So, you want to own a boat? There are many things to consider when purchasing a boat. This will discuss items to think about before you buy your boat.
Look at the cost. This is the first thing to consider about a boat. Typically, people buy their ‘dream boat’ and soon realize how much more it will cost them on a monthly and an annual basis. The simple rule of thumb is regardless of how old your boat or personal watercraft is, you should expect to pay 10-15% of the replacement value per year. Yes, this means if you buy a boat for $10,000, but it’s replacement value is $50,000 you can generally expect to pay between $5,000 and $7,500 per year in maintenance and slip fees. The range is given because if you trailer your boat, you will likely spend around 10%. If it is kept in the water, you have added expenses of slip fees, hull cleaning, and every 2-3 years a bottom job (more or less recoating and repainting of the hull). This rule of 10-15% does not include fuel usage. You will also need to keep in mind boats are tremendously inefficient gas or diesel users because they push the water out of the way.
Ask yourself what you are going to use the boat for. Now that you have determined what your future budget will allow, determine what you want to do on your boat. Most boats can be narrowed down to the following uses: Fishing (freshwater or saltwater), water sports (wakeboarding, kneeboarding, water skiing, towables), sailing (using wind to power your boat), cruising (weekender camping on the water), personal water craft (jet skis, wave runners, etc.), and luxury yachting.
Decide where you will use your boat. You will also need to figure out if you will primarily be on a lake/river or on the ocean (and subsequently how far out in the ocean you plan on going). For most fishermen who fish on a lake/river, the most popular boats range from 10-20′ long and are typically aluminum or fiberglass hull boats. These boats tend to have a low profile so you can ‘walk’ your rod around the boat unobstructed. These boats have a shallow draft (depth into the water) and produce a very small wake. People who chose boats for watersports usually chose a combination of a fish/ski boat or a straight water ski oriented boat. These boats are either U or V hull in shape and can be modified to produce a wake or little wake. These boats typically have 150-400 horse power engines with the bulk of the power used to get the towed person ‘out of the water’ and riding on top of it – sport pontoons have become a popular mixed use boat over the last 20 years. The next type of boat is a sailboat. While you do not have as much of the expense of using gas or diesel on a sail boat, you will need to replace the sail every few years (which, in the long-run can be as expensive as if you did use gas). Sailboats have a weighted keel to keep the boat from tipping over. Sailing instruction is recommended for anyone who wants to pursue boat use, because you will learn not only boater safety, but how the current, wind, and theory behind boating. Cruisers are typically 25-45′ in length and are considered by those who want to ‘camp’ the weekend. These boats usually have 1-2 staterooms (bedrooms), a bathroom, a galley (kitchen), and many of the same amenities found in a RV (recreational vehicle). PWCs (Personal Water Crafts) are usually for those who want to experience the thrill of going fast on the water. PWCs are the most dangerous of all boat vehicles because of how fast they can go and the inherent risks associated with them. As with motorcycles, PWC riders have to ride within their limits and also ride defensively as many other boaters do not see PWCs coming their way in time to avoid them. PWCs, generally speaking, have the ‘least rights’ when it comes to the rules of the road. Luxury yachts typically are ocean going vessels (although you will find many on larger lakes). These boats are typically not towed (as the above others usually are). These boats are made for extended cruises away from shore. These boats usually have the capacity to live aboard with various items such as a freshwater maker, generators, GPS/Radar equipment, multiple staterooms, heads (bathrooms), and galleys. The luxury yacht will typically cost you over $1 Million to buy new. You can certainly use many of the above listed boats to go out to sea, but the luxury yacht will provide comfort and security of size.
Look at your passengers and riders. You should next figure out how many people will typically ride on your boat (don’t forget to count yourself). Boats under 28 feet do have limits to the number of riders, boats over 28 feet typically do not, but many have strict rules if they are coast guard regulated and if you are a licensed captain you will need to follow passenger rules.
Consider your boat length. Usually boats under 30′ can be towed by standard full-sized trucks. PWCs can be towed by cars or SUVs. Sailboats and cruisers may require special set up to tow and yachts are rarely ever towed. You will need to decide do you want a boat you want to keep in the water or one that you can transport place to place. You will also want to determine the length of the boat you want by the conditions you will use it in. For instance, a skiff or a flat bottom boat is perfect for small lakes, but would be incredibly dangerous on larger lakes with more fetch (wind caused waves). A yacht doesn’t make sense on lakes (even larger ones) that freeze over in the winter time. Boat length determines the number of passengers and conditions you can safely operate the boat in.
Decide on your method of propulsion. There are various types of engines and placement of those engines. An outboard is mounted on to the transom (back) of the boat and usually uses a jack plate. An outboard pushes the boat forward…literally. Outboards are great for fishing and watersports. An inboard engine is usually placed ‘inside’ the boat either in the center or rear of the boat. The shaft and propeller are usually extended to the transom of the boat. Most cruisers and yachts have inboards. A stern drive engine is mounted directly to the transom of the boat (unlike an outboard that is more easily ‘removable’). A Jet engine is an engine that cycles water through jets and pushes the water at a rate fast enough to push the boat – most PWCs and small speed boats use this water ‘jet’ power. Sailing is the use of wind as propulsion. And finally, human power is normally considered for paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, and such.
Choose between new and used. Once you have determined you are comfortable with the cost, type, size, propulsion, etc. of the boat you will now need to decide if you want a new or used boat. Either way, you should remember this…you will roughly spend 10-15% of the NEW VALUE per year in maintaining your boat. Used boats can be project boats and ultimately should be bought by people who can either A) afford to have someone fix it or B) have the time to fix it themselves.