Few products are as much fun to shop for as boats. The amount of information, free or otherwise, authoritarian or well-intended abounds, and usually comes from people who enjoy boating and want to spread its gospel. Plus, with the 200 or so boat shows held across the country each year, an "under one roof" (or "at one marina") approach allows acquiring information on the boat, and the products and services that surround it, relatively easy. Add in the Internet and information on boat purchasing becomes absolutely unlimited. If there is a caution in this, don't let the shopping be too easy or get caught up in the euphoria of boating, outdoor or fishing shows. If not done already, the basic boat buying questions of what you want to do on the water, with whom and what the budget is should be answered and pointing to several types of craft that will fit those needs. When shopping, take a list of activities and preliminary boat types, and prepare to add "notes" about likes and dislikes of the brands and models you investigate. It's common that the shopper will find several boats, usually in different lines and having different prices, to choose from. At that point, all other things appearing equal, the choice may move away from the product and to the people who will get the shopper on the water and keep him or her there during the boating season.
With new boats, compare the dealers: which one was most helpful in guiding the choice, knew the brand and details, explained relative merits between models, could explain pricing differences, offered to assist with financing, talked about warranties, service and certification, knows about boating in the area, can help with delivery, in- and off-season mooring (if needed) and storage. With pre-owned boats: which seller provided the most information, had available the boat's owner's manual or other paperwork, identified any concerns about the boat, could explain how the selling price was determined, said where the boat was used, serviced and stored, perhaps offered a test drive. In sum, the more information buyers gain on both new and used boats, and the more comfortable they feel with the seller, the better purchase decision will be made.
Things to consider keeping track of when shopping and comparing boats (some people create a "checklist" to keep these facts straight and to be able to review at a later time):
The basics: brand, type, model (name or number), length, beam (width), power (type and size), seating, capacities (people, weight), certified (and by whom).
Standards: that list of equipment that comes with the model at the regular price.
Options: equipment (and additional cost) that can be added by the manufacturer or dealer to better outfit the boat for specific uses, usually electronics (sound, communication or navigation gear); power (increase or decrease, choice and type); cruising amenities (head, galley); trailer, etc.
Gear: if it's a fishing boat, for example, does it have rod holders, bait wells, etc. built in?; a ski boat with tow bar, ski stowage?; etc. Is there a "package" available for basic outfitting, including lifejackets, anchor and line, first aid kit, etc.
Delivery: Obviously, when the boat will be ready to enjoy (and most people want it now or in time for boating season); any related charges and/or make-ready costs.
Details: Help with financing, registration, payment of taxes, etc.