The High Cost of Buying a Boat

"It's like glass, honey," my dad would whisper to my mom. "That water. Like glass."

My mom and dad, both avid water skiers and all-around fun folks, got lots of worth out of the beat-up old ski boats my dad managed to buy. We spent summers on the lakes and rivers. In between camping and skiing, Dad did the boat repairs himself and cursed the cost of engine parts. Owning a boat is fun, but is it worth the time and cost of upkeep? Calculate the price in full before you buy.

The initial purchase cost

Buying a used boat is the most cost-effective way to become a boat owner. Purchasing a brand-new boat is like purchasing a brand-new car; you'll pay a huge premium for that brand-new label, and it'll depreciate after you buy it. According to Boatshed's Market Report 2016, those sleek and speedy power boats depreciate the most, but all new boats drop in value dramatically in the first three years of ownership.

If you buy a used boat from a dealer, you may get a warranty of some kind. Or you may not. If a warranty is included, get specific information on what it covers.

There are no guarantees when you buy from an individual. Ask to see a maintenance log and receipts for parts or repairs. Don't expect a guarantee on a boat's continued performance. Once you buy, that boat is yours to take care of, for better or for worse.

Boat repairs

If you're mechanically inclined, you can do some repairs and maintenance on the boat yourself. My dad spent his high school summers working at a marina; he handled basic stuff. If your boat needs major repairs, you'll need a pro.

Expect to pay from $65 to $115 per hour for work by a certified marine mechanic. Replacement parts can be pricey, too. A new water pump, for example, can cost anywhere from $100 to over $1,000, depending on the size and style you need.

Even if your boat is in great shape, mechanical failures are probable at some point. It's a machine, which makes wear and tear inevitable. Other common repairs needed on a boat include cracks in the deck, saturated foam (causing the boat to sit unevenly), rot, and joint separation. Cosmetic repairs, such as replacing upholstery or repainting the hull, can be delayed. But others, such as cracking or leaks, must be dealt with immediately. Otherwise, your boat will incur more damage, lowering its value and adding to repair costs.

Seasonal maintenance

Don't forget to factor in the cost of seasonal maintenance work when estimating a budget for boat ownership.

Engine winterization

For boats that will be stored for winter, or for any extended period of time, engine winterization is important to prevent damage. You can do the work yourself (use this helpful winterization checklist) or pay a shop. Average cost depends on the size of your boat.

Hull cleaning

Larger boats that stay in the water need their hulls cleaned periodically. Hull cleaning prevents damage and increases fuel efficiency. Professional boat services either have divers go under and clean while the boat is in the water, or, if repainting is also needed, have the entire boat lifted out of the water to do the work. Rates vary widely based on location, size of the boat, and how long it's been since the last hull cleaning.

Cabin cleaning

You can do cabin cleaning yourself, or hire a professional to do the job. Regular cabin cleaning is important in order to find, repair, and prevent permanent damage, such as corrosion or rust.

Regular maintenance

Some other maintenance items include greasing the rudder box, checking belts and hoses, checking engine alignment, and replacing brake fluid.

Insurance, registration, and other fees

The cost of registration and licensing fees varies from state to state. If you're going to travel between countries, you will need to get an International Certificate of Competence. Insurance is optional in most states, but you might want to have it anyway. You'll pay a boat sales and use tax in most states, as well.

You'll need to pay lock fees to use canals and move from one body of water to another. You may also be required to pay for port fees and customs at various points of entry.

Necessary boat gear

Life jackets are a requirement on any boat, under any circumstances. U.S. Coast Guard regulations require one life jacket for every person on board. Other gear you'll want depends on what you want to do on your boat: fishing poles, tackle and bait, or skis, ski ropes, and tubes. Of course, you need to stock essential safety and health supplies such as a first aid kit, sun protection, and drinking water.

Docking and storage

If you want to dock your boat in a protected place, and you don't own a spot yourself, you'll need to pay a slip fee. A slip fee is typically calculated per foot of boat: so, for a 30-foot boat, you might pay $3 to $5 per foot, per day, to dock your boat at a marina. Marinas often have weekly, monthly, and annual rates, as well. Expect to pay more for a covered and protected slip, and pay for additional services like trailer storage or use of a boat lift or boat cover.

Our old ski boat lived in our backyard, covered in a tarp during winter. In the mild Mississippi winters, that was an acceptable storage solution. But in more extreme environments — or for boats with a slightly higher investment point — you'll want covered, protected storage from the elements. Maybe you have a place for your boat, such as an enclosed garage or barn. In that case, you'll save the cost of paying for storage. But you will need to have a way to get your boat from the water to your garage.

Trailer and transportation costs

If you don't own a boat trailer, you'll need to buy or rent one in order to move your boat from a body of water to any other location. Boat trailers need to be licensed and registered, and you'll pay personal property taxes on a trailer as well as on the boat. Fees vary from state to state.

Renting a boat trailer can be a better solution if you don't need to move your boat often. Trailer rentals run from about $50 a day (for a 20-foot trailer) to around $150 per day (for a triple axle trailer that can haul up to a 33-foot boat). Bigger boats, of course, require a bigger trailer and a vehicle that is powerful enough to tow it.

Whether your boating dream is a yacht or a fishing boat, consider the costs carefully before you invest. It's one thing to relax on a boat. It's quite another to pay for it.

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The High Cost of Buying a Boat

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