Getting into Boating … on a Budget

Another gorgeous day at the sandbar!

You’ve been dreaming about owning your own boat for a while now. You’ve been scrimping and saving and hoping that the economy will get better. Now that boat show season’s upon us, you don’t want to put off your dreams any longer. You’re ready to make that purchase and start relishing the joys of the boating lifestyle with family and friends.

It makes sense to be realistic about the costs of boat ownership before you make the big leap. The purchase price of the boat is just the beginning. Understanding the ongoing operational costs of boat ownership can help you make wise decisions that will increase your enjoyment of the boat after the purchase.

The following is an overview of some operational expenses to consider while shopping for a boat:

Fuel costs:

The cost of gas or diesel to power your boat is likely to be the largest recurring expense that you’ll have to run your boat. Do research to understand how much fuel your boat will consume, based on how you expect to use it. There’s plenty of information available on websites and in boating forums about fuel consumption for marine outboards, inboards, and marine diesel engines. Here’s one detailed example.

Determine how much you’ll have to spend on fuel to go boating each month and use that information to help you choose the best boat to buy. If you have $100 a month to put towards gassing up your boat, it’s probably not a great idea to buy a boat with four 250HP outboards on the transom. You won’t be able to use it very often; or maybe not at all! But if you get a 13’ Boston Whaler with a 40HP outboard, you’ll be able to enjoy lots and lots of boating.

Dockage & Storage:

Where are you going to store the boat once you’ve bought it? If the boat fits onto a trailer and you can store it in your yard, or if you have a dock at your home, then you don’t have to factor in additional costs for boat dockage or storage. But if you’ll need to pay for a boat dock or other storage options, make sure to get the information and add up those costs before you commit to a purchase.  Depending upon the area you live, the monthly cost of a wet slip in a marina can run anywhere from $150 to over $1000. Most boat

dockage and storage costs are determined based on the size of the boat. If your only option is to keep the boat in a marina and you’re budget is limited, you may want to opt for a smaller boat.

Engine maintenance and repair:

If you use your boat regularly, you’ll need to service the engine, or engines, at least once a year. At the very least, you’ll want to change the oil in a 4-stroke outboard or in a gasoline or diesel inboard annually. If you’re buying a brand new boat, chances are good that you’ll need to take the boat to your dealer’s service department to have it serviced. Modern 4-stroke and inboard/outboard technologies are complex and typically require trained marine technicians. If you’re on a limited budget, you might consider buying a used boat with a 2-stroke carbureted outboard, since these engines are much for do-it-yourselfers. See our blog post “Results ….” for information on typical costs of maintenance, and perhaps find a BoaterRated Partner Business in your area to help identify some costs.


At the very least, you’ll want to get liability insurance on your boat. Liability insurance can help protect you if you cause damage to someone else’s property with your boat, or if other claims occur related to your boat ownership. Depending on the value of your boat, you may also want to get replacement insurance. Obviously, the more expensive the boat, the higher your insurance premiums will be. It’s best to get insurance quotes before you commit to buy a boat. It’s better to know what your boat insurance will cost upfront, rather than getting surprised after the boat’s already in your driveway.

Boat Detailing & Hull Cleaning:

You’ll most likely be able to keep your boat clean using your own time and elbow grease.  Lots of folks enjoy washing and scrubbing their boats, it’s a bonding thing. But if you store your boat in the water, you’ll need to think about having the bottom cleaned on a regular basis. Even with bottom paint, boats that sit in the water, especially in warm climates, will quickly attract growth and barnacles. The costs of having your boat cleaned by a professional dive service can run from $50 to over $150 a month. If you need help detailing your boat or keeping the bright work varnished, you’re expenses will be even higher.

Sails & Rigging:

If you’re buying a sailboat, you won’t need to worry about the high cost of fuel quite so much. Even larger sailboats with auxiliary engines use very little fuel in comparison to most powerboats. One expense you will need to consider, though, is the cost of sails. One new mainsail or headsail for you boat is likely to cost several thousand dollars. You may be able to buy used sails for less of an investment, but the cost of sails can add up quickly. Make sure you find out how many sails the boat comes with and what condition they’re in. Also inspect the running and standing rigging. The price of good rope is high these days, so replacing halyards and sheets will likely run you into the hundreds of dollars. Replacing standing rigging will be even more costly and, depending on the size of the boat, could run upwards of $5000.

We hope we didn’t scare you too much by talking about how much it costs to operate a boat! We’ll explore some alternatives such as boat clubs and charters in the future. Use to help you find quality providers of the services mentioned above while you’re pricing things out, and in the meantime, enjoy shopping for the right boat!


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