By Covey Son Special to the Star Tribune JULY 2, 2016 — 1:50PM

Ready for that first boat? You are in good company. Boats are big business in this state. Minnesota consumers shelled out nearly $602 million on new boats and accessories in 2014, fourth-highest in the nation, said the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

But a shiny new boat can be a big commitment, so you will want to consider options other than buying new.
Think of boat shopping like buying a car. There are boats built for speed and boats for capacity. Used boats can be easier on the wallet. And you don’t necessarily have to save for years before making your purchase. Rentals are an option if ownership feels like a leap. Clubs can offer a taste of the high life for a little less up front cash.

A general rule of thumb for boats: Bigger and faster equals more money, said Jeff Hannay, vice president of sales at Hannay’s Marine in Minneapolis. A brand-new 250 horsepower runabout with eight seats could go for $30,000 or $35,000. Pontoons, which trade speed for more elbow room, start around $20,000 for new, and they scale up with more speed.

Used boats make more sense than new when you are shopping with a tighter budget, Hannay said. Five to 10 years of use will shave roughly 30 to 50 percent off the factory-fresh price tag.
Try to hunt for less-popular boats. For example, the used market for fiberglass runabouts is flooding, with owners trading them in for the more popular pontoons, said Randy Timm, a sales associate at Dan’s Southside Marine in Bloomington. These could range from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on age and condition. A 16-foot fishing boat could be a minimalist option for about $3,000.

And if you don’t have several months’ worth of paychecks saved up, dealerships like Hannay’s and Dan’s offer monthly payment plans.

Still, boats are long-term investments with steep costs. You should expect to spend between $150 and $300 a year for insurance. You will need to keep the boat clean and repaired or replace anything that breaks. You will need to store the boat in winter. And, chances are, the average Honda won’t be enough to tow some of the bigger boats.

Even Hannay admits boats can be financially cumbersome when you are paying off student loans or taking on a mortgage.

Unless you plan to boat every week, boat rentals and clubs could be better alternatives.
“No matter how you slice it and dice it, boats are more expensive. … You can’t buy anything new for less than $10,000 unless you want a bare-bones boat,” Hannay said. “That’s why the rental business is happening; because there is that need for people to test whether they really want a boat.”

You may find it tough to conduct that test on weekends and holidays, however, and you might not get your first choice of boat.

If you are looking to cruise around the St. Croix or the Mississippi River with friends or family, Boating at Beanie’s in Lakeland rents pontoons for $65 to $100 an hour and $440 to $650 a day, depending on size and speed. The selection ranges from a 21-foot pontoon with a 50 horsepower motor for 12 people to a 27-foot craft with 225 horsepower motor that can handle a crowd of 18.

In Towne Marina on Lake Waconia offers pontoons for $159 to $195 for three hours and another $35 to $45 for every additional hour on weekdays. On weekends, rentals range from $189 to $299 for three- or four-hour time blocks.

Bremer Jet Ski & Watercraft Rental in Maple Lake will deliver the boat to the lake of your choosing. Ski boats range from $199 to $299 a day, pontoons from $195 to $199 and catamarans run $275. For the round-trip delivery, you would pay $1 per mile traveled.
For a wider variety of boats, consider a membership in a boat club. Your Boat Club in Minneapolis has marinas on seven lakes and two rivers around the Twin Cities and a membership ranges from $1,495 to $6,395 a year depending on when and what boats you use. The club has pontoons, runabouts and fishing boats in three “piers.” Each higher level brings more size, speed and cost.

The cheapest membership limits you to morning hours Monday through Thursday and pier one boats. You would get better value out of the pier one boats and the “explorer” plan, which allows seven days of boating a week, said Luke Kujawa, co-founder and managing partner of Your Boat Club.

“The best part of boating and the best part of Minnesota is being out on the water,” he said. “We wanted to offer that to people and take away the hassle. All you have to do is show up and get on the boat.”

There’s also Bay to Bay Boat Club on Lake Minnetonka, where you can boat up to 12 times a season for $4,499.

Consider the clubs as a compromise between owning and renting. Owning could be a good option if you want to make boating a regular part of your life. Renting would make more sense if you’re not sure about the commitments or just want to indulge once or twice a year. Clubs can be a way to boat more without the chores.

If you would like to avoid the financial stress or the hassles of owning and maintaining a yacht check out what the benefits of our alternative to outright ownership.

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