Buying a Boat: 4 Big Mistakes First-Time Buyers Make

There's nothing better than having the freedom to go out on the water whenever you please. Of course, in order to get there, you've got to buy a boat, which is a lot less fun. But don't worry. As long as you avoid these four mistakes, you'll be wearing a captain's hat in no time. The information provided here is for general information only and should not be used as legal advice.

video play icon

4 Big Mistakes First-Time Boat Buyers Make

  1. Not getting the agreement in writing: You should at least have a bill of sale to prove that the boat legally changed hands. In some states, it might be a good idea to fill out an affidavit of ownership as well.
  2. Assuming it's like buying a car: Don't think that you understand how buying a boat works just because you've bought a car. The selection at boat dealerships is smaller and financing is more difficult.
  3. Partnering with bad co-owners: If you and a friend decide to share a boat, make sure that they are responsible and that you have all of the details worked out before money changes hands.
  4. Confusing wants with needs: There are a lot of cool features out there, but they come at a price. Know what your real priorities are and keep your budget in mind.

Buying A Boat New vs Used

New Used
Compatible with the latest gear
More budget-friendly
Comes with a warranty
Value won't depreciate too quickly
Easy to find a specific model

Which States Have The Most Boats?

You may have heard that Arizona has more boats per capita than any other US state. While a few online sources, including Encyclopedia Britannica and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce used to claim that this was true, in reality the desert state never even cracked the top ten. Here are the ten states that actually have the most boats:

State Registered Boats (as of 2010) Per Capita Percentage
1. Florida 914,535 4.9%
2. Minnesota 813,976 15.3%
3. Michigan 812,066 8.2%
4. California 810,008 2.2%
5. Wisconsin 615,335 10.8%
6. Texas 596,830 2.4%
7. New York 475,689 2.5%
8. South Carolina 435,491 9.4%
9. Ohio 430,710 3.7%
10. North Carolina 400,846 4.2%

The 3 Main Types of Boat Propulsion

Marine propulsion is basically what makes your boat move. There are three main categories that boats fall into. You'll want to decide which one suits you best before you start shopping.

  1. Engine: inboard & outboard motors, paddle wheels, pump-jet, etc.
  2. Human: rowing, paddling, setting pole, etc.
  3. Wind: sailing

What is a Vessel Safety Check?

Once you get a boat, you'll want to keep it in tip-top shape. Scheduling a yearly vessel safety check is a great way to do this. Basically, an inspector from the US Coast Guard will come, examine your boat, and make sure that the vessel and all of the equipment on board is up to code. If you pass the inspection, you'll get a decal that lets law-enforcement know at a glance that you are in compliance with all of the state and federal boating laws. If you don't pass, don't worry. Instead of a citation, you'll get a written report on what needs to be changed, replaced, or fixed.

What Are The Most Common Boating Accidents?

Staying safe means knowing what to avoid. According to the US Coast Guard, these were the five most common accidents in 2017:

  1. Collision With Recreational Vessel
  2. Collision With Fixed Object
  3. Flooding/Swamping
  4. Grounding
  5. Falling Overboard

How Can I Avoid Boating Accidents?

There are plenty of precautions you can take to avoid getting hurt at sea. Of course, you should have life vests for every passenger on board. But beyond that, you need to stay aware of your surroundings and act responsibly. Here are the ten factors that contributed to the most boating accidents in 2017, according to the US Coast Guard:

Rank Contributing Factor Accidents Deaths Injuries
1. Operator inattention 620 45 381
2. Improper lookout 471 23 337
3. Operator inexperience 436 63 249
4. Machinery failure 305 9 80
5. Alcohol use 275 102 227
6. Excessive speed 269 11 247
7. Navigation rules violation 257 22 165
8. Weather 198 40 60
9. Hazardous waters 187 64 124
10. Force of wave/wake 169 17 148

In Depth

Sailing away on the open sea or cruising around a gorgeous lake is fun and relaxing, and owning a boat of your own can give you the freedom to set sail whenever you want. But buying one can be tricky. There's a lot of money at stake, and judgement errors can wreck more than just your finances. If you want to fully enjoy the seafaring life, make sure you avoid these four mistakes.

Mistake #1: Get everything in writing. Even if you're buying from a friend, a handshake deal is never a good idea. At the very least, you'll need a bill of sale for your records. And if the seller is offering to make repairs before handing the vessel over, you'll want to be able to hold them to it if they try to weasel out.

The contract should also specify everything that is included in the purchase. Just ask the Boat Owners Association member who bought a sailboat from a private seller. While inspecting the boat, she was pleased to find plenty of useful equipment on board, including the anchor, radio, and battery. But by the time she first got it out on the water, they were missing. The equipment was expensive, and she felt ripped off. But without the proper paperwork, there wasn't much she could do.

The contract should also specify everything that is included in the purchase.

If this process is so daunting it makes you want to walk into the ocean, don't worry. Just do your research before putting money down and it'll be smooth sailing in no time. Refer to our guide on buying a boat which is found right here on this page. Get started now beneath this video.

Mistake #2: Don't assume it's like buying a car. They may seem similar on the surface, but there are a lot of differences between the two processes. For one thing, way fewer boats get made each year. So you can't just go down to your local dealer and expect them to have a great selection on hand. Instead, do your research online beforehand, so you can find the exact model you want.

There's also a big difference when it comes to getting a loan. A car is considered a necessity; you need it to get to work or drive your kids to school. But boats are classified as luxury goods. So if you're counting on getting financing, you'd better make sure your credit score is strong, preferably above 730. Even then, you'll probably have to shell out a ten percent down payment.

A car is considered a necessity; you need it to get to work or drive your kids to school.

Mistake #3: Be careful with co-ownership. Most people can't afford to buy a boat on their own. So sometimes groups go in on one together. This can be a great way to reduce costs, and even socialize with your friends at sea. But it can also lead to plenty of arguments if it's not done right. There are a lot of things you need to plan out ahead of time. How are you going to split the costs of repairs, upkeep, and harboring? What happens if someone moves away? What if you want to sell the boat someday?

You also need to make sure you're getting in bed with the right people. Take Jon Mossberger. He and his seven fraternity brothers own a vessel together. This is helpful when an expensive repair gets split eight ways. But it's less fun when an inexperienced member causes $70,000 worth of damage to the steering mechanism. We aren't lawyers and this isn't legal advice, but it's pretty clear that you shouldn't co-own a boat with someone who doesn't know how to operate it.

Mistake #4: Know the difference between needs and wants. Steve Jobs could afford to spend more than a hundred million dollars on a high-tech yacht full of Apple computers, but odds are good that you will have to settle for less. That doesn't mean that you can't get a great boat. Just that you shouldn't expect too many bells and whistles to fit into your budget.

That doesn't mean that you can't get a great boat.

Figure out what your priorities are before you start shopping. Some details might really be necessary for you. For example, if you want to take the whole family out on the water, size is a real issue. But other factors, like being your favorite color, should probably be considered "bonus features" rather than requirements.

That being said, if you want to get as close to perfect as possible, there's no such thing as being too informed. Check out our guide on buying a boat today. You can find it right beneath this video.

Advertiser Disclosure: To support this website, receives advertising revenue from contextual ad networks run by big companies such as Google and Microsoft, and also from some of companies whose products and services we discuss in these pages. We may earn revenue when you click advertisements or links from this website. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information provided on this website is accurate at the time of writing, the information provided is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional legal advice.