How to Buy a Boat and Not Sink Your Budget

Are you eyeballing a vessel to get you out on the water this summer? You don’t have to be rich to own a boat, but you do want to chart a sensible course for your money — by choosing a boat that you can afford to buy and afford to maintain.

The array of possible vessels is mind-boggling, including things as different as:

  • Ski/wakeboard boats
  • Pontoon boats
  • Aluminum fishing boats
  • Fiberglass runabouts
  • Sailboats designed for ocean cruising

But how do you know what’s right for you? Take into account your activities first, then look at preferences such as passengers, propulsion and transportability.

Before you start shopping, ask yourself these seven questions:

1. What will you use your boat for?

This should be your first question, experts say.

Perhaps you like to fish, or to go tubing or water skiing. Other top reasons to own include cruising and sailing. Buy the simplest, cheapest boat for your use, Money Talks News founder and Florida boat owner Stacy Johnson advises.

2. Do you really have time to enjoy your boat?

Stacy’s 30-foot cabin cruiser sits on the water just 20 feet behind his office, but he has said he only gets out on it about once a month:

“I try to use it once a week, but it usually doesn’t work out that way. If it was in a marina, I’d probably be too busy to ever use it.”

And this is a common story. If you love boating, but really don’t have much time for it, consider options other than exclusive ownership. For more tips, check out “4 Cheaper Ways to Go Boating Without Buying a Boat.”

3. Do you really need a big boat?

How many passengers do you want to carry? Do you need room for cocktail hour with friends, a kitchen and sleeping quarters? Or just a place to sit alone as you drop a fishing line into a lake?

Generally, the bigger the boat, the more expensive it is to operate. Costs include:

  • Registration and insurance
  • Fuel
  • Moorage
  • Dry docking in the offseason
  • Launch and lift-out fees
  • Hull cleaning and treatment
  • Engine maintenance
  • Sail and line replacements for sailboats

You’ll also pay for equipment that ranges from fire extinguishers to life jackets, and stocking your boat with goodies, water skis, dinghies and more.

4. Where will you keep it?

Some people want to tote their boats on trailers and explore a variety of waterways. Others dock at home port marinas. The bigger the boat, the larger and stronger the trailer and car or truck you’ll need to pull it.

As size increases, you may need permits or professionals to move your boat. Also consider the cost of storage options when you’re not using your boat for long periods.

5. What should propel your boat?

Looking for a powerboat? Or, maybe you prefer paddles so you can quietly explore along a coast or race down a river. And then there are sailboats — propelled with skillful use of wind power.

Know what you like before you shop.

6. Should you buy new or used?

Pre-owned boats are far less expensive than new boats because they have already depreciated. Before buying used, Stacy says, have the boat checked out by a professional — who may be found through the National Association of Marine Surveyors — to determine its condition and value.

Are you a boating enthusiast, interested in plunging into this market or poking around at the marina wondering if there is a cautious way in? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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