32 Boat Buying Tips: Important Steps (+ Clever Bargain Tips)

Buying a boat can be stressful and expensive, but it can also be fun and exciting.

Read through our boat buying tips so that you can reduce your stress and get a great deal on your next boat purchase.

Our 10 Best Boat Buying Tips

Buy during the off-season:

When you buy off-season, you can often save thousands of dollars.

Sure, you’ll have to find a place to store the boat through the winter, but this shouldn’t be too hard for smaller boats.

Know the tax laws where you plan to buy the boat:

Taxes will usually need to be paid in the state where the boat is registered and/or titled.

If you plan to buy out of state, make sure you avoid paying taxes twice.

This will take a little research, but a quick search on the internet will provide the information you need.

Buy used:

When you buy used, the original owner will take the largest depreciation hits.

Get a boat inspection:

This tip is handy when buying a used boat.

A professional boat inspection will help pick out issues that could end up causing you a lot of heartache in the future.

Click here to read our guide for boat inspections.

Shop around for the lowest interest rate:

The lower the interest rate, the more money you’ll save on interest payments.

Buy the boat in cash:

The best way to save on interest is not to pay any interest on the boat at all.

You can do this by purchasing the boat in cash.

Rent the boat first:

Buying a boat is an expensive investment.

Reduce your chances of having buyer’s remorse by renting a few boats first.

This way, you’ll get to try the boat out before you actually commit to making monthly payments on one.

Watch out for extras and upgrades:

Many of the little extras that boat dealers try to sell aren’t really all that useful, and you can buy the same extras for less than half the price at an aftermarket store.

Don’t buy a sailboat until you’ve learned to sail:

Sailing can be very romantic, but it isn’t for everyone.

Learn to sail and decide whether or not you like it before committing to a new sailboat.

Start small:

Buying the biggest boat, you can afford usually isn’t the best idea.

The bigger the boat, the more expensive it is to buy, store, drive, and maintain.

Start small and only upgrade when you feel the need to upgrade.

10 Bargaining Tips That Will Save You Money!

Shop around:

A boat dealership is more likely to give you their best deals right away when they know you’re also looking elsewhere.

Get a broker:

For larger purchases, you may be better off using a broker.

A boat broker will have many connections and will be able to get you a better deal than you’d be able to get on your own.

Get a boat inspection:

We mentioned this earlier, but it is worth mentioning again.

You can use the problems the inspector finds with the boat as a nice bargaining tool to get a lower price.

Be prepared to walk away:

Sometimes just walking out the door can get you a lower price.

When you walk, you’re showing the dealer that you’re not willing to buy the boat at a price that’s out of your comfort zone.

Shop at the end of the month:

Sometimes salespeople and dealerships have sales quotas to make.

Buy a boat at the end of the month, and you could end up getting a great deal just so that the salesperson could make their quota.

This can be especially true at the end of the year when the salesperson might be close to making their yearly bonus.

Buy last year’s model:

Sometimes a boat model from one year will be the same as the model from the prior year.

Why pay more for a boat that isn’t any different than its predecessor?

Be nice to the salesperson:

You can often get a better deal just by befriending the salesperson.

At the end of the day, you’ll have a boat and a new friend – double win!

Be prepared:

When you go into the dealership armed with the knowledge of the boat you want and its market value, you position yourself as an informed buyer.

Dealerships are much less likely to try to take advantage of an informed buyer versus a buyer that doesn’t know what he or she is doing.

Use the buddy system:

Bring a friend along to help you make your purchase.

Your friend will be less emotionally invested than you are in the purchase and will be more likely to think with a clear head.

If your friend says it’s a bad deal, then it probably is.

Enjoy the process:

When you have fun shopping, you won’t mind spending an extra day, week, or even month making your purchase.

This will slow the buying process down, ensuring that you get the best deal possible.

6 Important Factors That Impact The Cost

The initial cost of buying a boat often pales in comparison to the ongoing costs of boat ownership.

Do you know what your ongoing costs will be after you buy your boat?

Here are some of the ongoing costs you’ll want to consider before buying your boat:

  1. Insurance
  2. Maintenance
  3. Storage
  4. Dock Fees
  5. Fuel
  6. Taxes

1) Insurance Cost

Guy doing an inspection of a tiny house on wheels

Most homeowners insurance policies will not protect your boat.

This means that even when you’re not using your boat, you’ll still want to keep outside insurance on it.

On top of this, you’ll want to have boater’s insurance for when you actually use your boat.  Many things can happen to a boat at your home, on the road, and the water.

For example, a tree could fall on your boat while it is parked in your backyard.  Your homeowner’s insurance may not cover this, and you could end up having to buy a new boat as well as a new boat trailer.

When you’re driving to the dock, you could end up in an automobile accident.  Your auto insurance policy may cover your liability, but it most likely will not cover your actual boat.

Once you get to the boat ramp, you’ll probably leave your boat trailer parked at the dock.  This trailer could be stolen or damaged, and it will not be covered by your auto insurance policy.

On the water, you could run aground, collide with another boater, or you could damage your boat while pulling into the dock.  A good insurance policy will cover all of these issues.

In fact, get a good boat insurance policy, and you’ll get towing assistance.  This assistance can cover you while you’re on the road and even while you’re out on the water.

The cost of boaters insurance will vary wildly depending on the boat you have, the coverage you decide to get, and even the company you buy your insurance.

Before buying your boat, you may want to get some basic quotes on the boat you intend to buy so that you know what you’re getting into before you buy.

Click here to read our article on boat insurance for more information!

2) Maintenance Cost

Boats require constant and consistent maintenance.

In many cases, this maintenance consists mostly of labor, but some hard expenses will need to be made as well.  For example, you’ll need to make fluid changes on your engine at regular intervals.

If you don’t want to do your own boat maintenance, you may find that you have to pay for regular cleanings and inspections.  This is especially true for people operating sailboats.  A sailboat’s sails will need to be inspected before and after each trip out on the water.

It cannot be easy to budget for boat maintenance. Still, you can get a rough estimate by looking into the recommended maintenance schedules for your particular boat and boat engine. As with everything, the larger and more sophisticated the boat, the higher the maintenance costs.

Repairs can be even harder to plan for as they can vary depending on your boat and the conditions in which you operate it.  If you plan on navigating sheltered waters and you have some experience with boating, you may not have to make any repairs at all.

On the other hand, if you’ll be boating in rough waters or shallow water, you may find you have to make frequent repairs to your boat.

Regardless of what your particular situation will be, you’ll want to make sure you set aside some money for annual maintenance on your boat.

3) Storage Cost

Will you be storing your boat on your property?  If so, do you have a sheltered area to store it in?

If you don’t have shelter, you’ll need to buy a protective cover, and you’ll need to winterize the boat during the offseason.

If you are storing the boat off-site, there are additional concerns.  For example, can you store your boat in the water year-round, or will you need to take advantage of dry storage? 

If you will be storing your boat in the water, has the bottom of your boat been coated with a protective layer against marine life?

This protective coating can cost thousands of dollars to apply, and you will have to re-do it from time to time.

Storage in the water or at a dry facility can be quite costly.  This cost usually varies depending on the type of storage as well as the size of your boat.

The larger your boat is, the more expensive it will be to store it.

4) Dock Fees

During the season, you may decide to keep your boat docked.

Where you dock your boat will have a big bearing on how much you’ll end up paying to dock it.

Additionally, the size of your boat will also dictate how much you’ll end up paying.

Longer boats cost more to dock as do wider boats.  The reason wider boats cost more to dock is that they are usually restricted to spots at the end of the dock.

For example, many catamarans cannot be docked inside of the main docking areas.  These boats are harder to dock, and they end up costing more to dock when compared to traditional monohull boats.

For more information on catamarans and monohulls, see our post titled, “Catamaran or Monohull Boat.”

Even if you don’t dock your boat permanently, you may still have to pay dock fees while cruising.  For instance, many people do week-long or even month-long cruises.  During these trips, they may end up having to stop at several docking facilities for the night.  These stays can often be as costly as staying at a hotel.

Boat ramp fees also come at a cost.  This is the fee you’ll pay to put your boat in at a boat ramp alongside the docks.  You can buy a seasonal pass, or you can pay each time you use the ramp.

My advice would be to start with a pay-as-you-go plan and move up to a seasonal pass when you find you’re using the same ramp over and over again.  This will give you a season to try out a few different ramps before deciding on just one.

5) Fuel Cost

Fuel costs can also add up quickly.

Many engines will need a gas and oil mixture which can be a bit more costly than regular fuel.  Larger engines will require the use of diesel fuel which usually costs more to buy than standard gasoline.

People going out to sea or on long voyages may end up spending thousands of dollars on fuel each year.  For example, the Great Loop is a 5,429-mile-long trip.

A large trawler might only get about 3 nautical miles per gallon on a trip like this.  At $3.00 a gallon, the traveler will end up spending $5,429.00 just on diesel fuel.

Of course, sailors can save significantly on fuel when compared to powerboats.  However, sailboats have their own special maintenance costs, and replacing sails can be quite expensive.

6) Taxes

Different areas of the country will charge different taxes.

This can come in the form of sales taxes as well as luxury taxes.

For example, New Jersey has a 7% sales tax while Delaware does not have a sales tax.  You’ll have to take a look at your particular state to see how much you’ll end up paying in taxes on your purchase.

On top of this, some states will charge a luxury tax when you register your boat.  This tax is often based on the purchase price but can sometimes be based on the year and size of your boat.

You’ll want to know how your state handles boat purchases so you don’t end up with any surprise fees after purchasing your boat.

Decide on a Budget

Once you’ve decided on the type of boat you want to get, and you’ve planned for all of the other expenses, you can decide on an actual boat buying budget.

Create a safe budget, and your boat purchase will be much less stressful than if you overspend on your boat.

Remember, boats depreciate fast, so if you overspend, you may end up owing more money on your boat than it is worth.  This will make selling the boat that much harder.

For more information on boat depreciation, see our post titled, “Complete Guide to Boat Depreciation.” It’s a very in-depth study on exactly how fast and how much each type of boat depreciates.

3 Boat Financing Examples

If you plan on financing your boat, consider how much extra you’ll end up paying in interest.

Here are some examples for you to consider:

  1. Boat Number 1:
    • A $10,000.00 boat at a 5% interest over 5 years.  In this case, you’ll end up paying $11,323.00 for this boat, and the payments will be $188.71 a month.
  2. Boat Number 2:
    • A $30,000.00 boat at a 5% interest rate over 5 years.  In this case, you end up spending almost $34,000.00 on the boat, and you pay a monthly payment of $566.14 a month.
  3. Boat Number 3:
    • A $150,000.00 boat at a 5% interest rate over 15 years.  This boat comes with a larger price tag, and you get a longer loan on it.  Because of this, you end up paying over $213,000.00 for the boat and have a monthly payment of $1,186.19.

Now that you know what you’re getting into, here are some boat buying and bargaining tips that you can use to get a great deal on a boat.

Before You Start Looking For A Boat

Boat types

Before you even look for a boat, there are a few things that you ought to consider.

Thinking about these things in advance will help you make the right purchase for you:

1) Determine Your Needs

Boats come in many different forms.

You can buy bowrider boats, pontoon boats, sailboats, cabin cruisers, yachts, Jon boats, and the list goes on and on.

While most of us might love the idea of owning the largest and most powerful boat we can afford, is this really what we need?  Buying a boat that does more than we’ll ever need it to do might be a waste of money.

On the other hand, some people buy the cheapest or easiest boat for them to acquire.  But does this boat really meet their needs?  If it doesn’t, was it really worth buying at all?

In the next few sections, I’ll go over some of the needs you’ll want to consider.

These include:

  • The type of water you’ll be boating in.
  • The types of recreational activities you’d like to do on your boat.
  • Deciding whether or not you’d like to overnight on your boat.
  • Determining your towing needs.

Click here to read our article on recreational boat types.

2) What Type of Water?

People searching for a boat that can handle shallow lakes and streams will need to consider a much different boat than people looking for something that can handle long ocean voyages.

For this reason, it’s important to think about the type of water you want to launch your boat onto.

What bodies of water are located near your house or summer vacation spot?  You’re more likely to use your boat more often if you can do it close to home.

For example, a person who lives ten minutes from a lake and two hours from a bay might be better off buying a boat suited for the lake.  This is because the lake boat will be much more convenient to use.

Which bodies of water would you feel comfortable in?  A person who is not comfortable setting sail in the ocean doesn’t need to buy an ocean-going vessel.  This can save a lot of money as category A and B boats are much more expensive than category D boats.

What kind of water best suits the types of activities you want to do on your boat?  A family looking to do a lot of water skiing may want to look at a different boat than a couple looking to go out on weekend getaways.

You also need to consider whether you need a boat for saltwater. Here’s our guide with everything you need to know about saltwater vs. freshwater for boating.

3) Recreational Use?

A boat can provide many wonderful opportunities for recreation.

Speed boats can be used for cruising and racing along large waterways, while sailboats can be used for going on long voyages, racing, or just cruising along the open waters.

For people looking to do watersports like kneeboarding and skiing, a bowrider boat or even a cuddy cabin might be the way to go.  These small boats are easy to get in and out of, and they provide enough speed and power to pull people along the water.

Others might want to use their boat to go fishing.  People looking to go fishing on small lakes might want to go with a Jon boat or a bass fishing boat.

Folks looking to go fishing on larger bodies of water might want to consider looking into a trawler or a smaller center console boat.

When it comes to buying a boat, the choices are almost endless.

For this reason, it is important to be clear on why you’re buying the boat so that you can align your particular needs and wants with the boats that might meet these needs.

4) Overnighting Or Not?

Are you searching for a boat to go on simple day cruises, or do you want something more?

An overnighting boat will be much different than any day cruising boat you might consider.

Overnighting boats will have cabins that you can safely retire to after dark.  They’ll also have bathroom facilities that you can comfortably use.

These facilities can be as elaborate as full heads or as simple as small portable toilets that you can take on and off the boat.

Here our guide to the most popular boats (and affordable) boats with sleeping space for two persons.

The overnighting boat you choose will depend on how long you intend to stay out on the water as well as how comfortable you’d like to be.  It may also depend on the climate as well.  For example, people spending the night out on cold waters might need a larger cabin with a nice heating system.

People looking to spend a night or two out on the water might want to consider getting a cuddy cabin.  Folks looking to spend a weekend or longer out on the water might want to look into a cabin cruiser or something even larger than that.

If you want to have the ultimate amount of luxury while spending time out on the water, you may even want to consider buying a houseboat or a yacht.

These boats can be purchased in many different sizes, and if they don’t fit your budget, you can even consider buying used.

5) Do You Need Towing?

Another consideration to make before buying a boat is to determine whether or not you’ll need to tow the boat.

Small boats usually aren’t nearly as heavy as campers, but larger boats can be.  Also, many boats can be too wide to be towed.

For those who are considering buying a boat that you can tow, you’ll need to think about your tow vehicle.

Can your tow vehicle handle the weight of the boat?  Will you need brakes on your boat trailer?  If so, do you have a brake controller installed in your vehicle?

Towing a boat can be tricky, and bringing it down a boat ramp can be even trickier.  Do you have someone who can teach you how to launch your boat?  If not, are you willing to teach yourself how to tow a boat both to and down a boat ramp?

If you don’t plan on towing your boat to the water, do you have a place where you can permanently store the boat?  Many docks will have dry storage, but some will not.  You’ll need to choose a boat dock that can bring your boat in and out of the water for you during the off-season.  Keep in mind that this service is not free, so you’ll need to budget for times like this.

You also need to consider the cost of the travel trailer!

Here’s our guide to prices on boat trailers. There’s a lot of different styles and sizes, so you know what to expect.

Final Thoughts

The decision to buy a boat is a big one, giving it the thought and attention it deserves.

Spend time assessing your needs and wants and try to get the best deal possible.

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