally precise mapping chips.
Outboards are more fuel-efficient and reliable than ever, and hull designs are also improved, so even though gas is priced low right now, you'll get the double benefit of not using as much of it. With four-stroke engines, you won't need oil, either.
Bass boat users and manufacturers have been quick to adopt new technological advances that increase the amount of useful time on the water.
"Our objective is to build products that give the angler more time to fish," said Bill Carson, Field Market Manager for Johnson Outdoors. "You're not going out there to ride around and look pretty. You're going out to catch fish. We want to give you products that provide a higher propensity to have more success."
Carson noted that Humminbird's Helix 12 units, unimaginable on anything other than a spaceship a generation ago, have gained substantial new capabilities since the introduction of their first generation models, without an equal lofty increase in price.
With the Autochart feature, you can create your own maps, helping both on unmapped waters and on those that don't have adequate or accurate levels of detail. Furthermore, it's all connected by Bluetooth, so on a rainy day you can put your phone in a dry compartment and still get your messages and calls via your electronics.
Similarly, Minn Kota introduced Spot-Lock, a feature, which allows you to step off your trolling motor, press a button, attend to other responsibilities, and when you return your boat will be sitting exactly where you left it. Does it cost a few extra bucks? Yes, it does. But it allows you to eke more precious minutes out of every fishing day.
So if you're in the market for a boat, figure out what you want, do your research, check the incentives, and make that fishing dream come true.