The Real Costs of Buying a Boat

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Family on BoatAfter a long, miserable winter, the idea of sipping a cold drink as you float along a peaceful expanse of water certainly has its appeal. But depending on the type of vessel you choose, a boat can cost a few hundred up to tens of thousands of dollars. Even if you’re comfortable with the sticker price, you still need to factor in additional costs of boat ownership that many people forget.

I talked to Thomas Nitzsche, a credit counselor with ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions and owner of a 2001 Glastron, about how to plan for those costs.

Maintenance: If you store your boat in a climate that reaches freezing temperatures, you’ll need to winterize your boat each year to remove any water from the engine, according to Nitzsche. “The cost of maintenance varies pretty widely from place to place,” he says. “If you are able to take the boat to less populated areas you’ll often get a lot better price.” You may also need oil changes and periodic waxing. “If you’ve got a nice white boat and you’re taking it into a dirty environment, if you don’t get [the dirt] off right away, it dries and stains the hull of the boat so you have to take it somewhere to have it washed and waxed,” Nitzsche says. If you have the upper body strength, you may be able to wash and wax the boat yourself and save some cash in the process. man cleaning boat

Docking fees: If you don’t have a place to store your boat (Nitzsche keeps his at his parent’s house), then you may need to pay as much as a few hundred dollars in docking fees. Paying to dock your boat can be more convenient than storing it yourself because the boat is kept right on the water so you don’t need to transport it there. But that monthly expense can add up. For lower docking fees, Nitzsche suggests choosing a marina in an outlying area. Of course, this may mean higher travel expenses to get to your boat.Boats Docked at Marina

Personal property tax and registration: Depending on your state, you may owe personal property tax and registration costs. Personal property tax is assessed on an annual basis, and boats depreciate rather quickly like cars; so the older your boat, the lower the value and the less you’ll pay each year in taxes.

Fuel: If your boat requires fuel, you can easily spend $40 or $50 in gas each time you take it out. “Depending on how many times you go out, that could be a couple hundred dollars a month,” Nitzsche says.Speedboat by island

Insurance: If you have a homeowner’s or personal property insurance policy, you may be able to add your boat to an existing policy. However, you may need to buy an additional rider for your insurance policy.

Travel expenses: If you’re storing your boat on land, then you’ll need to transport it to water each time you want to take it out. That may mean buying a bigger vehicle that can tow the boat. “Sometimes the boat purchase can kind of be a domino effect to other big expenses,” says Nitzsche. “You’re getting lower fuel efficiency and driving a vehicle that’s eating way more gas.” Or if your boat is docked near your favorite lake a few hours from your home, you’ll need to drive that distance each time you take out the boat. As Nitzsche points out, “there’s a good chance you’re not going to want to drive that all in one day,” leading to costs for a motel or hotel room.Pickup truck towing boat by lake

Despite these costs, some people still choose to buy a boat. “I think a lot of people take pride in ownership similar to a house or car,” Nitzsche says. “Even if it doesn’t make financial sense a lot of people are going do it. But if you’re somebody who’s only going to go out a couple times a year it definitely makes sense to rent.”

If you are going to make a purchase, Nitzsche suggests buying a used boat, especially around a military base. “I bought from a gentleman who was relocating for the military,” he says. “A lot of times you can get situations where people want to unload a used boat. In his case it was very lightly used.”

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

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