The long, cold Maine winter can be tough on a boater, and everyone has a different strategy to get through the off-season.

The more responsible might spend the winter taking classes or getting caught up on the house projects that got put off over the summer. Others keep occupied with winter sports like skiing or snowmobiling. Retirees may go south and don’t suffer boat withdrawals at all.

Many seem to spend lots of time dreaming about, and perhaps even shopping for, a new boat. The boat-buying process can generate emotions that range from excitement and satisfaction to frustration and even regret, depending on the results.

The good news is that there are experts out there who are quite willing to help people in their searches for boats that best suit their needs. And the bigger and more complex (and costly) your target boat is, the more you may want to enlist the services of a certified professional yacht broker.

“Brokers have been on a hundred boats for every one the buying public has been on,” says Bill Full, CPYB, of East Coast Yacht Sales in Yarmouth, a past president of the Yacht Brokers Association of America. “They can take both positive and negative feedback about a boat and steer the party toward something that seems more appropriate.”

Boat brokers have been around for decades. But the way people find boats for sale has changed, as both buyers and sellers turn to the Internet. The most comprehensive listing service by far is Yachtworld.com, which just last week offered more than 110,000 boats from some 2,400 yacht brokers. The offerings range from multimillion-dollar megayachts (there’s even a “gigayacht”) to skiffs, dinghies and sailboards priced well under $1,000.

The cryptic black-and-white ads in the back pages of 20th-century print publications have been replaced by online databases where you can search for a boat according to type, size, manufacturer, price and other variables. The listings have details on everything — including engines, electronics, rigging, sails and upgrades.

Most come complete with full-color high-resolution photos. There are boating enthusiasts who can spend hours at a time surfing yachtworld.com.

This wealth of information certainly gives buyers a broad range of choices, and that can be both a blessing and a curse. Buyers can either be overwhelmed by the choices, or they might mistakenly zone in on a particular boat model, even though it may not be well-suited to their needs.

This makes it even more important to take the right approach, and that’s where a broker can add value to the process. Full says the first step anyone considering a boat purchase should take is to do a complete self-assessment.

“Consider your budget and how you will use the boat — whether it’s for day trips to Boothbay or Sebasco, cruising for a couple weeks, or going south for the winter,” he says.

Full recalled a couple in which the husband had a performance-oriented boat in mind, while his wife pictured a summer cottage on the water. A good broker can facilitate a meeting of the minds and help a couple or family find the right boat.

Once a buyer and seller agree on a price, the buyer will provide a deposit — typically 10 percent of the price — which will be put in escrow while a survey (professional inspection) and sea trial are conducted. The broker can be helpful there, too.

“Brokers have been out on hundreds of boats doing sea trials, so they can provide some experiential comments on performance,” Full says.

Is there an ideal time of year to buy a boat? That probably depends on a buyer’s own needs, but Full recalls his father, a surveyor, seems to favor a purchase in the fall.

“If you find the right boat in the fall, and it needs sails, upholstery or other items, or the surveyor finds problem, you have time to negotiate and get everything fixed without a lot of pressure,” he says.

Finally, a confession and some words of reassurance: Randy and I are looking for our next and probably last boat. We’re taking our time, as we have yet to find anything we love more than Rita P. But we have indeed been afflicted with “4-foot-itis,” that burning desire to buy a boat that’s 4 feet longer than the one you currently have.

In all of our conversations with brokers, not once have we been subjected to a high-pressure sales pitch. The question posed most often has been, “How will you use the boat?” That gives us at least some reassurance that someone besides ourselves has our best interests at heart.

 

Gail Rice of Freeport and her husband, Randy, race and cruise their Pearson 30 sloop on Casco Bay. She can be reached at:

[email protected]