How to Buy a Boat: The Complete Buying Guide

Looking to buy a boat? This thorough boat buyer’s guide will walk you through the entire process from start to finish.

How to Buy a Boat: Steps

  1. Decide Your Intended Uses
  2. Choose A Boat Type
  3. Define A Size Range
  4. Select Your Preferred Hull Design
  5. Power And Propulsion Systems
  6. Choose Whether To Buy New Or Used
  7. Optional Equipment And Accessories
  8. Search For Listings – Set Up Alerts
  9. Apply For Boat Loan Financing
  10. Get A Professional Marine Survey
  11. Negotiating Boat Price: Understanding Boat Values
  12. Get The Best Boat Insurance
  13. Plan For The Cost Of Ownership
  14. New Boater Training

Overview

Buying a boat is as easy as plunking some cash down at a boat dealer and immediately hitting the water on your brand-spanking-new vessel of choice, right? Sometimes, maybe, but generally it’s a bit more complicated than that. Boat buying is something many people dream of doing at some point, yet many don’t know the ins-and-outs of purchasing a new or used vessel and how to properly register, insure, trailer, operate and maintain that investment. To be sure, being on the water in your own vessel is one of the most exhilarating experiences in the world. Whether you’re out on the open seas or casually cruising down a river or lake, there’s something indescribably amazing about casually floating down a river or speeding through an open body of water.

Purchasing a boat allows you to travel to many new places and see things most people only dream of seeing. There’s a whole world of adventure that can only be reached by boat, and those who get to experience it should be considered lucky.

Family On Boat Laughing And Enjoying A Boating Day

Above: there is nothing quite like the feeling of buying your first boat – it opens up a whole new world of life on the water for your family and friends. Photo via Pond5. 

Owning your own boat can bring new meaning to your life, opening up many opportunities for your own entertainment, as well as for your friends and family. From fishing, diving and water sports, to exploring islands or getting towed on a massive tube going 30 knots through the water – owning a boat brings endless possibilities! In this guide we will explore the most important things to consider when buying a new or used boat, to help you make the best possible decision. So let’s take a look at exactly how to get you on the water in the right kind of boat for your needs.

Why Are You Buying Your Boat?

First decide how you’ll be using your new vessel. It may sound silly, but one of the most important things to consider first when you are deciding what boat to purchase is your “why”. Simply put: why are you buying your boat? Are you purchasing it for leisure? A boat for fishing? A boat to offer charters to paying guests in order to earn money and develop a new revenue stream? To sail around the world with your partner or spouse? Or just for a casual booze cruise here and there with your buddies? This is the absolute most important aspect to consider when deciding what boat to purchase, because it will dictate everything else along the way.

How to buy a boat with Ryan McVinney from Boat Trader

Above: Making a deal between a boat seller and a boat buyer requires a delicate negotiation and an understanding of boat values and the boat selling process – including what kind of documentation is needed, insurance requirements and more. Photo by Boat Trader.

Once you know the answer to this question, making a decision on which type of boat to buy should be an easier process.

What Type Of Boat Do I Need?

There is no right answer as to what the best boat for you will be. You are unique and depending on what you will use your boat for and what’s important to you, you will come to a conclusion on your best buy. But deciding the top 5 priorities for your boat, based on your intended uses, is where you’ll really begin your boat search process. Once you’ve decided why you’re buying your boat, choosing the right type of boat can still be a challenge. Whether you want a powerboat to move quickly through the water, a sailboat to enjoy the sport of sailing and being in tune with the forces of mother nature, or to really be close to the water with a human-powered vessel and explore hard to access places, you will have to consider which of these best fits your lifestyle. These represent the three main types of boats:

  1. Powerboats
  2. Sailboats
  3. Human-powered boats

From there, there are many subcategories and various hull designs to choose from, as well as engines, electronics, add-ons, seating options and general layouts. There are many factors to consider when choosing the perfect boat for YOU and all of these things will come into play. Each type of boat has its own advantages and disadvantages, thus we like to say that it’s important to nail down your top 5 priorities for your future boat before even beginning the buying process.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a Florida resident and want to use your boat to casually fish the canals and rivers with your buddies, but you also plan on taking a few trips off the coast, perhaps even down to The Bahamas with friends and family and you are not an experienced sailor. In this case, you’ll want to have a good-sized trailerable power boat (over 25 ft.), that can handle decent waves, with a small enough draft to get into canals and bays but enough safety features to be considered seaworthy. It will need to hold you and all your friends comfortably, with ample amount of cushioned seating and creature comforts aboard, plus you’ll need to have a head (marine toilet) and a small berth (bed) in a modest cuddy cabin or console cabin (interior). Since you’re in a Southern state that is mostly warm year-round, you may forego heating on your boat (although you may opt for some boat air conditioning and ventilation system). You might not require a galley (boat kitchen) since you might be planning to eat at boat up restaurants and marinas (or perhaps utilize a transom-mounted grill for cooking up the catch of the day).

Given the above example, here are the top 5 needs:

  1. Seaworthy, trailerable 25 ft. minimum hull
  2. Shallow draft to get into canals, rivers, lakes and bays
  3. Shaded cover from the sun (Bimini top, covered console, pilot house or cabin)
  4. Two engines for long distance travel (in case one fails)
  5. Small cabin with a wead (marine toilet) for longer rides/weekend trips

What Size Boat Do I Need?

Choosing the right boat length is vital. Size will dictate your boat’s maximum capacity, both in terms of passengers and weight load (an important consideration for fresh water and fuel tanks, plus storage and fishing features like livewells, insulated fish boxes and coolers). Understanding what capacity you’ll require on the water helps you from potentially overloading your boat, which can be dangerous. Is it just going to be you and a few friends going fishing? Will you be entertaining your family and friends, where comfort will be important? Are you doing a charter for paying guests that will need to be impressed? The size of the boat will quickly determine how big your boat party will be, and you’ll find that cramming people on a boat is never a fun option!

Length (LOA)

Size will also dictate the seakeeping ability of your vessel, and her overall seaworthiness. Generally speaking, the longer the boat, the more capable the vessel will be in the open ocean. If you plan on going offshore, most experienced boat captains would recommend at least a 25-foot length boat (or L.O.A. which stands for “length over all”), in order to be able to handle bigger waves and offshore swells that you may encounter. If you’re going to be storing the boat in your yard or garage most of the time, and only using it on fresh water lakes and rivers, you may consider keeping the boat below 20 feet in length to make transporting and storage more simple.

Width (Beam)

In terms of width (beam) of the boat, you’ll want to keep it below 8.5 feet (8’6″ beam max) in order to make it trailerable on public roads without a special permit. Boats with a beam over 9 feet will likely require a special permit to trailer on public roads, in many states.

Draft (Depth) And Air Draft (Height)

Finally, when considering the size of your perfect boat, don’t forget to consider the draft of the vessel – both the deep draft (i.e. the maximum depth of the vessel underwater) and the air draft (i.e. the highest point of the vessel above the water line). These are both important size measurements and technical specs to keep in mind when you’re shopping for your boat because of a boat is too high, for example, it may not be able to fit under many bridges (especially important if you’re considering traveling along the Intracoastal-Waterway or ICW which has bridges as low as 19-20 feet high).

If your boat is too deep (i.e. a large draft over 6 feet) it may not be able to get into your local marina or harbor (or may require only coming and going at high tide, which could limit the amount you are able to use the vessel). From here, you may also want to consider the height of the gunnels (or gunwhales) if you are planning on taking the boat in rougher water or offshore, as lower gunnels can allow waves to pass over the sides into the boat’s cockpit.

Center Console Boat Hull
Above: A twin-stepped, center console 355 boat for sale on Boat Trader. Photo by Scout Boats.

Boat Hull Types: What Hull Shape Is Best For You?

In addition to what activities you plan on doing, you will also need to consider how far you will be driving and what kind of water you’ll be dealing with. This can help you decide which of the many boat hull types available will be most appropriate. There are generally three major categories of boat hulls: “planing hulls” designed to rise up and glide at high speeds on top of the water, “displacement hulls” designed to cruise slowly, smoothly and safely through water and “semi-displacement hulls” a mix between the first two. Each of these hulls has different variants for different purposes.

Planing Hulls

Let’s talk planing hulls. If you’re planning on doing a lot of offshore or coastal recreational sport fishing, you’ll like want a deep-V hull fishing boat – one of the most popular planing hulls on the market. These hulls part the water easily thanks to their wedge “V” shape and rise over the waves allowing you to blast through choppy waters and get to your desired location quickly and efficiently. That is what makes them ideal offshore fishing boats. If you’re planning to cruise around the harbor or lake, then a boat with a flatter bottom may do you just fine, such as a Jon boat or duck boat. These flat bottom boats are also planing hulls, although they are less stable in choppy water due to their lack of a wedge shape.

Displacement Hulls

Boats with displacement hulls have a bottom hull that remains low in the water at all speeds. Displacement hulls are usually on slower boats such as large sailboats, big trawlers and cruise ships. They are among the most stable boats on the water, and thus ideal for bluewater cruisers and long distance ocean crossings. Ironically, some small round bottom boats such as canoes and small day sailboats have displacement hulls that move easily through the water, but may tend to roll easily.

Semi-Displacement Hulls

As the name implies, these hull shapes lie somewhere in between displacement and planing with a hull that mostly stays in the water but benefits from lift at higher speeds. Among the best known semi-displacement hull boats are the famous Maine lobster boats. Many motor yachts and trawlers will also use semi-displacement hulls, as they can offer the best of both worlds in many ways. Although they are not necessarily designed to cross open oceans, they tend to handle seas well enough to do so and they have the added benefit of being able to achieve higher speeds when needed, but also operate as a displacement hull at lower speeds, making them efficient.

Multihull Boats

In addition to the above categories, there are multi-hulled boats as well. Multi-hulled vessels can either be planing hulls or displacement hulls, and are generally some of the most stable hulls on the water. Popular multi-hull designs include catamaran boats (both power and sail), trimarans and pontoon boats. If casual entertaining on calm waters is your thing you may want to take a look at pontoon boats for sale. If serious offshore fishing tournaments are the order of the day, check out high performance catamarans.

There are many other types of boat hulls that may fall somewhere between these main categories – some deeper and some flatter. In the end, your decision should depend on what the boat will be used for and where you will be boating.

Boat Engines And Motors: Power Considerations

Do you have the need for speed? I mean this answer is obvious – don’t we all! But besides just top speed, boat engines are quite possibly the most important factor to consider when buying a boat. This is because they are usually the most expensive part of your boat, and because they determine how far you can go, how fast you can get there and how much you can carry. Researching boat engines will be a critical part of choosing what boat to buy.

Yamaha XTO Offshore Outboard Engines

Above: Quad Yamaha XTOs on a 2019 Everglades 435 Center Console. Photo by Tom George Yacht Group.

If you’re buying to cruise around a river or harbor, a 25-150 horsepower single engine will do you just fine for most scenarios. But if you plan to be out on the open waters it’s smart to consider getting a boat with at least two engines for safety and redundancy. On a boat with two engines, you are not only moving more powerfully through the water but you are also much safer at sea. If one engine happens to break down, you have a backup engine onboard. This is always an important factor when considering having others on the boat.

Inboard Versus Outboard Engines: Which Is Best?

Now let’s take a look at inboard motors versus outboard motors. For most trailerable-boat owners, outboard motors mounted on the transom seem to be a winner all around. Generally speaking outboards have higher top speeds, are easier to maintain and easier to fix overall. They come in either 2-stroke or 4-stroke versions.

However, if you’re looking to do long-distance cruising or water sports, such as wake boarding or water skiing, you may want to consider boats with a jet drives or stern drives (I/O motors or inboard/outboards). These types of boat engines are enclosed within the hull and offer better access to the stern of the vessel and off the transom and swim platform (jet drives have the advantage of new dangerous moving propellers below the waterline).

Outboard Motors vs Inboard Motors on boats
Above: Outboard Motors vs Inboard Motors on boats for sale on Boat Trader. Photos via private sellers.

Next, maintenance on an outboard engine is simpler than boat maintenance on an inboard engine, due to the fact the engine is literally hanging off the back of the boat, in a completely self contained unit that’s much easier to access. If you do have to replace or upgrade an engine or prop, it is easier with an outboard.

On a smaller boat, having outboards will give you more space for you and your guests. Plus boats with outboard engines are much easier to re-power than inboards for obvious reasons (you simply pull the old motor off, and drop a new one on). Maybe not as simple as it sounds, but it’s much easier than cutting out an inboard engine or getting a huge engine hoist over a boat to lift a heavy engine out of a hull.

Another big difference is fuel type. Outboards run on gas; inboards are predominately diesel-powered. Diesels may last longer and run cleaner, but they are more expensive up front and may require different maintenance procedures.

Finally many boat owners will want to consider power and torque vs. speed when choosing an engine for their boat. Power and torque are two strengths of diesel inboards over outboards. And while there are some very fast turbo-diesel inboard boats, speed is generally the domain of gas outboards, as we mentioned above. Below 30 feet, particularly if you have draft limitations or expect to keep the boat on a trailer, outboards are the typical choice. Above that, inboards can be a good choice, although some of the biggest center console boats in the world and some of the newer outboard powered cruisers are beginning to change that old standard. Still boats over 80 feet will never have outboard engines, as they are simply too big and have too deep of a draft.

Buying New Boats Vs. Used Boats

The pros and cons of buying new versus used boats is always a hot topic among boat buyers, sellers and traders. If you’re on a tighter budget, buying a used boat is the obvious choice. Since much of the depreciation in value has already occurred, used boats actually hold their value better than new boats. Of course many used boats have not been maintained well and/or may have hidden issues, so it is important to be extra careful when buying a used boat. Working with a professional boat surveyor when buying a used boat can be vitally important. Remember to always check the engine compression of a used motor before purchasing.

202 Boston Whaler 360 Outrage Center Console Boat At MIBS 2022

Above: A brand new 2023 Boston Whaler 360 Outrage on the showroom floor at MIBS 2022, marking its debut to into the market. Photo by Boat Trader.

Used boats can also be attractive when you have a particular model in mind, but the dealers are out of inventory, or the manufacturer has stopped making that model for some reason. In some cases, a beloved boat builder goes out of business, and the boats they have built in the past actually increase in value as they are harder to acquire.

When you buy a new boat, you know exactly what you’re getting in terms of the condition of the vessel and you can even build the boat out and rig her up the way you want. You can choose the features and conveniences that fit your needs and leave out those features that you may not want. Also, new boats tend to be more reliable in general and usually come with warranties. (Boat warranties are another important topic to consider and research further.)

Boat Accessories And Equipment

What kind of equipment will you need onboard? Once you’ve determined your “why”, established your top priorities, ideal size, hull type and engines, you can start playing around with accessories for your boat.

Do you want to have a bangin’ boat sound system, so everyone knows it’s you when you speed past? What kind of GPS will you be getting, if any? Having a good GPS is highly recommended if you plan on being out in the open water. There are so many great GPS apps these days, and I think they are a great backup, but I am a strong believer in getting a solid GPS specifically for your boat.

Does your chosen boat have coverage from the sun? If not, you will definitely want to consider getting one installed. It’s all fun and games until it’s 90 degrees and the sun is blasting on your face with nowhere to hide in the shade!

Do you need a cabin with lots of storage? Do you have a bathroom? As noted earlier, bathrooms are important on longer rides – especially for your guests onboard. Not everyone will want to use the ocean as their toilet!

Finding Boats For Sale

Where to shop for new and used boats. It goes without saying that there are many places to find both new and used boats for sale. From the junkyard to the showroom boats are everywhere, but where is the best place to find the right boat for you? These days it’s very common for many buyers to buy a boat online, or at least to begin the process of searching online.

Boat Trader is the go-to destination for buyers across America to find both new and used boats for sale by dealers, as well as by private sellers all over the U.S. With over 100,000 listings throughout the country, and advanced search filters to help you narrow down your search, Boat Trader offers the most extensive selection of boats to browse and choose from, including: fishing, ski/wake, pontoon, center console and long-range cruising boats and yachts. There is also a way to setup up Search Alerts on Boat Trader that will help you “look without looking” so you are immediately notified if any sellers list a boat that matches your specific criteria.

Another great thing about using Boat Trader to find your next vessel is the “search alerts” feature, which helps immensely when buyers are trying to locate that perfect boat nearby. This tool allows you to save your criteria and automatically get weekly notifications whenever a seller posts a new listing that matches your needs. In other words, if someone on the other side of your town lists a boat that ticks all the boxes you’ve laid out above, you won’t miss out – not to mention you’ll likely save hours of your time otherwise spent searching!

You can also consider boats.com as the place to research boats, read reviews, and search for dealer-represented boats. Many trusted experts in the marine industry review boats for boats.com including a library of helpful boat review videos and boats in action on their YouTube channel, which can help you narrow down the models that you’re considering.

YachtWorld is yet another great site for finding larger motor yachts and sailing vessels over 35 feet as well as private brokered boats (boats that are represented by experienced yacht brokers). Keep in mind that YachtWorld does also sell boats below 35 feet in length as well, and many great deals can be found on the site across all classes and makes of vessels. Not to mention there’s a ton of videos on the YachtWorld YouTube showcasing live-action footage of yachts in action on the water, which can help you learn more about the type of boating and yachting you want to do.

Marine Speakers Waterproof Boat Sound System
Above: Marine Speakers on a waterproof boat sound system aboard a MasterCraft boat for sale on Boat Trader. Photo by MasterCraft.

There are many free classified sites that list boats for sale, but these sites may pose added risks, since sellers are not vetted as well. Sites with paid classifieds usually have more serious sellers thus provide more confidence for buyers. It may also be wise to find a boat dealer to help you with your purchase, especially if you’re a first-time boat buyer. There are numerous boat shows across the country where you can see a lot of models in one place and boat dealers can also help you find the right boat at the best price.

Boat Loans And Financing: Navigating Your Options

Boat Loans and Financing

Above: Navigating boat financing options can be as tricky as navigating a boat through rough seas. Photo by Elnur on Pond5.

Do you need help financing your boat purchase? Let’s say you’ve fallen in love with a particular boat, and it meets all your above requirements, but you need some help with financing. There are a number of companies that help qualified buyers get boat loans who may be able to help you with your purchase. How much you have to pay will depend on a variety of factors, such as your credit score, condition/year of the vessel, location and the amount of your down payment.

You will need to show the lender your financial ability to pay back a boat loan. Banks will look at your credit rating, so it’s important for you to look at it first. Three major bureaus provide this kind of information to lending institutions: Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Start there. It’s important for you to check your credit rating before the bank looks into it. Here’s why: If you find a problem or some inaccuracies, it’s much easier for you to get those straightened out before you apply for a loan.

Boat down payments are usually between 10-20 percent, but can depend on the cost and value of the boat as well as your location and finances. The boat loan rate for which you qualify is going to hinge on factors mentioned above, but it also could swing on the term of the loan — how many years you’ll be paying on it — or even the age of the boat you’re buying. For example, you might be able to get a better interest rate on a boat that’s as little as one year newer. In general, smaller loans for shorter terms usually have higher interest rates than larger loans for longer terms. Again, rates can vary with your credit history.

Credit Scores And Boat Loans

Above: Your credit score will effect the amount you will be able to borrow for a boat loan, so make sure you’re checking your credit scores online often to get the best financing options available for the boat you want to purchase. High credit scores and some liquid funds (usually 30% of the boat price) can be the key to securing boat loans these days. Photo by ONEPHOTO on Pond5.

Boat Surveying And Inspection

When going to register and insure your boat, you may have to get it inspected and surveyed by a professional boat surveyor, depending on your locale. This is why it helps to work with a boat surveyor early on in the boat buying process, before deciding to purchase a vessel. That way, you don’t face any surprises later.

Marine Survey C&V survey for boats

Above: Hiring a professional boat surveyor is a requisite part of any boat purchase, especially boats over 15-20 feet, as they become more complicated with more onboard systems, maintenance and safety issues to consider. Photo by philipimage on Pond5.

Each registration will differ depending on where you live, however, some common general items required are life vests, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, radio and flares. You will need to have good dock lines and bumpers onboard, and you’ll most likely need an anchor, or two! Make sure you have all the necessary items to be safe while out on the water.

Negotiating Boat Price: Understanding Boat Values

Now to the meat of the issue: how much should you pay for your boat? Of course if you’re buying a new boat, the price will be fairly set in stone from most dealers. Although you will likely have to choose what options and upgrades you’ll want to order from the factory. Most new boats come standard with a certain propulsion package (i.e. engines) and features and the dealer will usually allow buyers to add certain optional add-ons to suit their intended uses. Used boats are more of a wildcard and their value depends on a number of factors, which we will explore.

New Boat Prices: Consider Your Options And Upgrades Carefully

For example, new center console boats may be sold without a T-top or Bimini to shade the driver at the controls, which may come at an extra price. If you opt to buy a boat without any kind of top, keep in mind how hot may be out on the open water without any shade! (Or how little protection you”ll have from wind and rain.) Anglers may want to add expanded fishing features, like recirculating livewells, insulated fish boxes and rod holders or even outriggers to make plying the waters for their favorite fish species more enjoyable. Families may want to add an onboard head (marine toilet) in the console, or freshwater wash downs and a sink. Speed demons may want to get the biggest engines the boat’s transom can handle (i.e. the maximum horsepower rating of the vessel) to attain the highest speeds possible. All of these are things to carefully consider when looking at the base price of a new boat, versus an “optioned up” or “rigged out” boat.

Used Boat Prices: How To Negotiate A Fair Deal

Now let’s take a look at negotiating used boat prices. For larger boats, sellers should always make sure to get a marine survey from a professional, qualified marine surveyor in order to get a full and accurate overview of the vessel’s condition and what repairs are needed. The condition is a major factor of any used boat’s price. “Condition and Value” surveys (C&V surveys) are often referred to as “Insurance Surveys” since they frequently take place when an insurance company wants to know if it is viable to insure a specific vessel and what the risks are.

Next, you’ll want to consider the year the boat was manufactured and the age of the vessel. Just like cars and trucks, boats depreciate in value every year (with very few exceptions). That means the older the boat you’re looking at is, the less money it is likely to be worth (generally). Keep this in mind especially when considering boat purchases that you’re looking to finance and insure, as many boat loan companies will not finance a loan for purchasing a boat if the vessel is older than a certain set year. Likewise, insurance companies may refuse to insure a vessel that is older than a certain date.

Location can play a big role in a boat’s value as well. Surprisingly certain types of boats may be worth much less in some geographic areas than in others. While in the Pacific Northwest, pilothouse boats with protected helm stations are all the rage, they may be less popular in South Florida, adversely affecting their value in those locations. Vice versa with an open day boat in a colder climate, or pontoon boat on a coastal area known for rough waters that are not suitable for that kind of vessel. Always compare local boat prices with comparable models before making an offer to a boat seller.

After getting a C&V survey, checking with boat value guides and the local market, comparing online resources (like Boat Trader, YachtWorld and boats.com) the bottom line on boat pricing (whether you’re selling or buying) is how much is the boat worth to you? That may move the price up or down. If you’re the seller in need of fast cash, you’ll take less. If you’re an emotional buyer with the dream of a wet summer, you’ll likely pay more.

Tips For Negotiating With Sellers

Follow our seven tips to make sure that you start on the right page, and finish the chapter to enable you to move onto a new one. Here are seven things to consider when interacting with potential boat sellers.

  • Play Fair – Be honest and up-front about your budget before you meet with the seller
  • Sea Trial – Verify the boat runs and floats in the water before you make an offer (and check the bilge for leaks)
  • Communication with sellers – Be responsive, polite, and friendly
  • Due Diligence – Engage the seller in conversation about the boat’s history and why they are selling it
  • Negotiation Tactics – Be ready to go back and forth a few times with potential buyers, make offers based on condition, age, location and features/options.
  • Set Max Price – Have your absolute maximum sales price calculated before interacting with sellers

How well you communicate with sellers and your professionalism will go a long way in ensuring a quick and fair sale.

Boat Insurance Companies: Protect Your Investment

Getting an accurate quote for boat insurance is an important part of the boat buying process. Before you’ve even made your purchase, it is wise to get a boat insurance quote from a company that specializes in insuring vessels that will be used in the manner in which you intend. Make sure this quote is correct for the size, model, and age of your boat, as well as for the location in which you will be using and storing your boat. Remember some companies will not insure commercial boats, or boats that will be made available to others to charter or rent.

Boat Insurance For Damaged Boats

Above: Boat insurance is a wise choice to protect your investment, and in some areas it is required by law, especially for certain types of vessels. Photo by Jentara on Pond5.

Where you live plays a role in the cost of boat insurance. In fact, boat insurance quotes often begin with your ZIP code. For example, Florida offers year-round boating, so Florida residents pay some of the highest rates in the nation for marine insurance. There’s also the annual threat of hurricanes that can increase costs. Yikes!

The Hidden Costs Of Boat Ownership

Planning for the added expenses of owning your boat. Next, don’t forget about all the little things you need to purchase to keep your boat safe, legal, clean and in its best operating condition! At the end of the day, your boat will be expensive. You will pay to service and maintain it, at least twice a year, depending on how much you use it. Things will break – this is inevitable. Gas is expensive, and you’ll have to fill up often, as your engines will probably burn fuel quickly.

After purchasing your boat, you’ll have a number of new issues to address. Let’s take a look at the most common issues first time boat buyers will face.

After Purchasing Your First Boat

 

Boat Storage Facilities

Where will you keep your boat? There are tons of options for boat storage – each with advantages and disadvantages. Will you keep it at a marina? This is perhaps the most convenient as you can just hop in and go, however, monthly fees should be considered. Will you have a dry slip or wet slip? Dry slips are better for your boat, as they keep it out of the water, however, they are more costly than a wet slip.

 
Boat Storage Winter

Above: Boat storage is an important aspect of boat ownership to consider before purchasing a vessel. In areas of the country where the water freezes and the boating season is limited, you’ll need a place to safely store your vessel to keep it from deteriorating rapidly. Photo via Pond5.

Perhaps you’ll get a trailer and keep it on your property – this saves you some cash, but doesn’t save you time. Hauling your boat in and out of the water and driving it all around town could end up being a big time suck and inconvenience. On the other hand, a good trailer with tilt and power winch can make this process much easier.

As boat owners we sacrifice money that gets sucked into our boats, however, we gain so much joy from owning it. You can’t put a price on happiness, so all this is just something you do in order to have the joy of being a boat owner, which is truly irreplaceable.

Boat cleaning is an important part of boat maintenance. Photo by Gary Reich.
Above: Boat cleaning is an important part of boat maintenance. Photo by Gary Reich.

Boat Cleaning Supplies And Methods: Keeping Her In Top-Top Shape

Cleaning supplies are a must, as you will want to clean it down after each use, so that you maintain the highest possible resale value of the boat. If you’re planning on being on the ocean, the salt can be extremely tough on your boat, so it’s imperative that when you come home from a day out on the water you wash down everything thoroughly. It’s easiest to keep a broom, bucket, sponges, brushes and specialty marine cleaning supplies on your boat ready to go!

New Boater Training And Education

So now you have your new boat, a place to store it and you have wrapped your mind around all that goes into owning and maintaining a boat. Now, what about the fun part – actually driving it! Just like the world of cars and trucks on public roads, there are guidelines and rules of the road to be aware of when you are driving your boat. If you’re entirely new to boating, you’ll want to take some classes and get familiar with these rules, as well as study how to safely and properly handle your particular boat. Every boat has controls and features unique to its design and propulsion system, so you will have to research the specifics of your vessel to make sure you are a responsible captain and know how your boat will handle in different types of weather and boating conditions and scenarios.

Boat Handling And Safety

Learning the basics of boating. Now that you’ve got your own boat and you’re ready to roll, you may realize that you have no idea what you’re doing! That’s okay, because practice makes perfect. There is no better way to become an expert boat driver than to just get out on the water and do it!

If you have the option, find an experienced captain to take you out a few times and show you the ropes. This is the best way to go. You will find some of the most complicated and difficult things about boating is docking, knowing the waters, and remaining cool, calm and collected during your adventures. Being confident and not panicking is extremely important when driving a boat. Just like with anything, this will come to you naturally with practice.

Advice For First-Time Boat Owners: Take It Slow!

During the first few months of owning your own boat, go out as much as you can, familiarize yourself with the waters and your boat. Dock it over and over and over again until you can basically do it with your eyes closed! A helpful hint with driving is to always remember “slow like a pro”. If you are ever in a situation where you are unsure or not completely confident, just remember “slow like a pro”. You can’t actually do much damage to anything if you are going slow in your boat. With that in mind, you can be at ease and get comfortable during this learning process.

Boating Classes & Online Courses: Learning The Rules Of The Road

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the local laws in your area. It is recommended to take a quick captains course online. With knowledge being so accessible these days, take advantage of your online tools and take a quick free online course on general boating and navigation.

You will learn about boating terms such as port and starboard, so you can sound like a pro when captaining your vessel, and actually know what you’re talking about! You will learn about lights and what they mean as well as buoys, signs and much more.

As mentioned earlier, there is no better way than to just get out there and captain your boat – but knowing your boat laws, and general boating etiquette is a critical part of being a great boat owner. There is no such thing as too much knowledge, so absorb everything you can!

Center Console Fishing Boat
Above: This mid-sized center console has the beef to take on serious seas, and the fishability center console lovers desire. Photo by Sportsman Boats.

Finally: Enjoy Your New Boat Responsibly!

Owning a boat is a big responsibility – you are responsible to keep those in your boat safe, as well as others on the water. You are responsible for making sure your boat is properly maintained and that it is always serviced properly and operating properly. You will pump money into it, and unless you’re doing charters, you won’t be getting any in return.

However, owning a boat is truly an amazing experience. You’ll be able to explore so much that most people only dream about. The ocean is a magical place and there are many underwater treasures to explore, along with many fun activities and sports you can do on the water.

You can catch your dinner then go grill it on a private island with just you and your friends. These are the types of memories and days that you will always treasure because you are a boat owner. No amount of research will beat your experience out on the water. So buy your boat, go explore and experience all that boat life has to offer.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2019 and was last updated in March 2022.

Written by: Tatjana Chahine

Tatjana Chahine is USCG-licensed boat captain and writer who regularly contributes to boats.com, YachtWorld and Boat Trader. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she now resides in Nassau, Bahamas where she operates a Bahamas boat charter and excursion company that helps tourists visit the 700 islands & cays and experience the local culture. Bahamian-owned, the company partners with Bahamians for custom-tailored, guided tours and supports local businesses and community building efforts.

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