A few years ago Robert Nadler, an engineer who loved sailing, set out to buy a second-hand boat. It wasn't easy. "You wind up with sore eyes from reading classified ads and muddy feet from tramping around the boatyards," he says.
Nadler eventually found the boat he wanted, but the agony of the effort led him in time to develop a marketing agency called the American Boating Index, more familiarly known as Instant Boat. "Now," says Nadler proudly, "people can buy or sell their boats without going any farther than the mailbox "
Nadler's ABI matches boats to buyers by computer. Boatowners wanting to sell fill out a one-page form covering everything about their boats that a prospective buyer could conceivably want to know, including its present location. After filling out this "listing-search form," the owner returns it to ABI with $10. The information on it is then fed to a computer, which holds it in a memory bank for three months while ABI waits for some hopeful buyer to send in a matching form with $5.
When the right buyer appears, ABI sends him copies of the right boatowner's listing-search form or forms and the rest is up to the parties involved. The prospective buyer's $5 entitles him to information on three boats. If more than that meet his specifications the would-be buyer can have the extra listings for 50¢ each.
ABI is not a yacht brokerage. It does not in any way underwrite its trades. It serves only as a matchmaker. The prospective buyer must make his own deal and check his merchandise.
In addition to the outright buying and selling of boats, ABI's computer will match up people who wish to charter a boat with an owner who has one for hire. The fees for charter listing are the same as those for selling: $10 for the owner, $5 for the customer.
ABI will even help trade old gear, but this program has been less successful. "It's harder to buy or sell second-hand sails for a Snipe, for example, than it is to buy or sell an entire boat," says Nadler. "But we're willing to try. We don't like our customers to feel too automated by all this. Often our customers, whether buying or selling, have specific requests scribbled on the back of the form, requests that need to be handled by a human being, so our practice is to go over all the forms personally. No machine will ever replace the human touch."
For information, write directly to American Boating Index, 2 Charlton Street, New York, N.Y. 10014.