Guide to Buying Your First Boat: 2017 Edition

buying your first boat 2017

The author’s son at the helm of the family’s 20′ Grady White Tournament.

Buying your first boat is exciting.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably been dreaming of buying a boat for many years and now you finally have the time (and money) to make your dream a reality.

But make no mistake about it, buying a boat is a big decision and a HUGE commitment; there are many things to consider and many questions to ask before committing to being a boat owner.

If you’re thinking about buying a boat in 2017, I hope this guide provides you some helpful information to decide whether or not buying a boat is right for you.  The last thing you want to do is regret your decision to purchase a boat and experience buyer’s remorse.

The Boat Ownership Triangle:

When it comes to buying your first boat (or any boat for that matter), there are 3 primary factors I advise people to look at.

Experience: Do you have the knowledge, skill and experience necessary to safety operate the boat?

Money:  Do you have the financial resources to properly store, service and maintain the boat?

Time:  Is there enough spare time in your life to enjoy the boat?

Let’s take a look at each of these factors a little bit closer to help give you a better understanding of what’s entailed when you become a boat owner.

Experience:

The first thing to consider when buying a boat is whether or not you have the knowledge, skills and experience to safely operate and maintain the boat you’re considering to buy.

If you’ve gotten this far in the decision process, chances are you have at least some basic knowledge of navigation, boating rules and how to maneuver a boat in and out of tight areas.  However, I highly recommend you take a boater’s safety course if you haven’t already.  I have a 4 year degree in marine transportation and my day job is captaining a 750’ ship and I still had a lot to learn when we bought or first “recreational” boat.

kids and boating

The Coast Guard Auxiliary, US Power Squadron and various other local organizations offer inexpensive introductory boating courses throughout the year.  These courses generally offer a few hours of on the water boating time to help you decide whether or not boating is for you.  I also recommend renting a few different types of boats for the day to get an idea of what style of boat fits your family’s needs the best (dual console, center console, cabin cruiser, etc.).

There is a big difference between operating a 17’ Boston Whaler vs a 36’ cabin cruiser so make sure you’re reasonably comfortable operating the boat you purchase.  Most reputable boat dealers will offer free training for your boat with a USCG licensed captain so make sure you take full advantage of this benefit.  If you’re buying a boat from a private party, ask the owner if they’ll spend some time helping you become familiar with the boat on the water.

Money:

The most limiting (and surprising) factor people have when deciding whether or not to purchase a boat is how much owning a boat actually costs.  In additional to the actual purchase price of the boat, most boat owners pay thousands of additional dollars every year in maintenance, service, storage fees, gas and insurance; especially if you’re considering keeping your boat at a marina.

It goes without saying that the bigger the boat, the more money it will cost to operate and maintain.  The same can be true for how you intend to use the boat.  Trailering the boat back and forth from your home to the boat lunch is much less expensive than keeping the boat on a mooring or in a slip at a marina.

The following chart shows the average yearly operating costs for owning and operating a boat for trailering, keeping the boat on a mooring and keeping the boat in a slip at a full service marina.

boat-ownership-cost-averages

The values used in this chart are based on current 2017 prices in New England for boats operated in the ocean but they should give you a rough idea of how much it costs to store, maintain and operate a boat in your area.  Some areas may be a little more expensive, some may be a little less.

While trailering your boat is less expensive, it can also be a tremendous hassle to cart your boat back and forth to the boat launch every time you want to use it.  After closely evaluating our situation, we knew we would hardly ever use the boat if we had to go through this hassle.  Instead, we waited until we were in a better financial position to afford keeping the boat at a marina.  Being able to hop in the car, drive 15 minutes down the road to the marina and immediately head out on the water is definitely worth the extra cost for us.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, you’ll never come out ahead (financially speaking) by owning a boat compared to renting one every once in a while.  Owning a boat is a lifestyle choice, one that comes with the flexibility of being able to take the boat out for as long or as short a time as possible without worrying about “getting your money’s worth” out of a rental or being dependent on family and friends to take you out on their boat.

The last thing you’ll want to do is spend all this money on a nice boat and not be able to use it because you can’t afford to operate it.

Time:

The final consideration when deciding to purchase a boat is determining if you have the time to use the boat.  What good is knowing how to drive the boat and paying all the yearly operating costs and fees if you don’t have time to use it?

It’s important to look beyond the current boating season too.  Boat prices fluctuate wildly and you may end up eating a significant chunk of money if you realize a year from now you no longer have the time (or interest) to enjoy the boat.  This is especially true if you have young kids that tend to get in to a lot of time consuming activities as they get older.

Additional Reading on Buying Your First Boat:

For more information on buying a boat in 2017, considering reading some of my other articles on the topic:

How Much Does it Cost to Keep a Boat at a Marina
Boat Buying Tips
How Much Can You Afford to Spend on a Boat
How to Buy a Used Boat from a Private Party
Buying a Boat? Is it a Better Idea to Rent?
Personal Finance is About MORE than Just Saving Money!

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