We recently contacted a sailboat manufacturer asking for a factory tour and sea trial of a boat that we're considering buying. We're still pretty new at this game, but when they said they'd need $200 for the sea trial we were surprised. Is that standard in the industry?
Jon Shattuck responds:
Thank you for your query; it's actually a common concern with new boat buyers. Just to give you an overview, boat builder/dealer/broker sea trial policies run the full gamut. While some larger new boat builders and dealers are able to offer free boat rides to interested parties, many builders/dealers/brokers allow sea trials only after a written purchase agreement is negotiated.
When I was a rookie broker, one of my customers asked if he could sail a prospective boat before making an offer. Our brokerage manager at the time emphatically stated "no free boat rides!"
After stubbornly providing a couple sea trials sans purchase agreements, I quickly learned why he made that statement—I went for some fun boat rides, but got no offers. After that, I began to respond to such requests by repeating the company line of "we do not allow sea trials unless the boat is under contract," and almost always a contact was written up, price and terms were negotiated, a sea trial took place, and often a survey, and the boat was sold.
The odds are that the builder you've been talking with shares similar concerns, and the fee he is requiring is a form of a qualifier which he will use to cover his company's costs and efforts should your choose not to order that boat from them.
If you're serious about buying this boat, my suggestion is either ask that this fee be deducted from the purchase if and when you order a new boat from them, or, better yet, make an offer subject to a sea trial. Best of luck to you.