When is it Time to Upgrade Your Boat?

No matter what sort of boat you own, be it a small bowrider, a big cabin cruiser, or anything in-between, there will come a day when you need to upgrade your boat. Upgrading doesn’t necessarily mean buying a larger boat. It could be that you decide a boat with different type of hull design would be more to your liking, or you simply want something newer, faster, or different — for whatever reason. So, how will you know when to pull the trigger? If you think it may be time to upgrade your boat but you aren’t entirely sure, some key considerations include:

glacier bay 22 upgraded to caymas 26 hb
Out with the old and in with the new – the author recently upgraded his 22 foot Glacier Bay to a 2022 Caymas 26 HB. Photo via Lenny Rudow.

It’s ironic considering the timing of this article, but I just recently upgraded my own boat after owning if for close to 15 years. Why make a move after it served me so well for so long? Especially considering that it had been refit just a few seasons ago, was well maintained, and entirely reliable? As is often the case when a boater decides to upgrade there was a combination of the above reasons: a desire for more speed and newer tech, the need to accommodate a larger crew, plus a used boat market favorable to the seller. All of these considerations came into play.

Boat Finances

For most people, personal finances are a huge consideration as they decide whether or not to upgrade a boat. If you’ve just had a windfall and your bank account has more zeros than ever before, obviously, it’s a great time to upgrade. Conversely, when times are tough upgrading your boat may seem a bit foolish. We should note, however, that upgrading a boat doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money. Lots of people decide to downsize their boat for a number of reasons (some of which we’ll explore in just a moment) and if you’re going to sell a 10-year-old yacht and buy a brand new center console, you may end up making money on the transition — but since the new boat is new, it does indeed amount to an upgrade in many ways.

The Age, Condition, Reliability, and Performance of your Current Boat

aging boat
When an aging old boat starts to look like this, it’s probably time for an upgrade. Photo via Lenny Rudow.

The decision to upgrade is often triggered when you own an aging vessel, especially if its age begins to cause maintenance issues, mechanical failures, or drab looks. That’s not to say that these traits will always be problems with older boats. Many boats with decades of use on them run and look great, and will continue to do so for years to come as long as they’re properly maintained. Then there are vintage and classic boats, which may grow even more attractive as the boat gets older and older.

Still, if the engine gives you problems every other trip, the bilge pumps only work intermittently, and the switches need to be jiggled to work, it’s probably time for an upgrade. Same goes if your boat performs like those of yesteryear, with a cruise speed that’s slow by current standards or handling reminiscent of the days when all boats were wood. And your old, slow, iffy boat may well represent an upgrade to some used boat buyer out there who will fix any nagging issues and give the boat a breath of new life.

The Size of Your Crew

All boats have some level of limitation on just how many people you can take out, especially smaller boats. It may be that your family is growing and you need to upgrade to a larger vessel to pack in all those kids, or you may find that you simply enjoy bring along lots of buddies on your fishing trips. Whatever the specific reason may be, the need for a bigger boat that can handle a larger crew often triggers the decision to upgrade.

big crew on a boat
If you take out a big crew and you want to be able to take out a bigger one, upgrading your boat can make it possible. Photo via Lenny Rudow.

This reason is especially prevalent among younger boat buyers who may be moving up from a small starter boat. At the opposite end of the spectrum, longtime boaters who have grandchildren entering the picture often have the same need to accommodate an expanding crew.

The Current Boat Market

Most boaters have “three-foot-itis” to one degree or another, and there’s a constant desire to go bigger or newer that never really goes away. Most of us don’t act on that desire until it becomes necessary for one of the other reasons we’re discussing here, but there are some boaters who are always on the lookout for an upgrade regardless of other factors. These folks commonly watch the market, and make a move to upgrade when the conditions are favorable from a financial perspective.

The boat market goes up and down, and when it’s depressed you may be able to make an upgrade that wasn’t affordable up to that point. During the Great Recession, for example, you could have bought more LOA for the dollar than at any point during the prior decade. On the flip side of the coin, a strong boat market means you may be able to get a lot more cash for your current boat that you could a year or two earlier. In fact, it sometimes happens that in a very strong market higher prices tempt boat owners to sell and upgrade.

boat for sale
A hot boat market can be all it takes to trigger an upgrade. Photo via 43 North Marina.

There are also times when you might encounter a dealer or a private seller who needs to make a sale quickly for personal reasons. This is another case where keeping a close eye on the boat market and being ready to move fast to upgrade at any time can be advantageous.

Your Love of Technology

Some people love tech and others hate it. If you’re one of those boaters who thrives on having the latest and greatest features and advancements, you should be prepared to upgrade on a regular basis. And tech advances so quickly in this day and age that a three- to five-year timespan is all it takes for your new boat to become technologically obsolete.

helm of an older boat
The helm of this 1989 Sea Ray is in good shape, but certainly doesn’t reflect the latest tech in boats. Photo via Boat House of Chicago.

Case in point: five years ago getting an electric boat wasn’t a realistic option, but today you have several you might choose from. The differences between the MFDs built five years ago and the best multifunction displays of 2022 are tremendous. Five years back the Mercury V12 600-hp Verado wasn’t powering any boats because it didn’t yet exist. Go back 10 years and you won’t see digital switching, gauges will likely be analog, and shift and throttle will depend on those old-school cables. The list goes on and on — if you love new tech, that can mean consistently upgrading your boat.

Your Boating Goals

As a boater ages, his or her priorities usually shift. Anglers may find themselves fishing less often and heading for the sandbar instead. Water skiers might decide that wake surfing is now their favored activity. Long-distance cruisers might shorten their trips so they can take the grandkids along. Whatever the reasons may be, as time goes on boaters commonly experience shifting priorities. And that means that upgrading to a different type of boat may the right move, for you.

Did you reach this point, and decide that an upgrade is in order? First you’ll probably have to sell your current boat, so be sure to peruse our boat selling guide. Then refresh your boat-buying skills by checking out our boat buying tips.

Written by: Lenny Rudow

With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.

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