Once you’ve learned the basics of boating picked out the best boat manufacturers building the type of craft you want, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and decide who you’ll buy your boat from. If you’re planning to buy new, this means choosing a dealership. But, how can you tell if the dealer will stand behind your boat and your relationship over the long haul? Here are 10 questions you could ask right up front which will help you determine if you want to deal with dealer A or dealer B.
- Why should I buy from you and not your competitor?
- How long have you been in business?
- How long have you been a XYZ brand boat dealer?
- How comprehensive is your service department?
- Are your technicians certified?
- Do you offer pickup and delivery for service and repair?
- If I bring my boat in for service, how long will it take?
- What is your customer satisfaction index score?
- Do you offer winter service and storage?
- Do you host any on-water events during boating season?
Why should I buy from you and not your competitor?
This is always a fun question because it’s blunt and to the point. It’s not an easy question to ask, I’ll grant you, but the answer is usually worth the effort because it can be revealing. Good salespeople at competent dealerships will take the question and run with it, rattling off all the reasons you should buy from them. Lesser salespeople at dealerships that don’t have all their departments in ship shape might stumble on it. Pay attention to their answers and you might avoid doing business with a dealership that is less than you expect.
How long have you been in business?
If they answer the first question well, this one will be a breeze and usually one that involves double digits. The longer a company has been in business, the more likely it has a bevy of satisfied customers. The Great Recession shook up the industry like nothing else in recent history, and odds are good that the boat dealers who survived lived through the experience for good reason and are probably safe companies with which to do business.
How long have you been a XYZ brand boat dealer?
This also is another important question. Now, just because a dealer hasn’t been a dealer of a particular brand for very long doesn’t mean you should shop elsewhere. The first two questions in this list are more important, but I think it’s good to know because it points up a dealer’s product knowledge, familiarity with the processes of that particular manufacturer, and ability to represent the brand. The longer, the better in this case.
How comprehensive is your service department?
Most dealers service what they sell, but not all do. Some have more extensive facilities than others. Some handle only the basics, and leave the heavy lifting to someone else. And while dealers are loathe to admit it, customers who bought boats from them generally get priority when the service department gets backed up. You’ll want to know just how comprehensive a dealer’s services are, and remember that if you buy from them you’re likely to get better treatment than if you buy at one dealership but take it to a different one for service.
Are your technicians certified?
Exactly who will be working on your boat? As marine propulsion systems have become more reliable, they also have become more sophisticated, and not just any shade-tree mechanic can work on them any more. Look for certifications from the American Boat and Yacht Council, the Marine Mechanics Institute, and the specific manufacturer who made your boat’s powerplant.
Do you offer pickup and delivery for service and repair?
For my money, if two dealers are willing to sell me the same boat for the same price, and one offers pickup and delivery for service and repair (or mobile service) and one does not, I’ll go with the former every time. Pickup and delivery puts an extra element of service in the service department and it’s a huge and tremendously convenient time-saver. It also makes a big difference if you keep your boat in the water or on a lift, and don’t have a trailer or tow vehicle. Without some dealer assistance, you’d need to run your boat by water to their location or a boat ramp that they use. Obviously, this could get very time-consuming.
If I bring my boat in for service, how long will it take?
If you take the time to bring your boat in for service during the week, it’s likely because you want it ready in time for the weekend. That’s not too much to ask and a competent boat dealer should understand that and be able to have it ready when you want to use it. Obviously, there are always outlying circumstances such as parts on backorder, but a dealership that commits to having its customers’ boats ready when they want to use them is one worthy of your business. On the flip side of the coin, also look for honesty in their answer. Sometimes service departments get backed up. Does the dealer make it clear that while they’ll do their best, there can be times and situations where service could be slower than ideal?
What is your customer satisfaction index score?
There is value in the customer satisfaction programs established by manufacturers and organizations, and those satisfaction scores can give you a good indication of the effort dealerships go to in satisfying customers. When it comes to boats, the Marine Industry CSI collected by the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) Customer Satisfaction Index is considered by most to be the gold standard in dealership satisfaction rankings, so ask about it in specific. Boating Industry’s Top 100 Dealers list is a well-respected ranking system, too.
Do you offer winter service and storage?
As with pickup and delivery service, I’d rather buy from a dealership that has a facility or at least a system for winter service and storage. Winter service is a pretty big job on an engine or engines, and choosing the best winter boat storage option can be problematic to say the least, so a dealer who takes care of it all gets bonus points. The larger the boat, the more important it is to have someone you can rely on to do it for you, and to do it right.
Do you host any on-water events during boating season?
Rendezvous, poker runs, fun runs, raft-ups with like-minded boaters and similar events can be a lot of fun. It’s not a justifiable reason not to buy if the dealership doesn’t host them, but it’s a good indication of how involved the store is with its customers after the sale.
See How to Buy a Boat: The Complete Buying Guide, to learn more about this topic.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January of 2015 and was last updated in August of 2022.