Terms to Know When Buying a Boat

Understanding terminology and words when buying your next boat.

Buying a boat is nothing like buying a car. Boats have their own language, and are in a class of their own. A rope is not a rope when on board a boat; it is a line! Little things like that are good to know when you are out looking for a boat. After reading this article you will be better educated on the common terminology associated with boating.

This dinghy was made by the incredible people at Chesapeake Boat Builders. It was created by a kit the company offers. You can visit their site and venture into the world of custom boat building yourself, or just buy something fit for your angling needs.

Boat Definitions

Boat Buying: Knowing the Difference between Overall Length and Actual Length

Boaters are like any other tight-knit community, and some of their language may be hard for “outsiders” to understand. Many newcomers to the world of boating cannot tell the difference between the deadrise-at-transom, or the beam of a boat. Many people, including those people who have already bought their first (or fourth) boat, aren't familiar with boating terminology. Boating terminology is important for any boater to understand. Boating terminology relates to how boats handle, how they fish, and most importantly, how comfortable they are in less-than-perfect conditions.

The Terms

These are the most common acronyms, or specialty terms you'll encounter when you're thinking about buying a boat. They all affect how the boat will fish, so they are important to understand.

  • OAL or LOA: both the same but watch-out! It may not be the actual size of your boat. The technical definition of OAL (overall length) includes bow pulpits, outboard engines, and swim platforms. This term is used widely by boat builders because it makes the sell more appealing. Think about it... if a boat is 16 feet long from stern (the back) to the bow (the front), that is how long this boat is, but if you include a motor on the back of a boat you are going to purchase, and the cow (motor hood) is two feet long, it adds two feet to the real size of the boat. A deception maybe, but it sells boats. Beware, and ask for the actual length of the craft in question.

  • BEAM: A beam to us normal people might be a board, or a light path that comes out of your flashlight, but to a mariner it is the width of your boat. The manufacturer takes the beam measurement at the boat’s widest point, which is generally the amidships (middle). The longer the boat, the greater the beam, and more beam usually means more stability, as well as, more interior space. A wider beam sometimes means a rougher ride in a head sea (meaning running into the approaching waves).

  • DRAFT: The word draft in boat terminology is not a brew of beer or an architectural tool, a draft measures a vessel’s depth below the water’s surface. The draft for outboard boats is generally measured with the engine tilted; another sales tool as manufacturers measure inboard boats to the bottom of the running gear. In actuality, the true draft is water depth on the boat when loaded with gear.

  • DEADRISE AT TRANSOM: Sounds spooky, but it actually has to do with cutting the water to getting on plane. This is the hull’s angle in degrees, as measured from the aft-most portion of the vessel. It is also one indicator of how smoothly a boat rides into a head sea. The greater the deadrise, the better the ride. As the deadrise angle increases, the hull tends to become less stable when moored (parked at the dock). It's that back and forth movement one gets when you step into the boat.

  • WEIGHT: If there is too much displacement on the boat, the water will go over the gunnels (sides), and you will sink. Weights quoted for inboard boats include the engine, but for outboard boats, they are generally for dry-hull weights (no engine), fuel, or equipment. When calculating trailing weight, don’t forget to add engines, trailer, oil, fuel and all your gear.

  • MAXIMUM POWER: The National Marine Manufacturers Association and the U. S. Coast Guard determine what the maximum horsepower should be on a small boat. Not to say you couldn't go larger, but if you do, you might be a flight, and then the terms to definitions in buying a boat would change, so we recommend staying within the guide lines to be on the safe side.

If you're going to buy a boat, new or used, (you can buy older boats that have never been fished or run further than a mile-or-three) run it yourself. Run a few different boats that have different transom heights, different lengths, and (perhaps most importantly) different relationships between the beam, width, and length. It can make a world of difference if one boat has a seven foot beam and 21' of length and another has 8' of beam. That aside, if you're one of our Florida readers, you live in a place where some of the best manufacturers in our sport create incredible fishing crafts. You will be learning about some of them in upcoming articles.

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