Costs to Expect as a Used Boat Owner
The costs associated with owning a used boat are similar to the costs associated with a new vessel, with one notable exception. The purchase price of a pre-owned model is often far less as a boat, much like a car, depreciates with each passing year. That depreciation is typically highest during the first year of use; a 20’ craft can lose as much as 20% of its value. Subsequent years knock even more off that value, meaning you can save dramatically by looking at models that have several years under their hull.
The catch? Used boats rarely come with a warranty. Dealers may offer minimal coverage, but private sales have no guarantees. A pre-owned model should be carefully checked out before purchase to ensure both engine, hull, and other equipment is still in good operating condition and that no underlying surprises await. A qualified marine mechanic is one option for smaller vessels. At $75-$125/hour, an hour of their time can be invaluable. For a more thorough inspection, consider a qualified marine surveyor; expect to pay roughly $20/foot. Find one through the National Association of Marine Surveyors (namsglobal.org). Don’t think problems will always be obvious, like a poorly running engine or cracked hull. Over 10% of boat damage is the result of improper maintenance, and results in underlying problems that often escape the untrained eye.
Registration — Like most motorized vehicles, a boat must be registered before use. It’s a relatively nominal cost, but can vary widely by state. California charges a flat fee of $37 or $65, depending on whether the owner registers in an odd or even year. Most states charge by size range, but rarely exceed $150.
Insurance — Insurance is comparable to other forms of motorized recreation. Cost varies by coverage; look for physical damage protection (theft, collision, storm, etc) as well as liability. Consider attending a boating safety course to receive a discounted rate.
Storage Options — It costs nothing to keep your boat at your own dock, or stored in your garage or driveway. If those options aren’t available, dockage can be arranged at local marinas; rates vary by size, location, and even season, but typically range between $7-$32/ft month. “High-and-dry” facilities or local storage areas are also viable options. Winter storage? Add the price of a fall winterization to your budget but don’t fret. It’s relatively inexpensive, and cheap insurance to guarantee your boat is ready to hit the water come Spring.
Fuel — Again, an obvious expense, but planning can substantially lower the cost. If possible, buy away from the water. The majority of boats sold in the U.S. are 26’ or less and trailered to the water. Consumers will find the price at a local gas station is almost always substantially lower than at the marina. New owners are also often surprised at how little fuel they actually burn; considerable time is often spent at lower speeds, with the engine off, fishing or “coving” with friends at anchor or nosed into the sandbar.
Maintenance — Simple upkeep will substantially lower maintenance costs. Flush your engine after saltwater use, keep your craft covered when not in use, and stick to your manufacturer’s suggested timeline on routine maintenance like oil changes. Do-it-yourselfers may be able to effectively handle the latter. Those who prefer a dealer service center handle the routine maintenance can expect to spend between $100-$300 for these annual services.
If you are considering a new boat, be sure to check out the costs you should expect.