How To Buy A Boat

Choosing Type Of Boat To Buy | Picking Boat Financing OptionsBuying New vs Used Boats | Where To Buy Boats | Boat License Requirements To ConsiderCosts Of Owning A Boat

Buying a boat or any vessel can be exciting. Planning boating trips on the water with friends or family is a lot of fun afterall.

But how do you actually buy a boat? And what will it cost you? 

We'll show you exactly how to purchase a boat and get the best deals possible. We'll also show you some of the mistakes people make when buying boats so you don't have to make the same errors.

This guide applies to people seeking to buy all types of vessels including:

  • Pontoon Boats
  • Yachts
  • Small Motorboats
  • Large Motorboats
  • Speed Boats
  • Jet Skis
  • Cruise Liners
  • Pathfinder boats

These are just some of the most popular boats on the market but the lessons you'll learn here will apply to all boat types. The main factors determining how to buy a boat will be your budget, whether you want to buy a new or used boat, location of the vessel, the size etc.

Before we get started, you may find our used boat buying checklist useful to download if you plan on buying a boat in the near future.

In understanding how to buy a boat, we'll cover: 

  • Choosing the right boat for your specific needs
  • Researching Information on Boat Financing
  • Picking whether you want to buy a new or used boat
  • Where to find boats for sale
  • Boat license requirements
  • Cost of boat ownership (boat insurance, taxes, registration etc)
  • Ensuring the boat you purchase is fully certified and legally compliant
  • Using a marine surveyor to assist with buying a boat

This doesn't have to be a lot of work but when making a big purchase like this, it's important to get it right.

Choosing The Right Type Of Boat To Buy

best boat to buy

Before making any decision, you'll obviously need to find the ideal type of boat you want to buy.

Whether you want a Pathfinder boat or want to choose from a list of nice and spacious sailboats , you'll need to understand the pros and cons of each type of vessel.

There are boats for all types of activities and choosing the ideal boat is unique to your specific needs.  You can have a family fun speed boat to take out on the waters and enjoy watersports or you might prefer to choose between some great liveaboard boats.

You can also find some smaller sailing dinghies that are great fun too.

Again, choosing a boat will depend on what you want to do. You're not going to want a massive yacht if you just want to have fun on the water with a smaller and more nimble boat.

Some important factors to consider when deciding the type of boat you want to buy include: 

  • Sizing: How big is the boat, maybe you want a vessel that'll hold more people
  • Costs: Different boats cost various prices
  • Location: Whether your boat will remain in the water at all times or gets stored in a garage when not used.

So this step is important! Make sure you choose something that will cater to you and your families needs.

Understanding Your Boat Financing Options

boat financing

Depending on the boat you want to buy and your current financial situation, you might want to get boat financing to help pay for your new boat.

Now, obtaining a boat loan is similar to getting any type of loan in that you'll need:

  1. Good Credit Rating
  2. Debt:Income Ratio
  3. Net Worth
  4. Job Stability
  5. Income

You'll also have to provide personal financial statements and other legal mandatory documentation in order to be approved.

Where can you get a boat loan?

The majority of the major banks in the USA, Canada, UK, etc. Think Chase Bank, Lloyd's of London, Suntrust etc. To calculate repayments, you can use a boat loan calculator to assess.

Choosing Between Buying New or Used Boat

Next is you'll want to decide whether you plan to buy a brand new boat or a used boat. This will obviously depend on your budget

There are plenty of benefits when buying a new or used boat but there are things to consider also.

A new boat will usually come with a warranty and you'll have added peace of mind that things won't break. If they do, you're covered of course.

The con with new boats is the cost. You'll spend substantially more in most cases for the luxury of a new boat. The other con is depreciation. As soon as your boat hits the water, it's worth substantially less.

Next up are the options of used boats. These boats are usually much cheaper but you'll need to have some knowledge of boating and general marine information before buying a used boat.

You won't want to buy a bad used boat after all.

You can hire a marine surveyor to assist with this but you'll need to watch out for the condition of items like the boat engine, interior, exterior and general overall health of the boat before purchasing.

Where To Buy New & Used Boats

There are many different places you can buy new or used boats. And depending on the make and model of boat you're interested in, you might be spoiled for choice.

Buying a new boat

First up, if you plan on buying a brand new boat, you have a number of options. You can purchase through a boat dealership.

To be safe, ensure the dealerships are fully certified. Usually, they'll have a certified badge on their new boats and on their door/windows of their shops.

The badge looks something like this: 

marine industry certified dealer

Alternatively, you can go straight to the manufacturer in some instances and they'll build a custom spec boat for you.

A simple google search for the brand you want should suffice but in most instances, you'll have to buy from a boat dealership.

Buying A Used Boat

Your other option is to buy a used boat. You can save a lot of money doing it this way but you'll need to know what you're doing or hire someone that does know what they are doing.

Typically, you'll find used boats for sale on sites like,, Yachtworld etc.

how to buy used boat

Alternatively, you can find used boats for sale at your local marina, Craigslist or simply by word of mouth. When buying a boat, especially a used boat, it's best to get a marine surveyor to come along.

They'll know every detail of the boats and know what to look out for. If you are a first time buyer, we'd recommend hiring one to help with this.

You wouldn't want any nasty surprises after purchasing it.

You can also check out our best places to buy used boats guide for some ideas on where you can find cheap second-hand boats at affordable prices.

Boat License Requirements

boat license
photo: boaterexam

While you may not need a boating license per-se, some states may require you to have a boating education card.

Now, please be aware that every state and country have different boat license requirements so make sure you are aware of them for your area.

There would be no point buying a boat if you can't use it. You can read our boat licensing requirements for Florida if you are planning on boating there.

Alternatively, you can check out boat licensing requirements by state to see what you need in your state.

Cost Of Owning A Boat

cost of owning boat

There are ongoing boat ownership costs you'll need to consider when buying any boat. Now, this will vary massively depending on many factors including location, size of boat, where it's stored, fuel costs etc.

You'll also need to take into consideration the cost for boat insurance, taxes and boat registration fees. If you're planning on buying a houseboat, you can check out our cost to live on a houseboat article for an idea on yearly costs.

Alternatively, you can check our costs to live onboard a sailboat for an idea on the living expenses onboard a sailing vessel.

Boat Insurance fees and registration fees vary from country to country. If you plan on having your boat in a marina at all times it isn't being used, you'll also have to factor in common marina fees too.

Boat fuel is another important ongoing cost to factor in too. If you buy a used boat, you'll also need to add in costs of repair.

These costs vary massively but the fees can add up to well over $2,000 + per year for just fuel fees and the costs of marinas can cost upwards of $600 per month.

If you go with a boat financing option, you'll also need to consider the cost of paying the loan too!

Final Thoughts...

Even with these costs taken into account, owning a boat can be a lot of fun and enjoyment. Enjoy weekend boating trips with friends or family will make up for the costs in most cases.

You'll also get to explore some amazing places you may not be able to see on land.  You can look at our best boats under $50k to find budget friendly options.

If you have a bit more of a budget, you can check out our best boats under $100k for even more ideas on vessels available.

But as always, when buying any boat, be it new or used, ensure you know what you are buying. Hire a marine surveyor or take it for a sea test to ensure all is working the way it should.

The marine surveyor will also ensure you don't overspend on a boat so you could safe thousands of dollars. And be very aware of scams, especially from places like Craigslist where it's all too common.

So with that being said, we hope you find the perfect boat to buy and enjoy many boating trips on your new vessel!