This past fall I bit the bullet and upgraded to a new, more powerful bowrider.
My search for that perfect boat didn't start at a dealership, boat show, or during an
opportune test. I was at home, sitting in the comfort of my office, cruising smoothly
along...the Internet. Or as I have come to know it, the ISW (Information Super
Waterway). Think you can't buy a boat on the Internet? Well, think again. Although
the day has yet to dawn when buyers can simply call up a new boat purchase on their
computer and have it delivered the next day, the Internet offers the next best
thing—interactive window-shopping. Today, almost every major manufacturer has a
site on the Internet, from basic company data to access to pictures, statistics,
pricing, even videos. In the process, your next boat-buying decision has become, if
nothing else, easier.
Some of the more interesting approaches to the Net shopping experience are the
manufacturer sites that help you find the boat of your dreams—or at least, your
budget. They steer you to the appropriate size range, allow you to configure
individual models with color and options, price out the final result, then refer you
to the closest dealer that can make your dream a reality. Stingray
(www.stingrayboats.com) offers three simple steps to boating nirvana. Input your zip
code, select a local dealer from the choices that follow, then select and build your
own boat. You can view the price of each option as you add it to your wish list, right
down to the depthfinder or stereo upgrade. Once you're happy with the result, the site
creates a printable spec sheet, complete with an overhead outline in your preferred
color, all the standard equipment and options you've selected, a dealer contact, even
a certified Internet price. Specials? The spec sheet offers notification if your dealer
extends alternative pricing.
Four Winns (www.fourwinns.com) offers a similar approach. Although the site doesn't
offer prices, it allows you to configure the options you desire, then access a
prequalification loan calculator. Input your income and a few basic expenses, and the
calculator will tell you how much boat you can afford and what the monthly payment will
be. Just pay attention to the interest rate and loan terms.
Looking to compare models from different manufacturers? Sites such as iWaterways
(www.iwaterways.com) allow you to select from a variety of models, then compare their
statistics head-to-head. Once you've made your decision, you can submit a "boat
purchase inquiry"; iWaterways promises to have a member in its dealer network contact
you within 48 hours. The site even goes so far as to allow you to submit both loan
and insurance applications online, which are then shopped among a network of loan and
insurance providers nationwide.
Configuring and pricing your new boat, however, isn't all that's available. Many
sites take another route, preferring to bring you as close to actually touching and
feeling the boat as possible. Sea Ray's Web site (www.searayboats.com) takes advantage
of QuickTime technology to show a video of every boat in its lineup; it also offers
virtual reality tours of most models. Visitors can select the area they wish to explore,
then manipulate the view using their computer's mouse to get an entire 360-degree
panorama of the layout. Wondering about the view from the top of that 560 Sedan Bridge?
Click the mouse and you'll be put right at the helm.
Sea Ray also provides brochures and spec sheets in individual PDF files (read with
Adobe's Acrobat Reader, available free on the Web), which enables consumers to download
info they're interested in. Beats waiting for that brochure in the mail.
And, of course, you can just have a little fun, too. Thanks to the screensaver I
downloaded from a manufacturer's site, my new bowrider splashes across the screen
whenever my computer is idle. Problem is, every time I look at it, I want to upgrade
to a cuddy.