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How to Buy a Boat The Ultimate Boat Buyers Guide 2021

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Boat Buyers Guide

Is one of the items on your lifelong bucket list to own your own boat? Do you dream of being out on the open water, cruising along, watching sunsets in a boat you own yourself?

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.

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 to greatly narrow your search for finding 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 in the end can 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 really 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 on 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.

Buying New

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 that is 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, with the luxury of buying new also comes the higher price tag.

Buying Used

When you consider a used boat, you will quickly see that there are many options available. Boats made of fiberglass and aluminum have a long life, and therefore you’ll find many of them available in the used marketplace. What are some reasons to consider a used boat?

  • Cost, you can get more boat 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 potentially 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 be wondering 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 you look to find 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

Boats For Sale

As you prepare for purchasing 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 really 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 the 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
  • Sailboats
  • Yachts
  • 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 one that is built into the hull of the boat. Many sporting boats for waterskiing, for example, 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 that you plan to transport via a trailer are more likely to 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 not to get 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 methodical 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 are sure to 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.

Boat Shopping

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 have surveys done on the boat for registration and licensing. The surveys will consider the vessel’s seaworthiness and make sure 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 so they can help teach you about the boat and provide important training.

Financing Your Boat

Most people will find they need to seek out a boat loan when they purchase a boat. You may want to research financing before you begin the actual boat shopping. Most traditional financial institutions will offer financing for recreational vehicles like boats.

Of course, the rate you get will be based on your credit score and credit report, like it would be if you were financing a car. The bank may also take into consideration the make and age of the vessel you hope to buy. You will have more success with financing, too with a larger down payment from you.

Docking Options

Boat Buyers Guide 2021

As you come closer to finalizing your boat purchase, you will also need to consider where to put your boat once it is yours.

Some boats are small enough they can move from place to place via trailer. Of course, then you need to make sure a trailer is part of your purchase. You will also need to make sure you have a vehicle that can 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.

It’s important as you consider what to buy 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 when it comes to boat ownership. Of course, you might prepare for the boat’s actual cost but don’t be caught unprepared for a host of 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 will also need to get licenses, so you’re legally doing it.

Boating Equipment

Like any hobby, boating requires equipment, and that is beyond the actual boat and 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.

Boat Maintenance

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.

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.

Need help with insurance for your new boat? We can help! Contact us today to set up an appointment to discuss your insurance needs.


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