Affordable Boating: Budgeting for Your Boat

Affordable Boating: Budgeting for Your Boat

Boats can vary in cost as much or more than even cars or homes, depending on size, type, purpose and age. Annual costs for some can vary widely as well.

As an example, a local neighbor may have an extremely active boating lifestyle with a 12-year old, 19-foot open bay skiff with an 115-hp outboard; he maintains it carefully and fishes nearly every weekend in the summer season. This boat costs him minimally to maintain, as he has local mechanics assist with maintenance, and he stores it on its trailer in his driveway.

On the other side of the fence, another boating friend keeps her boat at the local marina, has the marina personnel maintain it, and trades up to a larger boat every few years or so. Her boating expenses far outweigh the first neighbor’s, but she has a different boating lifestyle and therefore, different boating needs.

Regardless of your boating lifestyle, here are a few ways you can keep costs in check.

Save, Save, Save

Save for your boat and pay in cash, thereby keeping loan interest costs away.

Consider Buying Used 

Shopping carefully for a 2 to 10 year old boat can help you save money on the initial purchase price. Boats that are more than a decade old are still great candidates for purchase; however, just like when buying a classic car, more investigation and review should be in order to ensure the background and viability of the hull, engine and drivetrain.

Buy Only the Size Boat You Need

Avoid buying larger if you truly don’t need it. For example, if you anticipate outings by yourself or with your partner, or maybe with perhaps a couple more friends, there’s no need for a large boat that can handle a dozen or more. Similarly, if you envision quiet fishing trips on smaller lakes, no need to focus on larger boats capable of long offshore outings.

Do Your Own Maintenance

If you’re handy with tools and consider yourself to be a good mechanic, you can perform many of the maintenance and service tasks yourself; which can help you save instead of opting for marine mechanics do the work. This is a tricky area; first, be sure your efforts don’t invalidate any potential warranties. Second, being handy at plumbing or home wiring doesn’t typically translate to marine repair expertise. That being said, if you’re mechanically inclined and have good experience in auto repair and home repair, you’re probably capable of tackling most simple boat maintenance tasks.

Store Your Boat at Home

Keep your boat at home, on the trailer, and launch when you want—as opposed to keeping it at the marina, saving monthly costs as well as maintenance fees.

Remember that Fuel Costs Vary Widely

Marina fuel sold dockside can be much more expensive than gas sold at the highway station. Be careful about ethanol-extended fuels (E10 and now E15). While today’s marine engine fuel systems are better suited to handle alcohol in fuel, too much is not a good thing. To err on the safe side, marina gas is typically available ethanol-free; even though it costs more, it may save in maintenance and repair costs in the long run. Remember also that boats stored with fuel in them should have the fuel treated for storage if they’re sitting for more than a couple months. Otherwise the stale fuel turns bad and can gum up fuel injectors and filters.

Above all—boats are fun, and can be great gathering places for family enjoyment. If you do your research and plan ahead, you’ll be out on your boat before you know it. 

Myth Busters: Affordability Addition

I can't afford a boat.

You can finance a boat, just like a car and often for much longer terms. — in fact, you can own a new boat for as little as $250 month!* In 2012, the average retail price of an outboard boat was $20,387. The average retail price of an outboard boat package (boat,engine and trailer) was $32,795. But here’s the best part: Many excellent boat, motor, trailer packages are available for as little as $15,000.

Loans under $25,000 are based on 7.5% for 12 years.*

Boats provide tax deductible and cost effective second homes. Interest on a boat loan can be deducted if the boat has a galley, berth and head.*

*Source: NMBA For more information, click here.

Boat insurance is too expensive.

Boat insurance costs vary by boat length and type, cost of the boat and level of coverage and area of operation. It’s easy to get a quote from your current agent or compare rates online. Some smaller boats can be insured for a nominal sum as a rider on a homeowner’s policy.

You can kill two birds with one stone, improve boating skills and reducee the cost of marine insurance premiums by taking a boater’s education course.

For more information, see our Boat Insurance guide.

I can't afford to store my boat.

Storage options vary depending on the size of your boat. You won’t find a less-expensive way to keep a boat than storing it on a trailer in your driveway, garage or backyard. Larger boats can be surprisingly inexpensive to store in “drystack marinas” where they are kept in secure facilities until you call for it and, usually in a matter of minutes, it can be waiting dockside for you. When you are all through with the boat, toss the keys to your marine operator. He’ll wash it down and stow it securely away.

Maintenance and upkeep is too expensive.

Boat, trailer, and motor maintenance can be as simple as a freshwater wash down after each use. Keeping everything covered between adventures will also help keep maintenance costs at bay.

Costs for routine maintenance vary by region, but for more involved services, such as oil changes and winterizing, expect to pay what you would for your car on an hourly basis.

See also: Maintenance Tips and Checklist.

Boats use too much fuel.

Nearly 95 percent of boats on the water today are less than 26' in length. These crafts are fitted with newer fuel efficient motors that minimize fuel costs.

Keep in mind, fishing, swimming or just hanging out a sandbars and islands with friends are the most popular boating activities and they don’t require fuel beyond that used to get to your favorite spot. If you own a sailboat, the motor is used even less—usually just to depart or return to port.

Higher fuel prices do look discouraging but in truth they present only a small marginal increase in the operating cost of your boat. For owners of smaller boats that may use 20 gallons of fuel or less per trip, a 50 cent increase in a gallon of fuel means a boater will spend only $10 more their outing. Even if you’re into cruising and plan to use 100 gallons in a weekend, the incremental cost is only about $50 more.

For more, read our Fuel Tips.

Boating is hard to learn.

Boating is not difficult, but driving a boat, like anything else, is a skill. You can learn the U.S.Coast Guard Navigation Rules by taking a boater’s education course. That experience in itself will be fun and offer you the chance to meet like-minded boaters.

Some dealers offer on-the-water training upon delivery to help your learn how to use your boat. Most marinas and dealerships have a network of captains or experienced boaters you can hire to show you the ropes on your own boat. The skills you’ll most likely need to practice will be docking, launching and retrieving your boat. Professional instruction is the best way for any new boating family to learn the correct skills and develop the team spirit that enhances the fun.

I don't have access to water.

Did you know that nearly ninety percent of Americans live less than an hour from a navigable body of water? This means that water access is a lot closer and more convenient than you might think.

Check out our interactive map to find place to boat and fish near you.