How do you actually go about buying a speedboat, or a sports boat, as they're now known? The first stop should be your local yacht brokers, if you have one nearby. Failing that, take a look on the shelves of a well-stocked newsagent at the selection of boating magazines. Drool over the pictures, float off into a fantasy dreamworld of water-skiing, then freeze over when you see the prices and start to make some sensible decisions about your budget.
Some of the more up-market glossies will introduce you to the top end of the market; a Riva for pounds 60,000 - pounds 80,000 perhaps. The other end of the market is catered for by Buy-a-Boat (for under pounds 10,000), a most self- explanatory title. A decent, second-hand sports boat can be had for anything from pounds 1,000 - pounds 3,000.
Once you have chosen a type of boat, and decided that you can afford the asking price, it is time to start factoring in the cost of all the peripherals. Some of these, you'll find, will be absolutely essential, while others can be optional. A VHF radio, for instance, is a must, while wearing the right gear on your boat can be just as expensive, but a little less serious.
Berthing costs vary from place to place. My local marina in Brighton, for instance, costs pounds 210 per metre, per annum. Other sites around Britain and Europe will be much more expensive. It all depends on local facilities and geography.
You might think about trying a shared purchase, although this is rare, according to Freddie De Vere of Ancasta Boat Sales in Brighton Marina. "It always seems to rain on your weekend and is sunny on theirs. It never seems to work."
Maintenance isn't as wildly expensive as you might think. A full, out- of-water service on an average sports boat might cost pounds 200 to pounds 300. To estimate the cost of year-round maintenance, you could probably add a zero to your car's annual bill.
The good news for potential buyers is that there is virtually no legislation covering this subject. Owners do not need to register their boat with any central agency, and no licence or driving-test is needed by the owner. This does not apply if you intend offering paid trips on the vessel, in which case there are a whole raft of regulations, documents and licences needed.
You might also want to note that the rules abroad are very different, and vary from country to country. Some, such as Spain, will not allow a non-numbered - i.e. non- registered - sports boat to be used at all in its waters.
If you intend insuring the boat, which is not required by law in this country, your insurance company will probably need to know that you're not completely incapable. One insurance company I spoke to said they would wish to know how much experience a potential customer has and whether they have any marine certificates to their name. Possession of such documents wouldn't lower your premiums, but having nothing at all would greatly reduce the chances of being taken on as a client.
Fuel prices are pretty much the same as for a motor car. Most sports boats run on petrol, while a few take diesel. The financial advantage gained with the latter is offset by the higher prices commanded for diesel engines. On average, though, a full tank will set you back about pounds 50.
A new alternative type of fuel is trying to make inroads into the market; LPG, or liquefied petroleum gas. This costs about 25p per litre as opposed to 39p per litre for ordinary fuel. The disadvantages here lie in the cost of conversion and the limited availability of filling points, although these are growing. Conversion to LPG will cost in the region of pounds 2,000 per engine.
Suppose you buy the boat and change your mind. Do they hold their value? Yes, apparently. Unlike cars, there is no scrap market in old boats. If a sports boat has been well-maintained, there is no reason for you to make too much of a loss on it, should you decide to sell. A brand new boat costing, say pounds 13,000 today, would probably sell for about pounds 10,000 in three or four years' time. The new model, meanwhile, would probably cost about pounds 20,000 by then.
Advice from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency:
Join the Yacht and Boat Safety Scheme (ask the local coastguard for details)
Plan your trip. How long will it take? Are there any safe havens en route? Does anyone on land know where you are?
Always carry a tool kit and spare fuel
Double check everything: engine, equipment, safety gear, weather, tides
l Understand your vessel's limitations.
Free safety information is available from the MCA public relations office (01703 329401). Of 11,667 coastguard-reported incidents in 1997, powered pleasure craft accounted for 1,971 of them. An incident can be anything from running out of fuel to a full-scale emergency involving explosions, death and general mayhem. Pleasure vessels account for around 65 per cent of all coastguard-reported incidents.
A sports boat is defined as one which can travel faster than 18 knots, and which rises up as it travels so it rides on the water.
To take your boat from the sea to a lake, the salt will have to be flushed out to prevent the salt clogging up the parts.
The small ships registry is a government agency worth contacting. It covers all pleasure craft and can be contacted on 01222 747333 for further information.
A trailer will cost anything from pounds 1,000 - pounds 4,000. The hulls on most sports boats are made of glass reinforced plastic and repairs are fairly cheap. Top sports boat marques to look out for are Chris Craft, Maxum, Riva, Sea Ray and Fletcher.
Essentials for your speedboat include a VHF radio, fire extinguisher, maritime charts, life-jackets, flares, an anchor, spare fuel, a torch and a whistle.