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Before You Buy a Boat, Better Get Some Expert Advice

June 23, 1990|SHEARLEAN DUKE | Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Ever find yourself gazing longingly at all those boats cutting through the water every weekend on their way out to sea? Ever wish one could be yours?

If so, you are not alone. More than 60,000 Orange County residents own a boat. If you've been thinking about joining them, you might start by talking to Rick Strickland. No, Strickland doesn't sell boats, but he has taught a lot of people in Orange County how to buy them.

For nearly three years, he's been teaching a boat-buying class for would-be owners. "Over the years, I had a lot of questions about boats from co-workers, family and friends," says Strickland, a volunteer boating instructor for the Coast Guard Auxiliary. "After a while, I told my wife I was getting all the same questions all the time."

One of the most important questions, Strickland says, was: What's it going to cost me? Although boats can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a used, one-person sailboat to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a big powerboat, most potential buyers are looking for something they can "take to Catalina," Strickland says. "The most frequent question I get is, 'How big a boat do I need to get to Catalina?' "

The answer to that question, says Strickland, is, "it depends."

The size of the boat is not as important as the skipper's training and experience, he says. "I tell them from my own experience, if you have a nice quality boat and some training, you can go in anything from a 21-footer," Strickland says. "I generally recommend a 21- to 23-footer with a radio. And if the boater is not experienced, I recommend that they have another boat go with them."

But after offering that advice, by the time Strickland gets through ticking off all the month-to-month expenses, like slip rent, insurance costs and taxes--costs that can double the monthly payment on a typical boat--some buyers change their minds. "Most people are surprised," says Strickland, a lifelong boater who says he teaches the classes just for fun. "They know how much the boat costs, but they don't know about those other amounts."

As an example, Strickland quotes costs on a mythical 28-foot powerboat. Using an automobile analogy, he says, "I tell them we're talking Chevrolet here, not a Rolls-Royce. Just a well-known boat, from a well-known manufacturer--a used boat about 5 to 10 years old. It would cost about $30,000 to purchase such a boat."

Then, Strickland reminds prospective buyers, it will cost them anywhere from $220 to $350 in slip fees just to park the vessel somewhere in Orange County for the year. Add to that $300 a year in insurance, $300 in taxes, plus $500 to $600 for an annual haul-out and the bills begin to mount up. "And if the boat has twin gas engines, it could run about one mile per gallon in fuel costs," he adds.

If visions of bankruptcy flash through your head, then Strickland suggests you save your money and consider renting a boat when you feel the urge to head to sea. "I cover that (the money part) right up front," he says, "because that is the big question: What is it going to cost you? So, I answer that as thoroughly as I can. Some people say, 'No, I would be getting in over my head.' Others say, 'Let's go ahead and buy a boat.' "

Strickland, who works as a supervisor in the Orange County Probation Department, points out that it makes no difference to him what his students eventually decide. "There is nothing in this for me," he says. "I am not a broker or a salesman. I don't sell boats and I don't have stock in any of these companies. For me, teaching the class is fun because I like boating. My family and I have gotten a lot out of it."

For those who opt to buy, the next question is what kind of boat and what size. Strickland uses the mythical 28-foot powerboat as an example because, he says, his research shows that is the most popular size and type of boat among Californians. But instead of buying what is popular, he says, it makes better sense to analyze your needs and find the right boat for yourself.

"You can't find one boat that fits all sizes and all needs," he says. "So do you want it for cruising, fishing, diving, sailing, racing, skiing? Most people do not know what kind of boat they want."

One of the fundamental questions you must decide is between power and sail. If you don't mind spending all day getting to Catalina and all day getting back, then a sailboat may be just the boat for you. But if your kids would drive you crazy during a six- to eight-hour crossing to Catalina, then you might start thinking about a powerboat that can get you there in two or three hours.

"Powerboats generally cost more to purchase than sailboats of the same size," Strickland says. "And sailboats are cheaper to run since mother nature takes care of some of your operating costs."

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