9 Main Reasons Boats Are So Expensive (Explained)

There are many ways to build a boat

You can construct them from riveted aluminum, build them by welding aluminum together, and even wood and fiberglass can be used to make a boat. Small boats can even be built with plastics or even waterproof canvas.

No matter what you make your boat out of, however, it most likely is going to be pretty expensive.

Here are the 10 main reasons boats are so expensive:

1. Boats Require Special Materials

As we said in the opening, a boat can be constructed using a wide array of materials.

One thing these materials have in common is that they are all expensive.


Sure, aluminum can be cheap, but boat-building aluminum isn’t, and you wouldn’t want it to be.

A durable welded aluminum boat is going to use expensive aluminum with a thick gauge, and even a riveted boat isn’t going to be constructed using the cheapest aluminum available. 

If it were, it wouldn’t stand up to the regular wear and tear that aluminum boats often go through.


Wood can also be cheap to buy, but not the wood that is used to build boats.

Boatbuilders typically use high-end wood like balsa wood, teak, oak, and marine plywood.

These woods help to create a strong boat that is resistant to rotting.


Fiberglass boats can be even more expensive.

This is because strong fiberglass, foam cores, and good resins cost more than aluminum and wood.

Other Boat Materials & Add-Ons:

On top of the actual construction materials, there are other expensive materials that boat builders must use.

For example, a boat deck might be coated with a marine carpet, a non-slip vinyl coating, or specialty paint.

Other areas of expense might include boat furniture, boat appliances, and boat electronics. 

A houseboat can’t just use a standard oven or toilet.  Instead, they require the use of special toilets and ovens, and these items just cost more money to make.

Boat furniture needs to stand up to constant humidity and sun, and a simple deck chair can cost ten times as much as a chair you might buy for your backyard.

The same holds true for electronics too.  Marine radio needs to be able to live in a high-humidity environment without becoming damaged or causing a safety hazard.

Any additional extras or updates to your boat is going to cost more money.


2. Boats Require Special Engineering

A poorly engineered boat can cause you and all of your passengers and crew to sink into the water.

Because of this, engineers need to carefully construct a boat that won’t take on water, and that won’t capsize very easily.

They also need to carefully weigh everything that will be used in the construction of the boat to determine whether or not it will be too much for the boat to bear.

Safety isn’t the only concern when engineering a boat either.

A boat should be engineered so that it offers each passenger a dry, quiet, and smooth ride.  Nobody wants to be thrown around the boat while they’re cruising, and a poorly engineered boat could easily do that.

The boat’s interior needs to be planned out well too.  A sailing vessel with poorly thought-out handrails, steps, and compartments could easily lead to passengers falling and getting hurt.

Even a bunk without the right bed guards can lead to poor sleep and even injury.

3. Boats Require Skilled Laborers

The engineers aren’t the only people that need to be good at their profession.

The skilled laborers who build the boat also need to be good at what they do.

Aluminum & Wooden Boats:

An aluminum boat builder will need to either have a skilled riveter or a skilled welder.

A bad rivet can cause leaks, and a few bad welds can cause a boat to literally fall apart upon impact.

With a wooden boat, you have to have a boat builder that knows how to seal the wood and treat it so that it does not become wet inside. 

If a wooden boat isn’t built carefully, it can easily become rotten.

A rotten deck is not safe to walk on, and a rotten hull might even cause your boat to sink.

Fiberglass Boats:

Fiberglass is even more complicated to work with.

There are many different ways to work with it, and oftentimes, a company will use multiple methods on the same boat.

One way to work with fiberglass is to create a mold and then spray chopped strand fiberglass onto it.  This requires the use of a trained sprayer who can evenly coat the mold.

Another way to create a fiberglass boat is to manually apply a fiberglass mat to the boat and then hand paint the mat with resin.

This must be done both quickly and properly, or the resin won’t dry correctly.

On top of all of this, the boats will need to be painted.  Fiberglass boats might require a special gel-coat while wood and aluminum boats might require their own finishes. 

Between coats, there may also be a lot of sanding involved.

4. Boat-Building Equipment is Expensive

The equipment used to build boats is also very expensive.

Large boats will obviously require the use of heavy machinery to lift decks and other components into place, but even small boats require expensive tools.

An aluminum boat builder will need a high-quality welding machine.  TIG welders are usually best for this, and they cost more money than other types of welding machines.

Even if you go with a riveted aluminum boat instead, there are still expensive machines to consider.

How it Works:

  • First, an aluminum roller will be used to roll out and flatten the aluminum sheeting. 
  • Then, a blade called a “slitter” will be used to cut the aluminum to length.
  • Following this, the freshly cut aluminum will be precision cut using a computer-guided router. 

This ensures that the parts will fit together perfectly.

Larger components may even need to be cut with a computerized plasma torch.

  • After it’s cut, bending machines might be used to bend the aluminum into the right curvatures. 
  • The boat will then be riveted or welded together and sent into a tank so that a tank test can be done. 

Of course, this tank isn’t free, and it needs to be filled with water and regularly maintained.

  • Spray foam will then be added to the interior of the boat, which, of course, requires the use of a sprayer capable of correctly spraying spray foam.

All of this is just a brief overview, and there are many other tools required to complete different aspects of a boat, and they’ll differ depending on the type of boat being built.

5. Most Boats Cannot Be Mass Produced

While it has become somewhat easier to automate the construction of smaller boats, it’s still nearly impossible to do it with larger ones.

Large boat models just aren’t sold in large enough quantities to make mass production cost-effective.

This means boat builders need to devote time and energy to engineering, building, and testing these boats individually.

Because of this, the cost of labor is much higher than it is in other industries where machines can do most of the work.

On a positive note, when you buy a large boat or small custom boat, you end up supporting real people who work to make boats rather than an army of machines.

6. Boat Builders Must Adhere to Many Regulations

A poorly constructed boat can easily cost the life of its owner, its crew, its passengers, and even other people in the water, on the dock, or on the road.

Because of this fact, the boat building industry must adhere to a wide range of government rules and regulations.

These rules and regulations may vary from state to state and country to country, but either way, they cost money to adhere to.

In the United States, you can find many of these rules and regulations on the US Coast Guard’s website.

Part 1 (at 112 pages long) of the Boat Builder’s Handbook goes over the certification process which includes:

  1. The Voluntary boat testing program
  2. The Recreational boat manufacturer’s factory visit program
  3. Label manufacturers
  4. Recreational and boating safety regulations

Part 2 of the Boat Builder’s Handbook goes over safety, and it is 34 pages long.

Part 3 of the Boat Builder’s Handbook goes over the consumer fact sheet, and it is 14 pages long.

On top of this handbook, boat builders also need to follow compliance guidelines.  The book on the compliance guidelines for the electrical systems is 90 pages long. 

The book on the fuel systems guidelines alone is 156 pages long.

There are also compliance guideline handbooks for ventilation, safe loading, and display capacity information, as well as flotation requirements.  These books are 58 pages long, 54 pages long, and 72 pages long.

While these regulations are important to comply with, they’re also expensive to comply with.

A boat builder will need to have people that can not only understand and comply with these rules but also prove to the regulatory authorities that they have done so.

7. Boats Take a Long Time to Build

A boat generally isn’t something that can be built in a day or even a week.

Large boats can take months or even years to fully complete.

The superyacht, named simply “A,” took several years and 300 million dollars to build.  If it takes 54 people just to crew the yacht, you can imagine how many people it took to build the yacht.

Of course, most people aren’t buying 300 million dollar superyachts.  However, even smaller yachts can take several months to build.  This could mean a work crew of several people spending part of their workday on your new boat for half a year.

These workers must be paid, and these costs must be passed along to the buyer.

Even a small fiberglass boat will take at least several days to build.

This is because the fiberglass resin will have to dry and set between coats, and you may have multiple coats that need to be applied before the boat is finished.

8. Boats Cost Money to Maintain

You’ve probably heard the saying that, “the best day of owning a boat is the day you buy it and that the second-best day is the day you sell it.”

Well, people say this because boat ownership can be full of maintenance.

Many people spend more time maintaining their boats than they spend using it, and this maintenance can become quite costly.

The cost can come in the form of paying people to do this maintenance for you, or it can come at your own expense in time and materials.

Either way, you’ll probably spend more time and money maintaining your boat than you ever would have guessed.

Aluminum & Trailer Maintenence:

With a riveted aluminum boat, you’ll have to check rivets for leaks, and you’ll need to replace them as necessary.

You may also have to paint the boat occasionally, and the engine is sure to need maintenance eventually.

If this boat is trailered, you’ll also have to maintain the trailer.  This could include getting inspections, replacing brake pads, and even replacing tires.

Welded aluminum boats may suffer from corrosion and broken welds.  These problems will need to be addressed quickly, or they can end up costing the owner a lot of money.

Wooden & Fiberglass Maintenence:

Wooden boats will constantly need to be checked for rot.

They’ll also need to be resealed from time-to-time, and you’ll probably end up replacing many of the boards over the lifetime of the boat.

Fiberglass boats generally hold up well, but gel coats can be damaged, and fiberglass can become cracked.

These repairs are almost always time consuming and expensive.

Sailboat Maintenence:

If you decide to skip the engine and go with a sailboat, you’ll find that you have even more maintenance issues to deal with.

Sails need to be regularly inspected, and there are many small parts that are involved in making the sails work properly.

These parts also need to be inspected and replaced from time-to-time.

9. Boats Cost Money to Use

Another feature of boating that many people seem to forget is the fact that boats cost money to use.

Each time you use your boat, you’ll have to pay a boat slip fee.  You may also need to pay for parking at the boat slip as well.

On top of this, you’ll need to buy fuel for the engine, and you’ll need to use electricity to charge your marine battery.

If you want to do something special like fishing, crabbing, or water sports, these things will also cost you money.

Not only will you have to buy gear for these activities, but you might also have to pay additional fees.  For example, fishing in freshwater sources often requires a fishing license.

Of course, you won’t have to pay these fees if you have your own dock at the back of your house.  Instead, you’ll have to pay money to maintain your dock.

Even after all of this, the cost of using a boat doesn’t end.  In order to use the boat, you’ll have to pay for insurance as well as tags and registration fees.

Fail to do this, and you could end up in legal trouble.

10. Boats Cost Money to Store

Even when you’re not using your boat, it costs you money.

This is because boat storage generally isn’t free.

Either you’re storing it at a marina, in a storage unit, or on your property, and none of these storage options are free.

Here are some sample costs for boat storage at a state park in Pennsylvania:

Cost Per Foot of Stall $79.00
Winter Boat Storage Per Foot $34.00

If you have a 20-foot boat, you’ll end up paying $1,500.00 to have the boat at the marina for the season and another $680.00 to store your boat there for the winter.

Do some research, and you’ll find that even these numbers are actually cheap.  Try to rent a spot in a coastal area, and you may spend thousands of dollars each year just to keep your boat near the water.

Even people storing their boats at home will end up spending time and money on it.

You’ll have to store the boat yourself, or you’ll have to buy something to protect the boat while it’s outside.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of whether your boat is a business investment or a household luxury, it is going to cost you money.

Carefully consider all of the costs of buying and owning a boat so that you can choose one that perfectly fits your budget!


DCNR Boating Prices

US Coast Guard

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