Boat Buying Tips

for-sale-signBuying your first boat, or even a new boat, can be super exciting. It can also be super nerve-wracking too. Since “can you give me any good tips for buying a boat?” always seems to come up in conversations, I decided to add this article to the site so I’d have something tangible to refer people to.

It’s really quite an informative piece and it covers all the basics that you need to be aware of and all the things you need to look out for.

This article originally appeared on

How to Buy a Boat: Tips for a First Time Buyer

A step by step guide to buying a boat, from concept to closing.

Are you thinking about buying a boat? Great news… as boaters ourselves, we highly recommend it! We’ve got lots of great reviews of new boats, as well as listings of new and used boats of all types. But first, let’s go through the process of buying a boat, which should start well before you stand looking at a boat with your checkbook in hand.

The choices are many… and this collection only scratches the surface of what’s available.


The first question to ask yourself is: What kind of boating would I like to do? If you haven’t done so already, consider where and how you will use the boat that you buy.

Boats are specialized, so what you buy should be largely determined by how you will enjoy the water. Just as you wouldn’t buy an off-road vehicle to commute on a highway, it’s important to find the right boat to fit your activities, tastes, and the needs of your crew. For help digging into that, read How do I decide which boat to buy?

Take the time to do some research. For example, if you think you’d like to go sailing, read Five Reasons You Should Own a Sailboat and Choosing a Safe Sailboat. Or if watersports is your goal, read Water Ski and Wakeboard Boats: Designed for Watersports.

If you want to enjoy evenings putting along the shoreline of a local lake, consider a pontoon boat. And while you could cast a line from a party barge, if fishing will be your primary boating activity, you’ll want to look at more purpose-built fishing boats.

Once you decide on a type, there are more choices to make. For example, you’ll discover that not all fishing boats are created equal: there are aluminum fishing boats (typically for fresh water), saltwater fishing boats, and boats that are meant for inshore or offshore use. Offshore boats are generally larger, and you’ll need to choose between a convertible and an express. (Find out more by reading Convertible Vs. Express: Which is Better for Bluewater Fishing.)

Each boat type has its own specialized considerations. Here are some additional articles to consider:

  • Bay Boat Battles: What Makes One Better Than Another
  • Choosing a Center-Console: Is It The Right Boat For You?

As you can see, at we’ve written on many topics related to your search; here are a few more posts that might be useful.

  • What’s the difference between boat hulls?
  • What Hull Shape Would Be Best?
  • Consider the costs of owning a boat before you buy

A deeper “V” hull shape on any boat generally improves how it handles in rough seas but may reduce its maximum speed. What you’ll need depends on the sea conditions you’ll experience.


It only takes a little bit of shopping to discover that there are a lot of used boats available at much lower prices than you would pay for the same boat brand new. Fiberglass and aluminum don’t rot like traditional wood does, so today’s boats last a long time.

Buying used can save you money up front, but just like buying a used car, it also increases the variables. If you haven’t bought a used boat in the past, Boat Buyers Beware: 10 Hidden Problems to Look For in Used Boats would be a good read before you commit to this approach.

Whether you should buy new or used also depends on the type of boat. Some models like express cruisers have evolved significantly in recent years, making a comparable used boat hard to come by. (For more about different types of cruisers, read Top 5 Cruisers: Motor Yacht, Express, Aft Cabin, Sedan Cruiser, and Convertible Boats.)

On the other hand, center consoles have been around for a long time, so as long as you can make do without some of the bells and whistles that would be available on a new boat, buying one used might allow you to buy bigger than you could afford when buying new.

If you are shopping for a larger boat, or buying internationally, consider using a broker to help you find the best deal and help with the paperwork.

If you see the words “make an offer” on any listing, you know a low purchase price is possible.


Once you’ve decided what type of boat you need and whether you’re looking for a new or used model, it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of boat buying. Some aspects of it are like buying anything else: do your homework, don’t believe everything you read in the brochures, and make sure to get opinions from people who won’t be benefiting from closing a particular deal. Owners’ forums can be a great place to find out what has caused trouble for others, as well as what they particularly like about their boats or how they use them.

Other aspects of buying a boat are unique, and it can be difficult for first time buyers to spot details that could eventually make the difference between a happy weekend on the boat and a sea of trouble. Used boats all have their quirks, so there’s no way for us to generalize about where those trouble spots might be. When in doubt, ask a more knowledgeable owner or boat expert for help.

Depending on the climate, it may be difficult in the off-season to properly look over a boat.


Once you are ready for some serious boat shopping, the best place to begin is online. You can compare models, prices, and even take virtual tours all without getting out of your chair. The listings include a wide range of boats and types, and you may also want to investigate what’s available on our sister sites: YachtWorld and BoatTrader. You can search by length, boat type, or model name, and you can also customize your search by location.

Even if you have endless patience for boat gawking, it can still be exhausting and disappointing to fall in love with the photos and then be disappointed by the actual boat. Here are some tips to help you weed out the ones that will probably be a letdown:

  • Compare photos between similar boats to see what isn’t mentioned on a particular listing. It could be a red flag area for that boat.
  • Compare “highlights” between listings, to see what’s part of a stock dealer equipment list and what’s different about each particular boat.
  • If the boat is listed with a dealer, glance through the rest of the offerings to get a feel for the overall business.
  • Beware of boats that include a lot of “stuff” you won’t use or will have to replace, like outdated electronics.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to a select few, you’ll need to go check out those boats in person. That can be as easy as ambling down to your neighborhood marina or dropping by a boat show booth, or as complicated as flying halfway around the world. The goal is to see if your choice looks as good in real life as she does on screen.

Make sure you insist on a sea trial, even if the boat that has your interest is out of the water.


How thoroughly should you inspect a boat before you buy? That depends, but if this is a major purchase it’s important to dig deep, beyond what the seller wants you to see—especially if you’re trying to figure out why a particular deal looks a little too good to be true. If you’re not sure whether a particular boat is worth a closer look, start with a Ten-Minute Walkaround. You’ll quickly learn whether to ask more questions or walk away.
Next, go for a sea trial to see if you enjoy being on the boat underway. There’s a difference between a sea trial and a boat ride, though; if what you’re really looking for is a joyride around the lake on a nice afternoon, rent a boat or go out with a friend instead. Otherwise you may gain a reputation as a tire-kicker and time-waster.

After the sea trial, it’s best if you have the boat hauled before buying. There’s a reason why most surveyors will not consider their job complete if the boat remains in the water; too much is hidden below the waterline, and what you can’t see below the surface can be crucial to your safety and enjoyment.

And speaking of surveyors, consider hiring one—especially if you’re purchasing a boat larger than 30 feet. Most insurance companies will require a recent survey, and you’ll definitely learn more about the boat of your dreams. For more detail about what’s involved, read Understanding Boat Surveys: What is Pre-Purchase?

Other articles that might be helpful:

  • Surveyor: The Sleuth on Your Side
  • Survey it Yourself, From Stem to Stern

You’ll learn a lot about a boat just by seeing her out of the water.


What’s included will depend not only on the type of boat you buy, but also on the deal you can make and whether you’re buying new or used. Any seller should provide an equipment list that will give you an idea of how much stuff comes with the boat. You may opt for a total package or choose to do your own shopping for amenities.

How to choose amenities on a boat

Even if you choose a package deal, there will undoubtedly be more “stuff” needed before you can push off from the dock. Make sure you save enough money to spend on the extras that will help you safely enjoy being on the water.


When it comes to actually nailing down a deal, buying a boat is like buying anything else: the more in love with it you are (or appear to be), the higher the price you will pay. Buying a boat can be very emotional, so it’s important to step back from that while you are negotiating a price, checking for online fraud, and completing the paperwork—that is, until you’ve actually closed the deal.

It’s also important (especially with a private sale) to make sure the owner actually owns her. Check the paperwork carefully, and if the boat is stored at a yard or marina, remember to ask the manager if there are any outstanding bills or liens on the boat.

If you’re still on the fence about buying new, buying used, or buying at all, read Used Boat Buying: To Buy Or Not to Buy a Boat: Fuzzy Logic at Its Best and Top 10 Reasons to Buy Used Boats.

Bottom line: Buying a boat is a big investment and will require a significant commitment to maintenance and upkeep so take your time, ask lots of questions and make sure you’re comfortable with the process before you take the plunge and sign on the dotted line.