Buying a Boat: 21 Ways To A Better Deal (Creative Ideas)

In Boatingby Christopher Schopf

Buying a boat can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.   In fact, there are many steps you can take to get a great deal on a new or used boat.

Read through these tips on buying a boat and you’ll get the most for your money.

Buy Off-season

One of the best ways to save money on a boat is to buy the boat during the offseason.  During the offseason, boat dealerships are much more desperate to sell off their inventory.  This is especially true for boat dealers selling new boats as they often have to worry about newer models coming out.

For example, a boat dealership doesn’t want to get stuck with a never-used 2019 boat at the same time that they have the newer 2020 model in stock.

Even private sellers are more likely to give you a good deal in the offseason.  The reason for this is that they don’t want to have to pay money to store, insure, and tag their boat.  Also, they don’t want to have to maintain a boat they aren’t even using.  Oftentimes, you can offer them much less money and they still make out because of all of the costs you saved them on.

This ends up being a win-win for both you and the old owner.

In most cases, the offseason for boating will be early or late fall.

This is when people have to bring their boats in for storage so they’ll be desperate to sell during this time.  However, this isn’t true for all boats.  If you plan on buying a specialty boat that is built for use during the fall or winter then you’ll be better off buying in the spring or summer.  For example, you wouldn’t want to buy a duck hunting boat in November when the season is just starting.

In this case, buying in late fall would be a mistake since duck boats will actually cost more at this time.

Buy Before a Storm

People who have been thinking about selling their boats will sometimes frantically try to get rid of them before an impending storm.

For example, a person lives in Florida and weather reports call for a hurricane to hit in 3 days.  During this time, the boat owner may have to pull their boat out of the water or out of the path of the storm.  This could be the perfect time for them to sell the boat so that they don’t have to worry about it.  It could also be the perfect time for you to buy it.  This is especially true if you’re from out of town.

In this case, you could buy the boat in Florida and simply drive it back to your home state.  You’ll get a great deal on a used boat, the boat will be taken out of harm’s way, and the old owner won’t will have one less thing to worry about before the storm hits.  This results in a triple win!

One word of caution with this method is to make sure you really pay close attention to the weather reports.  Storms can change quickly and you don’t want to end up buying the boat and not being able to get it out of the path of the storm in time.

Buy AFTER a Storm

Boats can often end up taking damage during storms and sometimes people don’t want to or can’t afford to get them repaired.  Instead, these boats end up being put up for sale for just a fraction of what they are worth.

In this case, you might want to head to the storm area and see if there is anyone who wants to sell their boat.  You’ll end up getting a really low price and the old owner will have some extra money to help them rebuild anything else of theirs that may have been damaged during the storm.

The key to taking advantage of this strategy is to know what to look for in a damaged boat.  Some boat damage can be fixed easily and inexpensively while other types of damages might not be worth fixing at all.  Know the ins and outs of boat repair and don’t overestimate your abilities or your amount of free time and you should walk away from the sale with a really great boat at a really great price.

Buy Used Boats

Boats depreciate quickly.  This is bad news for the person who buys their boat new, but it’s great news for the person who buys used.

For this strategy to work, you’ll have to know the value of the boat you’re buying.  You can get help with this by reading our post titled, “19 Things That Determine The Value of Used Boats“.

A lot of times, you’ll get a great price on the boat and you’ll also get a lot of free add-on items as well.  For example, the original owner may have bought a ship-to-shore radio, a fish finder, and a depth finder.  Now that he’s selling the boat, he no longer needs these and will probably throw them in with the deal.  These three items alone could save you several hundred dollars.

Buy From A Tax-Friendly State

We’ve talked about this before in other posts, but buying from a tax-friendly state can really save you a lot of money.  For example, a person buying a new boat in New Jersey will end up paying an additional 7% in taxes.

The same person could go to Deleware and pay 0% in taxes.

The person who bought a $20,000.00 boat in New Jersey will end up paying an additional $1,400.00 versus the person who bought the same boat in Delaware.  That additional $1,400.00 could have been used to buy a lot of boat accessories or maybe even a spot at a dock for an entire season.

Just be careful of your state’s laws when doing this as some states will want you to pay the tax to them when you register your boat in your home state.

For this reason, it may be a good idea to find out what your state’s out-of-state purchase laws are before you invest the time into buying from an out-of-state dealer.

Barter Your Way To A Great Deal

I’ve seen a lot of ads on Craigslist over the years from people who are looking to trade their boat rather than sell it.  These people may be looking for a dirt bike, a golf cart, or even an RV.  If you have any of these items that you don’t want anymore, you might be able to get a good used boat for free.

This is a great way to free up space in your yard or garage while getting something that you actually want. 

The person you trade with gets to start off on a new hobby without paying any money and so do you.  On top of this, the taxes you pay on your used purchase will often be lower because you didn’t actually pay any money for the new item.

Again, just be careful that you know your state’s laws as some states will want you to pay the taxes on the value of the boat rather than on the amount you paid for the boat.

Buy One That Doesn’t Run

The most valuable part of a boat is often its engine.

For this reason, people get rid of boats for very little money after the engine has died. 

Now you might be thinking, but won’t I have to buy a new engine?  Yes, you may have to buy a new engine but you might not have to pay as much as you think.  This is especially true if you don’t need a very large engine to replace the original.

For example, some people might buy a boat that previously had a 30HP motor on it.  They take the boat and they simply put a trolling motor on it so that they can use it on their small lake.

The boat didn’t cost them much and neither did the trolling motor.

Other times, people buy houseboats and don’t bother to fix the engines on them at all.  Instead, they dock the houseboat someplace nice and they use the houseboat as a floating condo rather than an actual boat.  If this is something you’re interested in, why bother paying twice the price for an engine you’ll never use?

Post a Wanted Ad on Craigslist

Sometimes it’s better to let sellers come to you.  This is especially true if you’re just looking to get something cheap.  Post a wanted ad for a boat on Craigslist and leave it up until you find a boat that meets your needs and your budget.  You may end up having somebody contact you who just wants to get rid of their boat for free.

These people may have a boat sitting on their property without a trailer or they may have a project boat they don’t think they’ll ever finish.  By getting rid of their boat, you’re doing them a favor and you’re getting a boat without having to spend any money.

When you do something like this, just be sure the owner has a title to transfer to you.  If not, you could end up fixing up a boat only to have the rightful owner show up wanting their boat back.  In this case, you’ll end up spending a lot of time and money only to fix up somebody else’s boat.

Ask Your Neighbor if You Can Buy Their Boat

Do you have any neighbors with boats sitting in their yards year after year without being used?

Do you see them go out and do maintenance on the engine each season just to keep the boat going?  These people are wasting time, energy, and money on a boat that they don’t use.

Offer to buy it from them at a fair price and you may be doing them a huge favor.

You’ll also end up getting a good deal because you know that the engine doesn’t have many hours on it and that it has been taken care of.  On top of this, you won’t have to travel very far to get the boat and they may even be willing to store it for you in the off-season.

Get Your Own Financing

The dealership will most likely offer you terms for the financing of your new boat.  However, the dealership partners with a bank to do the financing and they usually add in an additional profit for themselves.

Instead of financing with the dealer, consider financing through your own bank instead.  Even a small difference in APR  percentage can make a big difference when it comes to your overall payments.

For example, imagine you buy a $30,000.00 boat at 6% APR over 5 years.  You’ll end up paying $579.98 a month and a total of $4,799.04 in interest.

Now imagine you buy the same $30,000.00 boat but you get a rate of just 3% APR over 5 years instead.  Your payment drops down to only $539.06 a month and the total amount of interest you pay ends up moving down to just $2,343.64.  This is a difference of $2,455.40 just for going with a different finance company.

Get an Inspection

A professional boat inspection can easily be used as a bargaining chip for future negotiations.  Not only this, but it will tell you whether it is even worth buying the boat at all.

How this works:

First, you’ll take a look at the boat yourself to see if you think it is worth buying.  If it is, you’ll ask the seller to take the listing down until you have a chance to have your boat inspector look at it.

You want to do this because you don’t want to end up paying a boat inspector to come out just to have the seller sell to someone else before you have a chance to.

You’ll then hire a boat inspector who will come out and do a thorough inspection of the boat.  They may even take some fluids from the engine which they will then send off to a lab to be tested.  After the examination is complete, the inspector will give you a detailed report of any issues they found.

Armed with this information, you can then negotiate a fair price for the boat.  In most cases, this will involve a price reduction as the inspector will probably find issues that the original owner wasn’t aware of yet.

Shop Around To Know The Prices Well

Take a look at a multitude of boats from a multitude of dealers before you settle on any particular boat.  You might find that some dealers have models that others do not and you may even find that some dealers sell the exact same models at lower prices.  The more you shop around, the more likely it is that you’ll get the best deal.

When you compare models and dealerships, take a look at the entire picture.

Does one boat offer a longer warranty on it?  Does one dealership offer better finance terms?  The more you dig, the more likely it is that you’ll find that two equally priced boats aren’t equal in price at all.

Also, don’t take a dealership’s price at face value.  If you find one dealership is selling at a lower price than the dealership you’d prefer to work with, go back and tell them.  Upon hearing that their competitors are charging less, they may be willing to match the price.

If they aren’t willing to match the price, you can always go back to the original dealer and make your purchase there.

Ask for a Discount

Sometimes, getting a price discount is just a matter of asking.  A line that many people like to use when negotiating is, “is that the best you can do?”

Oftentimes, this simple line can be all you need to say to get the salesperson to lower their initial price.  If the price is still too high, let them know and be prepared to walk away.  There are plenty of boats and plenty of dealerships out there so you’ll always have someplace else to turn to.

Other times, you’ll ask for a discount and the salesperson will let you know that they’ve already offered their best price.  If this price is too high, feel free to ask them if they have similar boats that are more likely to meet your budget.  You may find that the dealership is able to give deeper discounts on different models.

Ask for (Free) Extras

Sometimes dealerships are willing to throw in extra amenities to help close the deal.  They may not be able to give you a discount, but they may be able to offer you additional seats, a depth finder, a sound system or any number of other amenities.

If you had intended on buying these items anyway, then you’ll end up saving both time and money.

For example, a depth finder, a fish finder, a GPS system, and a sound system could easily cost $1,500.00 if purchased on their own.  Getting these items for free is equivalent to getting a $1,500.00 discount.

Decline Upsells

Sometimes dealerships try to make it seem like you’re getting a better deal by offering you additional items instead of a discount.  This happens when they offer you items that you never intend to buy.

For instance, maybe you don’t want a sound system and you already own a good GPS system.  In this case, these extras aren’t really going to save you any money.  Instead, let them keep these items and ask for a cash discount.

If the dealership isn’t willing to give you the cash discount, leave and find one that will.  Chances are, you’ll find someone selling the exact same boat without the extras for a reduced price and you won’t have to worry about trying to sell off any extras you don’t need after your purchase.

Read The Warranty

Guy doing an inspection of a tiny house on wheels

One company’s 3-year warranty isn’t always the same as another company’s 3-year warranty.  Make sure you read through all of the fine print to see what’s actually in each warranty.

I’ve been to dealerships before where the company was actually offering two different warranties from two different after-market companies.  I asked what the difference was since they were both 1-year warranties and the owner didn’t have any idea.

He told me I should read through them to find out, so I did.

In the end, I found out that although the warranties were both the same price, one offered significantly more than the other.

Go to a Boat Show (And Wait to Buy Until The Last Day)

Boat shows are great because you get to see a large number of boats from different companies all at the same time and even in the same room.  This makes the buying process fun and efficient and it can also give you access to steep discounts.  After all, every boat company at the show knows his competitor is right next to him so he is unlikely to risk offering an initial price that is far too high.

These shows can go on for several days and dealerships have to pay money to be a part of them.

As a result, they need to sell a certain amount of inventory or risk losing money on the show.  Because of this, some of them become quite desperate during the final hours of the show.

Wait until the last day and you’re more likely to get a great price.

Some dealers will try to convince you that you need to buy right away or you’ll risk losing out.  Don’t listen to these dealers.  If the boat you want ends up selling out, you can always try again at the next boat show.

Skip the Amenities and Add Your Own

Often-times dealers try to earn additional money from a sale by convincing you to buy all sorts of accessories from them.  These accessories can often be useful and we’re all tempted to buy them when they are.  In fact, the right salesperson can often tempt people to buy accessories that aren’t very useful.

This being said, the dealerships often charge a premium for their accessories.  They’ll offer you good accessories at bad prices.

Instead of buying these accessories from the dealer, hold off and buy them afterward.  You’ll probably get a much better price and you may even decide you don’t need some of them after all.

Buy a Boat That’s Already Docked

Are you planning on docking your boat at a certain marina in town?  If so, you may want to buy a boat that is already there.  This will save you money on transporting the boat and the current boat owner may have already paid the dock fees for the year in advance anyway.  Ask the buyer to include these fees with the sale and they probably will.

On top of this, you may save money by not having to own a boat trailer.  This will save you money on annual tags, registration fees, and inspections.  It will also save you from having to store a trailer that you won’t be using anyway.

Get a Trailer With Your Boat

Not everyone has the luxury of living near a marina.  Some people will decide to trailer their boat instead.  If you’re one of these people, try to get the dealer to include the trailer with the price of the boat.

Sometimes a dealer will be willing to take a loss on a trailer to ensure that they get the boat sale.

Also, this will make the sale go smoother than bringing your own trailer.  Right away, you’ll know you have a trailer that perfectly fits your new boat and you’ll be able to take your boat home without having to worry about your safety.

Match Your Purchase to The Market

At the time of writing this, we’re currently in a time of economic expansion.  The markets are up and unemployment is at an all-time low.  People want to buy new and they have the money to do so.  Because of this, the used market for all things is down.  If you’re thinking about buying a boat right now (September 2019), you might want to consider buying a used boat.  This will give you the best deal possible.

On the other hand, during a major recession, the cost of used goods tends to go up.  People will hold off on buying new items and if they absolutely need to or want to buy something large, they’ll generally buy used.  Ironically, this pushes the price of used goods up and makes it more advantageous to buy new.

If you’re currently reading this during a recession, consider buying a new boat instead of a used one.  You may end up paying a bit more this way, but you’ll get a much better value.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to save money on buying a new or used boat.  Take your time and take advantage of every trick you can think of.

The more money you save when buying your boat, the more money you’ll have to actually use your boat.