Boat Loans

How to Buy a Boat

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With summer right around the corner, buying a boat may be topping your “things-to-consider” list. Getting out on the water can be thrilling, relaxing, and adventurous, but owning a boat is not always breezy rides and sun-dappled excursions. Before you take the plunge, you’ll want to consider the costs of owning a boat — from your upfront costs to financing and maintenance fees. Read on to find out more.

What is the average cost of a boat?

Boat prices vary greatly: you can buy a blow-up dinghy for under $50, or shell out just under $1000 for a kayak. But most boats purchased for cruising, fishing and waterspouts are going to cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars (and up!) Because boats vary in size, shape, type and capacity, the prices vary greatly. Plus, used boats and/or refurbished boats will cost considerably less than new models.

Nine things to consider before you buy a boat

Before you put down a good chunk of change on any boat, you need to do a bit of research. Everything from the cost of the boat to maintenance and docking fees can eat into how much “fun” you can have on the water. Here are nine things to consider before you buy a boat.

1. Budget

Buying a boat is a big financial investment, from the moment you pay for it (or begin to make payments on it), and it doesn’t stop there. Maintaining a boat can also cost a considerable amount of money. So before you head out to your local marina (or start your online research), you’ll need to consider your budget. Are you looking for something high-powered, or maybe something that’s fishing-friendly? Is it for just you and your buddies, or for your family, too? Will it be sail powered or motor powered? These are just a few things that will affect the cost of your water vessel.

2. Size of the boat

Before you start writing that check, ask yourself what type of activities you want to use the boat for. Are you a waterskiing aficionado? A fishing fiend? You need to factor in how you’ll be using the boat, which then impacts how often you’ll take it out and how big it should be. Most boating experts advise steering clear of buying a big boat if you don’t need it. Don’t buy a huge party boat if you see yourself just taking the kids out for weekly inner tube outings throughout the summer. A smaller, more compact boat may be a more economical choice.

3. New or used?

Another important component to think over is sinking cash into a new boat or a used boat. The latter, not surprisingly, will cost less, since boats, like cars, depreciate in value the moment they leave the showroom. Unlike cars, however, there is very little concrete data on how much value a boat loses over time.

Scott Croft, director of public relations for BoatUS said he’s been in the boat business for 20 years and he’s never seen comparable data on boats. He says that features play heavily into the costs of boats.

“If you take two identical boats and compare them, one can be almost double the other because one has air conditioning while the other does not; one boat comes with a trailer, but the other doesn’t,” he said. Croft added that variables like brand, the boat’s purpose or any kind of additional fishing gear that it may come with make boat prices hard to pin down. Croft suggested that in order to make the most sense out of boat prices (whether they are new or used) you need to understand all the features in order to make a fair comparison.

When it comes to warranties on boats, it’s a little different than warranties on a car. Whereas a car might have a 100,000 warranty (or a certain amount of use), a boat warranty might only be only up to the duration of the original boat warranty. As David Mann, Membership Programs Manager at BoatUS, explained, boat warranties usually expire a couple of years after its initial sale. There is also the factory warranty versus the extended service contract to consider.

Croft explained further that because the mechanics of a boat — its engine, for example — are getting better and better, the warranties reflect this. “Motors have become more reliable” he said. “Outboard motors are becoming more popular. They are also becoming more expensive.”

4. Frequency of use

Do you envision yourself as an active boater? Perhaps you love to fish and see your boating excursions as a way to hone your fishing skills. Or are you more of a once or twice-a-season boater? Identifying how much you’ll take your boat out affects your annual boating costs. If you live far from where your boat is docked, that may impede you from using it. You need to be honest with yourself about how much time you truly see yourself out on the water. Alternatives to owning a boat are detailed below for those cases when you might not want to buy a boat.

5. Fresh or saltwater use?

Using your boat in freshwater can mean less maintenance for you. Saltwater does a number on boats, and requires diligent cleaning. Freshwater may not feel as exhilarating on those open-water jaunts, but you may love not having to spend your precious weekends scrubbing salt stains off the side of your vessel. There are no hard and fast rules about the expense of using a boat in saltwater as opposed to freshwater, according to BoatUS, but they say it may cost a little more if you choose to go boating in saltwater, because you need to be vigilant about routinely painting the bottom of the vessel (due to corrosion), as the salt accelerates the wear and tear on a boat.

6. Dockage and storage

Knowing where your boat will reside (when it’s not cruising the lake) is a key question to answer before you start shelling out cash. You’ll need to either buy or rent what’s called a “slip” (like a parking place for your boat) or a mooring. According to Oyster Harbors Marine, a New England-based full-service marina, slips are usually more expensive than moorings, but they offer better protection from weather and other vessels. On moorings, other boats can get loose during storms and crash into yours, causing tons of damage.

Private marinas and yacht clubs are pricier options for docking a boat, but they may be worth exploring for those with bigger boating budgets, and larger boats. Some boats are so large that they require special equipment in order to dock or moor. The pros at BoatUS say the cost of storing boats is more about location than anything. Croft gave the example of storing a boat at Newport Beach as opposed to a marina in Wisconsin. Boat enthusiasts will pay a lot more to launch their vessel in the former, more affluent area than in the Badger State.

“It’s all variable on the price of land, what the market is, the type of storage,” explained Croft.

Also, storing a boat in the winter is very different than storing it in the summer, so you’ll need to assess how your boat will best be stored based on the climate you plan to use it in, and to ensure it stays protected from the elements. Once you know what you need, investigate storage facilities and companies in your area to find the best prices for storage. Again, it’s all about location, location, location.

“A mooring in Newport, Rhode Island is gonna be more expensive than a slip in Oklahoma,” Croft added.

Another thing to consider is access to the place where your boat is stored. The easier the access — a heated, indoor storage facility, for example — will cost more than a mooring in a boat club where you need to provide a dinghy to access it.

7. Maintenance

Just like a car, a boat requires regular maintenance to run properly. Routine check-ups (done by you or by a licensed dealer) are crucial to keeping wear and tear from damaging your beloved vessel. Maintenance tips on include washing your boat regularly (to remove debris and saltwater or freshwater residue), changing the oil and checking the propeller. It’s tough to say how much you may end up paying to maintain a boat, because it all depends on how big your boat is, how technologically-advanced it is and where your boat is stored. Have more than one engine? That’s two oil changes instead of one, two tune-ups instead of one. Multiple air conditioners? Keeping your vessel in tip-top shape can add up.

8. Fuel

Before deciding on the type of boat to buy, you should consider the cost of fuel. According to BetterBoat, motorboats use between 20 and 30 gallons of fuel per hour when cruising at speed; if you average that to 25 gallons per hour, a simple five-hour trip could end up costing you more than $300 per outing. And if you’re planning to use your boat once a week, that’s more than $16,000 in fuel alone. Less speedy boats require less fuel, so a boat with less power may be a better option for those watching their spending.

9. Weather and climate

Is your boat docked in an area that’s hot and dry, or cool and humid? Weather and climate are hugely important considerations since water temperatures and atmosphere can determine the type and cadence of maintenance.

Other potential boating expenses include the following: boating lessons (imperative for newbie boat owners), licensing (varies by state, so it’s worth investigating before you buy), insurance costs, and required safety equipment.

How do you find a boat to buy?

Finding a boat to buy begins with research. Fire up your favorite search engine and start looking for boats for sale. Places like,, eBay, Craigslist, and have scores of listings of various types of boats for sale all over the world. Even a quick Google search on “used boats for sale near me” should bring up some promising results.

Those looking for new boats may want to browse a boat dealership to truly get a feel for the type of boat you want. Local marinas, yacht clubs, and boat dealerships will be able to offer you countless options for your new and used boat search. Boat shows are also a fun avenue to explore scores of boats, all under one roof. You can compare vessels, browse a variety of makes and models, and find experts to answer any questions you might have. is a great place to start your search of shows in your area.

A yacht broker is another option for buying a vessel — they are similar to real estate agents in that people hire them to sell boats for them.

How to finance a boat

When you’ve decided what type of boat to buy, the next step is figuring out how to pay for it. If you can’t pay cash for a new watercraft, you’ll want to consider financing options. LendingTree has a simple, boat loan calculator to assess how much you can afford.

After you’ve made that assessment, you can reach out to banks, lenders, and credit unions to see about getting the best financing deal. LendingTree also has its top picks for boat loans to help steer you in the right direction.

The average boat loan is 10 years, but you can also find loans for 12, 15, and 20 years. As for the down payment, you can put down 10%, 15% or even more if you have the financial ability to do so.

Alternatives to owning a boat

Maybe you’re curious about boat ownership, but you’re not so sure how much you’ll take to the water, or maybe you’d like to make a little money on the boat you’ve just purchased. If either of these describes your situation, you may want to pursue boat-sharing or renting.

You can also join a boat club, which isn’t a whole lot different from a biking club or a fitness facility — you pay monthly or annual membership fees to use any of a club’s fleet of watercraft. Simply select the day and type of boat you want, and that vessel is yours for the day.

Boat ownership made easy

Boat ownership can be a rewarding experience. The thrill of taking your own vessel out for a day at the lake is the stuff of lifelong memories. Be sure you consider budget, location, maintenance/fees, storage, and your lifestyle before taking the plunge. Being honest with yourself (and taking a good look at your financial situation) will help you decide if a boat is the best purchase for you.


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