Step one, start reading, and sort out what you can live with. Length isn't as important as gunnel height--how much freeboard does it have? On the other hand, length does matter, because without about 20 feet minimum, you won't get large fish holds--or if a cuddy-well, a cuddy (exceptions occur such as the Striper 19), and usually not a good in deck live well-again, exceptions noted. Here is an example of what you can afford, that is nice: http://www.boattrader.com/listing/2003-Pro-Line-20-Dual-Console-102593594. This is just one example, the normal advise to people is to get an OLD hull with a newer engine, or older engine with low hours. Remember that marine survey--deals are out there, you need cash and be ready when they happen. IF--you can get that older hull in good shape, and a used engine with low hours and good shape--you can handle the rest. That's what I did--budget just like yours. I got an older hull, very little use, WITH a four stroke Yamaha--and 20 feet for 14K. I re-did everything on the trailer, myself: added rails, LED lights, new bunks and pads, new springs, moved batteries to the helm and balanced the boat, got the bait tank working, sealed every hatch, leak proof now, put in new radio and safety equipment, added a good chart plotter, and on and on. Little at a time but all used boats--or new for that matter have some downside, mine is a "Bay boat" so I don't trust it far offshore, but with great weather, I've had her to Catalina and back, but believe me, I have a sea anchor rigged and ready because anytime I could lose the engine (and you always can, even if brand new, believe me). You do that so that if you lose your engine (like suck up a plastic bag--mine overheats, and has a safety shut off--or pull up fishing line on the prop), your sea anchor turns you into the swell and safe, even in a good chop while you call for help. Preparation is more important than size--but again, size does matter. I would be wrong to not admit, I would feel a hell of a lot better prepared with all safety equipment and knowledge on a 28 foot Grady White, than my 20 foot Bay boat. Just the same, check out boats in general and put safety first. Have a Sea Tow membership--I've never needed mine--but have it, your safety equipment: anchor first and foremost--a not well understood but life saving device. Lose that engine around rocks--you start heading into the rocks and the anchor saves you. But not if you don't have it, or can't find the damn thing, or like an idiot, you put the anchor at the bottom and all the line on top--it happens--do it the other way around. Mine is on a quick release so I can drop it in a heartbeat--it matters. Life jackets, flair gun, EPIRB or PLB--and really think about having stuff ON YOUR PERSON. Too many people go overboard and remark later "I had all the safety stuff-but it was all on the boat, not on me". Take a boating class, read, read, and read. This hobby is not something you do once in a while--got to keep that boat up, it sort of has to be a hobby even when you are not out there. Only truly wealthy people can have someone else keep up their boat for them, they just go down to the marina and get on. But even they need time to learn how to DRIVE the damn thing. It isn't a car, and doesn't handle like one--that is for sure, so you MUST go out there and practice approaching a dock, putting it on the trailer, taking it off, the navigation rules and on and on. If all this sounds too much, it is--I don't know why most of us do it, truth be told.Jim, awesome advice, and very funny although I know your serious & it's true. With my current finances I can't justify spending 20k for a boat, just a little too much for me with retirement savings, all that stuff that's mandatory. I could probably do 14-15k. With that said. What would you suggest?
And the giant sucking sound...is called the NYSE, but that's a whole nother story