Think of the last time you purchased a vehicle. You took it out for a spin before signing the contract, right? Go into buying a boat with the same process. Taking a watercraft for a test drive is essential to finding the one that is right for you. It is the only way to know if the boat can accommodate your needs and meets the safety standard, especially if the vessel has been used before. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of a boat test drive.

Setting Up a Test Drive

The first step to getting the most out of the boat demo is to schedule an appointment. This gives you plenty of time to research the make and model you are test driving. Keep in mind that many dealerships will need to prepare the vessel for a test drive, particularly if the boat is new or dry-docked for winter. Pulling, launching, prepping, and test driving is a full day of events, so do not expect to get a demo on the same day you call.

If you want to test drive multiple boats, it may be wise to call the dealer or your yacht broker about events.

Get Involved in the Process

If you get the chance, see about meeting the dealer during the boat launch—and get involved. This is important if boating is new to you because you can learn a lot about loading and unloading a boat onto a trailer and putting it into the water. Pay attention, ask questions, and garner as much information as possible.

When you board the boat, note how the boat feels under your feet. Is it stable? Does the vessel lean to one side or another, or does it seem balanced?

Before starting up the boat, also ask the dealer or broker about the electronics and other pieces of the dashboard. Most boats have gauges about the speed, depth, and fuel, but there may be chart plotting or GPS, fish-finding radars, lighting, and other devices to learn about.

Consider The Power Type

If you plan on buying a brand new boat, request a test drive on a boat that is the same make and model as the one you are interested in. This is key. Sea trial boats are often given the barest of bones, so there is a bit of a weight disparity between the actual boat and the one you demo. Therefore, using a trial boat that has the same crew you plan on using, as well as some gear on board, will tell you how the power handles. If the vessel is sluggish during the trial, it will be sluggish when you fully load it up with people and equipment. In that case, you should purchase a boat with more power.

Also, consider how power choices play a role in handling, ride, speed, storage capacity, and maneuverability.

Pay Attention to the Size

Chances are if you buy a larger boat, you need the space. Pay attention to the length of the vessel, as well as the width. This is not just for calculating the cost of docking or mooring; it’s for feel, too. For boats that you will use for overnight vacations or international travel, it should feel spacious. Walking around the dock should feel comfortable, and the size should match your needs.

Acceleration and Bow Rise

When driving the boat, take a moment to push down on the throttle. Check if there is a rise in the bow. Well-designed vessels have a minimal rise, maintaining a clean line of sight even during acceleration. Similarly, double-check the planing hulls—the state where the boat returns to riding nearly flat against the water.

Preview The Interior

Whether you are purchasing a yacht or sailboat, the last thing you want is to forget touring the interior. Even today, there are a large number of vessels with a lack of handholds and high fiddles on the furnishings. Take a moment to head inside to see how the interior feels. Does it feel safe enough for you and your family to move around? Are there places to brace yourself when the waves get choppy?


One of the things many new boat owners forget to check is close-quarters handling. Ask the dealer to give you a display of maneuverability and make note of how the ship responds. How does the boat handle when you are navigating a cramped marina and trying to berth? How well does the vessel respond when turning? Does it steer well in reverse? What about when power is applied during a turn?

Looking For Your Dream Boat?

While on the hunt for the perfect boat, you may end up test driving several makes and models before finding the right one. Keep these tips in mind, and you will find your dream boat sooner. If you would like assistance navigating the boat market or have questions about buying a boat, give the Yacht Brokers of Annapolis a call. We are more than brokers—we are avid boaters, too. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help.