Sailboat sailing the sea

The Complete Guide to Buying a Boat

Updated December 2, 2018 . AmFam Team

The adventure and freedom of the open water is calling you — and you can’t wait to buy your first boat and get out there. But before you make start your search, check out our tips for making a safe, smart and money-savvy purchase.

If you yearn for the adventure of the open water and live for summer days spent on the lake, owning a boat might be the key to living out your nautical dreams. Ask any boat owner — there are few things better than being able to get out on the water whenever you’d like.

Buying a boat is a big decision, and making a purchase without consulting a guide to buying a boat can deprive you of the boating joy you crave and hurt financially, too. With the right research, you can make an informed decision that’ll pay off for years to come.

Check out our tips for empowering yourself to take on all aspects of boat ownership.

Know How Much You Can Spend on a Boat

The first step of any big financial purchase, no matter if it’s a house, boat or car, is setting your spending limit. Having a budget in place can help, but it’s more than paying your bills and seeing how much you’ve got left in your bank account after a few months. Here’s what you need to consider when you’re figuring out how much you can spend:

Should you buy a new or used boat?

The allure of a new boat is undeniable. It’s never had any engine troubles, dents or scratches and likely comes with a long warranty. But with those benefits come a higher cost.

So if your budget can’t handle a long-term loan payment, don’t be afraid to peruse boat dealer lots and re-sale websites for a used boat that could satisfy your needs at a much lower cost.

What are the regular maintenance costs?

If you do choose a used boat, you should be prepared to fork over more cash for maintenance costs over the course of the boat’s lifetime. After all, it’s been on the water a bit and handled by at least one other owner.

But regardless if your boat is new or used, be ready to perform and pay for regular maintenance. It may also be helpful to check out a routine boating season checklist to make yourself aware of the types of maintenance and upkeep you’ll be looking at.

Where will you store your boat when you’re not using it?

Will you buy or rent a boat slip? Do you have room in your garage? Does your neighborhood allow residents to park it in their driveway or lawn?

If keeping your boat at your home isn’t an option, research boat slips, dry rack boat storage and other storage options and their costs.

Consider your ease of access to your boat, too — there are few things worse than having to wait or being unable to get your boat in the water when you want to.

How will you transport your boat?

You’ve got to have a way to get your boat to the water. And even if you’ve got a boat slip, you’ll still need a way to move it into storage before winter hits. Having a boat trailer and a vehicle that can safely pull that trailer before you ever buy the boat are key to your river or lake time enjoyment, so be sure to research affordable options at dealerships and online classifieds.

What other things should you consider?

In comparison to all the equipment and maintenance costs, things like getting your boater’s license, registration and insurance should still factor into your decision. Without any of these, you can be subject to hefty fines from the authorities or expensive repair costs. And don’t forget to talk with your American Family Insurance agent about getting the right insurance coverage for your new boat before you hit the water.

Know What You’re Going to Use Your Boat For

From bass fishing to fun family days on the lake, there are so many different ways to use your boat. And, although an eight-seat pontoon boat may be great for entertaining friends, it’s not such a popular boat for the serious fisherman. Decide now what the primary use of your boat will be and narrow down the type of boat that may be right for you.


If you need a boat just to get out on the water and fish, you can cross a wide variety of powerboats off your list — all that extra horsepower (and money) would go to waste if you just need some space to move around, a place for your tackle and a live well. Granted, you can find plenty of fishing boats with tons of power and features, but consider your budget and needs first before you dive into a super expensive purchase.


Now we’re talking power! If you’re a watersports enthusiast, you’ll need something with a mightier engine, the ability to tow at least one wakeboarder, skier or tuber and room for everyone else to sit, watch, spot and help the rider(s) when necessary.

Casual cruising

If you just want a boat to get out on the water, relax and spend time with your loved ones, you can find yourself in a better financial position since you won’t need all the aforementioned features that fishing and watersports require. Even more good news — you can use your savings on other cool and helpful boat features, like a GPS system, comfortable seating and more advanced safety gear.

Study Up on Safety and Prepare for the Unexpected

Owning and operating a boat is a big responsibility, and it’s essential that you keep safety top-of-mind. Here’s what you can use to make sure you’re doing your duty as a responsible boat owner:

Know your state’s boating laws

In your state or any state where you’ll be putting your boat in the water, make sure you know the local laws. Requirements vary by state for things like necessary safety gear on board, whether a boating-specific license is required and more. Make sure you and your passengers have brushed up on local boating law basics before you hit the water.

Take boater’s safety courses

No matter if it’s required by your state or not, ensure that you’ve got the know-how to keep yourself and your passengers safe by taking a boater’s safety course. Check your state’s natural resources department for more information on such courses.

Get boat insurance

While not all states require boat insurance, you can gain peace of mind and protection from the unexpected when you add this optional coverage to your policy. Keeping marine insurance active year-round also keeps you financially protected in case of off-season boat theft.

Your American Family agent is your expert on all things insurance, and they’re happy to help you add boat insurance to your policy. Get in touch with them today for a boat insurance quote and make your dreams of boat ownership a reality.

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