How to Buy a Boat

Four Parts:Determining Your NeedsShopping For a BoatFinancing Your BoatClosing the Deal

A boat is a major purchase that requires careful consideration. Before you begin your search, determine which type of boat is best for your purposes and your enjoyment as a boater. Once you have decided on the type of boat you would like to purchase, you can explore the many financing options available with you. Always work with a reputable dealer or broker to help guide you through the process.

Part 1
Determining Your Needs

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    Determine what type of boat you want. What do you plan on using your boat for? Do you plan on fishing, sailing, cruising, tubing, or water skiing? The type of boat you buy will depend on your answer to those questions.[1][2]
    • If you plan on using your boat primarily for fishing, look for a fishing boat.
    • If you plan on hanging out at the lake, a pontoon boat is a good idea.
    • If you will use your boat for water sports, a water ski or wake board boat is best.
    • If you plan to go sailing, a sail boat is best.
    • If you are a first time buyer, a boat between 22-24 feet is best. Larger boats are more expensive and more difficult to operate.
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    Consider how the boat will fit in your lifestyle. In addition to knowing the activities you would like to use your boat for, you need to think about other lifestyle factors that will affect your purchase. These factors will influence the size of the boat you purchase, your budget for buying a boat, and other costs that will be associated with owning a boat. Ask yourself some of these questions:[3]
    • Will you be the only person using the boat? Will you need space for your family and friends?
    • How much can you spend on a boat and related expenses (e.g.maintenance, insurance, registration fees, safety courses, storage etc.)?
    • Will you use your boat in lakes, rivers, or oceans?
    • Will you use your boat year round or only during certain times of the year?
    • Where will you keep your boat (e.g. at home, marina, etc.)?
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    Decide if you will purchase a new or used boat. There are pros and cons for whichever route you choose to go. A new boat will be under a warranty and is in perfect condition. A used boat will be less expensive, but you may not have a warranty or any manufacturer support. You also will not know if your used boat has been in any accidents or if it has been well maintained throughout the years.[4]
    • New boats are purchased through a dealer.
    • You can purchase a used boat through a dealer, a broker, or a private individual. If you purchase a used boat, have it inspected by a certified marine surveyor.

Part 2
Shopping For a Boat

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    Search online. Online is the best way to start your boat search. Read as much about the boats you are interested in. However, do not rely on the information provided by the boat companies. Theses companies want you to make a purchase and are not completely neutral.[5]
    • Visit online boat owner forums to get honest opinions about boats. Current boat owners will not be biased and can give you the pros and cons of a particular boat.
    • Online boat shopping allows you to compare prices, models, and take virtual tours.
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    Go to a boat show. Boat shows offer a unique opportunity to meet with many boat dealers, get information about boat accessories, access to special deals, and attend special seminars. Visit the boat show website before the show to find the vendors and organizations that will be there.[6]
    • Take pictures and notes for each boat that you look at and ask a lot of questions.
    • Grab brochures and business cards so you can follow up with the contacts that you make.
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    Compare boats. Once you have narrowed down the type of boat you want, make a list of the boats you would like to see in person. When you visit and test drive the boats, look for certain factors to help you decide. You will check these factors at the dealership and when you have an on-water test ride.[7] You may want to take notes when you check out each boat.
    • Weight. Heavier boats often ride better, but require larger engines.
    • Beam. Boats with beams that are 8' 6 and under can be transported on a trailer without using a special permit.
    • Legroom and storage compartments.
    • Noise. Some engines are louder than others. You should never hear creaking or rattling sounds during your on-water test ride.
    • Visibility when you are sitting and standing.
    • Location of the controls and access to items that you will check on a regular basis (e.g. oil dipsticks, coolant levels, power steering fluid levels, etc.).
    • Inboard versus outboard engines. An outboard engine is a portable, self-contained package that can be attached to the back of a boat. On the other hand, an inboard engine is mounted inside the boat and are not portable.[8]

Part 3
Financing Your Boat

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    Find a boat dealer. A good boat dealer can make your buying experience much easier. Your dealer should be knowledgeable about boats as well as the boat buying process. The dealer should also have excellent customer service skills. You should feel comfortable asking questions and never be pressured into making a quick decision.[9]
    • Find a dealer that is a Marin Industry Certified Dealer. These dealers have pledged to be up-to-date on the boating industry and provide excellent customer service.
    • You can do an online search to find a certified dealer in your state.[10] If you are unsure if your dealer is certified, call and ask before you work with them.
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    Finance through your dealer. Boat dealers have finance managers on staff or have existing relationships with specific banks and lenders. Because of these existing relationships, you may be able to get special deals, extended warranties, or lower interest rates.[11]
    • Financing through a dealer will also make your boat purchase much easier. You can take care of the shopping and financing at one location.
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    Work with a boat broker. A boat broker will help you find a boat, negotiate the price, and help you complete the purchase process. A broker will have knowledge about different financing options and the different sources available to you.[12] You can find a boat broker by visiting a boat show, reading a boat magazine, or by visiting the National Marine Lenders Association website.[13]
    • A broker is your advocate throughout the buying process. Your broker is looking out for your best interest and will help you get the best deal.
    • A broker is also a resource after you buy your boat. They can help you find insurance, repair specialists, boat safety classes, and connect you with boat owner associations.
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    Take out a second home mortgage. If you are a home owner, you can take out a second mortgage to finance your boat. This will fix your interest payments for 10 to 15 years. Speak with your mortgage lender to see if this is a good option for you.
    • It is best if you refinance with at least a 1% improvement in your interest rate.
    • The amount of money you can borrow for this loan will depend on how much equity you have in your home.
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    Visit your local bank. Your local bank or credit union may also be a resource to get a loan. The existing relationship you have with the institution may help you get a better loan. The only downside is your loan officer may not be knowledgeable about marine lending.
    • If you do go with a local bank or credit union, check and see if they have a marine lending department. If they do, ask if they have experience with the type of boat that you are interested in financing.

Part 4
Closing the Deal

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    Inspect the boat. Never purchase a boat without doing a thorough inspection/survey, especially if you are buying a used boat. This may or may not be required for your boat insurance. An inspection tells you the current market value of the boat and the condition and construction of the boat. The boat should also be inspected to see if it meets the boating standards of the National Fire Protection Association, the American Boat and Yacht Council, and the US Coast Guard.[14]
    • Tell the surveyor that you want a full condition and value survey.
    • Before you use a surveyor, ask to see a copy of their resume and ask them to see a sample of an inspection report.
    • Use a surveyor that is a member of the National Association of Marine Surveyors or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors. Visit the website of these associations to find a surveyor in your area.[15]
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    Sign a purchase and sale contract. If the inspection is complete and you wish to move forward with the purchase, sign a purchase and sale contract with the seller. The contract should state the price of the boat, terms of the purchase, the closing date, and the boat that you plan to purchase. If you sign this contract before the inspection is complete, write in that the sale of the boat will only happen if you are satisfied with the results of the official boat survey.[16]
    • You will most likely need to pay a deposit at this time. Visit the Yacht Brokers Association of American website to find a sample contract that you may use.
    • If you are working with a broker or dealer they may be responsible for generating the contract.
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    Register the boat. Once you purchase the boat, you will need to get the boat's title and register the boat. If you are purchasing a used boat, you will need to do a title transfer. You can check with the National Vessel Documentation Center to see if your boat is documented. The number is 1-800-799-8362.[17]
    • Boats are typically registered through your state and/or the seller's state. Check with your state's registration office to determine the specific requirements and paperwork.
    • Also check to see if there are any liens against the boat.
    • Your broker or dealer can help you with this process.
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    Take a boat safety course. Boat safety education prepares you to be a responsible boat owner. Some insurance policies require and/or offer discounts for completing one of these courses. Boat courses can be taken online or in person.
    • The Boat US Foundation offers online boat courses.[18]
    • The US Coast Guard also offers a variety of courses[19], and you can find a class in your zip code through their website.[20]
    • You can also obtain a boating license through some of these courses. The requirements vary by state though.[21] Visit the United States Power Squadrons website to find out the laws and regulations in your state.
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    Purchase insurance. The two types of boat insurance are "agreed value" and "actual cash value." Agreed value policies cost more upfront and do not factor in the decreasing value of the boat as it gets older. Actual cash value policies cost less upfront, but take into account the decreasing value of the boat as it ages. Your boat insurance should be specific to the type of boat that you have. For example, you would not need yacht insurance if you have purchased a sail boat. Shop around to get the best deal.[22]
    • Ask any current boat owners you know about their insurers and how well their claims have been handled.
    • You can also contact your state regulatory agency to find boat insurance.
    • You may also talk with a local agent that will shop for you and find a policy that fits your particular needs.


  • When negotiating be sure to ask if the basic accessories (anchors, life jackets, ropes, lights, fenders) are part of the deal. For a small boat this can be over $300 worth of equipment.
  • Make sure all documents that require notarization are notarized.
  • When buying a used boat ask for maintenance records for the engine and discuss any major work done on the hull and engine
  • Always request copies of the seller's driver's license (or any other picture identification) along with the boat documentation. Some state registration offices will require this to register the boat.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Purchasing Boats