Photo credit: Fabian Blank
“How much does a boat cost to own?” you ask. Well, it depends.
How much does a boat cost to own? It really depends. Boats will absorb as much money as you throw at them. Helipad anyone? On the cheap end we’ve heard of people getting a boat for $1.5K or even free (it’s not uncommon for sellers to give away old boats they can’t sell – read how to find cheap boast on Craigslist), storing it in on a trailer in their yard, and spending as little as $50 a month in maintenance. But this is by no means average.
By asking yourself a few important questions you can quickly get a rough estimate of cost. Below is a list of considerations to help you suss out how much it’s going to cost to buy and own your first boat. The number one mistakes that new boat buyers make is only considering the upfront costs of buying a boat and not budgeting for the cost of ongoing ownership. We’ll walk you through both the upfront costs of purchasing and the ongoing cost of owning a boat. You can download our FREE Boat Cost calculator at the end of this post and do your own budgeting.
Upfront costs of buying a boat
Boat prices vary greatly by type of boat, make and model, and age and condition. As you narrow down what type of boat you’ll want to do some research on the average price for that make, model, and year.
Sales taxes on new and used boats vary by state and municipality. You’ll want to research the tax regulations in your local area.
Survey and inspection
A marine surveyor is an accredited professional who will inspect your would-be boat for potential problems that you might miss (especially as a first-time buyer). They will also provide you with a valuation. While surveys are an optional step in the boat buying process, most insurance companies will require that a recent survey be completed before underwriting the vessel for the first time. In general marine surveyors charge $16-20 per foot of boat length (e.g. a 20 foot boat would cost $400 to inspect). Ask around for recommendations for a good surveyor in your area.
Title and lien search
Doing a title search and ensuring a boat is free of liens can be an involved process and differs by state. There may be some small cost associated with hiring third party search services.
See a great deal on a boat in a neighboring state? Transporting boats by land can be an expensive business, costing thousands of dollars and sometimes requiring special licenses and permits. Get a quote from a delivery service before you seal the deal.
License or Registration
Once you’ve bought the boat you’ll be required to register or license it. Costs for this vary by state but can be significant (e.g. in Canada federal boat registration costs $250).
Example) Let’s assume we buy a 24-foot sailboat for $20,000. When you add 12% sales taxes ($2,400), a marine survey ($480) and licensing cost ($250) that equals total upfront purchasing costs of $22,880. See our FREE Boat Cost Calculator at the end of this post for the full breakdown.
Ongoing cost of owning a boat
Where will you store your boat? In general, you have three options:
- $$$ Moored at a dock, If you decide to moor your boat at a dock, this will be your number one ongoing cost of boat ownership. Moorage is often quoted in dollars per foot. So if moorage costs $14/foot/month a 28 Ft boat will cost you $4.7K per year, while a 40 ft boat will be $6.7K a year – that’s a $2K difference! You may decide to haul your boat out of water and store it in a boat yard (usually at a discounted price) but you’ll also incur the cost of the haul-out cost of the travel-lift ($300-1000). For those interested in catamarans and trimarans, note moorage costs often double as you take up two slips because of your wide beam.
- $$ On a mooring ball or at anchor. This usually costs any where from $200 a month to free but you’ll need a dinghy to access your boat and it’s less secure than having your boat parked at the dock.
- $ On a trailer. If you have the luxury of a big yard or driveway, you might want to consider a trailerable boat which you can park for free at home.
Operating costs can vary drastically and depend on how much fuel you use. A day of boating may cost a sailor nothing, but can cost a powerboater $300 at the gas bar. The bigger the engine and longer the running time, the more expensive it is.
Regular maintenance, repairs, and upgrades
Will you be doing regular maintenance or making major repairs and upgrades? Will you be doing the work yourself or hiring someone?
Some estimate that regular maintenance should cost approximately 10% of your boat’s purchase price every year. This material cost includes things like:
- Painting the bottom of your boat every second season
- Changing your sacrificial anodes or zincs
- Rebedding deck fittings with new sealant
- Buying antifreeze and oil for the engine
- Replacing worn out lines
- Cleaning, waxing and buffing
- Replacing spark plugs
In our experience this 10% rule seems fairly accurate if you’re buying a boat that is in good condition at the outset. If your boat requires major upgrades your costs will be a lot higher.
Repairs and upgrades
Making significant repairs or upgrades can quickly wrack up a hefty bill (even if you’re doing the work yourself). For example here are some estimates:
- Upgrading your chart plotter or other marine electronics ($1K+ every 3-5 years)
- Replacing batteries ($1K+ every 5-7 years)
- Replacing or overhauling the engine ($3K+ every 10-30 years)
- Adding solar panels ($2K)
- Replacing sails ($6K every 5-15 years)
- Replacing standing rigging ($9K every 5-15 years)
- Replacing canvas ($6K ever 5-10 years)
- Replacing the head, plumbing, and pumps ($2K every 5 – 10 years)
Beware: boat parts cost more than car parts
When we bought our 35 footer, which required major upgrades in pretty well every department, we drastically underestimated what it would cost to fix her up. We didn’t take into account how marine products all cost far more than their non-marine equivalents. For example a steel screw might cost 5 cents, whereas a stainless steel marine screw would cost 35 cents. The reason for this is that the marine environment is so harsh, a regular screw would quickly rust out in the moist salt environment. It might not seem like a lot of money when it comes to screws but the same 3-5x markup applies to pretty well every marine product (e.g. resins, rope, paint, electronics, hardware, etc.). Most of the time you can’t cut corners and get the non-marine equivalent because the salt-water will destroy it in short order.
Boat insurance costs will vary depending on the size of your boat, what kind of powerboating or sailing you plan on doing, and the value of your boat (as determined by the boat survey). We’ve paid as little as $300 a year for run of the mill cruising insurance and up to $3K a year for offshore insurance. You may even find that your boat is insurable under your home insurance. Your best bet is to contact a broker for an estimate.
Personal property taxes
What? More taxes! That’s right, some states and locals levy an annual tax based on the value of the vessel.
For safety and peace of mind you may want to subscribe to a towing service. BoatUS memberships range from $24-175 USD a year and cover towing, jump-starts, fuel delivery and soft ungroundings.
Total likely cost of owning a boat
Example) We’ve just bought a 24-foot sailboat ($22,880) and now we’re wondering, “How much does a boat cost to own in the first year?” Assuming moorage and winter storage cost are $3,418, that we spend $400 a year on fuel, our annual maintenance plus a couple of small upgrades is $2,500, and annual insurance cost is $300, we will be spending $6,618 a year or roughly $550 a month. Download our FREE Boat Cost calculator below for the full breakdown.
The cost of owning a boat will vary. Spend some time researching the costs that are applicable in your area and for the boat you’re interested in and go from there. Run your budget by someone who’s owned their own boat before and they’ll be able to help you assess how reasonable your estimates are. Hopefully after all that research, you’ll find a boat and a budget that works for you.
FREE Boat Cost Calculator
Friday 26th of May 2017
There is a way around it. It is all about size. Boats do not cost much money ... My 1979 Challenger 24 annual cost is C$1440 for slip(with power), launch, haul and storage at the Midland Bay Sailing Club. Since it is a club we pay an initiation fee upon joining and have to put in 20 work hours per year plus help out at launch and haul. I bet I can find several 22-24 footers for under $5000 in this area or derelict for nothing. I prefer not to trailer a boat since I have a sub-compact car and like the idea of just showing up and going out. I can bike to my boat (downhill) in say, 15 minutes. I make whatever improvements I need, can afford or feel like each year. This year maybe a new stereo. Motor is 1979 and depth sounder early '80s. Love my Origo stove, 1994 and looks new...
Monday 29th of May 2017
Really good points Timmy. Thanks for the great comparable.
Friday 31st of March 2017
We have owned our 33 footer for ten years. The first few years we spent almost ten grand a year on nice marinas and hauling yards. That included the cost of sails, regattas, cruises, and regattas. Plus we paid for the crew's meals. After that, we settled down. Annual costs have trended down to about five grand, much of which is storage. Racing is now double handed! More fun and less expensive.
There is no way around it, boats cost money. So does a summer house or a nice vacation. The benefit is in the use of the boat. Our first two years of ownership were such that we used the boat a lot. In later years we had a couple of 12 day sails per year. Lower operating costs and higher cost per sail.
Saturday 25th of March 2017
My experience may be a bit more typical than Freddie's. Our Alberg 35 lives in a local marina in a rented slip in the summer and a rented spot on the boat yard during the off season. (Too big/expensive to haul 25 miles home each year.) I do all of the maintenance work on her, but I do "sub out" things like canvas work and sails because I just don't have the tools or skills to do them. Between insurance, slip, storage, fuel & operating expenses, regular maintenance and the perpetual upgrades, we run around $4-$5K/year.
Put another way, the annual operating expenses are about the same as owning a car. (This holds true only if the car and the boat are already paid for.)
Monday 27th of March 2017
Thanks for sharing, looking at car costs is a good analogy.
Friday 3rd of March 2017
In my town in New England. if you buy your own mooring equipment and have it installed, it costs about $1200 for a 500lb mooring. After that, you are just paying water use fees every year...in my town of Fairhaven, all the fees like mooring permit, dinghy rack permit, and boat ramp parking permit all ends up being lees than $100 a year...Boat use fee bring it up a little over a $100 but still, it pays to be on a mooring in my little town once you buy your own mooring...my big yearly costs are mainly the launch and haul out which end up being about $500 each time...so about $1000 a year...I do my own work so maintenance I am just paying for supplies...
If you had a trailerable boat though, that haul/launch fee would be non-existent and you could have a place on the water for really cheap.
Saturday 4th of March 2017
That's a really good point. Mooring boys are a really great inexpensive option. Have heard there are many areas where you can even put new ones in for little cost. Thanks for the tip.