A boat! If you've ever gunned the engine of any watercraft, whether it's a ten-foot dingy or a thirty-foot cruiser, or raised the sail on the smallest sailboat, you know how exhilarating boating can be. Who can worry on the water?
Well, actually, you have reason to worry a lot on the water if you haven't done your homework before you become the captain of your own vessel.
Use these tools wisely, and boating will be the great escape you've always dreamed it would be.
Why? Buying a boat smart is probably harder than buying a car smart. First, there are literally thousands of boat manufacturers, including backyard entrepreneurs. Second, even the biggest boat builders produce relatively small numbers of crafts. Evaluating quality and reliability, therefore, is much harder to do.
Third, virtually no mandatory safety and quality guidelines are in place to protect you from buying junk or dangerous boats. Some boat sellers take advantage of this, and unfortunately, the worst boat salespersons make the worst used-car dealers look like saints.
Oh, we forgot to tell you the major reason buying a boat smart is harder than buying a car smart: Boats eat money.The cost of the boat itself and key accessories such as radios are only the beginning of the cash outflow:
What about "use" costs? (Gas and oil expenses alone can wreck a budget, even if you have only a small powerboat. A slip at a dock can cost more than your boat payment.)
What about insurance? (Usually higher than on a comparatively-priced car.)
Maintenance? (Boats generally require much more maintenance than cars—and boat mechanics generally cost more than car mechanics.)
Storage? (Some neighborhoods won't let you store your boat in your backyard—and paid storage can be expensive.)
Aside from budget items, the consequences of buying the wrong boat can be pretty heavy. Breaking down on the side of the road in a car can be inconvenient, but sinking can be really inconvenient.
That's why you need tough, unbiased information, both before you buy and after you buy. And that's why you're reading our Boat Guide! The guide will help you answer key questions as it saves you thousands and thousands of dollars. We also provide great, trustworthy links to teach you even more. Use these tools wisely, and boating will be the great escape you've always dreamed it would be.
So, let's go boating!
Developing a Boat Budget
There's an old saying in the boat world: A boat is a hole in the water to throw money into. That's fine if you're a smart planner and determine in advance how much money you'll need to support your boat's lifestyle—and if you can afford the sum.
Do it wrong and your boat will probably gather cobwebs from lack of use (it happens to tens of thousands of boats each year), or, worse, you'll be forced to sell it at a hefty loss. There's a piece of good news here, too: At times, the best boat buy is a slightly used boat owned by a person who didn't budget in advance. Your objective is to be the buyer of that boat, not the seller!
Here's how to develop a realistic budget:
Determine how much money you can afford to spend in total each month on a boat. This amount will cover both your boat payment and all other boat-related expenses.
A tip: You'll be needing this much money monthly for a number of years. The term for most boat loans, for instance is ten years. Plus, you must pay all the expenses related to the boat during the loan-term and after it's paid off. Make sure your long-range budget incorporates these expenses.
Write down the actual amount you're willing to commit to a boat each month.
Let's say, as an example, that you decide you can afford to spend $600 per month in total for all your boat expenses.
Determine how much money you will pay each month on the boat payment itself. Your boat payment should be lower than the total amount you budgeted for overall boat expenses.
A tip: A conservative boat payment would be 60% of your total monthly boat budget.
Determine the portion of your total monthly expense you want to dedicate to a boat payment. Write that down.
In our example, the actual boat payment you could afford is 60% of $600, or $360 per month.
Determine the amount of cash you have available to buy a boat. We call that "Available Cash." Available cash is made up of two things:
The cash your boat payment will buy you. A tip: Your credit union may finance 100% of your boat purchase price, and may not require a down payment, either. But because boats depreciate so quickly, we hope you'll consider making a down payment to protect you from future liability when you decide to sell the boat.
Any money you contribute as a down payment. "Available Cash" also includes any cash from savings or the sale of an old boat you plan to use as a down payment.
Use the calculator on this page to help you determine your Available Cash figure. Just fill in the blanks and click "compute."
Write down your Available Cash amount. This is all the money you have to spend on a boat, including options and accessories. Let this amount determine how much boat you buy, new or used.
A tip: If you don't spend more than your "Available Cash" limit, you'll be on budget, and be a happier boater!
Available Cash Calculator
Your Available Cash is the maximum amount you have to spend on a boat. This calculator enables you to determine 1) the amount of cash a boat loan will yield and 2) the total Available Cash from all sources, including the loan, you have to purchase the boat.
If the estimated amount of Available Cash is too little for the boat you would like to purchase, you have several options. A higher monthly payment and/or a longer loan term will typically yield higher initial Loan Cash, thus increasing your Available Cash. You may also want to consider alternative boats that better fit your budget.
Check the current interest rate for the loan term.
This calculator is solely for informational purposes. It gives you reasonably accurate results of your Available Cash. Results for your actual loan will vary based on your final rate and loan amount.
Sail or Power?
What type and size boat fits the recreational activities you desire?
If you already enjoy boating, you probably already know if you are a "stinkpot" lover or a sailor at heart. But you may not yet know just which type and size boat will meet your recreational goals—or fit your budget. The sites below can help you consider all the options.
A tip if you're not a boater yet, or can't decide whether you want to sail or motor.
Becoming part of a local boating club before you buy is a smart thing to do. Become involved with the right group, and you'll learn about all types of boats, learn how to become a good crewmember, and generally gain your "sea legs." The links below under "Find a boat club" can help you find one in your area.
What type of boat is right for you?
Find Your Boat, a page from discoverboating.com, provides descriptions of various types of powerboats and sailboats. You can select boats by activities, passengers, boat length, propulsion, and trailerable.
Boat Buyers Guide. This guide raises questions to consider in choosing the right boat. It's from Boat U.S., the Boat Owners Association of the United States (boatus.com).
Information about sailboats
SailAmerica.com has lots of information about sailboats and sailing. Types of Boats describes various categories and types of sailboats.
Choosing the Right Sailboat for You provides tips that will help you decide what type of sailboat fits your needs.
Information about power boats
discoverboating.com Sponsored by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, this site offers introductory information and numerous articles about power boating, links to other power boating sites, an international calendar of boat shows, and other information on safety, maintenance, and boat owners education.
Become involved with the right group, and you'll learn about all types of boats, learn how to become a good crewmember, and generally gain your "sea legs."
Find a boat club
The US Sailing Association provides a search by state or zip code and lists sailing clubs, yacht clubs and other organizations.
United States Power Squadrons is a non-profit organization of boating enthusiasts who emphasize boating education and service to the community. Members belong to many local power and sail squadrons. They provide a search program to help you locate local squadrons.
In addition there are hundreds of boating clubs with a Web presence. A good way to locate other clubs near you is to enter "boating clubs" plus the name of your city and state on the search line of your favorite search engine.
What Type of Engine?
Outboard or inboard? Gas or diesel? Four-stroke or Two-stroke? The choice of engine and engine type dramatically impacts your pocketbook. Because many boat manufacturers are allied with engine manufacturers, these companies are always trying to limit your choice of engines to their partners. How do you know what's best for you?
Don't expect the seller of any engine to tell you to buy some other manufacturer's engine. But the engine manufacturers do give you specifications, including fuel consumption. The manufacturers' sites also give you a chance to see the different types of engines available to you. For instance, what are the advantages of four-stroke over two-stroke? Here are links to key outboard engine companies.
Many boating magazines provide useful comparisons of various outboard and inboard engines as well as general boat reviews.
Several independent authorities such as marine surveyors and technicians, can help educate you about marine engines (and lots of other topics, too.) Try these for a starter:
Marine surveyor David Pascoe offers over 150 articles on boats and boating including a number on marine engines.
Mastertech Outboard Motor Repair offers clear explanations of how four-stroke and two-stroke marine engines work and advantages of each.
Buy New or Used?
Buying a new boat, rather than a used boat, may assure you of fewer problems and also usually gives you some type of manufacturer's warranty. But boats generally depreciate much faster than automobiles (which is very fast), and some boat owners tend to give up boating quickly, thus sending some nice, lightly used boats to market at fire-sale prices.
That's why used boats may be a very smart buy: you've let the other person pay for the depreciation.
That's why used boats, bought the FoolProof Consumer way, may be a very smart buy: you've let the other person pay for the depreciation.
Unlike new boats, the wholesale and retail values of a used boat are more easily determined. We'll give you links to help you with that. But we can't help you find the "dealer cost" of new boats. So far, no one has published a reliable new boat invoice guide.
New or Used? What's Your Boating Pleasure
Want to take a break and daydream a bit? Here are some sites that will let you look at literally thousands of boats, new and used. You can also search most of these sites for specific boats by model and make, new or used. A little "window shopping" can help you identify boat makes and models that interest you and generally fit your budget. Caution: All these sites sell boats, so remember you are just browsing right now.
Make a note of the makes and models that seem to meet your needs. Note if those in your approximate price range are new or used. Then go to the next step—checking out their record of safety and reliable performance.
Boattrader.com allows you to search classified ads by boat type, manufacturer and location. You can also browse by boat type.
Iboats.com has classified ads for new and used boats. Each listing typically provides a photograph, basic description of the boat, and asking price.
Boats.com allows you to search classified ads for new and used boats by boat type, price range, manufacturer and location.
Sailboatowners.com features classified ads for sailboats of all sizes and prices.
Boat Manufacturers Websites listed by the Recreational Boat Building Industry lets you look at individual new powerboat lines. Sites are grouped by type of boat.
Is the Boat Safe and Reliable?
Whether you buy new or used, the key to smart boat buying is knowing the quality and condition of the specific boat you want to buy. We've got lots of good tips and sites here for you.
Check out boat reviews on the models you like.
The following are just a few of the many websites that offer boat reviews. You can also enter the name of the model you like into your search engine followed by "boat review" to search for reviews of that specific model.
- Boating Magazine — New boat reviews.
- Yachting Magazine — reviews high-end yachts.
- Boat Reviews — powerboat and sailboat reviews on the boatus.com website.
- Boat Reviews — By marine surveyor David Pascoe of Destin, FL. They may be searched by model or date. The introduction sets forth the basis and approach of the reviews; read it before going to specific reviews.
- Practical Sailor — has reviews on sailboats and marine equipment.
Considering a used boat?
Critical Tip! Don't buy a used boat without talking to the previous owner!
- Who did you buy the boat from?
- Why are you selling the boat?
- Who was your boat mechanic and how do I call that person?
- Did you keep maintenance records, and can I see them?
- Did you ever have any insurance claims on this rig?
- How long has the boat been for sale? (Boat owners are much more likely to negotiate if their boat has been on the market for a long time. This also goes for boat dealers.)
Critical tip! Don't buy any boat without taking it for an extensive "test drive."
Don't buy any boat without taking it for an extensive "test drive."
Even if you're not a boater yet and are very uncomfortable at the helm, you must do this. Boats are like cars in many ways: you'll feel comfortable in some of them and very uncomfortable in others. If you're really too uncomfortable to take the helm, why not bring along an experienced boater to help you evaluate the boat in the water? A friend or a member of a boating club would do this just to help you. Or, you can retain a mechanic or marine surveyor to be the captain (not a bad idea, particularly if you are spending a lot of money on a boat. More on these people in a second).
What about buying a used boat and installing a new motor?
Remember that many boats themselves have a much longer useful life than the engines on those boats. You might be able to find a great older boat hull for little money, for instance, then put a new engine on the hull.
Give a used boat an initial check yourself.
If youve found a boat (particularly a used boat) that fits your wish list and budget, use the following checklist yourself to see if the boat has enough potential to have it checked-out thoroughly by a marine surveyor or mechanic. If the boat flunks your examination, youll save time and money by crossing it off your list.
- Tips for a 10-minute inspection of a new or used boat
This article by David Brown reprinted by boats.com can be used even if you are new to boating.
Critical tip: We can't say this enough—don't buy used marine engines or hulls without having them checked out by a marine mechanic or surveyor.
What's a marine surveyor? A lot like a house appraiser, a marine surveyor looks at all elements of a boat, from engine to hull and in between, and determines its condition and value.
If you're buying more than a used rowboat, you would be smart to retain a surveyor. Below are some sites to help you find one. Or, talk with a local boat dealer about the surveyors the dealer regularly uses. A tip: Make sure the surveyor is approved by banks to survey boats for financing institutions.
What are the key questions to ask any marine mechanic or surveyor? First, tell the mechanic about your conversation with the previous owner. Then ask the mechanic:
- How much will it cost me to put this engine in really good running order?
- How many useful hours does this engine have on it before I need to replace it or have it rebuilt?
- Structurally, how is this hull, and how many years service will it probably give me?
Another big tip: "Safe and Reliable" applies to both engines and hulls.
Is the engine safe and reliable? Is the hull safe and reliable?
New engines are pretty easy to check out. Use the sites recommended on this guide's page on marine engines.
Used engines are literally one-of-a kind. Many engines now have some form of "hour meter" built into the engine. Knowing the total "hours" on an outboard engine, in particular, is important. The length of engine warranties is usually determined by the number of hours on the engine, and the age of the engine. And virtually all engine warranties are transferable.
But there's only one way to know about the reliability and lifespan of a used engine: have it inspected by that trusty marine mechanic or surveyor we mentioned a minute ago. Don't buy a used engine without having it checked out by a mechanic familiar with that type of engine! A fifty-dollar inspection may keep you from buying an engine that needs a thousand-dollar repair. Ask for the mechanic's opinion in writing.
A tip: if you're buying a used engine from a franchised boat dealer, insist that the dealer—not the engine manufacturer—warranty everything they are selling you—the engine, the boat, the trailer. Some dealers will fight this, but the best dealers will generally provide a meaningful warranty, if you insist.
Checking out the hull and general construction
Here are some tips to help you gather relatively unbiased information about construction quality and general reputation concerning specific hulls.
Generally speaking, in boat hulls, you get what you pay for. Some boats are virtually unsinkable because of expensive construction techniques (Boston Whalers, for instance, are regularly sawed in two to prove their unsinkability). Others can look just as seaworthy, but are flimsy in construction and durability.
At times, the least-known brand makes a boat better than the more expensive brand. Remember that at all times, the seller's job is to tell you their boat is best! Here are some tips to help you gather relatively unbiased information about construction quality and general reputation concerning specific hulls.
Always get a written description of hull construction specifications and components for individual boats that interest you. Then compare those components and specifications to those of the top-line manufacturers. For instance, Boston Whalers, Contenders, and Grady White power boats are usually considered high-quality, oceanworthy boats. You can download specifications for these boats from the manufacturers' websites, and compare them to individual boats you're looking at.
Find some boat owners to talk to: Head to a large marina and look for boats made by the same manufacturer as the one you're thinking about buying. Boat quality generally runs through a boat's line-up, so an exact match isn't key.
Also, search for websites or chat rooms hosted by owners of the type of boat you are considering buying. Boat owners are far and away the best source of information when it comes to boat reliability and durability.
- The Resources section of BoatUS, the Boat Owners Association of the U.S., has Boat Groups, Boat Blogs,and Message Boards where you can find information about various boats from owners and boat experts.
Checking complaints on engine and hulls
BoatUS.com offers a great service which both reviews owners' problems with specific boats and provides a mediation service when problems develop. You might want to bookmark this site.
The U.S. Coast Guard has a searchable database of safety defects and non-compliance in recreational boats and associated equipment. Other information available in the Recalls and Safety Defects section includes manufacturers identification, consumer safety defect report, product assurance branch, and boating safety circulars.
Getting the Best Financing
Tens of thousands of places offer boat financing, including thousands of lenders on the Internet. Summit Credit Union does boat financing too. Because anybody can say they are a boat lender, and because fine print rules boat finance contracts even more than auto finance contracts, picking a lender is your most important decision. Picking the right lender for a boat loan is even more important than picking the right lender for a car loan. Why? Boat loans generally last more years than car loans. Accept an interest rate that's only one percent higher than you need to on a $40,000, ten-year boat loan, and you throw away up to $4,000 dollars in unnecessary interest payments!
How lenders determine what you can borrow
"Remote" lenders—those that never meet you but transact business by email and regular mail—generally loan you a percentage of the rigged boat's selling price. At Summit Credit Union, we do that, too: your credit plus the boat's selling price determine what you can borrow.
But the difference in lenders can be startling:
Some lenders "load up" contracts with fees and processing charges that can increase as your loan increases.
Others advertise low rates, then raise them dramatically when your loan application is actually processed.
Other lenders require "backup" collateral. For instance, they may require you to use your home as a backup asset for your boat loan. These folks tend to lend you much more money than you can afford to pay back, then if you default on your loan, they attach your home or other backup asset.
A warning: Unfortunately, some of these lenders also promise you a credit card as a bonus with your boat loan. The credit card is also tied to your home equity. What happens if you can't make the credit card payment? They go after your house!
Some lenders even offer "balloon" payments with their boat loans. There are two variants: 1) Your payments are cheap for the first year, and then payments rise dramatically for the rest of the term. 2) Your payments are low for the term of the loan, then a large lump sum is due at the end. What's the result of balloon-payment loans on boats? Many people get in deep financial trouble.
Finding the lowest total-cost loan
Here's a simple way for you to make sure you are getting the boat loan with the lowest overall cost. This technique, incidentally, has saved Summit Credit Union members thousands of dollars on auto loans.
Do your homework on the boat you want to buy, using the tools on this site.
Pre-apply for a boat loan at Summit Credit Union. It costs you nothing to get this "baseline" look at your boat credit-worthiness. While you're at it, ask Summit Credit Union about the reasons, other than interest rate, which help make an Summit Credit Union boat loan usually the best, cheapest, and safest loan for you. Here are our phone numbers if you wish to talk to us.
Use this "baseline" approval to help you compare loans at other sources. Do it like this:
- Ask any potential lender to completely fill out a sample loan contract for the exact terms the lender will give you for a boat loan.
- Bring that contract to Summit Credit Union. We'll compare the exact terms of their loan to our loan.
- If they are cheaper, we'll send you to them!
- And what if they won't give you a copy of the contract they want you to sign? Don't go with that loan. Don't finance with people that won't let you fully compare actual costs.
Negotiating and Getting the Best Price
Whether you are buying power or sail, little or big, new or used, virtually all boat prices are negotiable.
Prices are more negotiable at certain times and with certain types of customers. Prices are also much more negotiable from certain sellers.
Some good times to bargain and save
Buying at a boat show. Vendors at boat shows are generally eager to sell their display boats rather than have to transport them. If you're patient and lucky, you can at times buy these show models cheaply.
Once you've done your homework on the boat that's right for you—and once you've arranged your boat financing—visit a large boat show at the beginning of the show and find a boat or two that would fit your budget and needs.
Note the written sales price of the boat and all its options, including engines. If you're thorough, you'll check out each of these items by using tools on this web site.
As the end-of-show date approaches, check on your favorite boats again. If the boats are still there, introduce yourself to a salesperson, and let them know you are definitely buying some boat, but not necessarily their boat. Make an offer on the boat. Be brave. If the boat is priced at $50,000 don't be afraid to offer $30,000.
To find a list of boat shows near you, check out Boatshows.com presented by DiscoverBoating.
Buying at the end of the boating season. Almost all boat dealers "floor plan" their boats: that means they pay interest on them as long as they sit on the boat dealer's lot. Because dealers don't look forward to paying these interest payments during offseason, they are much more likely to cut their prices as the end of boating season draws near or as the offseason begins.
Vendors at boat shows are generally eager to sell their display boats rather than have to transport them. If you're patient and lucky, you can at times buy these show models cheaply.
Buying a boat from a boat builder who has gone out of business. Boat builders come and go. Many such companies may make great boats, but don't have the capital or marketing expertise to survive in business. If you carefully, carefullycheck out these boats, you may find a real bargain.
Where to find these boats: generally, at larger boat dealers.
How do you check them out? Unless you're buying a toy boat, don't buy a boat from an out-of-business builder without thoroughly checking out the construction and design specifications of the boat. If you're looking at one of these, have a boat mechanic or surveyor look at the boat for you. As we mentioned, you can find the name of a surveyor by calling any boat dealer or using the links under "Safe and Reliable."
What should you pay for a boat like this? Generally, you should pay 20-30 percent less than for a comparable boat.
Basic negotiating tips for boats
Because boats don't have fixed "asking" prices, don't be shy about asking for dramatic discounts. Some boat dealers regularly add fifty percent to their "asking" prices.
Many boat sellers will easily negotiate with you on the boat itself, and then charge you thousands for equipping the boat without offering to discount any of this equipment. For instance, the seller agrees to cut the price of the hull by 25 percent, but charges you "list" price for engines, radios, and other necessities. Don't fall for this tactic: Negotiate the cost of each item on a boat individually, as you chose those options.
Make sure your boat price includes key safety and usage items. The selling price of new boats normally does not include critical equipment such as life vests, throw rings, second anchors, or dock lines.
If you're looking at used boats (a smart thing), you can come close to determining the value of the boat. Unlike new boats, used boats have published values, generally based on what a lending institution will lend on that boat. The three major industry guides are typically called "blue books." Here are sites for determining used boat values.
NADAguides.com is another of the standard used boat price guides.
ABOS Marine Blue Books, is the third major guide. Basic identification information provided for free but a subscription is required for more detail and values. A 12-month subscription for the online version costs $229.95.
"Best Bet Blue Books: Not all marine blue books created equal," a useful article by Chris Caswell from boats.com, discusses how lenders and the boating industry use the blue books.
Don't buy boats from strangers or individuals without carefully, carefully, researching the finance history and past ownership of that particular boat. In many areas, con artists make a living hauling stolen boats from one state to the next and selling them.
How do you know if a specific boat has been stolen? You do your homework! Insist on tracing the past ownership of the boat, and talk to some of the previous owners. You can take other steps yourself and may also be able to check the boat's serial number against databases of stolen boats. The following resources should help.
How to Avoid Purchasing a Stolen Boat offers pointers from marine surveyor David Pascoe.
There are a number of sites online that contain information on stolen boats, including databases provided by a number of states.
How do you know if a boat has an outstanding lien on it? Boats (and engines and all key accessories) have serial numbers, and lenders generally file liens by serial number. But these records aren't generally available to you.
A tip: You can file a lien search using a service such as the following:
- Marine Liens.com You must register to use their services. Making a search is free. If you find a lien you will have to pay to view it. The website details their terms of agreement and the information you need to conduct a search.
Should you deal with a local boat dealer, or trust finding a boat on the Web?
From a pure convenience and accountability standpoint, you are probably better off trying to find a boat—new or used—at a local boat dealer.
- You can carefully inspect a local boat.
- You can take local boats for "test drives."
- You have easier recourse if your boat purchase goes awry if you are dealing locally.
Checking out boats you can't see personally.
You may find the perfect boat, but it may be a thousand miles away. Here's a good article on finding out the truth about boats you can't see.
- Long Distance Boat Shopping: How to Avoid Wasting Time and Travel Expenses by marine surveyor David Pascoe.
Tips before you buy a specific boat
Remember the story of the man who built a boat in his garage and couldn't get it out through the door? Don't let a version of that happen to you! Think about these pointers before committing to buy:
Make sure the hull is rated for your engine(s). Don't buy a hull unless there is a plaque on it which rates maximum horsepower, and make sure your power source isn't above that rating.
Remember the story of the man who built a boat in his garage and couldn't get it out through the door?
Are you planning to tow the boat? Is your tow vehicle rated to tow a boat that heavy? You can usually determine total weight on a new or used boat by getting the weight of the total rig from either the seller or by gathering weight information from specifications provided by the manufacturer's website.
- Boat Manufacturers Websites listed by the Recreational Boat Building Industry.
Is the trailer rated for the boat? At times both individual seller and boat dealers will "mismatch" boat and trailer. The result? Real safety issues when you're towing.
Ask the seller if the trailer is specifically rated for the boat.
If you are uncomfortable with your seller's answer, check the boat manufacturer's specifications for the trailer. Towing & Trailering from discoverboating.com will help you learn about towing and boat trailer maintenance and includes a trailering checklist.
Are you planning to stow the boat at your home? Are there any covenants that prevent you from storing boats on your property? If you're planning to use your garage for boat storage, will it fit?
Are you planning to keep your boat at a marina? You'll want to find that marina, and price out both dockage and out-of-water stowage before you buy a boat. Here are key sites for locating marinas and storage lots.
- Marinas.com offers images, information and maps for marinas across the US, organized by state.
- Marinewaypoints.com offers links to numerous online directories of marinas and boat yards.
Getting Your Boat in the Water
Okay, you bought it. Now, what do you do?
Whether the boat is new or used, make sure your insurance is in force before you accept legal responsibility for the boat. If you're not financing with the boat seller, this is especially important since the seller has no legal responsibility for the boat at the moment of sale.
Tips on getting adequate insurance: Boating Insurance—Protect your investment with the right coverage by Suzanne Finne of boats.com.
If you're buying from a registered boat dealer, the dealer may handle all registration issues with your state. Ask them specifically what registration items they do not handle.
Each state has different laws and requirements for various things about boats including age of operator, required safety equipment and trailer restrictions. In addition, the federal government has a minimum set of safety requirements for boats.
- The following site details federal and state requirements: USCG: Regulations from the U.S. Coast Guard
Additional things to consider:
Your boat trailer will need registering before you can use the trailer. Ask the seller if they can handle this registration/transfer.
If your rig or any options on it are new, you will generally be responsible for registering individual items on your boat like radios and other "add-ons."
Boat Theft, a brochure (pdf) from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, gives tips to prevent theft.
Make a detailed list of each item on your boat covered by insurance, and take snapshots of each item, from the hull to the engine to the radio. Put this information in a safe place away from your boat.
On-the-Water Boat Towing Insurance
If you are planning to boat on any body of water bigger than a farm pond—lake, river, ocean—a boat towing insurance policy can be a boat owners smartest purchase. These plans function like a highway service club for the water. Just like autos, boats do break down or experience difficulty. When that happens, marine towing or assistance can cost well over $100 per hour, and the clock starts ticking when the service boat leaves its dock. In addition to paying for towing, most insurance plans also offer other benefits. Here are two major insurance plans.
Sea Tow is a marine assistance organization that provides unlimited service area towing, covered ungroundings, fuel delivery (doesnt include cost of fuel), jump starts, prop disentanglements, navigation assistance, sea condition reports, radio checks, and more. Gold card membership costs $179 per year for both fresh and salt water and includes nationwide coverage, a lake card membership is also available for $119 per year.
BoatU.S. provides towing services through TowBoatU.S and Vessel Assist. BoatU.S. basic membership costs $24 per year and pays first $50 of towing bill. Unlimited towing service costs $72 per year for freshwater and $149 for saltwater. Unlimited gold is $175 per year. The towing service includes on-the-water towing, battery jumps, fuel deliveries, and soft ungroundings.
Have the appropriate towing kit installed on your towing vehicle. Make sure the kit is rated for a boat the size and weight of your vessel.
For tips on towing your boat safely, check out the following sites:
- Towing a Trailer
- Boat Towing Laws by State from HowStuffWorks explains some of the various reguirements. The American Boating Association provides a table showing length, width, height, and weight requirements.
What do five short blasts of a marine horn mean? (Immediate danger!) What are the greatest dangers for kids on the water? What's an EPIRB? Who has the right of way on the water? What would you do if you heard the words "Pan, Pan, Pan" over your radio?
Unfortunately, the law doesn't generally require licenses for people running boats. Although most states require safety certification, boaters typically don't have to take any training in seamanship skills or pass tests on such skills to run boats (even big ones!) The implications for you? You have to learn to be a defensive, knowledgeable boater, if you and the ones you love are going to be safe.
A tip: Before heading out on your boat, file a float plan. The Float Plan Central website contains a downloadable float plan template in PDF format, Boating Emergency Guide™, and other information from the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
You can learn oceans of information about good seamanship and safe boating skills online, starting at the following sites. You can also find local courses taught by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons and other groups.
America's Boating Course (ABC)—An online course that covers the basics of recreational boating. It covers boat education, boat safety, boating law and regulation, and provides an introduction to navigation. The course fee is $34.95 in most states.
boatus.com, the Boat Owners Association of the U.S., offers a free online boating safety course for each state.
US Sailing Training & Education—US Sailing, the national governing body of sailing, offers courses in four separate areas: Small Boat, KeelBoat, Powerboat and Windsurfing.
American Sailing Association—Locate schools offering ASA certification.
Resources for young people
- BoatSafeKids offers Q&A on boating safety and activities and articles that teach boating safety.
Here are links to two membership organizations that promote boating education and safety and that have local chapters that provide courses and programs you can participate in.
United States Power Squadrons is a non-profit educational organization that offers public boating courses and community activities and public service, including courtesy Vessel Safety Checks. It has over 35,000 members organized in 350 power and sail squadrons.
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is a membership organization of civilian volunteers organized in local "Flotillas." The CG Auxiliary offers boating courses, Vessel Safety Checks, boat exams, and many other public education and public service activities.
Maintaining Your Boat
Remember that old saying mentioned at the beginning of this guide? A boat is a hole in the water that you throw money into.Neglect your boat's maintenance and you'll soon find out how true that saying can be. Leave a boat alone for even a week or two, if it's in the water, and it can quickly degrade. Leave a boat out of the water too long, and other problems can develop before you can blink. Minor maintenance issues briefly ignored can turn quickly into major repair issues. The smart boat owner pays constant attention to maintenance.
Boats, particularly when they are in the water, develop problems very quickly: battery connections corrode; cables loosen; seals develop leaks.
Your first defense against this deterioration is to follow faithfully the maintenance procedures outlined in the owner's manuals for the boat, engine and other important accessories. If you've lost the manual (or it didn't come with a used boat), you can usually find these instructions on the manufacturers' websites or order manuals from online marine bookstores or technical service companies.
Additional information from websites such as the following will also help you develop a smart maintenance plan.
Maintenance, Repairs, and Troubleshooting
Articles on varied maintenance topics by marine surveyor David Pascoe. Most for power boats.
This page at discoverboating.com contains useful tips and links to articles.
Winterizing your boat
Ignore your boat in the fall, and you'll pay a hefty financial penalty in the spring. What should you winterize? Where can you get good tips on preventive maintenance for cold climates?
- Two TechTips from Bill Casey on boatus.com: Winterizing Your Engine and Fall Lay Up. Both articles discuss how to prepare your boat for winter storage in freezing weather.
- Winterize Your Boat from discoverboating.com.
- Winterizing Your Boat from boatsafe.com.
Preparing your boat for summer use
Here are checklists for preparing your boat for relaunch.
- Spring Start-up Checklist from discoverboating.com
- Preparing Your Boat for the Season: Pre-Season Checklist from boatsafe.com.
- Spring Commissioning Checklist from BoatU.S.