Is one of the items on your lifelong bucket list to own your boat? Do you dream of being out on the open water, cruising and watching sunsets in your own boat? Learn more with our article on How to Buy a Boat The Ultimate Boat Buyers Guide 2023
It seems a pretty popular dream for many Americans. In 2019 alone, some 11.88 million recreational boats were registered in the US. That staggering number doesn’t account for the boats that weren’t registered.
Are you longing to buy a boat and join this club for the next boating season? While the idea of being out on the water enjoying the good boating life sounds mighty alluring, there are many things boat buyers should consider before they jump into this big purchase.
Read on for all the things you should consider as you plan to buy a boat this year.
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Ready to Buy a Boat, Questions to Ask Yourself
Often the idea of boat ownership is so exciting that boat shoppers fail to think through the cost of a boat and all it entails. They might even end up buying a boat that isn’t really the right fit for them. Like any big investment, it makes sense to do your homework and really consider the right boat choice for you.
Use these questions and answers for yourself to help guide you to finding the best boat for you and your family.
Why Do You Want to Buy a Boat?
Sure, it checks off a bucket list item, and it sounds fun and like a tool for memory-making. But really, why do you want to buy a boat? Do you hope to fish? Use it as a vacation home? Go out for cocktail cruises around your local lake? Sail from port to port while traveling to new places?
If you can nail down the why, it helps significantly narrow your search for the best boat for you. Be assured you need the answer to this question before you start boat shopping, as they can all look pretty exciting, which can ultimately lead you astray if you don’t remember your why.
What Type of Boat Do I Want?
Again, with so many choices, knowing the answer to this question is a big leap into finding the right boat. Do you want a pontoon for leisurely cruises? Are you hoping to go out deep sea fishing? Maybe you dream of sailing in big water? Will you be thrilled with a small fishing boat and some paddles?
You want to consider what type of hull you want your boat to have. You want to consider its power source too. Factors such as how many people you want your boat to fit and what kind of amenities you want your boat to have should also be considered.
Is Bigger Better?
Most inexperienced boaters might assume that the bigger boat is always the best option. But as you consider a boat purchase, you want to consider the implications of a larger boat.
It costs more to buy and run. You may have less flexibility for moving it if you buy a bigger boat. Check with your insurance agent about insuring a larger boat too.
Again, you want to consider where you will use the boat. You will want a larger size if you anticipate using the boat out in open water instead of using it for fishing on the local river.
New vs. Used Boat Debate
As you begin boat shopping, you will quickly realize one decision you’ll have to make is whether you should buy a new boat or a used one. There are advantages to both options.
Of course, there is nothing like buying a brand new boat, all shiny and ready for the water and years of boating together. Other advantages include:
- You get exactly the boat you want versus having to settle for something available in the used market
- It’s new, so you aren’t buying someone else’s neglected or ill-cared-for property
- You get the manufacturer’s warranty
- You don’t have to wonder why the boat is for sale from the previous owner
Of course, the higher price tag comes with the luxury of buying new.
When you consider a used boat, you will quickly see that many options are available. Boats made of fiberglass and aluminum have a long life; therefore, you’ll find many available in the used marketplace. What are some reasons to consider a used boat?
- Cost, you can get more boats for less money because the boat has already depreciated
- You don’t have the pressure of caring for a brand new boat and worrying about the wear and tear you will see it get
- A large inventory is available when considering a used option
The assumption might be that a new boat comes without any problems. However, often there are some glitches to be worked out. With a used boat, those issues have already been worked out.
The truth is that there are advantages to buying both new and used. Often it comes down to cost. You can get more boat with less money when buying used. The flip side is that it comes with issues you might not see when buying.
Boat Shopping, Where to Look
Once you have worked through what you want to buy and considered the new versus used question, you might wonder where to begin shopping for a boat. Where is the best place to look for boats for sale?
There are a few avenues to pursue when looking for a boat.
The most obvious one is a boat dealer. They specialize in selling boats. Often a dealer will have access to both new and used inventory. They may sell certain brands that you are considering.
One way to get to know several boat dealers at once is to visit an annual boat show. With many dealers showing their lineup, you can really see what options might be available to you, especially if you’re considering a new boat.
Another option is to consider a boat broker. Consider a boat broker like a real estate agent for boats. The broker specializes in buying and selling boats. They often even specialize in a particular type of boat which can be good if you know exactly what you want. A boat broker can also take your wish list for a boat and look to find you a boat that fits your criteria.
Since the broker handles all the details, they often take away the hassles too. They, of course, make money by making a commission on the sale, which the seller almost always pays. Since they’re paid by commission, they are less likely to handle selling small boats.
Finally, you might consider buying used from a private owner. You hear from family and friends about someone selling their boat or see an ad. While there is a little more risk in buying from a private owner because you don’t have someone specializing in boats looking it over, you might also find the best deal this way.
Types of Boats for Your Consideration
As you prepare to purchase a boat, you now have to think about how you want to use a boat. With so many different types of boats on the market, you’ll be a happier boat owner if you can narrow down what you want.
In the simplest terms, there are three ways to classify a type of boat. The first is unpowered or man-powered boats. These won’t come with any kind of motor. They might include rowboats, kayaks, and small aluminum fishing boats.
The second category would be sailboats. These can be propelled by power from the wind in the sails. Although many larger sailboats also come with some kind of motor too.
Finally, there is a huge category of motorboats or boats that are propelled by an engine of some type.
As you consider buying a boat, consider the different types of boats:
- Cabin Cruisers
- Speed boats
- Fishing boats
- Pontoon boats
- Jet skis
- Jet boats
- Inflatable boats like dinghies
Obviously, within each of these types, there can be a wide range of choices. In many cases, this has to do with the size of the boat and the type of motor that comes with it.
Motor Types to Consider
One of the most important considerations when buying a boat is the type of motor the boat will have and how powerful it will be. Most boat owners love the idea of going fast out of the open water, but not all want or need that option.
For example, if you want a small fishing boat that will allow you to troll along your lake while fishing, you might be perfectly set with a small battery motor.
When considering the motor on the boat, again consider how and where you want to use it. You will need to decide between the inboard and outboard motor.
An inboard motor is built into the hull of the boat. For example, many sporting boats for waterskiing use an inboard motor because it throws less wake. Boats that you want to use for long-distance cruising are more likely to have an inboard motor.
Boats you plan to transport via a trailer will likely have an outboard motor. Outboard motors get mounted to the back of the transom of the boat. They can be tilted up for transport while on a trailer to protect the expensive propellers.
A sail-powered boat will often still come with some type of motor. Whether it is inboard or outboard and how it’s powered will likely depend on the sailboat’s size.
Steps to Buying a Boat
Buying a new boat can be a lot like buying a new car. It’s hard to stay caught up in the idea and the features. For a purchase like a boat, you want to make sure you approach the boat buying process in a very organized way instead of getting swayed by the shiny finishes and allure of a boat’s idea.
If you are methodical and thoughtful with the process, you will land on the best boat for you in the long term. And you approach it with practical thoughts instead of getting caught in the swirl of boating dreams.
Deciding on the Right Boat for You
Start by considering the questions at the beginning of this piece.
- How will you use the boat and where?
- How much can you afford?
- Where do you intend to keep your boat when it’s not in use?
- What type of boat do you want?
- What type of motor do you want?
- Is new or used the best option for you?
If you can work through these questions, you will have already greatly narrowed down your search and can then get serious about your options.
Once you have a budget and type of boat in mind, you can start looking. Again, consider who you might want to buy from: a dealer, boat broker, or private seller. One factor in this is if you want to buy new vs. used.
Consider brands of boats and do your homework on what others say about the brand. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, go online and read what others are saying about that specific make and model. Are there potential problems that many owners are facing? Has this boat had any manufacturing issues that many people are raising?
If you’re considering a used boat, ask for maintenance records and information related to the boat’s make, model, and age.
Negotiating and Making an Offer
Once you think you have found a boat and you have done your homework to learn about that particular boat, it’s time to close the deal.
While it might be harder to negotiate a price on a new boat, you should definitely negotiate for a used one. If you’re buying new, ask whether the manufacturer is offering any rebates on the purchase price. Sometimes dealers will offer their own discount incentives too.
If you’re buying a used boat, be sure to research online what the boat should be worth as a used unit. There are a variety of sites that can help you see the prospective value of the used boat, like you might use Kelly Blue Books to buy a used car.
Once you have decided on a boat, you want to take the time for inspections and surveys. You can hire a boat expert who can come and inspect the boat you hope to buy as you might with a home inspector. This might be even more important when purchasing a used vessel.
Some states require you to hire and conduct surveys on the boat for registration and licensing. The surveys will consider the vessel’s seaworthiness and ensure important parts of the boat, like the bilge pump, are in good working order before the boat goes out on the water.
If you’re buying through a dealer or broker, you can ask for a sea trial and go out on the water with the boat to see how it handles and runs. Most dealers will even offer sea trials as part of their sale to help teach you about the boat and provide important training.
Financing Your Boat
Most people will find they need to seek a boat loan when purchasing a boat. You may want to research financing before you begin the actual boat shopping. Most traditional financial institutions will offer to finance recreational vehicles like boats.
Of course, your rate will be based on your credit score and credit report, like if you were financing a car. The bank may also consider the make and age of the vessel you hope to buy. You will also have more success with financing with a larger down payment from you.
As you come closer to finalizing your boat purchase, you must also consider where to put your boat once it is yours.
Some boats are small enough that they can move from place to place via trailer. Of course, you need to ensure a trailer is part of your purchase. You will also need to ensure you have a vehicle to tow the boat. You might also check with your auto insurance company to make sure you have the right coverage on your vehicle, knowing you will be towing.
If you purchase a larger-sized boat, it may not be practical or possible to tow it. In this case, you’ll need to find a place to keep it in the water and a place to store it when it’s not in the water during colder months.
You might consider area marinas and boat clubs as options.
As you consider what to buy, it’s important that you factor in where to keep your boat as this can be an additional and sometimes significant expense.
Hidden Costs of Boat Ownership
Any experienced boat owner will tell you to be prepared for some additional expenses regarding boat ownership. Of course, you might prepare for the boat’s actual cost but don’t be caught unprepared for other additional expenses related to boat ownership.
Let’s take a closer look at some of those costs.
Registering Your Boat
Just like you register your car, most states have requirements for registering your boat. Usually, this is required yearly, and there’s a cost connected to the registration.
If you plan to fish from your boat, you must also get licenses, so you’re legally doing it.
Like any hobby, boating requires equipment and that is beyond the actual boat and a place to store it. You will want to have lines and bumpers so you can safely dock the boat. Your boat will need an anchor if you want to stop and stay in one place.
No matter where you store the boat, you’ll want it covered when it’s not in use.
If your boat comes with a cabin, you’ll need to stock it. You’re legally required to carry life jackets and safety equipment for every passenger aboard your boat.
In addition to the above equipment, you’ll need cleaning and maintenance equipment to keep your boat in tip-top shape. You’ll find, like a special car, you’re regularly washing and waxing the boat too.
At the beginning and end of each boating season, you’ll want your motors to be serviced and winterized, which most people hire out and is an additional cost.
Storing your Boat
Many new boat owners don’t consider immediately what to do with their boat when it isn’t boating season. Most people don’t have the space on their property or in their garage to store a boat.
You will want to consider where to store your boat and the cost when it isn’t boating season. Will you want to pay extra for inside storage? What will it cost to have the boat shrink-wrapped so it remains secure from the elements and other critters during the winter months?
Insuring Your Boat
Finally, once you make this exciting purchase, you want to protect it with the appropriate boat insurance. Your insurance agent will need information about the make and model of your boat and its value. You want to make sure you’re covered for both property damage to the vessel as well as good liability coverage.
You want to talk with your agent about where the boat gets stored to make sure you have coverage for when the boat is in and out of the water. You might also ask to make sure your personal belongings that are a part of your boating equipment get covered.
Frequently Asked Questions About Buying a Boat
What type of boat is best for me?
Explore different boat types, such as fishing boats, pontoons, sailboats, or yachts, and consider factors like intended use, budget, and experience level to determine the most suitable boat for your needs.
How much does it cost to buy a boat?
Explain that boat prices vary significantly depending on factors such as size, type, brand, age, condition, and additional features. Provide a general price range and emphasize the importance of considering additional costs like maintenance, insurance, and mooring fees.
Should I buy a new or used boat?
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both options. Highlight that new boats offer warranties and the latest features, while used boats are often more affordable. Encourage readers to consider their budget, desired features, and overall condition when making this decision.
What should I look for when inspecting a boat?
Provide a checklist of key aspects to inspect, including the hull condition, engine performance, electrical systems, safety equipment, and overall maintenance history. Emphasize the importance of a professional survey for used boats.
Do I need a license or certification to operate a boat?
Explain that boating license requirements vary by jurisdiction. Provide an overview of the licensing or certification process in your target region and direct readers to local authorities or resources for detailed information.
Are You Ready to Buy a Boat and Get Out on the Water?
While it might feel like the list of things to consider when you want to buy a boat is long and daunting, you want to go into making this exciting purchase with an open mind. The more knowledge you have about boats and everything connected to being a boat owner, the more successful you’re likely to be as a boat owner.
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