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.

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