What to look at when you're looking at a boat

Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Mileage, age and plans for use are all factors to consider when buying a boat, according to local sales and repair businesses.

This is a good time of year to think about purchase options, as "for sale" signs are appearing on boats around town and Nugget Mall's used boat sale is set for April 20 and 21.

"The number one thing to be sure about (when purchasing a boat) is safety," said Darin Sepel, the son in Sepel & Son Marine Surveying Inc. "That always comes first."

He uses the "ABYC Standards and Recommended Practices" as a handbook when doing a marine survey. It specifies standards vessels should meet before they are launched. For example, exhaust systems must have two hose clamps. On a gas-engine boat, the fuel filter hose must have two clamps on each end.

Sepel particularly looks over the AC (alternating current) electrical system, to make sure the boat was correctly wired at the factory, and to make sure owners will not electrocute themselves.

Sepel, who also runs J&S Marine, charges by the foot for a prepurchase survey; the cost usually averages about $70 an hour.

Jim Sepel, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander who has been in the survey business for 10 years, said people frequently ask him how to buy a boat.

Recent figures aren't available on how many boats are in Juneau. But the U.S. Coast Guard counted 7,528 registered boats as of the end of 2000, and said 2,000 more may be unregistered.

The 1,000-plus slips at most of the harbors and marinas listed below are full. However, Fisherman's Bend has some slips open for boats 22 feet and under.

Municipal harbors:

Aurora Harbor: 483 slips

Harris Harbor: 260 slips

Douglas Harbor: 124*

Auke Bay: 260 transients**

Privately owned marinas:

Dehart's Marina: 100 slips, depending on boat size.

Donohue's Marina (Tee Harbor): 90 to 100

Fisherman's Bend: 135 slips

* Dredging of Douglas Harbor is now under way. But funds for the final enlarging of the harbor are not available yet, so the number of new moorings is under discussion, the harbormaster's office said. Preference may be given to commercial fishing boats rather than recreational vessels.

** Space is based on an average of 32-foot vessels. Vessels are allowed to side-tie here.


"There is no one right answer," he said.

The key to boat purchase is how you intend to use the vessel, he said. "Some people are happy with a little aluminum skiff, but some wives have to have the toilet and the cabin and the refrigerator and the stove."

If you're going sport fishing, you want one kind of craft. If you're going to cruise Alaska waters, "a small diesel fits the purpose," Sepel said. "If you want speed, you need fast turbo diesels or gas engines - which use more fuel. If you want to live aboard, that's another issue. And you can't be somebody who can't throw things away. Someone who can't throw stuff away has no business living aboard."

Other preliminary decisions include choosing a hull material: Wood, steel, aluminum or Fiberglas. Each has its pros and cons, Sepel said.

And you need to choose an engine. Do you want inboard, outboard, or stern power? "Stern drives are typically high maintenance," Sepel cautioned. "Outboards are getting better pollution-wise, especially the four-cylinder ones."

Willie Harris, owner of Willie's Marine, has 20 years of experience as a boat dealer. He recommends buyers spring for a complete evaluation before surrendering a purchase check. Willie's can usually complete an evaluation in one to three hours, Harris said.

"The boating experience depends on the craft you buy," said Harris, who owns a 27-foot Randoncraft with a Fiberglas hull but would like to own an aluminum boat, because aluminum holds up better in the long run.

"The newer the better," he added.

Harris recommends checking out these items on a used craft:

• Corrosion.

• Paint blistering.

• Engine hours. "The hours give you an idea of how much life is left in it," Harris said. But if the boat has been repowered - given a new engine - it's a better deal than a boat of the same age with its original engine, he said.

• Engine compression.

• Electrical wiring.

"Before we buy boats for resale, we do a complete mechanical and hull inspection," Harris said.

Juneau's boat brokers also include Alaska Ship Chandlers and Alaska Boat & Marine. Other companies, including Betts Boat Repair and Ben's Marine, offer boat repair and evaluation. The Boat Dock (across Industrial Boulevard from Willie's) offers Fiberglas and Gelcoat repair.

In addition to dealers and brokers, boats are sold by charter businesses. For example, Whalers Cove Lodge is reducing its fleet, selling boats in operating condition with electronics and trailers. For details, call Whalers Cove at (800) 423-3123.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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