Boat Buying 101

So you think you would like to own a boat. Great! Lots of fun on the water. A great hobby. All the good things that come with owning a boat.  You can go boating or fishing whenever you want, without having to match schedules with someone else. You can go where you want, take along whomever you want and do what you want. You can fish, ski, tube, gunkhole, cruise, swim or just relax on the water.

Now that you have made that decision that you want to buy a boat, the next thing is what kind of boat. What do you plan to do with the boat? If it is going to be used for cruising and relaxing, perhaps a runabout, bowrider or cabin cruiser would be the proper choice. If fishing is your thing, perhaps a Jon boat, small vee bottom aluminum or bass boat would be in order. If saltwater is your thing, maybe a larger walkthrough windshield, cuddy cabin or motor trawler would work for you. If sailing turns you on, then there are infinite varieties of sailboats out there. This is a decision that only you can make. Once made, there is no turning back, so be sure of what you really want.

Next on the agenda is finances. Are you rich, independently wealthy, comfortable or a pauper? Are you willing to sacrifice your lifestyle to support a boat? Why, you ask? Because boats are not only expensive to buy, but are more expensive to maintain. First item on the agenda is where you will keep the boat. The normal places to keep them would be in the water at a marina, in a boatel, on a trailer in the backyard, storage facility, boatyard or at a friend's farm or rural property. Each has its advantages and drawbacks.

1. In the water at a Marina - Always available for use. Slip rents are expensive. Constant checking is necessary to prevent damage to the boat. Boat is open to theft, vandalism and weather damage.

2. Boatel - Excellent choice, but expensive. Boat is secured against theft, vandalism, weather damage. Have to count on Boatel personnel to launch and recover boat. Subject to their schedule, not yours.

3. Backyard - Inexpensive if Homeowners Association Covenants allow storage on your property. Ease of maintenance and cleaning. Open to weather if not under permanent cover. Constant checking necessary if canvas cover is used. Possible nesting place for rodents if not used regularly. Possible difficulty getting boat out after rain or snow event.

4. Storage Facility - Expensive. Subject to their hours. Very inconvenient to charge batteries, clean boat or perform maintenance. Subject to theft, vandalism and weather damage if not stored inside. Very few storage facilities have inside storage available for boats approaching 8 feet in width.

5. Rural Property - Subject to theft, vandalism and weather damage unless stored inside. Inconvenient having to pick up and drop off the boat each time you wish to use it. Additional wear and tear on trailer with the additional travel. Possible difficulty getting boat out after rain or snow event.

There are other costs to consider. Personal Property taxes apply to boats and trailers in most localities in Virginia. Registration fees are nominal, but boat launch fees are escalating annually. Most quality launch facilities now charge upwards of $10 to launch your boat. Is your vehicle capable of towing a boat? If so, what is the maximum rated towing weight? Is it equipped with a trailer hitch?

Maintenance costs vary with the boat and owner. Some owners like to have their boat pristine and are willing to spend the time and money necessary to keep it that way. Other owners are not so picky and just do a cursory job of keeping the boat clean. Some owners want to fix every little thing that doesn't work, while others just want the boat to float. Although they are very nice when they work, marine horns, speedometers and gas gauges are never reliable. Replacing them when they cease to work could get very expensive. Most boaters just live without them. A compressed air horn and filling the gas tank before venturing forth works just as well. Trailer bearings and tires are an absolute must for regular maintenance.

Although the costs are not significant, new boaters must be able to program time necessary to attend a boating safety course. These are required in most jurisdictions before operating a boat in their waters.

So you have decided on what type of boat you would like to have, where you will store it and who will maintain it, the next step is to determine whether you can afford a new boat or have to settle for a used boat.


A new boat is great. Everyone loves something that nobody else had owned. It is nice to own something you are pretty sure will not break down, that requires very little maintenance and comes with a warranty. Just remember, you must pay for these things. Just as an example, fully equipped bass boats are now running in excess of $60,000. Even new Jon boats with outboards are bringing in excess of $5,000.


Lots of fishing and boating shows are going on all over the area in January and February. These shows are great places to check out all types of new boats and get a feel for whether you can afford a new boat or whether you should investigate a used boat.

I will cover used boat buying in another article.