The Expenses Associated with Owning a Boat

If you have previously spent time on a boat owned by a family member or friend, or have experienced the convenience of a boat rental, you might have come to the decision that you want to invest in your own boat. However, determining what type of boat to purchase, its purpose, suitability for you and your family, storage options when not in use, and the financial feasibility can all be challenging questions to answer. To mitigate any uncertainty and ensure a successful boat buying experience, it is crucial to organize and proactively address these queries before making a purchase decision.

While you research, it’s important to also familiarize yourself with the initial expenses, as well as the ongoing costs for maintenance, storage, and usage. With proper preparation, owning your own boat will soon become a reality.

Initial Expenses & Yearly Upkeep

Prior to making a purchase, it is important to consider the initial costs involved. The first step is determining your preferred activities on the water and the type of boat you wish to acquire. You may be interested in a fishing boat for angling, a bowrider for family recreational purposes, a cabin cruiser for overnight stays, a pontoon boat for gatherings, or a ski/wake boat for water sports.

What is the Affordable Boat Size?

After identifying your preferred activities, the next step is to determine the budget for your purchase. The amount you can afford for a boat will help you make decisions on how to proceed with your purchase. It is important to consider your credit rating when financing the purchase, as this is an optional expense. Avoid using essential living funds for the boat.

In addition to the boat’s cost, there are other expenses to take into account when making a purchase:

Boat Trailer Maintenance

Proper maintenance of boat trailers is essential for their longevity and safe use.

In the event that you require a trailer for transportation and storage, it is possible that this could increase the overall cost of your purchase. However, it is worth noting that some dealerships, boat shows, and seasonal dealer sales events may offer the trailer as part of a bundled deal. In such cases, it is advisable to negotiate in order to obtain the best possible price. It is a common practice for dealers to include the trailer in order to seal the deal, especially during seasonal sales events.

When it comes to maintenance, a trailer will also require regular upkeep such as tire and brake maintenance, as well as general maintenance. Additionally, if you are unable to store it on your property while your boat is in the water, you may incur monthly storage fees.

Guide to Towing and Trailering

Insurance for Boats

It is important to have liability coverage and possibly damage coverage, especially if the boat is relatively new. In many cases, lenders will demand comprehensive coverage for a financed purchase. Investing in this type of insurance is a wise decision as it provides protection in the event of an accident or theft, ensuring that your boat is fully covered.

Guide to Boat Insurance

Cost of Storage Options

If you are unable to store your boat at your residence or on your land, you may need to get a cover, a top, or even rent indoor storage. In areas with colder climates, summer and winter storage have different requirements. In colder regions, winter storage usually involves preparing the engine and boat for winter and providing strong coverage to protect against damage from snow, rain, and winter winds.

When it comes to cost, boats that are stored outside are usually wrapped in shrink wrap and it costs around $10-15 per foot. For instance, a 21-foot boat may incur a cost of $200-300 for winter coverage and preparation. On the other hand, storing a boat inside is more expensive as it provides better protection from the elements. Generally, one can expect to pay approximately $50 per foot for inside storage, resulting in a total cost of $1,000 for the winter season for a 21-footer.

The costs for storing a boat during the in-season period vary depending on the location and type of storage. In general, prices for dock space on the water can range from $1,000 to over $5,000 per season. Indoor dry storage is typically more expensive, with prices usually 1-1/2 times higher than in-water dock space. However, many boaters consider it a worthwhile investment to have their boat stored securely inside a building, easily accessible at the dock when needed, and then cleaned and stored again after use.

Storage Options for Boats: What Are the Choices?

The cost of storing a boat can be seen in the image below.

Fees for Marina Usage

Monthly expenses will be accrued if you choose to store your boat at a marina, with the amount varying depending on the type of storage (indoor or outdoor), frequency of use, and additional fees for cleaning and upkeep that may be included by the marina.

Costs of Maintenance

Just like a vehicle, buying a boat also comes with annual maintenance expenses, which can differ depending on the kind of boat, its frequency of use, whether it’s operated in freshwater or saltwater, and whether it was bought new or secondhand.


A brand new boat will have lower maintenance costs compared to a used one, particularly during the initial years. While with cars, there are various expenses such as cleaning, oil changes, tire and brake services, battery replacement, and alignment, a boat has similar engine maintenance costs and cleaning, but also includes hull maintenance, storage, winterizing (if the boat is not used year-round), haul-out (if the boat is not kept in the water year-round), and spring preparations and launching.

The costs associated with these services can vary significantly and are influenced by several factors such as the size of the boat and engine, the location, whether the water is fresh or salt, and the type of storage (indoor or outdoor, covered or on a rack). Additionally, the expenses tend to rise as the boat and engine size increases. For instance, servicing and winterizing a 150 horsepower four-stroke outboard engine could cost around $250, while cleaning and winterizing the boat may require an additional $250.

It is important to consider that utilizing the boat in fresh water can significantly reduce the expenses for maintenance and cleaning. In contrast, saltwater is known to be more damaging to both the boat and its engine compared to freshwater.

Guide for Maintaining Your Boat

essential boating gear and supplies

Accessories and Equipment

When buying a boat, it is important to always consider the necessary safety equipment, such as life jackets, paddles, horn, and signal flares. It is not necessary to purchase all additional accessories at once; a recommended approach is to gradually add new accessories or upgrades each spring and fall, such as stereos, lighting, and watersports towing equipment. By spending wisely, you can fully enjoy your boat and all the summer activities it offers.

Safety Equipment and Checklist for Boats

Licenses for Boating and Education

In order to operate a boat, it is typically mandatory for individuals to complete a boaters’ safety course and obtain an operator’s license. For further information on obtaining a boating license, please visit How to Get a Boating License. Additionally, feel free to browse through our Education & Training Guide for additional resources.

For a better understanding of the complete purchasing procedure, including boat evaluations and costs, and financing options, make sure to peruse:

  • A Guide to Buying the Right Boat for Recreational Boating
  • Calculate Your Boat Loan
  • Negotiating Your Boat Purchase: Understanding Boat Values and Prices
  • A Comprehensive Guide for Boat Buyers
  • Affordable Boat Financing: Important Information for Boat Buyers

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