As the old saying goes, “A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money.” So what does that make the person in the boat? Who cares! It is our birthright as Minnesotans to enjoy our lakes. And what better way to appreciate our aquatic splendor than by boat? With 22 square miles of water, Lake Minnetonka offers a kaleidoscope of boating opportunities. But what do you do if you’re not already invested in a vessel? Here are a few ideas to get you afloat.
The first question you have to ask yourself is, should I buy a new or a used boat? And what the heck kind of a boat should you buy?
To say that opinions vary on the matter is an understatement. To help sort it out, consider how you will use the boat. If you live on the lake, you might want something zippy for shorter jaunts. If you don’t live near water or your outings require planning and preparation, you may yearn for a floating getaway cabin replete with beds, bath and kitchen. Feeling sporty? A speedboat for waterskiing, tubing and wakeboarding needs a big—i.e., powerful—engine and lots of open water.
Ah, yes, the “hole in the water” part, also known as your budget. “The price difference between new and used in today’s market is dramatic,” advises Minnetrista boating expert Mike Cariveau. The advantage of buying new is that it comes with a support system. “With a new boat,” says Matt Mueller of Minnesota Inboard Water Sports, “you get factory warranties, better financing rates, and the knowledge that you’re getting the latest in hull designs, features, electronics and more customized colors.”
A dealership knows what inspections and paperwork you need, and will often service the boat, too. They can also help guide you in your education. “We don’t just try to complete transactions,” stresses Mueller, “we build relationships. Purchasing from a dealership is always a wise move; you have someone to go back to if the boat doesn’t work out as promised.”
Buying a used boat requires research and more maintenance—meaning, time on your hands. There is no CARFAX report for boats, so you’ll need to see inspection, service and maintenance records. Look for deals locally. Ask your neighbors on the lake. “Walk up and down the docks,” Cariveau suggests. “Go to Lord Fletcher’s or Maynard’s. Be nice and ask questions!”
Some of the accessories on a boat are in fact necessities: lines to tie up to docks and other boats, a fire extinguisher, fenders, and life jackets for each person on board.
Other upgrades are purely a matter of personal preference. Some people choose not to have anchors; others recommend both front and back anchors to keep the boat from drifting in the currents of a busy or windy lake.
If you have a family, don’t forget to bring them in on the decision-making. Reid Strickland, age 6, decrees that the perfect boat should have “two big engines, a fridge for pop and another fridge for food!” Sounds like fun!
Got common sense and basic manners? You’re almost there. But there are traffic rules and safety regulations as well, and you’ll get a ticket if you’re in violation. The police cruise the lake and pull over those without life jackets or a throwable life preserver. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers a wealth of resources, including the Minnesota Boating Guide (a downloadable PDF), and free boating and safety education programs. Buoy rules are also important: You’ll want to steer around a buoy with a circle on it; that indicates a sunken island! The Minnetonka Power Squadron offers an intensive course that’s perfect for a beginner as well as an apt gauge of commitment level. Check their website for details.
You can learn a lot from the place where you bought your boat. Minnesota Inboard Water Sports has a yearly service clinic for inboard owners, and covers topics like safety, maintenance, engines, trailers and the latest in electronics. “Another thing we do is water delivery and training with every boat sold. We’ll take you to a local lake and show you how to trailer, load and unload, dock, use all the electronics, check fluid levels, and operate your new boat. A great place to learn to protect your investment,” says Mueller.
How much maintenance does a boat require? “A lot,” according to Cariveau. “If you’re mechanically inclined, you can do much of it yourself, but if not, find someone you feel good about.” Your dealership can help train you on the basics.
Maintenance jobs include waxing, cleaning, checking the oil and winterizing—a necessity in Minnesota. Most marinas offer these services. There are also mobile companies that bring their equipment to you, like Blue Lagoon Marine in Spring Park or Mobile Marine Services in Maple Plain.
Want to keep up with the hot and new? The mack-daddy boat show takes place over four days in January at the Minneapolis Convention Center—just when your winter-weary soul needs a boost. You’ll see the newest models, find special deals as well as schmooze with other boat fanatics. Otherwise, “Stop by your dealership’s website or showroom,” advises Mueller, “as we always keep up with trends and changes.”
There are dozens of boating magazines that you can read during the rest of the year. Cariveau subscribes to about 15 different ones, including Powerboat Magazine, Show Boats International and Yachting. His reading informs what he’ll check out at the boat show.
You can rent a slip or park at a marina. Some marinas require a contract saying that if you park there you will also engage their winterizing, storage and fuel services. Many marinas are “full service”—meaning they will also repair, store, maintain and winterize your boat
Niccum Docks in Buffalo is one company that provides the whole range of dock-related tasks from docks and boat lifts to piling docks and rip rap. Piling—permanent docks—is only allowed in certain applications, so check zoning laws. Niccum Docks can set you up with winterizing and storage as well. “We’ll even housesit in the winter for the snowbirds,” says owner Bret Niccum.
Sound like an awful lot of work? Well, if you love boating but aren’t yet ready for the commitment, you can rent a boat for a day or for the season, like a boat timeshare. The Excel Boat Club offers a high-end valet concierge country club membership. You get all the amenities—simple operation, valet service, recreational toys—and then some, like iPod hookups and discounts from local food establishments. “I own a bunch of nice boats, and people don’t have to do any of that cleaning, repairing or winterizing stuff,” says owner Tom Jacob.
Whether you rent, buy or borrow, everyone seems to agree that boating is the bomb. “It was a dream of mine for years,” says Mound boater Joe Vochko. “There’s absolutely nothing like it.”
Minnesota Inboard Water Sports, 340 Hwy. 7, Excelsior; 952.474.1742
Minnetonka Power Squadron, 612.568.2628
Blue Lagoon Marine, 4470 Shoreline Dr., Spring Park; 952.471.8000
Mobile Marine Services, 6461 Hwy. 12 W., Independence; 763.479.3050
Niccum Custom Docks, 2672 SE. Eastwood Ave., Buffalo; 763.682.4600
Excel Boat Club, 141 Minnetonka Blvd., Excelsior; 952.401.3880