Before you make your big purchase, consider these questions first.
By Trent Jonas
A boat, even if it’s a small used one, can be a big purchase. Boat ownership entails a lot of responsibility and can be expensive, as well. If you're planning to dive headfirst into boating life, you might want to consider a few things before you purchase. From insurance and registration to financing, here are 8 common sense tips for buying your first boat.
When you begin to think about buying a boat, among your first considerations should be how you intend to use it. For an avid angler who knows exactly what he or she will do with the boat, such a question may be a no-brainer. But if you’re someone who’s thinking maybe they’ll do a little fishing, a little bit of leisure boating, maybe pull a tube, some serious thought must be put into the best type of vessel to get for the uses you intend.
The size of a boat is another major consideration. It will dictate the size of your tow vehicle, the amount of storage space you’ll need, the cost of such storage space if you don’t have room on your own property, and the cost to slip the boat if it’s not trailerable. In addition, you’ll need to make sure you have the skills to pilot a boat of the size you choose on the water, and, for a trailered vessel, on land.
Before you buy a boat, you need to make sure you have a place to store it, whether on or off the water. If you plan to slip your new boat, make sure you have the slip—or have arranged for it—before you take delivery of the boat. If you intend to store the boat on its trailer, make sure that you have off-street space to do so. Most cities will not allow you to park an unhitched trailer on the street, and many associations do not allow boat storage in driveways. Don’t forget you’ll also need insurance, as well as several other things—registration or licensure through the Coast Guard or your state, enough PFDs for everyone on the vessel, and other safety equipment as required by regulation—before you can legally operate your new vessel.
Because of the harsh marine and aquatic environments, boats (and trailers, if you use one) require a lot of annual upkeep that can add up to quite a bit of money. In addition, especially in states with harsh winters, boats must be appropriately stored when not in use. If you don’t have the time, skill, and space to do so yourself, annual winterization and storage costs are another joy of boat ownership that you’ll have to look forward to.
Another big decision to make when considering a boat purchase is whether to buy new or used. A new boat can be ordered to your exact specifications and will most likely have less wear-and-tear or “character” than a used boat. However, you will pay a premium to be the vessel’s first owner, and the extra amount of money you pay will not be reflected in the boat’s value at the time you take ownership. You avoid such immediate depreciation when you purchased a used vessel, but you may have to settle for a boat without all the features you want. Moreover, a used boat is more likely to have problems than a used boat, so a thorough inspection is always necessary.
After you’ve decided on the type of vessel you want, start researching the available inventory and the prices being asked. Check the NADA Guide for boat values or compare new vessel prices between dealers. Once you’ve done the footwork, don’t hesitate to negotiate the best price for the boat you want to buy. This can be especially important when buying used boats from individual owners, who may over value their vessel on the basis of sentiment or other subject reasons.
Always inspect a boat before you sign on the dotted line—or if you ordered it from the factory, before you take possession. Inspect the hull for damage or rot and the bilge for water or fuel. Start the engine to make sure it runs as promised, and make sure the number of hours on the engine are close to what was advertised. If you’re looking at a larger vessel, especially one with an inboard engine or that has been slipped for a long period of time, the cost of a marine survey is worth the peace of mind it will give you—or the money it will save you, if you need to walk away.
Most boats tend to lose value as soon as they change owners. For this reason, if you need to finance the purchase of your vessel, you’ll find that boats loans often involve higher interest rates and less favorable terms than other types of secured loans. Be sure you shop lenders as carefully as you shopped for your boat in order to avoid paying more than you have to.