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Buying a Boat? 15 Things You Should Know (We Just Bought Our First Boat)

Hewescraft 180 Pro V boat

At first glance, it might seem weird to see boat articles on our home and garden website, but this is part of our “boat access cabin” series and so in that context, it fits.

I can’t say owning a boat was a dream of mine.  It was not something I aspired toward.

And then it happened.  Out of the blue.  It all started when we suddenly bought a boat access cabin.

As soon as we put an offer on the cabin, we knew we needed a boat.  We also needed a boat slip at a marina (which are in short supply in our area).

After two months of research, many calls, scouring dozens of websites, talking to other boat owners, we found and bought our first boat.

Related: Aluminum vs. Fiberglass Boat | Boat Accessories | Where to Buy Used Boat | Hewescraft 180 Pro V Review | Renting a Boat Slip | Types of Boats | Boat Cost | Hard vs. Soft Top vs. Hybrid vs. Semi Top Boat | Parts of a Boat | Parts of a Boat Trailer

Here’s the boat we bought.  It’s a Hewescraft 180 Pro V.

Hewescraft 180 Pro V boat

Hewescraft 180 Pro V

The big surprise to me is I’m very excited about having a boat.  Almost more so than the actual vacation property. It’s not just a means to get to our cabin. I expect I’ll be spending a ton of time on the boat.

Now that it’s moored only ten minutes from our house, I can head out on the water any time I want.  There are many great boating destinations where we live (which is North Vancouver, BC).

From the start, we faced many boat-buying questions such as:

  • Which boat should we buy?  Length, aluminum or fiberglass, boat type, cost, etc.? So many decisions.
  • How much should we spend (it’s not like we have an unlimited budget)?
  • New or used boat?
  • Where can we buy it?

As we went further and further down the boat-buying rabbit hole, we learned a lot.

The boat you choose depends on where you’ll be using it, what you’re using it for and your budget.

For us, we’ll be using it in protected waters close to shore at all times as a commuter boat to our cabin. Our budget was $100K+/-.  Actually, when we first realized we needed to buy a boat I had a $30,000 to $40,000 budget in mind.  It didn’t take me long to realize we’d need to spend a whole lot more to get the best boat for our situation.

Here’s our detailed outline setting out everything you need to know about buying a boat.

Do Your Research!!!

1. Start your boat search ASAP because it can take a while to figure out what you need and the actual boat you want

We got really lucky finding a boat dealer a few hours away that actually had the boat we wanted in stock.  I thought we’d have to place an order and get delivery in the Spring.

New boats go fast.

2. Talk to boat dealers

I found salespeople at boat dealers to be super helpful.  They know boats.  They confirmed for me that getting an aluminum fishing boat with hardtop was the perfect boat for us.  Once we knew that it was a matter of finding one.

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If you want a fishing boat but not sure where to start, ask a salesperson at a dealer.  They’ll be able to explain your options.  Same with a water ski boat, cruiser, etc.

3. Talk to other boat owners

It didn’t take long for us to meet other folks who have a boat access property in our neck of the woods.  They were super helpful about offering us advice as to which boat to get.  Moreover, I paid attention to what kind of boats were sitting at docks when we went up to the property.  Fortunately, many folks all had a similar boat which was an aluminum, hard-top fishing boat.  That helped narrow my search considerably (but also increased our budget considerably because they aren’t cheap).

That said, not all other boat owners will be helpful.  If they aren’t using it for the same purposes you are, that won’t prove to be super helpful unless they just happen to know a lot about boats (which is often the case… boat owners are pretty hog wild about boats).

4. Comb through boat listing websites

There are many great used boat websites that will give you an idea of what’s available and how much it’ll cost.  What I found most annoying though was that most boat dealer websites don’t post the prices of new boats.  They require that you contact them.  I did. I contacted many to get quotes.

These websites also help you figure out much various boats retain their value.  In fact, I decided to buy a new boat because used aluminum fishing boats were not much cheaper.  This is because if they have a good motor, the boat itself lasts for decades.  Since I’d save maybe $20K, I decided to buy new.  Generally, I prefer new vehicles as well just because I don’t really know how to assess vehicles and boats.

I also found these sites helpful in learning about the different types of boats available.  When I started our search, I had no idea that aluminum fishing boats with a hardtop cabin existed.

5. Boat length – not so easy to decide

Before I settled on the aluminum fishing boat option, I was looking at cruisers.  We didn’t need the sleep-on-board stuff but I wanted a boat with covered areas for protection from wind, rain and cold.

One way to figure it out is to secure storage or moorage first.  You might have no choice how long of a boat you buy if you have limited storage regarding length.

But there are additional considerations as well and it is highly variable.

We could have gone with a 20′ or even 21′ foot which would have added two to three feet of space which I know may have come in handy at some point hauling stuff, but on the other hand, the 20′ version was $10,000 more.  The other consideration for us was I’m hoping a slightly shorter boat will be easier to navigate in a very tight marina.

I have a friend currently shopping for a sailboat.  He’s over 6′ feet tall.  Shorter sailboats don’t have sufficient headroom so he wants something over 30′ so he can stand upright. I think that’s an important consideration as well.

Of course, budget comes into play.  If you have millions you can buy a 50-foot yacht but if you don’t length often determines cost.  For us it really boiled down to the length of marina boat slip we could get.  There are fewer longer slips (26′ plus) than shorter slips (18′ to 25′).

6. Hard top, soft top, hybrid or semi top?

Photo collage of hard, soft, hybrid and semi top boats

We opted for a hybrid. It’s a hard top on three sides with a drop curtain.

Most boat owners prefer a hard top but so far we’re happy with the hybrid.

Read all the details on choosing between a hard, soft, hybrid and semi top boat here.

7. Boat budget and financing – what you need to know

Your boat will cost you far more than the sticker price of your boat.  The costs add up fast.

See also  How Much Does a Boat Cost (to Buy and Ongoing Costs)?

Check out the entire boat cost breakdown here (to the dollar).

  • If buying new, you’ll pay far more than the sticker price.  The boat we chose had a sticker price of $77,000.  After taxes, add-ons etc the final price tag was $98,200.
  • Will you pay cash or finance it?  If financing, you typically need to put 10% down.  It’s not like buying a car where you can almost always put nothing down. So if you’re buying a new $100K boat, you need to cough up $10K.
  • If financing it, will you be approved?  What are the monthly payments?
  • If financing, be sure to ask whether the dealer offers financing or whether you need to arrange your own financing.  Our dealer referred me to a financing company.
  • Boat insurance? Most marinas require you have insurance in order to store it there.  Third-party liability insurance is really important (this is coverage in the event someone is hurt on your boat or as a result of your boat).
  • Boat accessories, gear and safety equipment:  Boat safety and recreational gear adds up.  We opted for a second emergency motor (called a kicker) which cost $5,280.  We needed the underside painted, added on a swimming ladder, fenders, ropes, sounder, oars, trailer etc.  We have more yet to buy such as life jackets, first aid kit, flashlight and who knows what else.
  • Taxes: Boats are often considered a luxury item.  The taxes in our jurisdiction came to $10,000 on a $77,000 boat.
  • Don’t forget the cost of gas, marina moorage, service, etc.  Boats aren’t cheap (as I’m quickly learning).
  • Boat license:  We have to have a boat license in our jurisdiction. This cost me $60 (had to take the test).

8. If buying used, pay for a boat survey (if a sizeable boat)

I really didn’t want to buy a used boat because I know little about them. I have no idea what to look for.  Maybe in 5 years I’ll be a veteran boat owner but at the moment, I’m a newbie boat owner.

But, if willing to buy used, you can either save a lot of money from your budget or get more boat for your money.  There are no shortage of used boats for sale.  I did find what looked to be a decent used aluminum fishing boat but it wasn’t that much cheaper than new so I went with new.

If you’re buying a sizeable boat, especially a cruiser, yacht or sailboat, it’s worth paying for a boat survey (aka boat inspection) and take it on a sea trial.  It’s all a hassle to do (another reason I prefer buying new) but when spending $10K or more, due diligence is important.

Of course, if you know boats well and what to look for, then you have the advantage.

9. Do NOT hesitate to pull the trigger and buy it when you find it

If you find dealer or used seller that has what you want, don’t delay.  Decide fast and take action.  When I found a dealer who had what we wanted, I put a deposit on it immediately.  It’s a good thing I did because one hour later, another customer wanted to buy it.  That deposit held the boat for me until I could get to the dealer (at which time I wrapped up the purchase).

10. The dealer will need up to one to two weeks to prepare your boat

Because we also bought a pile of additional gear (a kicker motor, needed the underside painted etc.) the dealership needed two weeks to handle all of this.  It’s a bit like assembling the boat… in fact when we toured the boat there were parts that needed to be assembled.

I only bring this up in the event that you expect to get out on the water the day you buy it… that might not happen.

11. There could be additional delays

In our case, I needed to get a boat license, financing and insurance. I’m glad I got the ball rolling on those items as soon as possible because they all take time as well.  Fortunately, I had it all in place pretty fast so that I could pick up our boat as soon as the dealer was done with it.

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12. You might need to get a boat license… I did

I knew from the start that our jurisdiction requires all boat owners to get a boat license but I didn’t expect that the licensing would take nearly 4 hours.  Note that not all jurisdictions require that you get a boat license or take an exam.

I’m glad I started the process several days before picking up our boat.  Without the license, I can’t drive it.

In order to get the license I had to spend 3 hours reviewing the test materials.  Fortunately, it’s all online and I just paid for this course which provided all the study materials and then access to the exam.

I didn’t expect it to be so detailed.  I passed the first time through but was harder than I expected.

On the balance I learned a ton and it was a good thing to do.  Boats with motors aren’t a joke and can be dangerous.  So while it wasn’t

13. It might be best to secure boat storage first

Whether it’s at your house, a marina or elsewhere, you need to know how big of a boat you can store where you’ll be storing it.

Boat storage for us was a huge problem.  Only very small boats fit in our garage.  Our driveway is far too steep for a boat.  When we started this process all marinas had no available spots.  Our plan was to buy a skiff that would fit in our garage until we secured moorage… which we were told could take two years.

Actually, another option for us before we secured moorage was to find someone with a long flat driveway and offer to pay to store the boat there.  And yet another option was to find mini storage for a boat… although that is very expensive.

Lo and behold we magically secured a boat slip for a 25′ boat which solved all our problems. That meant we didn’t need to buy a skiff and instead could get the boat we really wanted which was an 18 to 20-foot aluminum fishing boat.

14. Boats are actually longer than advertised – motor not included in reported length

Boat length is important when getting a boat slip or storing it in mini storage or your garage.  The problem is they are almost always longer than reported because it doesn’t take into account a swimming platform (if added) or the outboard motor.  So our 18′ foot boat is really at least 22′ or even 23′.  It’s a good thing I opted for the 25′ boat slip.

15. How will you gas up your boat?

Many marinas have a gas pump but ours doesn’t. So I asked around and fortunately, there are water gas stations in the area which is fantastic. I wasn’t excited about having to haul jerry cans of gas aboard every time.

My point is before you get going you’ll want to find out where you can get gas for your boat.  If you’re launching every time at a boat launch, you can just fill up at a gas station.  I don’t ever plan on taking it out of the water so being able to gas up at a local marina or floating gas station was important.

I think our situation is unique because our boat is pretty much in the city.  There are 8 marinas within an hour’s drive from us so it’s a high boat traffic area which is great because the infrastructure is all set up for boating.

How long did it take us to find and buy a boat?

It went faster than I expected.  From start to finish it took from August to November 2021.  A big part of that was figuring out our boat storage/moorage situation first.  Until we knew where we’d keep our boat, we really didn’t know whether to get a small temporary skiff or our dream boat.  Once we secured moorage, it was go-time. I knew what we needed and once I found a dealership with one in stock, we bought it immediately and had it in our hands 2.5 weeks later.