Buying a Boat Without Sinking Your Budget

In many people’s minds, owning a boat feels like an unrealistic and expensive dream. But the fact is that you don’t need deep pockets to own a boat. Over the past decade, boat ownership has been surging, with boat sales increasing nationally by about five percent from 2016 to 2017. 

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reports that 72 percent of American boat owners have household incomes of less than $100,000.

That said, you still want to be sensible when buying a boat so that you can both afford and maintain it. With that in mind, here are five tips to consider that will help you make the right choice when buying a boat.

  1. Take Stock of Your Boating Lifestyle
    Do you love to take overnight cruises to exotic locales? Do you enjoy sailing at sunset? Or do you just want to fish, water ski and go tubing? These should be your first questions. It’s great to buy a boat with all kinds of bells and whistles, but it makes little sense if you never take advantage of them. Make a checklist of what you hope to get out of the boat before you go shopping.

  2. Bigger is Not Always Better
    According to the NMMA, 95 percent of U.S. boats are 26 feet or less. If you can do without a kitchen and sleeping quarters, for example. you can save a lot of money. The bigger the boat, generally, the more expensive it is to operate. Registration and insurance can run about $700 annually for an average-priced boat, with fuel also being a major expense. A 150-horsepower engine will burn about 15 gallons per hour at full throttle, which means a three-hour cruise could top $100. There are also moorage fees, which are charged per foot per day. Don’t forget dry docking in the offseason, launch and lift-out fees, hull cleaning and treatment, engine maintenance, sail and line replacements for sailboats, and other equipment that ranges from fire extinguishers to life jackets.

  3. Trailer or Dock?
    Where you keep the boat must be taken into account. Typical trailer maximums run up to 30 feet long and 8.5 feet wide. The bigger the boat, the larger car or truck you’ll need to pull it. As size increases, you may need permits or professionals to move your boat. Docking your boat is another expense. And if you don’t use it for long periods and need to store it, those options should be weighed.

  4. What Kind of Power Do You Want?
    If you’re in the market for a powerboat, your choice in motors ranges from outboard and sternboard to inboard and jet boats. Even with sailboats you’ll need a small engine for exiting and entering the harbor. 

  5. New or Used?
    Obviously, a used boat has already depreciated and is therefore less expensive. New boat depreciation peaks during the first season of use. If a used boat has been properly maintained, depreciation will level out. But if you decide to purchase a used boat, have a professional do a thorough evaluation before signing the check.