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There may be only three active PWC manufacturers currently in the market, but between them they offer a lot of models. How do you choose which is right for you? There’s no simple answer, but the following suggestions will certainly get you started in the right direction…
Take a Look in the Mirror
Okay, we mean figuratively, not literally, but hopefully you get the idea. Deciding what type of boater or enthusiast you are, and what you plan to do with your craft, is instrumental to your long-term happiness with a PWC purchase.
Ask yourself who you plan to ride with. Will it be solo, or with friends, with kids and family, or just that significant other? Do you want performance, or versatility, a craft that you can tour long distances with, or one you’re likely to just ride in your familiar local spot? It’s also essential to consider your riding area. Is it calm, or rough, big water like the ocean, or placid like the local lake? These answers, too, will point you towards certain models over others.
Caught in the middle? A lot of buyers are. Be willing to compromise…to a point. For example, the family man who’s a performance junkie may find that a performance three-seater can take care of both needs without too many sacrifices. Don’t, however, compromise on a craft that the primary user isn’t sold on. That same performance-minded enthusiast will be frustrated with a mild, family machine that won’t deliver that needed adrenaline rush.
Count Your Pennies
It’s the step that no one likes, but once you’ve decided on a type of craft that fits the bill, you need to carefully examine how you’ll pay those pieces of paper that go by same four-letter name.
A lucky few will be able to pay cash, but for most of us a loan will pave the path to boat ownership. Before you start shopping, get pre-qualified with a lender to see what kind of budget you have to work with. Once you know, stay within it. There’s nothing worse than stretching yourself thin on a purchase, then stressing every month when the bill comes due, or having the craft of your dreams but only being able to afford a minimal amount of gas monthly to enjoy it. Be realistic.
And while you’re at it, don’t overlook the other costs that go hand-in-hand with PWC ownership, like insurance, and a few necessary accessories and pieces of riding gear. Get a few preliminary quotes, price some apparel and gear, and go into the dealership with a clear-cut view of what you can comfortably spend.
Now stick to the plan. Nowhere is the temptation greater to buy more than you can afford than in the dealership, when everything is shiny and new, and a hard-charging salesman is making it sound so easy to “just spend that little bit more.” Look for the good salesman who will help make you a long-term customer. They’ll help put you in the right craft, and help you stay within your budget, not only because they’re good, but also because they want you to come back some day. Avoid the quick-hit artist just looking for a quick commission. Your needs will be far from their priority.
Worry you’ll falter? Bring your spouse, family member, or friend to help you stick with the plan. They’ll be a good counterbalance to any push from the sales side, and remind you to keep things in perspective.
Take a Test Ride
PWC are one of those rare vehicles that many consumers purchase without ever actually trying firsthand. If you’re serious about a craft, arrange for a test ride. It’s the only way to truly experience the craft. If possible, take it in similar conditions to where you plan to ride. Is the seat too low or too high? Do you take more spray over the bow than you expected? Does the craft perform like you want? These are all things to know before you sign on the dotted line, not after you take ownership.
In some areas of the country, test rides are becoming less common. Sometimes it’s due to insurance costs, sometimes it’s just simply geography. If a ride from the dealer appears out of the question, look for alternatives. You may be able to rent the craft in question, a friend or someone in the local PWC club may own one and be willing to let you take a spin, or if you’re really lucky, there may be a manufacturer demo day coming up.
If at all possible, ride the craft. It’s the only way to make a smart, informed decision.
Treat it Right
Once you’ve bought that craft, take care of it. It may seem out of the question to many, but plenty of expensive PWC are neglected, leading to increased repair costs, more downtime, and a shortened lifespan.
Read the manual thoroughly, keep the craft clean, do the suggested maintenance, flush the engine after trips in saltwater, and follow the manufacturer’s service schedule. Your dealer may suggest more than that schedule suggests; following their advice is your call. But adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations. They’ll keep your craft in tip-top shape and your warranty in full effect.
Lastly, get out and ride. A PWC is a big investment. Make the most of it by enjoying the craft as much as possible. Routine use will also be good for your engine.
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