While boats can be fun and offer a unique experience on the water, they’re expensive and take a lot of effort to maintain, especially for first-time owners.
Before you rush into buying a boat, it’s important to prepare yourself for boat ownership so you know for certain you want to invest your time and money into it.
Here are 5 things to consider before you buy a boat.
1. Maintenance Expenses
Adhering to a strict maintenance schedule is important not only for the performance of your boat but also for the safety of your passengers.
Like most vehicles, a boat doesn’t run well if left sitting too long. To ensure your boat is safe and works its best, it’ll need continual maintenance.
Every time you take the boat out on the water it's important to check these vital components:
- Engine oil
- Vents for blockages
- Engine temperature
- Loose fittings
- Oil pressure
- Charge of the battery
- Hull and deck for damage
- Propeller and skeg
- Registration of your boat
- Bilge pump
- Electrical systems
- Safety gear
Other major components need to be inspected at least once a year or every 100 hours of operation. Utilizing a schedule and checklist each season will help you stay on top of many common issues associated with boat malfunctions.
Not all boats come with an owner’s manual and will require you to do your own research. Taking the time to learn the ins and outs of your boat’s maintenance requirements will take effort but can help you save money and time in the long run.
If constant maintenance and upkeep don’t sound like something you want to do, consider other styles of watercraft that require less work, like a sit-on-top fishing kayak that’s easier to maintain and maneuver.
2. Annual Costs and Depreciation
The average cost of owning a boat is around $2,000 per year, but it can rapidly soar. Servicing a new boat can cost about 2% of the purchase price, while the annual maintenance on a used boat can be around 10% of the purchase price.
It costs about $4,000 to $6,000 a year to maintain a pontoon boat. Maintenance and upkeep of the boat cost the majority of those expenses. However, there are many costs associated with boat ownership that aren’t related to the overall maintenance of the vehicle.
You may need to shell out additional fees for a boat trailer, preparing your boat for winter storage, mooring fees, slip rental, licensing, title, insurance, registration, and taxes.
It’s also important to note that most boats depreciate up to 50% in the first year.
3. Waterway Rules and Regulations
Many first-time boat owners don’t consider the rules and regulations of the waterways before they buy.
Waterways have laws in order to maintain safety. Not abiding by the rules will result in fines or other disciplinary action. Some of these fines are given for speeding, towing without a spotter, being careless, or having a bad muffler.
One major requirement on any boat is to have life jackets onboard. Not doing so not only puts people in jeopardy but can result in a fine. Of the 658 deaths involving boat accidents in 2020, 75% were due to drowning, and 85% of those victims didn't have a life jacket on.
Boating education card obligations can vary from state to state. Every state has different rules regarding boats, so do your homework on the boating requirements in your state before going out on the water.
Check with the recreational area before allowing a young person to operate the vessel, as the age requirements for a boat operator vary depending on location.
Take into account that you’ll need to register your boat with your state and with the U.S. Coast Guard.
4. You’ll Need to Know How to Fix Issues Yourself
It’s important to do your research on the make and model of the boat you own before you head out on the water. If something goes wrong on the water, you will need to know how to fix it or you’ll have to pay for a tow back to a dock or be stuck out on the water.
Keeping essential spare parts onboard can be a lifesaver if your boat breaks down at an inconvenient time and location. Consider storing extra impellers, fuel filters, belts and hoses, and oil onboard in case of an emergency.
Always inspect your boat before you take it out on the water. Knowing the features and common problems associated with your boat is essential.
5. Time on the Water
The majority of recreational boats are used between 75 to 150 hours a year, and most have a lifespan of about 1,500 hours or 10 to 20 years, depending on how well the boat is maintained over the years.
If you aren’t able to spend a lot of time on the water or only take advantage of a short season to fish for a preferred species, it’s not worth the investment to own a boat and you may want to consider renting or chartering instead of buying.
When a vessel is left sitting in the water for long periods of time, many issues can arise. For example, barnacles can start collecting after just three months. This can cause corrosion and increase drag, making your boat less fuel-efficient.
While you might consider sharing ownership or storing the boat out of the water when it’s not in use, there are many risks and costs associated with those options as well. So before you buy, be prepared to set aside enough time to make the experience worth it.
Check out the following infographic to gain a better understanding of the true cost of boat ownership.