Boat ownership doesn’t have to be a far fetched dream but something that is achievable to more people, even those on smaller budgets.
In this article, we’ll break down the common costs associated with owning a vessel. Keep in mind that these costs are averages and can vary massively based on the boat condition, size, experience etc.
If you are interested in living full time onboard, you can check out our monthly breakdown of the costs of living onboard a sailboat and the costs of living onboard a houseboat full time. (it’s great to compare what your current monthly expenses are versus living onboard)
You can also check out our cost of owning a pontoon if you're in the market for one of those.
Most of you reading this are looking for the costs of owning a boat that you use for recreational use so let’s get into the breakdown.
If you’re in a rush and just want the breakdown:
Upfront Costs of Boat Ownership
Price of Boat
First and foremost, the most obvious cost is the actual expense of buying the boat itself. This cost will vary massively from $2,000 on the low end to well over $100k for a more luxurious vessel.
With boat finance options, you can pick up a boat relatively quickly (assuming you have good credit of course) If you are wondering where you can find a good deal, check out our great places to find second-hand boats guide for tips.
You might find an awesome deal in some of those places listed. But the price you see the vessel for sale might not be the final price. Extra expenses to keep in mind include:
- Marine Surveyor Fee: ($500 - $1,000)
- Mechanical Inspection ($150 - $300)
- Towing the boat to the water ($400)
Now if the boat is already in the water or you have a boat trailer, then this cost can be removed. However, the larger the size of the boat, the more expensive this will get so keep that in mind too.
For mechanical inspections, typically, you’ll want to take the boat out of the water to make sure there isn’t any hull or engine/propeller damage hiding below.
For first time boat buyers, check out our buying a boat guide for useful tips on what to expect. But before you even see the for sale price, account for the above expenses too and add them onto the price.
Obviously, if you’re experienced, these costs will be less as you’ll know what you’re looking for and won’t need to hire certain people but for most people, these are costs to add on.
Boat Trailer Costs for Towing
Another upfront expense you’ll need to consider is towing costs. If you buy a standard recreational boat, e.g. a pontoon, you’ll need a trailer to move the boat to and from the water.
Towing costs can be divided into:
- Cost of trailer
- Trailer maintenance
Depending on the size of your boat, the cost of the trailers can range from $1,200 - $6,000.
These are also one off costs to consider. If you plan on hiring someone to tow the boat for you, this can add up quite quickly too, with a boat towing company typically charging $400 per tow.
If you need help, you can read our towing a pontoon boat guide for tips on doing it safely as a beginner.
Trailer maintenance is another expense but this is usually minimal, around $200 - $300 per year at most. (assuming the trailer you buy is in good condition) Rollers and tyres are the biggest cost for trailer maintenance.
Boating Education Fees
Another upfront cost is the boating education fees. These fees are applied to first time boat owners with no experience operating a watercraft before.
You’ll need to know the basics of using a boat and safety regulations and procedures. Typically, boating education costs can be divided into:
- Online Boating Courses
- VHF Course
- Boat Safety Course
You can find online courses for about $100 plus a VHF course is usually between $50 - $100. If the boat you plan on operating is larger, you’ll need additional education but for the basics, you’ll need to do the above courses.
You can simply contact your local marina and they’ll put you in touch with some local schools or courses you can do.
Boat Inspection/Marine Surveyor Cost
For those that don’t know, a marine surveyor is an expert who can check your boat for potential problems. This is a really important step especially for first time buyers as a marine surveyor will know the problems that aren’t seen to the naked eye.
They’ll also help protect you from nightmare scenarios down the line. Typically, a marine surveyor costs $15 - $25 per boat foot. This is an optional cost but one you should consider because of the peace of mind.
Boating Gear Costs
Before you own a boat, you’ll need to ensure you have some boating gear and accessories. You’ll need things like boating life jackets to ensure safety standards are met and you’re safe onboard.
You can pick up life jackets between $60 - $100. Other boating gear you might need is a wet weather marine jacket incase you end up out on the water and it starts raining.
Finally, a pair of boating sunglasses could be great for protecting those eyes when out on the waters. Obviously, these are optional costs but the life jackets are not. You should always wear a life jacket for safety, especially if you have children onboard too.
Other optional boating gear costs could be snorkeling gear, fishing gear, swimming gear etc. if you enjoy watersports or want to kick back and enjoy a peaceful fishing trip.
Ongoing Costs of Boat Ownership
Next up is the list of ongoing costs when owning a boat. These costs again will vary from one person to the next and a big influence on the ongoing costs will be the condition, type and price of the boat you purchase.
Something we all have to factor in for boat ownership is the ongoing cost of fuel. Factors influencing the amount of money you spend on fuel is how often you use the vessel and the power of the boat.
Obviously, a sailboat will use less fuel but for recreational boaters looking to take a boat out on the water a few times a month, it’ll cost you $100 - $400 on average.
Boat Insurance Costs
Again, this is a variable cost and will depend on a number of factors including:
- Size of Boat
- Value of Boat
- Type of Boat
- Experience Boating/Sailing
- Location boat is mainly used
You can find boat insurance for as little as $400 per year or some more expensive boat insurance costs $300 per month. You can read the boat insurance state requirements (if you’re in the U.S.) for more information on all things marine insurance.
To get an accurate idea of insurance costs, contact the insurance companies for quotes and shop around as these quotes can vary massively.
There are a number of ways you can store your boat. If you need tips, check out our boat storage during the winter guide for some help.
Mooring at a dock costs
Prices quoted for moorage are in dollars per foot of your boat size. So typically an average 20 ft boat will cost around $375 per month to store. (assuming a $15 per foot cost)
At Anchor Storage Costs
If you decide to leave the boat at anchor, this is usually free but you’ll need to have a spare boat like a dinghy to travel to the boat at anchor. If this is your plan, you can check out some great boat anchors to use to ensure your boat is in the same place you left it!
On A Trailer Costs
If you have plenty of space at your home or you have a garage, you can store your boat on a trailer. This is free and is the preferred option of first time boat owners.
If you plan on storing the boat in a marina, this can be an expensive option to choose but you’ll generally have better facilities nearby to perform maintenance.
It’s easier to pump out your boat in a marina and keep it clean. Marinas charge per foot of boat size usually between $15 - $25.
Boat Maintenance Costs
Boat maintenance is another ongoing cost of ownership. The cost will depend on the condition of your boat but you’ll have ongoing costs like cleaning the boat and making sure the engine, plumbing and electrics are all fully functional.
As a new boat owner, if you don’t know what you’re doing, these maintenance costs can add up very fast and be very expensive! If you treat the boat well, you should be fine but nasty surprises do arise. We estimate the average cost of $200 per month on maintenance.
Typically, you will spend most of the maintenance costs in the winter when boats are generally used less. If you need to estimate based on your own boat, it is about 5 - 10 % of the boat price on average per year cost of maintenance.
Boat Ownership Expense Summary
So there you have it. These are all average costs and your individual circumstances might be drastically different. If you plan on doing the maintenance yourself and storing the boat on your own property, you will obviously save a lot more money than having it at a marina.
Probably your largest costs will be:
- Ongoing Maintenance
- Storage Costs (if not on your own property)
The best way to look at buying a boat is comparing it to owning a car. Boat ownership can be expensive, especially if you are constantly purchasing boat parts or using it a lot.
Hopefully, you get an idea of the costs associated with ownership and are one step closer to buying that dream boat.