Top 5 Tips for Buying Your First Boat

The start of the boating season is right around the corner, and many of you are thinking of taking the plunge and buying your first boat. While this can be an exciting and nerve racking time, we’ve put together five tips to help guide your through the process.

1) What Type of Boat Do You Need?

I’m not talking about whether you want a Donzi or a Catalina. When thinking of your first boat purchase focus on how you plan to use it. Are you planning on harbor cruising with family and friends? Are you looking to river fish on weekends? Wake boarding or water skiing? What you plan to use the boat for should drive the type of boat you buy. What’s most important to you - passenger space, power, fishing features, overnight capabilities, or some combination of things? This will inform the type of vessel you will start to look for (e.g. sail, power) but also the form factor - bow rider, center console, cuddy cabin.

Once you’ve narrowed this down you can more effectively research the makes, models, and tradeoffs that will be your short list. One word of caution - while its tempting to already have your mind made up on a specific make or model (and there are a lot of great ones out there) think hard about starting your search with what you want to get out of it. In the long term your choice will fit your lifestyle much better and make you a happier boater.

2) The Budget

Once you’ve decided on what type of boat your’e looking for, now you need to match that up against your budget. The budget for your boat isn’t as straight forward as it seems. The cost of the boat itself is an obvious big piece of the equation, but it’s not the only thing. Once decide on a boat all the other costs start to come into play and add up fast into the total bill.

If you’re starting from scratch there are a lot of ‘little things’ that add up to big dollars before you know it. Basic equipment ranging from first aid, PFDs (personal floatation devices), lines, fenders, anchors, radio, flags, and more can start to add up very fast. Note you don’t need to buy all of these things new - there are plenty of opportunities to find used gear from Craigslist to garage sales, but you will still need them. Beyond the basics consider where you’re storing your boat. Do you need a trailer? Mooring or dock space? What about insurance and other regular costs that will add to your first year investment? When considering your budget add up all of those little costs to see how much room you have left for your actual boat and what’s saved for everything else.

3) New or Used?

Once you know what you’re looking for and have an idea of your boating budget, another big question is new or used. This isn’t just a function of price. There are many pros and cons to this choice beyond just money.

When looking at new boats there is a certain safety net that comes along with it. Dealers back their boats with warranties and service (even new owner training in some cases). This all comes with the knowledge that your boat is free from any maintenance or repair issues. All of this does come at a premium you’ll pay for at checkout.

If you’re looking for a deal or don’t have the means to buy your first choice new, there are plenty of good used options out there. From Boat Trader to eBay to your local marina, there are many options out there for one looking to do the legwork. This being said buying a boat used can come with its own risks. Being able to know what shape a boat is in - either from inspection or service history - is key. If you don’t have the experience to recognize issues with a potential purchase bring someone along who does. Needing a new engine or expensive hull repair can more than offset the savings of a low price. Be aware - not all deals are as good as they seem - so be aware before making a deal.

4) Storage

Buying a boat is one matter, knowing how you’re going to store and maintain it is another. Are you going to trailer it to the launch ramp each outing? Do you have the space if your garage or back yard to store it when not in use? It’s even worth checking if you live in a HOA neighborhood if they’ll allow you to keep a boat on premise.

Outside of that there are many other options - docks, moorings, winter storage, etc. that can be available. It’s important to understand what options are open to you and that you can afford. Having this plan locked in before you sign for the title of your boat can save you many headaches and last minute scrambles during the season.

5) Do You Really Need To Buy a Boat?

This last question isn’t meant to talk you out of time on the water. Rather think about what other options may be available to you. Depending on how much time you plan to spend this season does it make more sense to rent a boat for when you need it? What about buying into a time share for a year or two? These can have added costs to take care of the day to day operations of your boat, but options such as Care Free Boats or SailTime offer ways to enjoy the water without the risk or time commitments of ownership.

All of these options can get you on the water (often in higher end vessels than you’d end up buying) while taking away some of the financial and maintenance risks of direct ownership. You also can try different types and styles of boats if you’re unsure which will meet your need. After you learn a little more about those boats and and yourself, you can make a better decision.


In the end buying a new boat can be an exciting and terrifying experience. To help make the process easier, consider these five questions:

  • What will you use your boat for - sporting, cruising, fishing?

  • What is your budget - both for your boat and all accessories?

  • Is it worth the peace of mind to buy new?

  • How will you store and gain access to you boat (on and off season)?

  • Do you really need to buy a boat at all?

If you can answer all of the above you’ll have a much easier time deciding how to best enjoy your next season.

Do you have other tips for first time boat buyers or stories to share? Let us know in the comments below.

John MarcantonioComment