Unless you’re buying a classic wooden boat with particular pedigree, most boats don’t appreciate in value the way houses do—they depreciate. They’re more like cars in that respect: Drive it off the lot or away from the dock and its value plummets.
The idea of a brand-new boat is hard to resist, but you might get better value finding a used boat to buy that’s been lightly used at a reduced price and take advantage of all the almost-new-equipment lavished on the boat. It’s true, we love our boats and we lavish gifts upon our loved ones—GPS’s, electronics, charts, fishing equipment, canvas, lines, you name it. Buying a used boat with improvements, equipment, or customizations added to it at below new price levels is a great reason to consider used over new.
If you’re considering the advantages of a used boat, here’s a big one. Once you’ve focused in on a particular make or brand, find out the cost and standard equipment of the boat when it was new. With this as a price and equipment baseline, look for desirable big-ticket item add-ons, like trailers, bow-thrusters, or canvas enclosures that cost thousands of dollars. Scrutinize the equipment list for added equipment. Getting a used boat that has all the practical equipment needed to take the boat out of port is akin to buying a furnished house in move-in-condition. I don’t think you will find too many brand new boats that come with signal flags, flares, life-jackets, emergency medical kits, maybe even dinghy’s and the like—someone else’s new boat outfitting is your used-boat advantage.
Here’s another idea: Ask for maintenance records that show what original or basic equipment has been replaced by newer and possibly better stuff, like new and bigger outboards. If it is a used sailboat you are intent on buying, the better value between identical boats is more than likely reflected in the boat with the better sail inventory. Smaller, non-descript items like cockpit cushions can make your boating more pleasurable and save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.
We love our boats and lavish them with gifts. Take advantage of used-boat outfitting; it can save you time, allowing you to enjoy the boat more quickly, and keep a bundle of cash. And, as I wrote in an earlier blog, “End of the Season Cheap Boats” are on sale now.
A previous version of this article appeared on Boat Trader in December 2015 and updated March 2020.