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.

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

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

Most 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?” But what you can do is think through the many costs that are universally associated with boat ownership, from boat insurance to dock fees to fuel and more, and then calculate the specifics based on the type of boat in question.

That yacht will use more fuel than the jet ski, for example, 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, and 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, and not end up forced to sell the boat at a loss a few years down the line or wishing you had gone ahead and bought that larger boat you weren’t sure you could afford.

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, and 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 and you could easily spend more than $50,000 as well.

A motorboat with outboard motors and no cabin, often called a speedboat or powerboat, also often designed for fishing, can cost anywhere from $20,000 if bought used to many hundreds of thousands of dollars for new models of the fastest speedboats on the water. 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, of course.

But keep in mind, the final purchase price of your boat is just the beginning.

Average Annual Mooring Fees

Once you own a boat, you need someplace 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, then, from 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 harbor or hauling it back and forth from your home, the trailer is the cheaper way to go by far. But it’s not the easier way, of course.

The Price of Winter Boat Storage

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

The expense with boat winterizing comes in the form of storage fees, shrink wrapping, draining and/or changing of oil, fuel and other fluids, and other general maintenance required before and after a long period the boat will spend out of the water.

Average Annual Boat Fuel Costs

Most motorboats suck down a lot of gas, that’s just the way it is. And 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, thus have an annual fuel cost of closer to $3,000 for the same total hours out on the water. So 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. There are nearly 5,000 recreation boat accidents each year, and 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, though in some cases it may be more than $1,000, depending on the type of vessel and the history of the owner/operator.

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. And let’s assume your marina charges a mid-range $5,000 per year. And that 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 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.

But 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.