You’re looking for a new bay boat, and you want to give the candidates a thorough test and review? Naturally you’ll be paying close attention to price, outfitting, quality of the build and ride, and fit and finish. But during your sea trial, there are a few things that aren’t exactly obvious—yet you still need to look for them. Here are some pointers on what you might not think to check for.
Dryness – It can be tough to assess just how dry the ride of a bay boat is during a limited sea trial, especially in calm seas. If the water’s flat, rile it up. Turn a few doughnuts at half-throttle, then run a sufficient distance, turn, and slam back through the wakes you just created. The key here, regardless of sea conditions, is to make sure you cross wakes at all different angles. A boat may ride dry when hitting waves at a 90-degree angle, but throw a ton of spray when hitting those same waves at a 15-degree angle.
Passenger Comfort – During a sea trial we spend most of the time at the helm, and this can be a mistake. We never find out if the seating, handholds, and sun or spray protection for the other occupants of the boat is sufficient. While the dealer or owner of the boat is at the wheel and running at cruising speed, try out the passenger’s seats for a few minutes, and find out if they’re comfortable. Make sure there are sufficient handholds and protection. If you don’t discover any flaws in this regard right now, you’re sure to hear about them later from your fishing buddies.
Rod and Fish Stowage – It’s amazing how many boat builders install rodholders where the T-top or railings prevent their real-world use, under-sized rodracks or boxes which aren’t long enough to hold your gear safely, and fishboxes which aren’t insulated well enough to hold ice. Test all of these factors by arriving at the boat with a rod and a bag of ice in hand. Toss the ice into a fishbox first thing, and check it later to be sure the fishbox has sufficient insulation. Try putting your rod in all of the holders and boxes, to ensure that they’re all usable, too.
Maneuverability – The dealer or owner will probably want to dock the boat, and in open water it’s tough to judge a boat’s close-quarters maneuverability. To make a fair assessment, pull close to a marker or buoy in the middle of the bay. Then try turning and backing, while eyeballing your fixed reference point.
Stability – Running the boat, you’ll never be able to judge its static stability—how stable it is at rest, such as when drift fishing. Make sure that at some point during the boat test, you position it with the beam in the seas, shift into neutral, and find out how it feels while drifting.
Bonus tip: In a good boat review, you’ll see speed and RPM figures. These are commonly taken with a GPS, but don’t expect a boat you’re looking at to have one onboard (especially if it’s brand new, in a dealer’s possession). Make sure you carry a handheld GPS of your own, when you go to sea trial a new bay boat.