How Much Is a Boat Actually Going to Cost You? That All Depends…

How Much Is a Boat Actually Going to Cost You? That All Depends…

How much does a boat cost? Well, that depends on what kind of boat we're talking about Is it a pontoon boat, a deck boat, a trawler or a sporty speedboat?

You can buy an inflatable dinghy for about $35 (with tax and paddles included) and then (sort of) call yourself a boat owner.  

You can get a tandem kayak for closer to $900 and enjoy some river travel or fishing.

Most new jet skis cost between six and ten grand.

A used 22-foot sailboat will cost you about $25,000, while a used 118-foot Hatteras yacht will cost you between three and four million bucks (depending on the year and the features).

And a United States Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier costs about $8.5 billion (plus the salaries of the 5,000+ person crew).

The fact is, it's impossible to give a blanket answer to the general question "How much is a boat going to cost?" What you can do, though, is think through the many costs that are universally associated with boat ownership, which includes boat insurance, dock fees, fuel and more. Then, calculate the specifics based on the type of boat in question.

For example, that yacht will use much more fuel than the jet ski, but fuel costs are universal for any boat without paddles, a sail or a nuclear reactor.

Buying a boat is a major investment, so take the time to fully understand how much boat ownership really costs. That means purchase price, annual boat costs and calculating the likely lifetime investment your vessel will require.

Once you know the likely overall cost of owning a boat, you can choose the craft that's right for you and your family. That way, you won't end up forced to sell the boat at a loss a few years down the line or wish you had gone ahead and bought that larger boat you weren't sure you could afford.

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How Much Is a Boat Going to Cost You?

Your Choice of Boat

We're going to assume you're not actually in the market for an inflatable dinghy or for a nuclear-powered super weapon. Instead, we're going to discuss three of the most common types of boats American families own.

Those are the pontoon boat, the outboard motorboat and the inboard motorboat.

The average price for a brand new pontoon boat is around $35,000. That's for the popular 22-foot pontoon boat size that can be seen on lakes and rivers all around America. You can find smaller pontoon boats for less than $20,000. You could easily spend more than $50,000 as well.

A motorboat with outboard motors and no cabin, often called a speedboat or powerboat, can cost anywhere from $20,000 used to many hundreds of thousands of dollars for new models. The high performance models, even secondhand ones, will start around $30,000 or more.

Larger motorboats with inboard motors and cabins are often known as cruisers (these aren't quite large enough to be considered yachts, for the record). These boats will often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even seven figures) if bought new, though many used cruiser motorboats in good condition can be had for less than six figures.

Keep in mind that the final purchase price of your boat is just the beginning. Just get used to it. 

Average Annual Mooring Fees

Once you own a boat, you're gonna need somewhere to put it when you're not out on the water enjoying it. If your boat is small enough to fit on a trailer (or if you have an extremely large trailer), you might be able to keep your boat parked on your property.

If not, you're going to have to pay for dock or harbor space. Depending on the size of your boat and the rates at the local marina, you can expect to pay between a few hundred dollars a month to more than a thousand dollars monthly just for a place to leave your vessel.

The annual mooring range is vast at around $3,000 a year to well over $15,000 or more. You might also want to consider having a boat lift to keep your boat from getting damaged in the water.

Buying a Boat Trailer

For the record, a boat trailer usually costs between $2,000 and $5,000, so if you're vacillating between keeping your boat in the water at a marina or hauling it back and forth from your home, the trailer is the cheaper way to go by far. Of course, it's not necessarily the easier way.

The Price of Winter Boat Storage

Unless you live in Florida, Hawaii, Southern California or a few other warm parts of the country, you're not going to leave your boat in the water all year round. You'll need to have that boat hauled up onto the land and winterized each year to protect your vessel. That can cost several thousand dollars.

The expense with boat winterizing comes in the form of storage fees, shrink wrapping and draining/changing of oil, fuel and other fluids. Other general maintenance issues may be required before and after a long period of time spent out of the water.

Average Annual Boat Fuel Costs

Most motorboats suck down a lot of gas. That's just the way it is. Quite often, the price of fuel on the water is much higher than you would pay when filling up your car at the gas station. 

We'll use the per gallon price of fuel as $2.50 as our rate, though it will be higher than that in many places. Many fast motorboats use between 20 and 30 gallons of fuel per hour when cruising at speed. Average that to 25 gallons per hour, and a five-hour trip could cost you more than $300 per outing. Assuming you use your boat once a week, that's more than $16,000 in gasoline alone. 

On the other hand, a slower pontoon boat will use much less gas. Many consume closer to five gallons per hour, which puts their annual fuel cost at closer to $3,000 for the same total hours out on the water.

Boat fuel costs can be affordable as long as you don't have the need for all that much speed.

The Price of Boat Insurance

Unless you have a private lake on your property, you should never operate a boat without current boat insurance. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, there are nearly 5,000 recreation boat accidents each year. The expenses resulting from a boating accident can be astronomical.

Fortunately for most private citizens, boat insurance costs only a few hundred dollars per year. In some cases it may be more than $1,000 depending on the type of vessel and the history of the owner/operator.

You can get boat insurance through traditional companies such as Geico, Progressive and AllState. 

The number of people on the policy (and their ages) will also play a role in determining boat insurance costs. Make sure to file your insurance information properly, as you'll end up paying dearly for a false claim!

The Legalities

You'll need to pay for registration and licensing as well as any local taxes that are applicable in your state. These usually won't add a ton to the total price of ownership, but they're additional expenses worth considering.

Total Likely Costs of Boat Ownership?

Let's assume you bought a used motorboat in decent condition and spent $100,000. Then, let's assume your marina charges a mid-range $5,000 per year. Next, we'll assume you keep the speed down but head out at least once a week, so that's around $12,000 a year for fuel. And let's say $1,500 a year for insurance and a mere $1000 for winter maintenance and storage. 

Barring the need for repairs and other incidentals - like the addition of marine window tint, cool boat gadgets, maintenance tools, cleaning products like boat soap and hull cleaner or other upgrades - if you own your boat for ten years, you can expect to pay a grand total of around $295,000 for that decade of boat ownership. That's $29,500 a year, or just under $2,460 a month.

Keep in mind, with a pontoon boat, it could be less than half that. With a luxury yacht, it could be ten times as much or more.

Buying used and boating in your backyard would reduce all these costs dramatically.

In the end, it boils down to what you need and want from your boating experience. Make these decisions before making your purchase, and tally up an estimated cost ahead of time!

If you do this, you'll go into your boat purchase completely prepared.