Ive been talking with a lot of customers recently who are working with a very tight budget and why not? - materials costs are rising out of control and labor costs have skyrocketed. Anything that is made right simply costs way more these days and the used market is insane. In today's blog post, let's look at the right way to approach working within a tight budget.
First - put your money where it will do the most good; a solid hull design, a powerplant and a trailer. Everything beyond this is questionable. If in doubt, always come back to the first sentence of this paragraph. Always.
With technical skiffs of any type, the key is performance, draft, weight, stability, big water performance, durability, handling and quality of build and materials. Can this skiff really do what you need it to do? Sure, you can get a dolled up little chop sprayed canoe/boat hybrid or something similar with lots of decks for cheap and it LOOKS like a real technical skiff - but falls woefully short of being able to take you where you need to go and do the things that you need to do when you get there. Rather, put your money into a hull design that will get the job done for you even if that means the higher price dictates that you cant afford all the interior options that want. Case in point, my personal best permit came while poling the Rivermaster SRO, the forerunner of the Scout Skiff, no decks, no poling platform - just two bench seats and rod trays down the sides. I was actually standing on the bow cap and gently poling backwards. That very same skiff is in service as a jet skiff on rivers from Alaska to Virginia. The point here is, with some of the the wonderful skiffs that are being produced today, we seem to have gotten away from the idea that you can do most anything in a very simple skiff. So much so that I actually talk to a lot of people who are missing out on great adventures because they can't afford the $70K flats skiff or the $40K jet sled that is "required" in their minds to get out there. And who can blame them?, Towee is as guilty as anyone of tending to post our best outfitted skiffs on social media. Choose a solid, well made hull design with the bonafides to get the job done and then add the features as your budget allows.
Trailers (pardon me while I jump up on this soapbox) are one of my favorite topics. It's what much of my family has done for the past 3 generations. The second biggest mistake that I see buyers make is choosing a cheap trailer. Why is this? I think that this is because the average buyer has only had interactions with boat dealers as in "But Todd, Big Ol Bob has a (flll in the blank) trailer for only $(fill in the blank). Well, yes, yes he does. Lets look behind the curtain a bit....
If you aren't inside the business, you probably don't know that boat dealers generally see trailers as a necessary evil. They won't tell you this but it's true. Most dealers know that they can't put a great trailer under that boat without raising the package price so they generally buy the absolute cheapest trailer that will get the boat off their lot and get you to say "yes" to the boat, motor and trailer package. Yes, Big Ol Bob at Big Ol Bob's Boat Emporium has a hidden agenda and he could care less when you're stuck by the road a year later or when your rollers fall off at the ramp (these are all real examples). Breakdowns are expensive. Way more expensive than what a great trailer costs. Remember, those big names in the boat trailer business generally got big by producing the cheapest commodity trailer possible. That's what sells trailer to dealers in the small boat market. Many times there is little if any dealer markup for small boat trailers and dealers have literally zero incentive to sell you the trailer you need.
Even more than on the skiff side, it costs me over at least 50% more to build a trailer today than it did last year. It's actually embarrassing to change the pricing guide almost monthly as that price remained generally stable for many years. While we cant do anything about the cost of steel, aluminum, welding supplies, components or labor, we refuse to respond as many have by offering a cheap trailer that won't get the job done just to sell you a boat. We also wont sell you a Towee without one of our trailers - frankly, we don't want folks to see it beside the road. What we will do is continue to build the best frame in the industry with a true heavy duty industrial galvanized coating. We will never offer you a boxed frame rail and we will continue to provide the best rollers, axles, hubs and lighting on the market. We have brought back the option to forego polished step plate aluminum fenders, swing tongues, etc as a way to cut costs if you don't need those options.
This brings us to outboards. We live in an amazing time when most everyone, Yamaha, Suzuki, Tohatsu and Mercury are all producing some great small outboards (hey Honda - notice that you weren't mentioned?) and those costs are pretty set. This makes wise cost cutting a little trickier but there are still some things that we can do. First, even if price isn't an issue, I often opt for a manual start versus the electric start. Modern small outboards are just that easy to start and you will often find one on my personal skiff. Same goes for stainless props. Personally, I used to order a custom pitch, stainless four blade prop on everything I sat down in but over the years, I have discovered that there really isn't much if any PRACTICAL gain on small outboards. If you see me at the ramp from Islamorada to Idaho, Im swinging a stock aluminum prop.
There are some awesome, dependable 2 stroke prop and jet outboard out there that are great deals for someone on a budget. There; I said it. Im often spotted with a well restored, hot rod 2 stroke jet on my personal skiff.
There are times when you really need a jet outboard but, if you've never had one before, how do you know?. The fact that everyone else has one isn't always a valid indicator. Because of our hull design, a prop Towee rides and runs so high in the water that they can negate any advantage that a big heavy jet sled might have - a lot of these boats sit so low that they really require 10" of water so you'll see instances of guides running a prop Towee where everyone else is running a jet and even getting into spots they can't. This certainly isn't a hard and fast rule and is highly dependant on specifics but it is something you need to examine in depth because jet outboards are expensive and they really limit your capabilities when you get into deeper water or vegetation. We build a lot of jet Towees - absolutely love them - but a smart buyer will do some real soul searching as to if a jet is really their best choice. There is hardly a day that goes by that we don't assist a customer with walking through this question.
Finally, you have to face the fact that things cost what they cost. If you call me up and tell me that you need a new boat, trailer and outboard but your budget is a hard and fast $10K, I just can't help you. Sure, there is someone out there who will spray you up something that generally resembles one of our skiffs at a distance but it wont do what our skiffs will do. At some point, we have to face that there is a ground floor cost and it goes no lower. Also keep in mind that Towee was built on a policy of "Guide Pricing to Everyone" so there is no secret handshake. No backroom deals - everyone gets our best price.
Now is a great time to go back up and read that second paragraph again.
I hope this will be helpful to someone out there. If you'd like to talk more, drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org and if you're considering a Spring build NOW is the time to get your production slot locked in to guarantee you'll have your new skiff for Spring. Give us a call and lets talk skiffs.