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Buying a boat for the first time is a big decision. Even a small fishing boat becomes a commitment when you start taking into account, mooring or storage, repairs and dry-docking, and where and when you will use it.

However, if you are a lover of the water and long for the freedom that having your own boat can provide, the practicalities that come with ownership will not put you off in the least.

After all, buying your first boat really is a life style choice. The fun it provides, whether it be through fishing or racing or just getting out on the blue with family and friends, cannot be beaten.

There is an important step you have to go through first of course, and that’s buying the thing. Mess this up and buy a dud and you will be in for all manner of problems.

That’s where this guide aims to help. You can never do enough research before pulling the trigger on a boat purchase, however ensuring that you have given good mind to the following should prevent any major issues.

Here’s how you buy a boat, the right way.

Step 1: What type of boat to buy

Before you start browsing the websites and boat sales magazines you should really spend time to consider exactly what you want to get out of the boat.

Buying a boat that looks great but isn’t suited to your main needs is just plain silly.

There are in fact 3 types of recreational craft. Boats designed for cruising, those designed for fishing and finally boats best suited to water-sports. (There’s a wide variety of vessels that fall within each of these categories – for a comprehensive list head here).

Let’s take a look at each main type in greater detail.

The Cruiser

You should opt for a cruising boat if you plan on entertaining family and friends in a relaxing manner. You also want the performance and power to get around from location to location with a good amount of speed.

Bowriders are smaller cruising boats that are great for day only usage. If you think you’ll need extra cabin space for sleeping facilities you may well be in the market for a small motoryacht. This of course will increase the price significantly.

Fishing boats

Fishing boats range from small builds with a low powered outboard motor, to larger vessels with open cockpits that allow greater deck space. The priority is space for fishing. This means seating and entertaining areas are kept to a bare minimum.

Top end fishing boats will have cabin space so extended trips with overnighting can be facilitated.

Watersports boats

Finally you have boats designed for watersports such waterskiing, wakeboarding and other water based fun that requires high speeds and towing capabilities.

Bowrider sportboats, jet boat, or the basic waterski boat are the ones to look out for here. They prioritize power over everything else. Most boats of this type will have an open cockpit, deck space for getting in and out of the water and limited seating, but little else.

Step 2: A new or used boat?

Whether you buy a new or used boat is very dependent on your budget and in some ways the type of boat you wish to buy.

The new boat

The pros of buying a new boat are pretty self explanatory. The boat is new and will not have any problems. You will have dealer ad warranty support and there will not be any hidden issues that may crop up soon after the purchase, (and if there is you should be covered anyway).

The downside of course is the price. A new boat is a lot more expensive than the same model boat just a handful of years old.

The used boat

Despite the fact a used boat costs you less you are taking on more of a gamble. It is difficult to know the quality of the boat if the service history and maintenance records have not been kept.

In fact, when purchasing a used boat it is important that you utilise the services of a marine surveyor.

A survey will reveal any hidden issues with the vessel as well as uncover incidents or accidents that may have occurred in the past.

(Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) and the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) have a list of reputable professionals you call upon to help you with this).

Step 3: Make and Model of Boat

Narrowing down the type of boat you wish to buy and whether it will be new or used is only half the battle.

Deciding on the actual make and model of boat is where the headache begins. There are so many variables, and what almost feels like an unlimited choice of vessels out there.

So how do you begin to choose?

The best starting point is to study the specifications, along with brand reputation and of course all stick to those that fall within your set budget.

Here are some of the things you should consider:

The Draft

What is the draft of your chosen vessel? Will it work with the depth of water you plan to sail in? A large boat with significant draft may well be a non starter for you, meaning you can narrow down your search to avoid them. Work this out before you start looking.

Overall Weight

What size craft are you going for? If you opt for a heavier boat, does it have the engine capacity to provide the speed and performance you need?

The Beam

This is important if you plan on using a trailer to move your boat regularly. Anything 8′ 6” and under can be trailered without a special permit. Over this and your transportation becomes more of a headache.

Engine and Speed

Check fuel consumption and range to make sure that the boat fits in with your requirements. Efficiency is a big deal with the price of fuel these days. How many hours as the boat engine clocked up? You do not want to be forking out for expensive engine repairs so soon after buying your so called ‘dream machine’.

Build quality

Overall quality is a big deal. There’s a reason some brands have a better reputation than others (and often the price tag to match). Higher quality fittings and finish may cost you in the short term, however the longevity and potential resale value all have to be considered.

If the components of the vessel are not up to scratch, you will be reaching into your pocket to pay for repairs quicker than you expect. This could also mean time out of the water, which is an awful impediment on the fun that you plan to have.

On-board Equipment

What equipment does the boat you wish to buy have? Is everything in place ready for you to set sail, or will you be spending more money to have everything sea worthy?

Check what’s offered against the competition as this can help sway the vote if you remain undecided between two potential choices.

Do your research. Read reviews to get an insight into what’s available and most importantly of all, when you have narrowed your options to a handful of potential candidates, make sure you get to see the boat before you buy.

You need to see the way she looks and feels in the flesh so to speak. Only then can you really decide whether the boat is right for you.


When looking for boats for sale, the internet is your best option. Websites such Boat Trader, Boat Buys and even Ebay have thousands of second hand boats for sale from all over the US.

Step 5: Making the deal

Handy over the money to buy your boat can come through either a lump sum payment in full, or through the services of a financing loan.

If you do decide to purchase on a loan based agreement, make sure you conduct this via a reputable marine lender. (They will also expect full insurance to be in place as part of the loan requirements).

The purchase price is usually negotiable on second boats, especially if brokers are involved (your broker should aim to get the best deal for you; if money can be knocked down for any reason this is something they should highlight for you).

The purchase may also be tax-deductible, especially if the boat can qualify as a ‘second home’. This is something you should take up with your accountant during the research stages of your purchase.

Once the boat is legally in your possession you will need to register it with your State. However, your broker etc should be able to assist you with these administrative issues.

There is of course mooring, your license and full insurance factors to take into account, but we don’t want to get in the way of your enjoyment with such additional chatter.

The fact is you have just gone out and bought a boat. Good work. Now it’s time to enjoy it.