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Buy a boat appropriate to need, use

February 19, 2009

What's the best deal in boating these days for someone looking for a flats skiff or bay boat that is suitable for our local waters?

Before answering, several questions must be answered, such as new or used; price point; size; accessories; horsepower; designated use, and where it will be operated and parked.

Size: For most flats, pass, and near-shore adventures, size would be 18-24 feet. If you are strictly a flats, inshore, backwater, super shallow draft, poling type then a 15-18 foot skiff will do. Flats, open sound, pass and beaches, go for the 20-24 foot bay boat.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

How many people will it normally carry? Will you fish mostly in the sound, passes, and near shore? If so, then go for a sharper V entry (bow) boat in the 22-foot to larger size craft. If you are not a flats fisherman and don't plan to be, then don't buy a flats type boat. I know that sounds like a no brainier, but you would not believe the number of folks that get talked into the wrong boat for their needs.

Do your research before buying a boat, and before going to a dealer. This article is about flats and bay boats only. Talking to a full-time guide at a launching ramp can be a real education and save you tons.

Horsepower: Your small flats skiffs do well on 30 to 115 hp engines and the little 4-strokes sip gas. Your larger flat and bay models do well on 150 to 300 hp models. Gas will be more expensive in the near future (again) and think of that when choosing a motor. Also 4- vs. 2-stroke motors. Do not under power your hull either, so the motor has to run harder and use more gas just to keep up.

New, name brand flats and bay boats cost a fortune. A typical 20-foot flats/bay rig with motor, trailer, and some accessories will be $36,000 to $50,000. Twenty-two feet and up, top of the line prices, start at $40,000 and get into the 60s. It's really gotten out of control, but the boats (I must admit) are awesome.

I fish a 21-foot Hewes Redfisher and its one incredible, fast machine, but I had to sell a kidney, and my dog to buy it. Many manufactures are now finally getting the message and are coming out with lesser priced models that are realistic for most of us. Pro-Line just introduced a Pro-Lite line of boat packages that start at around $16,000 for an 18-foot flats boat package (boat-motor-trailer). Dusky Marine has a nice new, big bay boat in the same price range. Other companies are following in their footsteps.

Think about parking ordinances before your purchase. Will it fit in the garage? Will I have to rent a space or slip? Will it fit behind my house? "Why can't I keep it in my driveway?" (Ask city council).

Accessories: Trim tabs for the hull, trolling motor, power pole and poling platform, and super lightweight pole (if you intend to actually use it.) Spacious live wells if you are a bait fisherman. Add a depthfinder for deeper fishing.

This is a simple overview and details could fill many pages.

Unless money is no object and you need a boat soon, do your research - make a realistic list of what you need - then go on and see hundreds of (near new) used boats at 30-50 percent less than new, and most with years still left on the motor and hull warranty.

Next best is to find a good used hull and repower with a new or newer motor. Trailers are relatively cheap so don't skimp on them. The motor is the biggie and be very careful when buying a used saltwater motor. Most companies offer a 3- to 5-year warranty on new.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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