By Randy Castello
Two foot-itus, Should I or Should I not?
Do I really need a bigger boat? If so, how big do I go? If I get a bigger boat, will I be able to fish more, travel further or triumph over the weather? My family is growing, I’ll need a bigger boat to accommodate the growing brood. Is a bigger boat safer? Reasons be dammed, I just want a bigger boat! From practical experience let’s to walk through the decision process.
There are lots of reasons we consider upgrading to a larger boat, for me it has always been based on expanding my fishing opportunities. That said it seems that as I get older, expanding the fishing opportunities has taken a back seat to increased recreational opportunities and comfort. Before I go further, I think that an introduction is in order.
From a very early age I was under the influence of some sort of strange spell, or maybe it was a bizarre curse and I was completely addicted to the water and fishing. Every opportunity I had I found an excuse to go fishing. In high school, where most kids were skipping school to party or sleep in, maybe even party and then sleep in I would miss an occasional class because I had stopped on the way to school to go steelheading. Back then, some 160 years ago The Sammamish river had a solid run of steelhead. More than once I ended up at school with a steelhead or two in an ice chest in the trunk of my car. Occasionally I ponder whether or not I am at least in part responsible for the decline of the systems steelhead population. The whole boating and fishing obsession has followed me as I stumbled my way through life.
By my senior year of high school, I had owned a number of boats. Most were rescued from a blackberry thicket somewhere. I was also running a gillnetter out of Blaine and working at a boat yard in Ballard. The year I graduated from HS I went to Alaska and worked on both a beach seiner and a crab boat. I came home, bought a house, got married and started a family. The next few years I was on the water more often than not chasing salmon, trout, steelhead or any saltwater fish that would come out and play. During my early 20s I accepted a transfer from the PNW to Southern California.
The relocation was bittersweet, on one hand I would be leaving the PNW behind. But, on the other there were many new aquatic adventures ahead of me. My transfer was before the internet invaded every aspect of our lives so my knowledge of SoCal fishing was limited and mostly the result of reading various subject matter articles. The lack of information was short lived and I was quickly immersed in the various fisheries available in this strange place we refer to as California.
Early on I was befriended by a character that got me into offering guided kayak fishing trips. I ended up specializing in kayak lobster fishing trips and caravan trips into Baja to fish and surf. About the same time, I discovered party boat and offshore charter fishing. I was seriously hooked on the beach bum/fishing bum lifestyle. I had lots of irons in the fire. In addition to a real job; I had my kayak guide service, worked as deckhand or cook on a number of party boats, had a small business modifying and flipping recreational fishing boats. Additionally, on occasion I would hire out as a captain on a number of sportfishing yachts, typically for the various offshore tournaments. After 25 years or so of the SoCal experience I was transferred back to the PNW.
On arrival back in the PNW I found that things were a bit different. Both with my life and fishing. A few years after transferring back to the NW I retired. Retirement and I didn’t get along so I found a new job where I am on the water more often than not! Then there were some significant changes for those of us that can smell a herring 8 blocks away.
Salmon now had seasons, you couldn’t catch rockfish and most people had never caught a steelhead. Instead of wallowing in the past I went and bought an affordable boat, motor and trailer. After a few years we upgraded and then a few years later we upgraded again to the boat, or should I say the boats we have now. Each purchase and upgrade were well thought-out but not without hiccups. Not an expert but I hope that by sharing few words of wisdom your decision process will be a bit less stressful.
We all have reasons why we want to own a boat or if you already do, why we want a bigger boat. Many of them are justification statements; boating would be a great family activity, a bigger boat would be safer, our growing family will need a bigger boat or even to beat the bar restrictions (no, not limiting yourself to 4 beers instead of the usual 6 but the Coast Guard bar restrictions). Justification statements shouldn’t drive your decision.
If you’re considering purchasing a boat or giving into two-foot-itus you should start keeping a “What am I Crazy?” notebook. Start writing down every thought you have regarding your strange new obsession. If it doesn’t help with the purchase your family therapist will find it useful. In part the notebook should help balance between an impulse buy and what do I really need. Initially I’m going to focus on justification reasons for your upgrade.
“Boat ownership would be a great family activity.” Well, I generally agree with the statement but it doesn’t always work that way. Not all people are boaters and having a money pit sitting on a trailer in your drive way looks good but can be stressfull. A previous wife loved the looks of the big offshore sportfishing boat that occasionally visited our driveway, but she hated boating (did I say ex?). We should have sat down and mapped out our boating plans and expectations. I would have been happy with a smaller boat. Although I love offshore fishing, as a family we rarely enjoyed it together. Lesson learned, sit down with your spouse, family or fishing partner and really explore your reasons for wanting a boat or making an upgrade.
“A bigger boat would be safer.” With limitations this is true. Safety is the product of hull design, your usage, boating experience and general seamanship. Bigger as a justification only works after you have reviewed the tattered pages of your “Crazy” notebook.
“The Growing Family” justification. Again, this is a good one but before using it to justify the purchase look at it in the context of your notebook. Actually, it may be a good idea to keep a “Growing Family Notebook” before you get to the boat one. RSEAS tidbit of wisdom here; thinking about getting a dog or having kids? You’re nuts, and I can say that, we endured 8 kids and a number of dogs! Ask yourself how many times will you have a full boat, or maybe “Do I have a friend with a boat/bigger boat?” Again, keep a note book and really consider your needs. Being a family boater means that impulse justification purchases are not allowed.
“Having a bigger boat to beat Coast Guard bar restrictions or handle inclement weather.” I’m’ going to issue a big thumbs down on this one. If the bar is closed to recreational boats under a certain length or you need another 2 feet to be able to take the slop, forget it and leave your boat on the trailer. If the weather conditions are that bad it is not comfortable to fish (why else would you own a boat?), cruise or whatever you do with your boat. A little story here.
For work I am on the water 4 to 6 days a week. I leave the slip in all weather conditions, including during gale warnings. Fortunately, the good days outnumber the less than friendly boating days. In that I am running a heavily loaded 21’ work boat, it really makes me a fair-weather fisherman when running my fishing boat. There are days that I’m on the water working where I would never consider fishing or recreational boating in the same conditions.
I could go on and on about the influence justification statements have on your boat purchase or size upgrade but you get the idea here. Well in advance of your planned change keep a notebook, study it and fully understand what your needs are. Make your purchase or upgrade based on your current situation and what boat will best support it. A few thoughts on finding the perfect boat for your current situation.
Make sure that you can tow it with your current rig. Remember a Prius can pull a 26’ boat but stopping the rig, managing a blowout or swerving to avoid a traffic situation would be an issue. Determine whether or not your current tow rig has the bones to tow whatever you settle on. Also, especially with smaller boats you can double the towing weight when you add fuel, beer, ice, beer, rods/reels/tackle, beer and maybe an ice chest or two.
Before you purchase your first boat or upgrade your existing boat figure out where you plan to put it. Are there community, association, spousal restrictions on where your boat can be parked? If you’re planning on keeping it in the garage or anywhere for that matter break out a tape ruler and work the area over. Measure width, height, tree branches, overhangs and make sure it will both fit and whether or not you can back your new baby into its intended storage location. If there is a space limitation just tell your spouse that “you’ll move the water heater and freezer outside, you’ve got a stack of blue poly tarps that need a job anyway…”
This may sound counter intuitive but, in my experience the bigger your boat is the less you use it. In part because it takes more fuel to both tow it and run it. Depending on your experience you may be upgrading from something that are able to handle solo to needing a fish’n buddy to comfortably launch, dock and retrieve. Fishing buddies are great but not always available. A bigger boat requires more maintenance and clean up at the end of the day. Maybe an odd thing to consider but where do you launch? Can the boat ramp or beach that your accustomed to launching at accommodate a bigger boat? This gets back to the notebook, keep one and study it before you take the plunge.
Will the boat be used for fishing, water play, cruising or as some other multiuse platform? This brings in a whole other level of confusion so just focus on the fishability. That said if you use the notebook, you will have already figured out that the once-a-year family cruise or 2 or 3 fall water skiing trips should not override fishability in your decision process. What does need to be considered is where do you fish, and how do you fish? Are you a bass fisherperson, troller, flyfishing enthusiast or just like dropping an anchor while you give swim lessons to a worm? All will influence your purchase or upgrade.
Is a bigger boat or initial boat purchase in the cards? Hopefully this will take some of the pain out of the decision process. Well, if anything after reading this it will be nap time and when you wake up you will have come to your senses… If you are still considering a change, keep a notebook and study it well before handing over a check. It’s a big decision and you want it to be comfortable for all involved.