When I started on my search for my first boat, a friend of mine (who had owned many boats himself) gave me some great advice: “When purchasing a boat, whatever the boat payment is, times it by two and if you can afford that, then you can afford to own and run a boat.” This was great advice! So basically, if you purchase a boat and your boat payment is $200 per month, you should be able to afford $400 per month to pay for all the things that go with the boat. These expenses include: a summer boat well, winter storage, fuel, insurance, maintenance, unforeseen repairs, etc.
After the first full year of owning my boat – I went back to my friend and thanked him for the great advice, but I also suggested, “if you ever give that advice again – tell them to take the boat payment and times it by three, because that’s what it REALLY costs!”
Since then, I have owned five boats and three wave runners. I’ve been an avid boater since 1996 (18 years) – not just a “fair weather” boater, but a “hardcore” boater every weekend from April 1 to the end of October. I have traveled, by boat, within the Great Lakes area – specifically, Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, in good and bad weather. I even spent three years teaching Safe Boating Classes for the United States Power Squadron in my local area and have had the privilege of being the Fleet Captain at the Detroit Yacht Club from 2009 to 2011. I’ve met and helped many new boaters regarding the state, county and federal boating/safety rules and most importantly the rules of the waterways. The most common question I get from everyone is “What kind of boat should I buy?”
Before you look at Craigslist, Boats.com, BoatTrader.com, YachtWorld.com or even venture out to your local boat dealer – think about these questions first:
- What kind of boating do I want to do (day trips, weekends, overnights)?
- How many people do I think I will have aboard on a regular basis?
- Where will I be doing the majority of my boating (Great Lakes, ocean or an inland lake)?
- New or Used? New boats lose their value much faster than used ones.
- Do I want to use the boat for watersports such as skiing, wake boarding and tubing?
- Am I interested in fishing with this boat? If so, what kind of fishing? What kind of fish?
All of these questions will help you to narrow down the size and type of boat that will best fit your needs. For example, if you’re planning to take weekend trips on the Great Lakes, I would not recommend a boat smaller than a 28 foot cabin cruiser because the lakes can get rough quickly (with waves over 6 feet and winds up to 50 mph gusts – trust me, I have been in the middle of this stuff). You’ll need a boat at least that size to be safe. If you’re planning on staying close to shore for day boating trips or just hanging out on an inland lake, you might want to look at a bow rider or center counsel type boat, under 26 feet in length. If you want to participate in water sports, you might want to research a performance ski boat.
That’s just the beginning. Once you’ve narrowed down the size and style of boat, you’ll need to start thinking about what type of motor you will need/want.
- Inboard/outboard or stern drive
- Jet propelled
These are just a few of the types of motors you can get – all have benefits and disadvantages to them. As I always say, “boating is about giving something up to gain something else.” As an example, you may want an inboard/outboard so you can go into shallow water, but the maintenance on these motors can be more costly than a straight inboard, which cannot go into shallow areas.
The best advice I can give anyone interested in buying a boat is to learn more about yourself and talk with as many people as you can who already own a boat to learn from their mistakes. I see an awful lot of people who get into the “wrong boat” and end up changing or upgrading their boat within two years or staying with something they’re unhappy with. Boating is an expensive hobby and you have to be committed to it to make it worthwhile. Make sure you take the time upfront to research and talk to those with experience, so you can make the best purchase for you!