This blog is part of a series for new boaters. To read more from the full article, see The Price of Ownership.

A cursory glance at today’s busy marinas shows that more people than ever are getting out on the water.

But what does it actually cost to buy and maintain a mid-sized boat in the 28- to 40-foot range? There are as many answers as there are boats, but we’ve talked to several experts to give you the details on boat ownership.

First, you’ll need to divide your costs into one-time and continuing costs. One-time costs involve the actual purchase and outfitting of the boat itself, while continuing costs are the ongoing items such as insurance, maintenance, and dockage.


Whoa, there, buddy! Just because you can afford the boat doesn’t mean you can afford the upkeep.

Jack Kelly, president of Jack Kelly Yacht Sales, pointed out one area where many buyers go wrong. “Too often, they make up a very careful budget and then spend it all on purchasing the boat. They’d be much better off to spend no more than 60 percent of their boating budget on the boat, and leave the remaining money to outfit the boat, maintain it, and take care of any unforeseen needs.”

A fundamental choice is power versus sail. Once you’ve decided which you prefer, you can analyze what you’d like to do with your boat. If you simply want to go harbor cruising with a few friends, you won’t need many accommodations, and you’ll want more cockpit and seating area. If, on the other hand, you plan to take a vacation with your family, you’ll need enough bunks as well as galley facilities for comfortable living.

You’ll also have to decide whether you want a new or used boat. Price, obviously, is a major factor, and a used boat is often considerably less expensive, but you won’t get the exact equipment you want and it is, after all, a used boat. A new boat, however, will require a greater expenditure for the purchase and the outfitting, but you’ll get precisely what you want and you’ll know that everything is in perfect condition.


Just as you would when buying a car, it’s best to shop around for the best financing deal. Some banks specialize in boat loans, and the boat dealer or broker can often direct you to banks that you might otherwise overlook. If you’re buying a new boat, expect the dealer to charge for “commissioning,” which covers everything from installing optional equipment or electronics to tuning the engine or raising the mast.

With a used boat, you’ll need to have a survey, which is not only important for your own peace of mind but required by most insurance companies and banks. A survey, done by a marine surveyor, is a comprehensive examination of a used boat, similar to a house inspection. The survey might include repairs needed, equipment that needs service or replacement, and even an estimate of fair market value. The buyer pays for the survey at $3 to $5 per foot (even if he doesn’t finalize the purchase), but it provides excellent leverage for price negotiation as well as an independent evaluation. Since surveyors are not licensed, check with your insurance agent or banker for a list of their approved marine survey companies.

State and local sales taxes apply to all boat sales, whether new or used, and frugal buyers can save some money by taking delivery in an area with the lowest taxes.

Even before you sign the check for your boat, you should start shopping for insurance, because it isn’t nearly as straightforward as buying car insurance. Prices can vary more than 200 percent from the low to the high.


Just as with financing, you should look for insurance agencies that specialize in yacht insurance, simply because there are so many clauses in boat insurance that are unfamiliar to the average insurance agent. Insurance for high speed powerboats, for example, is both difficult to find and expensive when you find it. So before you plunk down for that “Miami Vice” speedboat, look to see what the insurance premiums are going to do to your budget.

Insurance companies that specialize in boats often provide surprising discounts for both your own skills and the equipment on your boat. If, for example, you’ve taken the United States Power Squadron boating class (or the similar U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary class), you can get as much as 10 percent off your insurance. A boat with a diesel engine instead of gasoline gets a discount, and other discounts apply for built-in fire extinguisher systems, navigational electronics, and more. In some cases, the savings on insurance premiums can actually pay for a certain piece of equipment, such as an electronic “sniffer” that checks for explosive fumes in your boat.

Additional expenses

Dockage can be a problem, since there is a shortage of marina space and a growing number of pleasure boats. Slip rates vary depending upon how close the marina is to the ocean, the amenities such as parking and showers, and the general condition of the docks.

Maintenance on a boat is another variable item that depends on the type of boat, the usage, and how much you’re willing to do yourself. Every boat kept in the water needs to have a coating of expensive bottom paint, which contains poisons to prevent the growth of barnacles, and this needs to be renewed every year. The engines will need regular tune-ups and oil changes, which are done right in your slip by mechanics specializing in boats. Most sail makers estimate a minimum of five years of normal sailing (or one to two years of hard racing) before replacement is needed.

Both power and sailboats use other fabric products, such as covers or sun shades (usually called Bimini tops) and, powerboats might also have a fabric enclosure with clear vinyl windows around the cockpit for protection against wind or spray, while sailboats often add a “dodger,” a low top reminiscent of those found on old convertibles, as protection against the elements.

What’s the next step? Start looking at the boating magazines, and get ready for the upcoming fall boat shows. It won’t be long before you’ll agree with the Water Rat who told the Mole in “The Wind In The Willows” that “There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

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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