What Type of Boat is Right for You?
If you enjoy spending time with your friends and family on the water, you may consider buying a boat. A boat can give you the chance to relax and unwind while making wonderful memories with your loved ones out on the water.
While buying a boat may seem like a simple endeavor, there are actually plenty of things you need to take into consideration before making this type of transaction. What type of boat will you buy? How much money do you have to spend? Will you need to finance your boat? If so, how will you do so?
If you decide to move forward with buying a boat, you’ll need to ask yourself these questions.
5 things to consider before you buy a boat
Before you buy a boat, it’s important to consider these five things.
1. What kind of boat should you buy?
“The most important step in the boat-buying process is figuring out exactly what type of boat will best fits the needs and wants of you and the guests you plan on having abroad,” said Maggie Maskery, senior PR manager at the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) in Chicago.
You should consider the type of activities that are of interest to you when thinking about the type of boat you want. Are you buying a boat for cruising and entertaining? Or, watersports, fishing, and/or sailing? Will you stay on your boat overnight and if so, will you cook on your boat?
Another important question to ask yourself is what kind of body of water you’ll boat in. Will you spend most of your time on lakes and rivers or in the ocean and intercoastal waterways? The kind of water you plan to spend time in will significantly impact the kind of boat you want. Lake boats tend to be designed for shallow water, while ocean-going or saltwater boats tend to be designed to handle larger waves and have a differently shaped hulls to help them ride more smoothly and be safer in larger bodies of water.
Saltwater boats also tend to have a different cooling system for their engines since they need to filter out the salt in order to prevent corrosion of the engine parts. They tend to have closed cooling systems that don’t take in water to cool the engine. Freshwater boats, on the other hand, usually have open cooling systems that draws fresh water from lake or river around the boat.
While you can take a saltwater boat in freshwater, it can be a bit trickier to take a freshwater boat into saltwater, and you’ll need to flush the engine after using a freshwater boat in saltwater to prevent corrosion or damage to your engine.
You should also think about which type of propulsion system is right for your needs. One example of a propulsion system is a straight-shaft inboard, which is typically located near the middle of the boat and features a transmission that’s connected to the rear of the engine. There’s also an outboard, which contains an engine, transmission and prop, and can be fastened to the boat’s transom or secured onto a bracket.
While straight-shaft inboards are ideal for traditional powerboat and sailboats, outboards make more sense for high-speed boats. In addition to a straight-shaft inboard and outboard, there are many other types of propulsion systems to consider such as sterndrives, pod drives and water jet drives.
It’s also important to determine whether you’d like to buy a new or used boat. While a new boat can allow you to purchase a boat that has every bell and whistle you desire, you’ll pay a premium price for it. On the other hand, a used boat is more affordable but there is no guarantee that it’s free of defects as even an inspection can’t uncover everything that’s happened to it.
Additionally, ask yourself how often you envision yourself using the boat. Do you plan on going boating every week because you’ll be living near it and have the time or only once in a while since it’ll be out of town and lead a fairly busy lifestyle?
2. Determine a budget to buy a boat
Contrary to popular belief, boating is very accessible. In fact, 142 million Americans, including adults and children go boating each year. While you don’t have to be a rich celebrity to buy a boat and enjoy it, you do need to establish a realistic budget.
Although pricing for a boat can vary significantly, the average cost of a boat is between $60,000 and $75,000. If you’re on a tighter budget and don’t mind not having every bell and whistle, a used boat may be a better option for you.
When it comes to a down payment, you typically need 10-15% of the total cost of your boat. However, you may be able to get away with a zero down. Of course, if you don’t come up with any kind of down payment, you’ll spend more time paying off your boat.
By figuring out your budget, you can set guardrails on the type of board you can afford. You can use LendingTree’s boat loan calculator to determine how much you can afford.
3. How to finance a boat
Unless you have the cash to pay for your boat upfront, you’ll likely need to finance it. “Financing a boat is actually a fairly fast and easy process. It’s quite similar to financing a car.” explained Maskery.
You can reach out to your current bank or credit union to find out if they offer boat loans. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, try searching LendingTree for competitive boat loan offers. You could fill out a single form and receive offers from lenders, depending on your creditworthiness. U.S. Bank and Essex Credit are two examples of boat lenders you may find.
Although the average boat loan is 10 years, you may be able to find loans for 12, 15 and 20 years. If you don’t have the best credit rating, don’t worry. There are a number of lenders who offer boat loans to borrowers who have a poor or average credit.
Remember to find out the total cost of owning your boat before researching financing options. Total cost would include things like dealer fees, insurance, registration, accessories, safety equipment, storage and upkeep.
4. Where to buy a boat
When you are considering buying a boat there are plenty of options. “You may want to go to a boat show to check out new models from all the dealers in your region in one spot plus take advantage of the special pricing they’ll likely offer,” said Maskery. You can also check out local boat builders if you live near them or if you want to buy a used boat, you can talk to boat brokers.
If you’d like to save money with a used boat, you may want to consider a boat broker. While dealers typically sell new boats, brokers are in business to sell used or brokerage boats. Keep in mind that if you go this route, your broker probably won’t be as involved in your boat ownership experience as a dealer who will likely offer warranties and support.
Maskery also recommends asking family and friends who are boat owners about where they bought their boats. She warns potential boat buyers of going with a private seller. “Buying a boat from a private seller is always an option but the least desirable method given all the unknown variables,” Maskery explained.
While a private seller’s price may seem like a good deal, there may be a problem with the boat that you won’t find out until later. For example, there may be malfunctioning lights, gauges or other parts. Or, issues with the motor, dents, scratches or dings. If your goal is to land an affordable price, consider taking advantage of off-season deals by buying your new or used boat in the winter.
Also, if you order a boat rather than buy one from the showroom floor, ask the dealer if you can lock in a discount by paying for a boat before it’s built and delivered. In addition, consider buying a previous-year model from the manufacturer to cut down on costs.
5. Learning about boat operation and boating safety
Operating a boat and driving a car are not the same. Here’s why: When you drive a car, you simply use the gas pedal to go. On a boat, there are a number of different shift and throttle controls that you must use in a safe manner. If you use the throttle controls suddenly or excessively, you may lose control of your boat and hit the dock or another boat.
Also, the weather on the water can drastically change at any time and pose a danger so you need to know how to handle changing weather conditions like a sudden temperature drop, dark clouds, fog or lightning. Tides, which are waves that move through the oceans can lead to fluctuating water levels and become a hazard, making it crucial for you to understand how to deal with them safely as well.
Since operating a boat is far different than driving a car, it is in your best interest to gain all the knowledge and experience you can on boat operation and boating safety. “Before buying a boat and departing on your first boating outing, it’s a good idea to take a boater safety course so you can develop your nautical know-how and become a more confident boater,” said Maskery.
You may also get an insurance discount if you complete a boater education course. Check the boating laws in your state because most states require you to have a license or some type of formal education before operating a boat.
There are many reputable organizations out there that specialize in boat safety education such as BoatUS, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and NauticEd. They cover a variety of important topics like boating equipment, trip planning and preparation, navigation and maneuvering, and emergency preparation.
What types of boats are there?
There are a wide array of boats on the market. The price of a boat depends on a number of factors including boat type, brand, size, engine, amenities and more. Here’s a brief overview of the types of boats you may choose from.
Personal watercraft or PWCs are easy to own and maintain, and an affordable way to get into boating. They are powered by a water jet style engine. PWCs are a breeze to maneuver and specifically engineered for sharp turns and rapid acceleration. They tend to be small and light. The price of PWCs ranges from less than $5,500 for compact models to more than $17,000 for the most powerful luxurious models. PWCs are fairly small as they are designed to accommodate up to three passengers.
Ski boats/wake boat
Ski boats and wake boats can fit up to eight passengers and are specifically designed for watersports because they feature a more powerful engine than all-purpose fishing boats and are easier to accelerate and turn quickly during sporting activities.
With the increased popularity of wakesurfing, new technology was created in these types of boats to enhance waves to perform well for wakesurfing and wakeboarding. While you may be able to buy a ski or wake boat for as low as $52,000, most of them are priced at around $150,000.
All-purpose fishing boat
While all-purpose fishing boats are intended for fishing, they can accommodate other aquatic activities like water tubing or skiing. These boats can be used to fish on all types of waters including lakes, rivers, and bays. In addition, they feature tackleboxes so you can keep all of your fishing fear safe and organized. They are priced reasonably for the average American family and typically hold a maximum of five passengers. You can find many of them for under $20,000.
A center console is a popular, family-friendly boat that can handle a variety of sea conditions and features a steering station in the center console with open deck space in the front and back. When most people think of center console boats, they picture fishing boats. This reality is that while they can be used for fishing, they are versatile and can be used for a plethora of other activities like water skiing or lounging.
When a single-engine, center console boat is in the 20-foot range, it’s often priced similarly to a new car. Many of them can be found in the $30,000 range. It can be used for freshwater or saltwater fishing or day cruising.
Known as one of the most versatile boats on the market, a deck boat is spacious enough for up to 15 passengers and a great pick for activities like fishing and watersports. Hence its name, a deck boat comes with a large deck that offers plenty of space for seating, amenities, stowage and passengers. While the average deck boat is about 19-23 feet long, there are shorter and longer ones available. The price of the boat varies widely and ranges from $16,000 for a smaller, 16-footer or more than $100,000 for a fully-featured larger model.
Pontoon boats are versatile that are available at different price points to cater to virtually every budget. They have a flat bottom and are a good option for many different activities including lounging, watersports, swimming, day cruising and fishing. Since pontoon boats are available in different engine types, it’s important to choose one that meets your needs. If you want a faster boat, opt for the pontoon with a more powerful engine. Pontoon boats typically hold a maximum of 15 passengers and range in price between $18,000 and $60,000, depending on size and other factors.
Bowriders are can be used for watersporting, fishing, leisurely relaxation on the water, transportation to a waterfront restaurant and so much more.
“From boating beginners to seasoned veterans, bowriders are popular among all types of boaters due to the versatility they offer from water sports to day cruising to fishing,” explains Maskery. You can get an entry-level model for about $17,000 or an ultra luxurious model that’s an upward of $150,000.
If you go with a luxury bowrider, you can expect features like french-stitched upholstery, a six-speaker stereo system, a cocktail table and an electric backrest. Bowriders usually have a nine-passenger maximum.
Sailboats are powered by sails that use the force of the wind and therefore often move sideways and a bit ahead. They are differentiated by hull type (monohull, catamaran, or trimaran), keel type (fin keel wing keel, bilge keel, daggerboard or centerboard), and sails (sloop, fractional rig sloop, ketch, schooner, yawl, cutter cat).
“You can use a sailboat to day sail on a small dinghy, race with a group on a larger racer, or cruise for a weekend on boats with cabin space,” said Maskery. Monohull (single hull) sailboats are available in sizes from 10 to over 100 feet while multi-hulls (catamarans with two hulls and trimarans with three) also vary in size from fun day boats to 80+ foot platforms.
Sailboats can usually fit up to 14 passengers and their price varies widely as its dependent on size, age, brand, and offshore capabilities.
Convertible fishing boat
Convertible fishing boats offer plenty of interior space. They are also taller than traditional fishing boats, making it easier for boaters to spot structures that attract fish such as rips and flotsam.
Since convertible fishing boats are so popular in the offshore fishing boat marketplace, you shouldn’t have any issues finding one that is right for your budget and needs. On average, convertible fishing boats cost $440,000.
Houseboats are designed for people in search of a more relaxing lifestyle. In addition to engines, hulls, electrical systems, and other boat components, they feature full-size kitchen appliances, washers and dryers, air conditioning, and a variety of other comforts you’d find in a home.
When people buy a houseboat, their purpose is usually to have a second home or vacation home as houseboats are rarely used for full-time living. The average cost of a houseboat is $150,000. Living on board a boat can be costly.
Flybridge motor yachts
Flybridge motor yachts stand out from other yachts because of their tall upper decks and high helm station that can make you feel like you’re flying. Since the average price of one of these is $790,000, it’s no surprise flybridge motor yachts are often equipped with luxuries like fridges, ice makers, stereo systems and electric grills. They are typically used for day and overnight cruising.
The typical runabout ranges anywhere from 16-33 feet in length and features a sterndrive or onboard power, individual cockpits for their seating areas and a walk-through windshield. It’s a recreational powerboat that can be used for a variety of activities including watersports and day cruising. On average runabouts run $38,000.
Walkarounds can be flybridge boats or express-style boats that are equipped with side-decks surrounded by rails, creating “walkarounds” for easy bow access. While they were originally designed for ship handling, walkarounds are now used for activities like freshwater and saltwater fishing and day cruising.
Modern walkarounds often feature amenities such as recessed bow cockpits, with a table and seating and convertible sun shades. The average price of a walkaround is $51,000.
Pilothouse boats are unique in that they feature an enclosed helm cabin that’s designed to offer complete protection from all weather conditions. Since they safeguard against the typical wind noise of an open helm, they also allow for easier communications.
These boats are often heated, air-conditioned and feature window defoggers and windshield wipers so that they can be used in just about any condition. Pilothouse boats are pricey as their average cost is $390,000.
Daysailers are sailboats that don’t always have a cabin, vary in length from 7-30 feet, and are specifically created for day trips. Daysailers can also be used for racing and come equipped with various bottoms including centerboards, keel boats that allow steadiness for passagemaking, and no underwater appendages except for a rudder. You can buy a new daysailer for anywhere from $5,000 to over $100,000.
Motorsailers are furnished with powerful engines that close quarter maneuvering a breeze. They range in size from 25-245 feet in length and are usually used for day sailing and overnight cruising. Compared with sailboats, motorsailers feature wider beams, higher freeboards and an enclosed helm station so they could be used regardless of the weather. When it comes to price, motorsailers run an average of $500,000.
Most racers/cruisers are between 35 and 50 feet long and ideal for racing and overnight cruising. These boats feature dodgers, cockpit tables and other amenities that can be removed so they won’t get in the way of racing. In addition, they are equipped with a galley, bunks and a head with a curtain or a door to separate it from the rest of the cabin. The average cost of a racer/cruiser is $238,000.
Choosing the right boat for you
While boat shopping can be an exciting experience, it does require a great deal of thought. Before buying a boat, you’ll need to figure out the type of boat that is ideal for your lifestyle needs, preferences and your budget.
Although buying a boat does take time and research, it is often worth it if you are passionate about boating and know you’ll use your boat often.
The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing.