Buying a boat for the first time can be a little intimidating, so it's perfectly okay to ask for help and support along the way. One of the best places to seek advice and support is at your local boat dealership. Keep in mind that while you’re comparing boats, the dealer you decide to do business with will also have a huge impact on your boat-buying and ownership experience. Depending on your location, there might be only one who carries the model of boat you really want; however, if you’re torn between two or three models from different brands and different dealers, the quality of the dealership and its staff may well sway your decision.
Advantages of Working with a Boat Dealer
Shopping at a boat dealership presents a number of advantages, particularly for first-time boat buyers.
- Most dealers service what they sell, so you’ll establish a solid foundation for future customer support.
- Dealers are extremely familiar with the brands they offer—making them an excellent resource on general boating knowledge and terminology.
- Dealers act as a liaison between you and the manufacturer.
- They can assist with arranging boat financing, titling and registration, deliveries and pick-ups.
- They’ll ensure that your buying experience and transition to ownership is smooth and enjoyable.
- Well-versed in local boating areas, dealers are your go-to source for guidance and advice post-purchase.
Choosing the Right Dealer
Some points of comparison are relatively easy to figure out when looking at one dealer versus another. For instance, if you are partial to an engine make, a dealer who services that engine might rank higher than another dealer—and we would advise selecting the boat based upon some local ability to get your boat serviced by factory-trained personnel. Other factors—such as customer service and commitment to the brand of boat you’d like to purchase—can be harder to determine.
Here are some elements to look for at the dealership to identify dealers who are more likely to enhance your buying experience:
1. Has the dealership been certified or received any industry awards or local community accolades?
A Marine Industry Certified Dealership has made a commitment to putting customers first. It begins with the Marine Industry Consumer Commitment setting the bar to provide outstanding and ever-improving customer sales and service experience. If a dealership participates in the Marine Industry Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) program and has received CSI awards, it is a good sign that it has a culture of top-quality customer care. Community involvement is also a sign the dealership has a customer-first organizational focus.
2. Does the store staff seem happy? And do you like the staff?
If you find that people in the store are attentive, engaging and genuinely happy to see you, it bodes well for the future. Plus, it’s always nice to work with people you like and, unlike a traditional retail interaction, a boat dealership is one business that you’ll likely develop an ongoing relationship with.
3. Do your research online.
If the positive reports far outweigh the critical posts, it’s likely a good reflection of their overall customer service.
4. Talk with existing customers and local boaters.
Don’t be afraid to ask for references. You’d expect the same during a job interview. And if you have friends, neighbors or co-workers who have recently purchased a boat, see how they felt about their dealership experience.
5. Is the staff prompt in returning phone calls and emails?
A salesperson’s willingness to work with you by phone or email is a great timesaver and a positive sign for the future. Make sure to ask for an email confirmation of any agreements or details worked out by phone.
6. Are the yard and showroom clean and organized?
That is usually an attribute of a well-run organization and indicator how they’ll care for you and your boat after the sale.
7. Talk to the service manager.
Again, you are looking for pleasant, helpful people and a relatively clean, organized shop. You want to know that your boat is in good hands when it comes time for maintenance.
8. Does the service department hold manufacturer certifications?
Many engine manufacturers offer certification programs designed to keep dealer-based mechanics up to date on the latest technology.
9. Is the dealership conveniently located to where your boat will live?
Choosing a dealer far from the location where you plan to keep your boat is a huge disadvantage. A good practice is to purchase your boat from the dealership you plan to have it serviced. It will be much more convenient and ensure you’ll get the high level of after-the-sale service you deserve. Additionally, a dealer who will come to your marina or dock to service and repair the boat in the water is an even greater benefit.
Read Next: Where to Buy a Boat: Dealerships, Boat Shows & More
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- Find the Right Boat for Your Lifestyle
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in September 2017 and updated in February 2020.