Boat-Buying Guide

What to know as a first-time boat owner


JULY 20, 2021

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Summer is here, and that may mean a trip to the beach, the lake, or a nearby river. Maybe you’re in the market for a boat to maximize your enjoyment of the water. After all, there’s nothing more freeing than slicing through a calm-as-glass lake on a hot day with the wind blowing your hair and that foamy white wake churning behind you.

Our boat-buying guide will help you break down what to look for when buying a boat and other tips to get the most out of your investment.

Decide how you’ll use it

Are you looking for a lake-ready boat to load up 10 of your closest friends? You might want a pontoon, small yacht, or sailboat. Do you just need a no-frills fishing boat equipped with a trolling motor for a little peace and quiet along the river? Look for a fishing boat with enough space for you and a buddy. Do you plan to pull kids behind the boat, whipping them around on wakeboards and tubes? A speed boat will be more your style. Once you determine your primary use of a boat, you can begin looking at options that fit your goals.

Understand the costs up front

Boats can be costly to maintain. In addition to financing the boat as a first-time boat owner, make sure you take the following costs into consideration:

  • Any repairs not covered by a manufacturer’s warranty

  • Delivery of the craft to your location

  • Trailer

  • Hitch for your car or truck

  • Insurance, registration, and boating licenses

  • Taxes

  • Storage costs

  • Fuel

  • Equipment

  • Safety gear

  • Security measures

  • Maintenance

Begin your boat-buying search

Here are a few pointers to help you shop for your boat:

  • Buy early. Went out on a friend’s boat this spring and decided you need a boat for summer? You may be out of luck. The best time to buy a boat is during a slower season — think late fall or early winter.

  • Decide on new vs. used. Once you look at your budget, you can determine whether you’ll splurge on a new seacraft or purchase something in good, used condition. If you plan to go with the latter, it may be worth your while to hire a marine surveyor who can thoroughly inspect the vessel. Keep in mind that a new boat will come backed by a manufacturer’s warranty.

  • Start online. You may ultimately decide to purchase from a local dealer, but online research can give you an idea of how much your dream boat will cost. Use online tools to easily hone in on your boat’s desired features. If, for instance, you’re looking for a power cruiser for your family, you can sort by price, make, class, and even fuel, hull, and engine types. Sites like Boat Trader, Yacht World, and even eBay are good starting points.

  • Attend a boat show. You know those billboards with ads for boat shows in your area? If you’re interested in boat ownership, now’s the time to attend a show. For a small entrance fee, you’ll get introduced to the world of boats, motors, fishing outfitters, and much more. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to ask boatsellers about their models and potentially make a purchase.

Conduct a thorough inspection

Before you ever make an offer on a new or a used boat, you’ll want to inspect every inch of the vessel and evaluate its performance.

  • If you’re in the market for a used boat, pull up photos of comparable boats online to compare and contrast features.

  • Walk around the boat and note any issues or damage.

  • Check for safety features onboard, such as anti-theft and anti-flood sensors.

  • Take it out on the water. A boat is a significant investment. Put the boat through its paces out on the water, if possible, to see how it handles.

Settle on storage

You’re ready to buy your boat, but where will you store it? Maybe you’re going with the marina option, leaving the boat attached to a dock for a monthly fee. Perhaps you have plenty of square footage in your garage, storage unit, or carport. Each option has its pros. A marina allows you to hop aboard with minimal prep work, while indoor boat storage means you won’t have to winterize your boat when the seasons change. No matter where you stow your seacraft, be sure to protect your investment:

  • Buy good locks. Trailer hitch locks, outdrive locks, and boat lift locks all can deter criminals searching for a convenient getaway.

  • Record all the serial numbers of your on-board equipment — from GPS and fish finders to skiing equipment and your boat’s hull number.

  • Add a GPS tracking device to your boat. This will help you keep tabs on your boat, whether it’s in your garage or out on the river.

  • Install a garage door sensor to protect against theft.

  • Place indoor and outdoor security cameras near your boat. If you store your boat in a covered carport, you’ll want to position security cameras around the area. These security features will also help you keep an eye on your lawn equipment and tools.

Be proactive about maintenance

Like your home and your vehicles, boats need to be taken care of to ensure they last. Boat maintenance varies widely depending on your boat’s size, model, and whether you use it in freshwater, saltwater, or a combination of both.

  • Keep the interior and exterior of your boat clean, and cover when not in use.

  • Stay up to date on federal and local requirements for your boat and its usage.

  • Consider winter storage options. If your boat is sitting in the marina all year, it’ll be at the mercy of cold weather, too. Look around for interior storage options for winter, if possible.

  • Always check fuel and fluid levels.

  • Flush the motor after each trip out to get rid of debris.

  • Check all pumps, hoses, and vents regularly for leaks and corrosion.

  • Do a visual inspection of the motor and propellers before and after each trip.

  • Make sure the boat and battery switch are in the off position when not in use.

  • Regularly check battery function.

  • Get oil changes according to the boat manufacturer’s timeline.

  • Repair any damage to the hull.

Once you settle on your perfect boat, get all your paperwork in order, and your storage lined up, you’ll be ready to take to the water and fully enjoy your adventures. For tips on keeping your home secure while you’re cruising on the lake or the bay, browse our comprehensive Brinks Home™ Smart Center.

Jason Stevens is a senior writer for Brinks Home. He is a "tech guy" who enjoys sharing home security and automation tips with others.

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