Boats

5 min read

Sail Away: Uncover the True Cost of Boating Bliss

Ever dreamed of sailing into the sunset? Before you hoist the sails, let's dive into the real costs of owning a boat – because your wallet needs to be as ready as your wanderlust.

Tobi Miles
October 12, 2022

Odds are if you’re reading this article, you’ve never bought a boat before. Rest assured; you’ve come to the best place on the interwebs to learn the answer to “How much does a boat cost?”

Drop anchor with us and get ready to learn the ins-and-outs of boat-purchase costs. You’ll glean some good info about boat maintenance costs too!

A new boat can cost anywhere between $500 and $500 million. A used boat can range anywhere from $50 to $500,000. On average, you can save 28 to 34% by buying a used boat. Yachts, for example, cost as little as $500,000 new and $250,000 for used. The cost will depend on the brand, size, and condition of boat, as well as your location and the buying season.

This broad range is based on a number of factors. Boat costs are affected by the boat’s brand, age, size, new versus used, location, purpose, unique features, trends, and more.

When considering the cost of a boat, it is important to consider your intention and preferences relative to using the boat.

Factors That Effect the Cost of a Boat

When it comes to boat price, it is not a straightforward type of arrangement. Below are some of the factors that can influence how much a boat will sell for.

Brand

A boat’s brand significantly affects its price. There are small, generic boats available for less than $800. These boats are anywhere from six to ten feet in length, mass produced, often suitable for lakes or rivers, and often typically sold at big-box boat stores.

Conversely, there are custom-made, brand-name superyachts that cost millions and millions of dollars. Google “Bass Pro Shop Prowler” and then Google “superyacht price.” You’ll find that the difference is staggering.

Style

Just as with vehicles, the style of a boat dramatically impacts the purchase price. For a boat that is very bare bones with nothing custom added to it, you will get the lowest prices.

As you become more discriminating and, well, fussy about the style, certainly the cost is going to increase.

Unlike fashion, where good style can be found at lower prices, boat style and cost are often directly related. Expect to pay a premium for a higher-style boat than for a boat lacking in flair and elegance.

Size

The size of a boat can be one of the biggest factors in terms of price. Know this – if you think you are going to need a bigger boat, be prepared to bring out the bigger bucks.

Smaller boats (boat like fishing boats, paddle boats, and day sailers) are found in the 6’ to 12’ range and those types of boats are going to be much more budget-friendly than anything longer than that.

At about 12 feet in length, boat costs start to jump quickly. If you’re looking at power boats over sail boats, you can anticipate that a bigger length means a bigger engine (and a bigger fuel bill). Size is a major driver in the value of a boat.

Most folks start with a smaller boat and then, as their familiarity with it and cashflow allow, it’s typical to move up in size to a larger craft.

New

It’s no secret that, typically, boats depreciate and that happens quickly. Yes, there are exceptions (with antique or historic vessels often fetching staggering sums), but you’ll find that, comparing apples to apples (brand, size, features), you will pay far more for a new boat than you will for a used one.

Mother nature is hard on watercraft, and people can be less than thorough and responsible in their care of a boat.

This means that boats, unless well-tended and coddled, weather and age fast, compromising their appearance, challenging their functionality, and sometimes damaging their safety and seaworthiness.

Because there are so many things that can go wrong on a boat, the peace of mind that comes with buying a new boat also comes with a bigger cash outlay.

Used

Used boats, though purchased with some level of risk just like with used cars, fit many first-time boat buyers needs and wallets.

Whether working with a boat broker/salesperson or finding a used boat on your own via resources like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or Boat Trader.com, you’ll soon realize something. You are going to pay significantly less for the used version of the boat than you would if you walked into a big box boat retailer or showroom to price a shiny new one.

Location

Timing is everything, so they say, and that certainly holds true when it comes to buying a boat. They also say, “Location, location, location.” It equally applies to boat purchases.

If you’re shopping for a boat in an exclusive area like a resort area or a high-end residential area, the prices of boats there will align with hotel costs and mortgages.

Everything will be more expensive. In less affluent and popular destinations, you have a better chance of scoring a deal on a boat, simply due to the economics of the region.

Season

Seasonal factors drive demand too, and demand drives prices. When boat season approaches in the spring, thoughts of cruising the lake with friends and family prompt many folks to start their boat search.

If you can plan, looking for the boat that fits your needs in the offseason is a terrific strategy in terms of getting a good deal. And who wouldn’t want to have a boat whether it is new or used in the driveway Christmas morning, adorned with a big red bow, even if that boat won’t hit the water until April or May!

Features

Whether it’s bare bones or dressed to the nines, the features that are available on different types of boats are as numerous as boats themselves. Comfort is a key feature which will make your purchase less or more uncomfortable.

Go low-end cost and you’ll likely be sitting on a boat with no cushion for your tush and no drink holder for that adult beverage.

Go high end, and you’ll find boats that can practically put themselves in the slip. Before you let all the different boat features dance around in your head like sugarplums, consider making a list of things that are important to you – and hopefully safety will be at the top of that list.

Average Boat Cost By Type

TypeLengthNew CostUsed CostPurposeAirboat16'+$30,000-$100,000$8,000-$50,000Fishing, ecotourismBass Boat16'-25'$20,000-$100,00$10,000-$50,000Bass fishingBowrider Boat< 20'$10,000-$75,000$5,000-$50,000Fishing, crabbing, cruisingCabin Cruiser25'-45'$100,000-$500,000$20,000-$300,000CruisingCatamaran40'-45'$20,000-$500,000+$10,000+SailingCuddy Cabin Boat18'-28'$40,000-$200,000+$20,000-$100,000CruisingFishing Boat (aluminum)16'-25'$25,000+$2,500-$150,000fishingFishing Boat (fiberglass)16'-25'$30,000-$250,000+$5,000-$100,000FishingJon Boat8' - 24'$500 - $5,000$500 - $1,000fishingPontoon Boat18'-25'$10,000-$80,000$5,000-$60,000Fishing, cruising, entertainingSailboat15'-45'$6,000-$500,000$1,000-$300,000Sailing, cruising, leisureSpeedboat18'-30'$30,000-$75,000$15,000-$60,000WatersportsTrawler75'-90'$90,000-$500,000+$40,000+FishingYacht35'-100+'$500,000-$10M+$250,000+Cruising     

Airboat

Airboats, focused on fishing and ecotourism activity, range from $8,000 to $50,000.

Bass Boat

Bass boats, laden with coolers for beverages and freshly caught bass, run as low as $10,000 used and $50,000+ new.

Bowrider

Bowrider boats come in at $10,000-$75,000 when purchased new but used bowriders can be snagged for less than $10K.

Cabin Cruiser

Cabin cruisers, often loaded with comfort-focused features, start between $100K to $500K new. You may be able to find one from a “retired-from-cruising” couple for much less.

Catamaran

Catamarans, depending on their size and condition, may be found for as little as $10,000 used and upwards of $500,000 if they’re new with all the comforts that catamaran cruisers tend to demand.

Cuddy Cabin

Cuddy cabin boats, like catamarans built for cruising, are sometimes a cheaper alternative to catamarans, simply because the catamaran offers two spaces for retreating from others on board.

With the Cuddy cabin, you’re all together so expect to pay less than for a cat, typically in the $40,000-$200,000 new boat range.

Aluminum Fishing Boat

Aluminum fishing boats come at a lower cost to their fiberglass counterparts. For a fishing boat that’s aluminum, you’ll start at about $25,000 new and, fiberglass-wise, figure on $32,000-$35,000 as your starting point.

Jon Boat

Jon boats, spartan as they are, will be one of the lowest priced boats out there. New ones can be found for less than $1,000 and used ones, well, if you scour Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist regularly (and off season), there’s a good chance of finding one for free, just haul it away.

Pontoon Boat

Pontoon boat prices are more wallet-friendly because of their simplicity. You can expect to pay between $10,000 and $80,000 for a pontoon boat, depending on how fancy you want it.

Like Jon boats, used pontoon boats can be found online for giveaway prices, but you may need to give it some TLC before launching it.

Sailboat

Sailboats can be very economical not just from a purchase price (some as low as $5,000 new) but also from an operation angle, if you plan to use the sails and not run the engine.

Keep in mind, though, that high-end, longer sailboats can come with a steep price tag, depending on brand, length, and condition.

Speedboat

Speedboat prices vary a lot depending on the economy due to their consumption of fuel and other factors. Scoring a deal on a speedboat is often a matter of geographic location.

There’s more turnover in the south than in northern states so if you’re willing to travel/transport for a used boat, head south.

Expect to pay between $30,000 and $75,000 for a new one. Sometimes it is possible to pay as much as half of that for a used craft.

Trawler

Trawlers have a romantic appeal but the prices on them are not always so lovable. $90,000 is a typical starting price and they can go as high as $500,000.

Used trawlers are out there and if you’re lucky, you may be able to snag one for less than $30,000.

Yacht

Yacht. The word alone conjures up visions of big dollar signs. Even smaller yachts, in the 30’ range, come at a hefty price tag, around $500,000. Go bigger and the price ratches up quickly.

It’s hard to find decent yachts at a good price, but sometimes you’ll see one for $250,000 or less.

Cost Considerations for Boats

Not only are you expected to pay the outright purchase price of the boat, but you need to keep in the mind the long-term costs too.

Fuel Cost

Powerboat buyers need to take the cost of fuel into consideration as this cost varies depending on the market and the size of the boat’s fuel tank(s).

Fuel-cost factors are driven (pun intended) by where it’s purchased, the type of fuel, the kind of boat being fueled up, what the boat typically cruises at, and just like at the auto pump, the octane rating of the fuel.

Whether you’re fueling your average sized boat (around 25 feet or less) by gas can or at a gas station directly, you’re going to pay the same price for boat gas as you’re paying for your car. While it might seem like gas prices would be the same at a dock or at a marina, think again.

Because of convenience, availability, and seasonal pricing factors, marinas and docks really have you over a barrel and they can charge a premium price for the same gas that you’d be getting at a gas station. Yes, you often pay as much as 50% higher. Ouch.

Repairs and Maintenance

As you’re coming to learn, there’s a wide range on every aspect of boat ownership. This is true of repairs as well.

Bloomberg estimates that the average annual maintenance and repair cost for a boat is 10% of the boat’s value.

Let’s say you own a boat that’s a $1,000 boat. Plan to put $100 toward maintaining it in good condition each year. If your boat is valued at $25,000, repairs and maintenance costs jump to $2,500 annually.

When you’re budgeting for a boat, generally use the 10% rule, recognizing that is an average number and, depending on critical problems or issues, can jump up quickly.

Storage

Whether you plan to store your boat trailered away from home, trailered in your driveway, on a rack at a dry storage marina, or at the dock, count on storage expenses.

From the price which is often calculated per foot per the length of the boat to storage extras, where you put your boat should be a strong factor in your purchase consideration.

Seasoned boat owners offer up the insight that between $50 to $200 per foot is the indoor cost for storage during the off season.

For storage out in the elements, not surprisingly, you should expect it to run you from $20 to $50 per foot.

Transportation

Sometimes the boat of your dreams is in a place nowhere near you, and you’re faced with the decision to ship or not to ship.

Yes, it’s feasible to transport a boat and there are numerous professionals out there that provide this service. The average price to ship is about $1.75 per foot of boat per mile.

Naturally, other factors play into this, but you can expect that it will cost as low as $1.50/per mile (per foot) and up to $4.00. Factors would include things like location, height of boat, and the time of year.

With gas prices that fluctuate depending on the economy, the per mileage fee can also vary year over year.

Launch Fees

For boaters that will be trailering their watercraft and in need of a place to launch it, the cost of boat launch fees is worth noting.

As compared to all the other costs associated with boat ownership, this may be one of the least jarring fees.

 Boat launches can be both private and public, and fees are levied at both private and public, with some locations offering free boat launches as a benefit to residents and visitors.

Because boats that are being launched at a ramp are usually less than 25’, the fee to launch can be estimated to run from free to no more than $15.

At times, if parking is tight in the launch area, there won’t be a fee to launch, but there will be a fee to park your vehicle and trailer for the day.

These parking fees are consistent with launch fees, ranging from free to a few bucks but almost always less than $30/per day, even in more affluent areas.

Taxes

Because they are physical property, just like an automobile, boats are taxable items. State taxes vary in extreme ranging from zero taxes to over 10% of the boat value.

 Currently, about half of the states in the US do not collect property taxes on boats; some local jurisdictions (city/county) also levy property tax on boats.

Aside from property taxes (an annual situation), don’t forget that with the purchase of a boat (new or used), you’ll be paying sales tax on that new asset and, as with car purchases, the percentage of sales tax varies state by state.

Also, be sure to check what boat sales tax is in your state as you begin your boat buying odyssey.   

How Much Do Boater Education Classes Cost?

Like launch fees, the cost of a boated education class isn’t significant as compared to say, repair, maintenance, and storage costs; however, these classes are usually worth their nominal cost.

In terms or preparing and/or reminding the boater about safety matters, rules of the road, and general boat education, it’s a small investment with great value.

Online and in-person classes are available for free to several thousand dollars. The more expensive courses usually involve multi-day, on-the-water, hands-on learning on a boat owned by the school or, in some cases, on your very own boat.

Whether it’s the Boat US Foundation, Safe Boating America, US Coast Guard Auxiliary, US Sailing, or US Power Squadron, expect to see course fees between $25 and $2,500.

What is the Cost for a Boating License?

Your car has a license plate, and your boat will have a license (also known as a registration) that identifies the boat with numbers on its bow (not an aluminum plate on the bumper).

The process by which one gets a license/registration differs depending on what state you and the boat are located.

Some states have a fee in the $20 range, and a few can run as high as $200+, mostly impacted by the length of the craft, type/purpose of the vessel (recreational vs commercial).

The number of years for which the registration is valid also influences the cost.

How Much is Boat Insurance?

Insurance can be the eighth wonder of the world if you have it, and the right amount of coverage, when bad things happen.

Given a boat’s age, type, purpose, and size, the annual coverage for a watercraft can be from $200 to $500. For very expensive, exclusive boats, the insurance rates will be considerably higher.

 Because of the inherent risks that come with boats and water, you are advised to have solid boat insurance coverage.

The American Boating Association (ABA) noted, for 2019, a total of 4,168 boating accidents with over 600 fatalities, thousands of injuries, and $50M+ in property damage claims.

Make sure that boat is insured before you hook the trailer up to your cart. A good way to determine the insurance cost is to look at any one of the many boat-insurance calculators available online.

How Much Does It Cost to Dock Your Boat at a Marina?

If you have visions of spending the night on your boat and saving hotel room rates, keep in mind that if you want to be dockside (and not on a mooring buoy), you’ll be paying a transient docking fee which like other factors is often based on the length of the boat.

Again, it’s a case of location, location, location (and amenities like power, shower, restaurants, etc.) so the swankier the location, the more dock fees will cost you.

Expect to start at a minimum of $2 per foot to upwards of $12 per foot. At $12 per foot, you’re likely to have a pretty spectacular set up, but if you’re boat is 30’, maybe a $420/night hotel room is a better buy.

At least you’ll be guaranteed of a spacious and hot tub soak at the hotel!

What is the Total Cost to Own a Boat?

A recent LendingTree study noted that, given the annual costs of fuel, repairs/maintenance, storage, and insurance, the total cost of being a boat owner might run twice the amount you paid to buy the boat.

In their example of a $15,000 boat, the final cost with all the above noted expenses could come very close to double the $15K… yes, a whopping $30,000.

A boat purchase isn’t something to decide capriciously. Given the great times and marvelous memories that being a boat owner can offer family and friends, a boat can provide solid “ROE” or Return on Emotions.

Being informed and educated about all the costs of boat ownership can certainly help you stay financially afloat.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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