When is the Best Time to Buy a Boat?

When is the best time to buy a boat? Why, whenever you possibly can! That said, the timing of your purchase can affect how much you pay and how smoothly the boat buying process goes. Some major factors coming into play include:

blackfin 302cc boat for sale
When is the best time to buy a boat? Just how much you pay for that chunk of gleaming fiberglass can depend on several factors. Photo via Ultimate Marine.

The Best Season to Buy a Boat

In most areas of the nation (Florida and parts of the Gulf coast being something of an exception) seasonality has a huge impact on demand for boats, which in turn affects both supply and pricing. As a rule of thumb spring is the least advantageous time to buy a boat because so many people are dreaming about getting out on the water for the summer season. Boat dealers and private sellers tend to get plenty of offers, so they’re less likely to negotiate any sort of discount or deal.

Once summer hits, most of the people who were ready to buy have found their boat and are out having fun. That means the number of buyers on the market shrinks quite a bit, and as a buyer you have more bargaining power. As the season progresses buyers thin out more and more, so from a financial perspective, late summer can be one of the best times to buy a boat. The downside? By the time you complete the deal you’ll already have missed the bulk of the boating season.

tahoe pontoon boat
Once summer hits most people who want a boat have already bought one and are out on the water having fun, which can shrink the pool of buyers. Photo via Tahoe Pontoon Boats.

In the fall there’s sometimes a slight bump in the number of buyers out there, partially because many people believe that with the boating season coming to a close, they’ll be able to get the best deal. But it’s just a slight bump, so depending on the other factors coming into play this is usually still a great time to get a deal. On the flip side of the coin you’ve now missed almost all of the season, or in some parts of the nation may have missed it entirely. Plus, you’ll be acquiring a boat just in time to have to winterize it and possibly arrange and pay for winter boat storage.

Winter is probably the best time to shop for boats because there are so many boat shows. This allows you to see hull after hull side by side, and make direct comparisons. Be sure to see Visiting a Boat Show? Make a Game Plan to get the most out of the experience. But being the best time to shop doesn’t necessarily make it the best time to get a deal. In some cases you can find dealers who have lots of inventory and are offering good boat show specials, but in others you may find that the pricing isn’t really any better than during the warmer months of the year. There’s an additional upside to buying a new boat during winter, though, in that you may be able to time delivery perfectly for the spring season.

boats for sale at a boat show
You may or may not be able to strike a sweet deal at a boat show, but there’s no doubt that going to a show is the best way to comparison shop. Photo via Lenny Rudow.

If you’re buying a used boat, of course, boat shows won’t be a factor. And winter may well be a great time to find a seller who wants nothing more than to move out that old boat before spring arrives. So, often private sellers will be willing to bargain at this time of year. On the flip side of the coin, going for a sea trial may be challenging, and you may have to take on the cost of storage for the rest of the winter.

Dealer Inventories

Like any goods, when dealer inventories are high prices tend to fall a bit and when they’re low, pricing goes up. This has always been true but never truer than during the Covid-19 pandemic, when demand for boats shot through the roof. Not only did sellers get higher prices, in many cases it became quite difficult to find a boat for sale in the first place.

boat for sale at a dealership
When dealerships have low inventory and demand is high, buyers don’t have much bargaining power. Photo via Baert Marine.

Covid was, of course, an unusual situation. But through time dealer inventories do shrink and swell. And while the impact may not be as dramatic as it was in the 2020 and 2021 timeframe, it will affect how much you have to pay for a boat. Back when the Great Recession hit, for example, many dealerships had excess boats on the lot and were willing to strike very attractive deals to move them off of it.

Finance Rates

While none of us can do much about finance rates, if you’re financing a boat, obviously you’ll be best served if you can do it when the rates are low. Note that boat loan rates don’t necessarily mirror the prime rate and depend on a number of factors, but they do go up and down and the “cost of money” is one factor that get considered by lenders. Is it worth it to delay a boat purchase while waiting for boat loan rates to fall? That’s a call only you can make, but this is certainly a factor you’ll want to consider. To learn more about financing a boat see Boat Loans and Financing Tips.

General Economic Conditions

This is another factor we can’t, as individuals, exercise any control over. That said, when times are tough fewer boats get sold and both dealers and used boat sellers tend to offer discounts. When times are good and buyers are plentiful, the opposite is true. As a buyer, if you can afford to purchase a boat when times are tough you’ll be negotiating from a much stronger position.

bought a new boat
Being out on your new boat is just so darn much FUN – are you sure you can wait to buy one?! Photo via Lenny Rudow.

So: are you ready to buy a boat today? It would be in your interest to consider all of these factors before making any final decisions. If, that is, you can stand to wait.

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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