Four Questions to Answer as you Start Shopping for a New Boat

Buying a boat may be as simple as walking into the dealership with cash or an approved loan, but making the best long-term investment for you and your family takes considerably more time and research.

Start by considering just how you want to spend your time on the water. Do you like to fish or ski? Enjoy a leisurely cruise or spend time floating with friends? Prefer something quick and agile? Plan to travel and actually overnight aboard your vessel? All are considerations that affect just what type of boat you consider. Budget is also an obvious factor. Stretching your limits may seem worth it to acquire the boat of your dreams, but isn’t wise if the payments will leave you unable to use it. Likewise, going for the most inexpensive model also isn’t a wise choice if you’ll quickly outgrow it and look to trade up.

Where you’ll keep the boat is also a consideration.

Docking at a marina is convenient, but more expensive. Open docks are most common; some marinas offer covered slips, which offer added protection from the elements. Yet another option is dry storage. Storing your boat out of the water will prevent the buildup of bottom growth, a particular advantage for saltwater boaters. Many dry-storage facilities offer call-ahead service, having your boat ready when you arrive and even cleaning it up before storing it away. Other considerations? Consider the convenience of the marina location, both to your home and to open water; price; security; restrooms, store and fuel; and the amenities — dockside water, power, even cable or Wi-Fi — you get for the price.

Trailering your boat is more affordable, but may limit how often you use the craft. Still, storage is free in your driveway or garage, and a trailer also makes it possible to visit a variety of waterways. Just make sure your boat is less than 8’ 6” wide (what boaters commonly refer to as the "beam"); beyond that, most states require a wide-load permit.

Once you’ve narrowed your focus and come up with a realistic budget, start surfing. Boat manufacturer websites are rich in detail, with many enabling you to digitally “build” and price your dream craft. Magazine and online reviews offer a third-party perspective on performance and reliability. Online loan calculators can estimate monthly payments. Try out our simple boat loan calculator to see what you can afford. 

With choices narrowed, visit a dealership or boat show and ask for a thorough walkthrough. Narrow your choices further with a “sea trial,” or test ride. When it comes time to negotiate price, try to go in armed with data on similar sales. Once you make your deal, ensure you have everything needed to register the boat, including bill of sale and title.

You will be on the water sooner than you think!

Explore our tips to consider if you are thinking about buying a pre-owned boat.