Boat Buyer Guide: Tips on How to Buy a Boat


  1. Choose the right boat. Narrow your choices to a short list of boat categories and make short lists of features that you require, features that you would like, and features that you want to stay away from. Take a look at our Boat Selector tool and find the boat that will be right just for you and your family.
  2. Visit a boat show and choose the right dealer. Once you have narrowed your category choices down, then the real fun begins. It’s time to go shopping. Visit a local boat show and board as many boats as you can. Consider all available options. See a list of boat shows in your area. Remember, you are interviewing your dealer as well as searching for the perfect boat. You want to find the right boat-brand-dealer combination. Ask similar questions to each dealer to compare apples to apples. You may not know the exact boat that you want yet, but you know what kind of experience and service that you want to have, so don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Discover Boating also recommends buying from Marine Industry Certified Dealers. Find a certified dealer in your area.
  3. Consider warranties. Investigate the warranties for every boat you are considering. Warranties are valuable, and an important factor that should influence your decision. Some warranties are transferable, which may become a selling point if you decide to sell your boat. Find out what the warranty includes (engine, hull, components, accessories, service, etc.) and find out about the service that you will receive if something fails. A good way to do this is to ask for references. If you are considering buying a pre-owned boat, be sure to get a marine survey - hire this person yourself to ensure that the survey is done with your interests in mind.
  4. Keep a log. At the boat show and as you visit local dealerships, document everything: Take pictures of the dashboard, the galley, the head. Take notes, or record your reactions on a recording device. Involve your family with the decision and listen to their likes and dislikes about each boat. No two boats are exactly the same - but there exists a perfect boat for you and yours. Use your short list of features and brands to quantify your observations… Make a chart, and use it to rank your top choices.
  5. When are you ready? Reminder: There is no correct amount of time that it should take to shop for a boat. For some, one afternoon is all that they need. It takes others several years. The right time for you to buy a boat is when you are ready. Boat shows often offer "show specials" to entice you to purchase at the show. Ask the dealer if he/she would honor that price in a few weeks after doing some more shopping… Chances are the answer will be yes.
  6. The Test Drive. Did you realize that you can test drive a boat? The way a boat handles, and the way it feels on the water is a very important consideration. Bring the family along for your test drives, and try to test the boat in the types of conditions where you will be using it.
  7. The cost of ownership. For most, the cost of owning a boat is nothing compared to the benefits derived from owning and using your own boat. Nonetheless, be sure you understand that the cost of owning a boat includes more than just the fiberglass. Find out more about the costs of boat ownership...
  8. Learning to use your new boat. Boating is not difficult, but driving a boat, like anything else, is a skill. If you have not already, sign up for boaters education courses where you can learn the rules of the road. For on-the-water training, some dealers provide captains to train you on how to use your boats. Others leave it up to you to learn. Most marinas and dealerships have a network of captains or experienced boaters that you can hire to show you the ropes on your own boat. Most likely the only parts that will require practice will be docking, launching and retrieving your boat. The best tip here is just to take it slow and practice.