Never over­look the ob­vi­ous dur­ing a sea trial.



Sit­ting in the helm chair of a mid­size con­vert­ible re­cently, I noted the sightlines were 360 de­grees— per­fect for cruis­ing, dock­ing, and watch­ing the cock­pit. But as I stood up and pulled away from the dock I re­al­ized some­thing was miss­ing: I could no longer see the gauges that were re­cessed into the helm con­sole.

It re­minded me of another boat with id­iot lights on the dash panel fit­ted with wrist­watch-size gauges. Dur­ing this sea trial a hose slipped off the heat ex­changer, dump­ing en­gine coolant into the bilge. I was run­ning the boat from the lower helm sta­tion and when the light lit up I couldn’t see it be­cause the sun glare was pour­ing through the wind­shield. The alarms quickly fol­lowed, but it took pre­cious mo­ments to study the gauges to de­ter­mine ex­actly what was go­ing on. Though I was able to shut off the en­gine be­fore it cooked, the alarm and the time it took to iden­tify the source left me rat­tled.

The les­sons I learned that day can­not be over­stated. It is not enough to have the usual fea­tures on a boat; they also have to func­tion when you need them. The ex­cite­ment of step­ping aboard a new boat with an un­fa­mil­iar helm has to be aug­mented by as­tute, coldly ra­tio­nal ob­ser­va­tions.

The other day, a friend com­plained to me about a new boat he had sea-tri­aled, claim­ing it ran ter­ri­bly. I knew the boat and was sur­prised by his dis­sat­is­fac­tion. I of­fered to go with him on another sea trial. This time around I un­der­stood his plight; his cur­rent boat had a top speed of 21 knots, and he typ­i­cally cruised at 18. This new ride was big­ger, more pow­er­ful and cruised at 36. This was dou­ble the speed he was used to, and he was un­nerved by the ve­loc­ity be­cause he had never driven a boat that fast. Even more so, at top end, this boat would hit 40 knots, not to men­tion its frisky idle.

The les­son here is that when you sea trial a new boat, es­pe­cially if it’s larger and has more power than your cur­rent one, you should be­gin by run­ning it at the cruise speed you are used to. This of­fers a bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion of how it feels and han­dles in your fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment. Once you have gained some con­fi­dence and are more fa­mil­iar with the power in your hands, you can let all the ponies out of the sta­ble and bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ate your new boat’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

While the power and propul­sion as­pects of the sea trial are crit­i­cal, save am­ple time to pe­ruse the en­gine com­part­ment and other ma­chin­ery spa­ces. If you have been out of the boat-buy­ing process for sev­eral years, you will likely be as­tounded at the way most man­u­fac­tur­ers have cleaned up the en­gine com­part­ment and in­tro­duced new equip­ment, such as gyro sta­bi­liz­ers and other high-end ac­ces­sories. How­ever, the more com­plex the ma­chin­ery, the more at­ten­tion it needs on the main­te­nance front.

Give the sales­per­son time to walk you through the spa­ces so you not only learn about what you are buy­ing, but also the ef­fort and ex­pense needed to keep ev­ery­thing func­tion­ing prop­erly. Don’t hes­i­tate to climb around the ma­chin­ery and see for your­self what it will be like to swap out bat­ter­ies, change wa­ter­maker fil­ters, clean raw-wa­ter strain­ers, check the en­gine and gen­er­a­tor zincs, and per­form other rou­tine chores.

The more fa­mil­iar­ity you gain, es­pe­ically dur­ing the rel­a­tively short time frame of a sea trial, the more com­fort­able you will be with your de­ci­sion.

Think about main­te­nance when in­spect­ing an ER.

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