Do I really need a Sea Trial?

Taking a boat for a sea trial is an essential part of the boat-buying process. It's your chance to take it for a "test drive," but sometimes it's hard to know what to look for. Here are a few main things you should check:

Sea Trial Checklist
  1. Create a "real-life" environment on the boat to accurately replicate a typical day.
    1. Whenever possible, test a boat like you plan to use a boat. Keep in mind that the on the day of your sea trial, the boat has fewer passengers and less gear than you  normally would.
  2. Be sure to test performance targets, and ask your dealer about horsepower options.
    1. Again, consider your typical load, as well as how you plan to use your boat. Skiing and wakeboarding? You’ll need a strong low end to pull riders from deep water. Like to fill the boat to capacity and entertain? A lower horsepower engine may struggle to carry the load. Buyers are frequently enticed by a boat’s attractively priced “base” horsepower, only to find themselves later trading up in search of more power.
  3. Play the role of both driver and passenger.
    1. As driver, make note of your visibility. As a passenger, are there enough comfortable places to sit and is it easy and safe to pass through the boat while underway?
  4. Look at engine trim, consider how you will use the boat (watersports, fishing, etc.)
  5. Bring the boat to speed, perform a hard turn, and if possible, test conditions in rough waters.
    1. Ideally, the boat should carve cleanly and powerfully through the turn without the engine struggling to maintain speed or the propeller losing its bite on the water. Head into rough water (or make your own with a series of S-turns) and cross several wakes at varying speeds. Though the effects of rough water can’t be eliminated, a well-designed hull will carve confidently through wakes while limiting any serious bumps or jarring from disturbing passengers. Listen for any rattles and vibrations.
  6. At no-wake speeds, center the wheel and note how well the boat keeps its line.
    1. Single sterndrive or outboard-powered boats sometimes have a tendency to wander at slow speeds, but the effect is usually minimized by trimming the engine up slightly and avoiding the tendency to oversteer in an attempt to correct the problem.
  7. Run both into and away from the sun—check for glare and reflections.
    1. Ideally, there should be no distracting reflection off the windshield or glare affecting your view of dash instrumentation.
  8. Flip on all electrical accessories, especially running lights and bilge pump, to verify they’re working.
Other items to note include:
  • Sound levels
  • Adequate seat cushioning
  • The abundance—and convenience—of onboard storage
  • Amount and placement of handholds and cupholders

Remember, this is a test drive, not a pleasure cruise. It's your opportunity to put the boat to the test and make sure it matches your needs as a buyer.

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