Is owning a boat on your horizon? Do you see
yourself paddling a canoe? Piloting a motorboat?
Helming a sailboat?
Of course, it will be easier and more affordable to pop
a canoe on top of your car than to maintain a moored
boat in a popular summer harbor. Still, choosing a
boat that fits your lifestyle, as well as your budget,
takes some research.
Before you make your purchase, realistically assess
all of the on-going expenses of boat ownership.
Navigating your options begins with an understanding
of the boat market.
Navigating the boat market
One of the biggest challenges when buying a boat is
balancing your needs and wants with your budget.
Bigger boats generally cost more; smaller boats
generally cost less. However, buying used, an option
with boats much like with cars, may allow you to get a
little more “bang for your buck,” or in boating terms,
more “feet for your dollars.”
If buying used provides you with the opportunity to
purchase a boat that meets your size requirements,
suits your purposes, and offers the accessories you
want, consider taking the following six steps.
1. Avoid impulse buying. Allow yourself time to
research your options – attend boat shows and read
trade magazines. You can get a general sense of
prices for boats that interest you by scanning the
classified ads for a few months.
2. Research repair and maintenance histories. While
certain surface repairs may be obvious, others can be
less obvious to the untrained eye. Consider consulting
with a marine surveyor for a professional inspection,
which is much like having your prospective house
inspected or taking a car you’re interested in buying to
A boat inspection might reveal mechanical difficulties,
electronic problems, weak points in the hull, or better
yet, nothing at all.
3. Look for a fair price. Compare high and low prices
for boats that interest you from as many sources as
possible, including the classifieds, used boat guides,
a marine surveyor’s report, and word of mouth.
4. Get warranty information. Be aware that used boats
may not qualify for certain coverage under
manufacturer or dealer warranties. However, in
certain situations, the seller may be able to transfer a
warranty to you.
5. Go for a ride. While not possible in all circumstances,
a test voyage can be an important indicator of a
boat’s general condition and handling.
6. Document the purchase in writing. Make sure that
any special conditions, such as the inclusion or
exclusion of certain equipment, are clearly defined in
a written document. A bill of sale will also prove useful
if your boat needs to be registered (this applies to
almost all motorized boats) or if you are applying for a
If you’re looking at new boats, many of the above
pointers apply as well – avoid impulse buying, do
some research, and scout out the best deal. In
addition, pay special attention to the warranty offers,
which generally promise service in the event certain
repairs are needed.
The details vary depending on dealers and
manufacturers, so be sure to do your research before
you close the deal. If your new boat will replace an
older boat, consider selling the older boat yourself,
even though it may take some extra effort. The tradein value is often less than the used market value.
Wading through the costs
When analyzing the total cost of a boat, it is important
to look beyond the sticker price. Depending on the
type of boat you wish to purchase, additional costs
Furthermore, if you will be funding your purchase with
a loan, be sure you account for interest payments.
Tips for smooth sailing
On the water, gently lapping waves and sunny skies
can quickly give way to storm clouds and choppy
seas. Be prepared and invest in the proper safety
equipment, which begins with Coast Guard-approved
personal flotation devices (PFDs), commonly called
life jackets. Equip your boat with a life jacket for each
passenger. For ocean-going vessels, be sure to have
adequate communication equipment and appropriate
navigational tools onboard.
Whether you cruise toward the sunset by sail, motor,
or paddle, planning ahead can help you find a boat
that best suits your lifestyle and your budget.
Investing your time beforehand may save you money
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