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(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

While it may still feel a little chilly out as winter rolls toward spring, boating season is only two months away. As it has for eons here on the North Fork, the sea is calling.

“This really is nirvana for boaters,” says Yvonne Lieblein, general manager at Port of Egypt Marine in Southold. “We’re surrounded by water with plenty of great fishing, wildlife viewing, dock and dine possibilities, cruising and touring options, plus great sunrises and super sunsets. It’s no wonder the boating lie beckons so strongly here.”

Long Island’s East End, the North Fork in particular, has always shared a special bond with the sea, and some local marinas and boat dealers can trace their roots far into the past. When Port of Egypt originally opened in 1946, it accommodated a small fleet of rental fishing skiffs.

“My grandfather and his brothers built the boats themselves,” says Lieblein. “They had only one with a motor, so it towed all the vessels out in the morning and left them in good fishing spots. At the end of the day, it towed the fleet home single file like a bunch of ducklings. If anglers wanted to move anytime in between, they had to row.”

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

This year, both Port of Egypt and Strong’s Marine in Mattituck celebrate their 75th anniversary. Just a half-mile east, Goldsmith’s Boat Shop in Southold stands as the oldest continuous marine dealership in the USA, having taken on Evinrude Outboards back in 1923.

Boating has, of course, grown tremendously since those days of yore. The marvelous vessels currently gracing our waters offer a bit more in terms of creature comforts, dependability, range and power than the fleets of yesteryear. The improvements have spurred a boom in boating activity – especially of late, as it’s an activity that lends itself to social distancing. The have also given rise to a potentially overwhelming number of choices as to which vessel might best suit your needs. To that end, here’s a quick primer of some things you may want to do before you buy.

Picture how you’ll be using your boat.

“It’s important to know what you plan to do with your new boat before even heading to the dealership,” says Bruce McDonald, a certified professional yacht broker through Brewer Yacht Sales at Safe Harbor Stirling Marina. “Will you be a day-tripper, watersports family, angler or sailor? It all makes a difference as to what kind of vessel you’ll need.”

Take some time and really drill down to prioritize which activities will see the most focus once you step aboard, advises McDonald. “That, and identifying a budget, should be your starting points. Know those parameters and it’s a lot easier for brokers and dealers to match you up with a make and model perfect for your needs.”

Lieblein agrees, but notes that even after deciding on the basic activities you’ll enjoy on the water, be aware most vessels ultimately serve multiple uses. “Whether you fish, cruise or waterboard,” she says, “you’ll probably also take the neighbors out for a sunset cheese and crackers, pull into a dockside restaurant for an occasional meal, and raft-up with friends in a quiet cove.”

Set your budget.

Prices can vary widely in the boating world based on vessel size, style and luxuries included. Brand new, a basic 17- to 18-foot center console with a 90 hp outboard, ideal for close-to-home fishing, family outings, water sports and occasional touring, might run $30,000 to $50,000 on the North Fork, while a 19-footer with a 150 hp outboard engine could be in the $40,000 to $60,000 range.

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

Stepping up, a 27-foot dual console with plenty of room to relax and entertain, dual 150 hp outboards and swim deck might cost $180,000. Bigger vessels simply cost more money — some easily blowing past the seven-figure mark. Scout Boat’s flagship model, the 530 LXF, features a sophisticated blend of luxurious appointments and technologies with five 425 hp outboards. Its base price? A cool $2 million.

Used boats, of course, come at a discount, sometimes approaching 50% less than the retail price of a new vessel. But older boats also require significantly more maintenance and TLC. You’ll need to keep that in mind for budgeting purposes.

“All around, family boats seem to sell the best these days,” says Craig Goldsmith, co-general manager at Goldsmith’s Boat Shop. “Whether it be a center console or dual console, open-bow boats in the 18- to 23-foot range are most popular these days, although the recent trend is to go bigger.”

Ensure a comfortable ride.

Going bigger just might be the thing to do If you plan to make trips to Shelter Island, Sag Harbor and Montauk, notes Brian Bjers at New Suffolk Shipyards. “Those 17- and 18-footers are fine for poking your nose outside the marina and enjoying some tubing or local fishing. If you think you’ll be running from Fork to Fork or east past Robins Island on a regular basis, though, a larger boat and more power can really make the difference,” Bjers explains.

“The wide-open waters of Great and Little Peconic bays between Jamesport, Mattituck and New Suffolk on the North Fork, and the South Fork entrance to Shinnecock Canal, can push up four-and five-foot waves. For a comfortable ride in that stretch, I’d recommend nothing less than a 22-foot vessel with a minimum of at least 150-hp in the stern.”

(Photo Credit: David Benthal)

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Buying a new boat generally requires a significant down payment or loan, but that’s just the start of the bills. “That purchase price is the easiest pill to swallow, but boats require routine service, winterization and, occasionally, repairs,” says Goldsmith. “Those are ongoing. To justify such expenditures, you better plan to be on the water at least two or three times a month during boating season.” Factoring in routine maintenance, winterization and a slip, he estimated that keeping a typical 17- to 23-foot boat afloat runs about $5,000 to $6,000 a year.

Take it for a spin.

When you finally narrow down your search to a couple of prime suspects, be sure to ask for a test drive. That’s your opportunity to see if a boat handles and performs as advertised. New boats, delivered by dealers, should come with full paperwork, no liens and a full warranty. If purchasing a used boat, hire a certified marine surveyor to ensure the vessel is truly shipshape.