When you have worked hard and saved enough money, and you want to buy a boat, you want to be sure that the boat you buy is worry-free for at least a few years. You can shop all the boat dealers you want, but when it comes right down to it, there are some unspoken rules for buying a boat. When you become familiar with these rules, you will find that they are not unlike the rules for buying a car.
Test-Drive It Before You Buy It
Do not buy a boat in dry dock. Always test-drive any boat in the water. If that means that the dealer has to put the boat you want into the water to test-drive it, do it. The only time there is an exception to this rule is, well, never, because you want to be sure that even canoes and aluminum boats do not leak when you are paddling in them. Most boat dealerships will have their inventory moored in the water anyway, but the boat you want should go into the water before you buy it.
Look for Engine Problems, Steering Problems, Etc.
With the exception of absolutely brand-new boats, you should be looking and listening for engine problems, rotor and rudder problems, steering problems, etc. Remove control panels and look for frayed or chewed wires (rats on the waterfront will do that!) and lift the outboard motor (if you can) to look for rotor and rudder problems. Nothing on the boat should be loose. If the boat has a "power anchor" (i.e., an anchor that is controlled by a motor), make sure the motor can lift and lower the anchor with no problems. (The anchor is essentially the brakes for the boat; without it, the boat would just keep drifting on the waves.)
Ask for an Owner History of the Boat and Haggle Price
If the boat is used or pre-owned, ask for a history of the boat. This often tells you how much of the boat is original parts, versus what has been replaced and what might need replacing in the near future. (Again, this does not apply to brand-new boats.) Then you have a pretty good idea of whether or not you can haggle the price of the boat. (You should definitely haggle the price of the boat, too, even it is a brand-new boat.) Never pay full price for your new boat!