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5 Things to Know While Researching & Buying a Boat

5 Things to Know While Researching & Buying a Boat

You’re finally ready to take the plunge into boat ownership; congratulations! Owning a boat is an exciting adventure and lets you travel to places you haven’t seen before—even if it’s merely the other side of the lake. It’s also a great way to relax and spend time with friends and family. However, there are five things you need to know while researching and buying a boat.

1. Build Your Wishlist

If you don’t have any idea what kind of boat you want, it’s best to start by thinking about some very basic questions. Here are a couple preliminary questions that we think will help you start to dip your toes in the water:

What will be the primary use of the boat?

What do you think you’ll use your boat for? Boats can be used for fishing, participating in aquatic sports, relaxing with friends and family, transportation, and more! Once you determine what the boat will be mostly used for, you can begin to narrow the selections down to the different kinds of boats best suited for each activity: will you be relaxing with friends? Maybe a pontoon is your best option! Will you be deep sea fishing? A center console might be the way to go. We can go on, but you get the idea. Sometimes choosing the kind of boat you want is harder than the actual purchasing of the boat.

How often will you use your boat?

Let’s think realistically; everyone says they are going to spend every weekend on the boat, but will you really be able to do that? Do you live in a warmer climate? You might be able to use this 12 months a year! But those in colder climates might be limited to just one season. If you travel, will your boat come with you? Snowbirds often enjoy bringing their boats south with them for the winter, but if you tend to stay put when it gets cold, you’ll need to find a boat storage solution that will help protect your boat from the elements.

2. Determine Your Budget

It’s great that you’re ready to buy a boat, but we want you to make the best choice for your wallet too. To determine your overall price range, you have to think about more than the sticker price. Here are four things to remember when calculating the total cost of boat ownership:

  • The down-payment: Either you’re paying the full price of the boat up-front, or you’ll be putting down a certain percentage of the price as a down payment. Talk to your local dealer to get a good idea of what up-front cost you might expect.
  • One-time purchases: There are several additional things you’ll need to purchase the first time you buy a boat, including a trailer for transporting your watercraft as well as all necessary safety gear (much of which is not only recommended, but required by law).
  • Recurring expenses: After an initial down payment, you’ll have monthly payments until you cover the full cost of the watercraft, plus any additional interest that may be accruing. You’ll also have recurring expenses like insurance, fuel, marina fees, and more.
  • Maintenance and repairs: These costs won’t come monthly — we hope! — but from time-to-time you’ll need to pay for preventive maintenance to keep your boat safe and functional. And every owner gets hit with an unexpected repair at some point. Be ready for these expenses and account for them when considering your budget.


Depending on your situation, you may decide to apply for a boat loan. If so, your loan options will be affected by your credit rating, net worth, debt-to-income ratio, and job and living situation. When financing, you can choose to work with a boat broker, your local bank or credit union, or a lender that specializes in boat purchasing and financing such as the National Marine Lenders Association.

If, after factoring the total cost of ownership, your budget is starting to look a little thin, consider buying a used watercraft! Previously used boats might have a little wear and tear, and could have a shorter working life remaining, but they’ll be much cheaper than a new vessel and are often perfect for first-time buyers.

3. Do Your Research

There’s no such thing as too much information when you’re shopping, comparing listings, and evaluating a boat purchase. The best place to start is online, where you should be able to quickly and easily find for-sale watercraft on dealership websites and third-party marketplaces like The best digital platforms will let you filter search results based on your wishlist priorities, helping you find the perfect vessel for you. When checking out listings, pay attention to: 

  • Photos: This is your first impression of a potential purchase, and a good seller will provide plenty of pictures from a variety of angles. Be wary of sellers who have obviously uploaded stock images, instead of photos of the actual unit.
  • Videos: You can really start to see yourself cruising the waves on a boat when the seller uploads videos of the watercraft in-action. Videos simply give a better real-life sense of the vessel than images.
  • Listing Details: Photos and videos can capture your attention, but it’s the details that will further inform your buying decision. Look for listing details that can tell you the unit’s condition, dimensions, engine model, fuel capacity, max speed, and more.
  • Descriptions: This is where sellers can provide further information that’s not already in the listing details, such as how the boat typically runs or potential uses for it. It’s a seller’s chance to make their pitch, so see what they have to say.


Remember to resist the urge to buy the very first watercraft that you like. There could be better models out there, or the same unit listed for a better price. Once you have a list of possible vessels, you can start to really compare and eliminate options until you settle on the right choice. And don’t forget to research and compare dealers—you want to make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller.

4. Connect with the Seller

Once you’ve found the right boat for you, the next step is to contact the seller. You may choose to go right to the dealership lot, or you can reach out to them via phone call or email, and some dealers even offer communication options like texting, website chatting, or live video calls.

Video chats are an especially dynamic option, not only because they let you talk with a seller, but also because they allow you to conduct a virtual inspection of the watercraft from the comfort of your own home. When video chatting, you can: 

  • Perform a visual inspection,
  • Hear the engine,
  • Review parts or damages,
  • Ask questions, and
  • Hear the sales pitch.


However you choose to contact a seller, don’t hesitate to request additional photos or details, ask questions, discuss financing, make an offer, negotiate price, or communicate about anything else that you feel is important. You should also set a time for an in-person inspection so you can personally examine the vessel’s navigation and other electrical systems, engine, steering, horsepower, and more. A sea trial or test drive can give you further insight into how well the boat handles in action.

5. Explore Virtual Buying Options

You’re so close to owning your new boat and, depending on state laws and dealership policies, you may be able to complete your transaction fully online. When you start the buying process, check with the seller to see if virtual options are available for…

  • Signing documents to finalize the sale of the watercraft,
  • Obtaining financing (from the dealership or 3rd party), and/or
  • Obtaining warranties (from the dealership or 3rd party).


You can also check to see if the dealership offers delivery services that bring the vessel directly to your driveway or marina. If you live further away, feel free to check out other possible shipping options. Finally, throughout the online purchase process, keep an eye out for indicators of scam or fraud, only browse on secure sites, and be careful when sharing personal information.

Conclusion: We think the boating life is the best life, so we hope you feel more confident now that you’re aware of the essential things to know during the researching and buying processes. Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, let Boatline help you find the boat of your dreams


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