10 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Boat

Toy sailing boat

Every year, millions of people discover the joys of boating for the first time. They get inspired by seeing a movie about boating, they make a new friend who loves talking about the hobby, or their childhood feelings of awe are reawakened when they visit the water after a long time away.

Whatever your reasoning, when your enthusiasm for boating has peaked, you’ll be interested in buying your first vessel. It’s a big step to take and an exciting one, but it’s also a bit risky; newcomers in the boating world often don’t have the experience or knowledge necessary to make the best decision. 

There’s no way to make a “perfect” boat buying decision, but there are some critical rookie mistakes you can avoid – and they’re relatively easy to avoid as well.

The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Boat

These are some of the most egregious mistakes to avoid when buying a boat for the first time:

  1. Buying for today and not for tomorrow. The type of boat you want today may not serve your needs for very long. Thanks to a mix of cognitive biases, we tend to underestimate just how much we’re going to change in the future and how much our needs are going to evolve. You might be interested in boating solo most of the time for now, but what if you want to take a family onto the water in a few years? Try to think at least a few years ahead of the current moment when buying.
  2. Buying too big. That said, it’s also possible to buy a boat that serves too many possible needs. Rookie boat buyers sometimes end up wanting a vessel that’s simply too much; they save money for a gigantic boat, or the fastest boat on the lot, or some luxury vessel with more features than they’ll ever use. These boats are often much more expensive, and they cost more to maintain, making them a bad choice for amateurs who may not truly know what they want.
  3. Failing to budget. Budgeting is one of the most important financial skills to have, especially if you’re considering a major purchase. Before you even think about finalizing your boat purchase, you should know how much of a boat you can truly afford; you should have a strict upper limit for what you’re willing to pay and a firm understanding of how that purchase is going to affect your finances in the future.
  4. Breaking the budget. Even after setting a strict upper limit for themselves, many amateurs break that upper limit to get what they see as a better vessel. If you’ve committed to spending 25,000 or less, and the vessel you want is 30,000, you might talk yourself into spending that extra 5,000. This isn’t always a catastrophic financial failure, but it often works against you.
  5. Not talking to a spouse/significant other. It sounds like the premise of a joke, but it’s surprisingly common for people to make a major purchase (like a boat) without consulting a spouse or a significant other. Even if you like the idea of getting the boat as a surprise, you shouldn’t move forward with such a major financial move without at least briefly talking to your partner.
  6. Researching too little. How long should a boat be? What types of boats exist, and what are their strengths and weaknesses? What are the top brands in the industry and why are they so popular? How much should you anticipate spending on things like maintenance, storage, and docking? How much does the price for a specific vessel vary? Where can you find the best deal on it? These are all questions that can only be answered if you’ve done adequate research on the subject. Don’t simply trust your instincts; read up on these topics (and others) as much as possible before finalizing your decision for anything.
  7. Buying at a boat show. Buying at a boat show isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but you shouldn’t assume it’s the best decision by default. Boat shows are great opportunities to tour boats in person, review the latest models from major manufacturers, and even negotiate with salespeople. However, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to find the best price here – so treat the boat shows you attend as research/learning opportunities.
  8. Getting a bad loan. If you can’t pay for a boat in cash, you’ll need a loan to cover the difference, but not all loans are created equal. If your loan has a high interest rate or strict terms, it can put undue financial stress on you.
  9. Not considering depreciation​. There are many advantages to buying a new boat versus a used boat. For example, buying new can give you peace of mind and help you feel more fulfilled with your purchase, plus you have access to the latest and greatest models on offer. However, generally speaking, boats will depreciate over time and new boats, just like cars, tend to have a more significant initial depreciation than when buying used. And you can often find used, “like new” vessels for much lower prices. Overall the decision to purchase new or used is very personal, and neither is a wrong choice; just make sure you’ve considered which option suits you.
  10. Failing to survey the boat. Dealers and individual sellers alike are legally required to disclose certain types of issues associated with the boats they’re selling. But it’s still a good idea to invest in your own surveying; always conduct a thorough inspection on the boat you’re buying before you finalize the purchase.

Getting Started

For many newbies in the boating world, the hardest part of buying a boat is getting started. How can you tell what type of boat you need? How do you know what’s a “good” price and what isn’t? That’s one reason why we started TheYachtMarket, where you can browse thousands of online boat listings and compare the vessels that might be of interest to you. Check out our listings of new and used boats for sale today – and start your journey toward boat ownership!

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