Buying a Boat Can Be a Huge Mistake — Here's Why

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family enjoying a summer day on a boat
You have to save up for a good retirement
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Hidden Costs

Many people don’t realize the costs that come after buying, boat enthusiast Brian Donovan says. Many other boaters agree they were shocked when the bills started rolling in.

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Mechanic is installing speed boat engine
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Boats can be frustrating to keep shipshape. “Their engines are finicky and require frequent maintenance and occasional repairs. The engine needs care after every trip, especially in saltwater,” according to boat insurance expert Melanie Musson of Clearsurance. Most aspiring boaters likely anticipate simple relaxation cruising on the high seas, and this maintenance factor will seem less than relaxing. 

mechanic repairing inflatable motorboat engine at boat garage. Ship engine seasonal service and maintenance. Vessel motor with open cover
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There are lots of things that can go wrong on a boat. Expect to pay for repairs related to electrical, engine, and other mechanical systems, as well as bodywork. The longer you own a boat and the larger it is, the more likely you are to have to pay for repairs from a professional. After all, you don’t want damage to leave you stranded or, worse, sunk.

Related: 32 Lies Your Mechanic Has Told You

Boat propellerl, gears and  ropes

Parts Can Be Hard to Find

Needing to pay for repairs is one thing — finding and ordering parts needed for repairs is another challenge. Water sports enthusiast Sam O'Brien says parts are hard to come by and often take time to arrive. In the meantime, you’re paying for a boat you’re unable to use.

man cleaning power boat

They Need Regular Cleaning

Because a boat is exposed to the elements, it requires regular cleaning. “Cleaning my boat is much more difficult than cleaning a car,” says boat buyer Antony Diaz — who now wishes he could skip all the upkeep by renting instead as needed.

Sunken dreams


Navigating insurance is never an enjoyable task. Understanding and buying the right boat insurance is no different. Prices vary widely based on the level of coverage and the specifications of each boat. Needless to say, adding an additional monthly payment might make you rethink a purchase.

Related: 12 Tips to Keep You from Buying Too Much Insurance

Hand of man signing signature filling in application form document


An easy-to-forget expense for owning a boat: You’ll need to pay a yearly registration fee to operate it on the water. The fees vary by state, type of vessel, and size, but having yet another ongoing expense is never a good thing if you’re looking to live frugally.

Launching at Boat Ramp

You Need Transport to the Water

If you don’t own waterfront property or rent a slip, you also have transportation costs and hassle to deal with: Putting a boat on its trailer, towing it to the water, putting it into the water, and reversing that to get back home means spending a good chunk of the day on logistics instead of fun. Oh, and don’t forget the cost to register a boat trailer in some states, in addition to the boat itself.

Related: 10 People Who Shouldn't Buy a Truck

Instrument panel, navigation implement and steering wheel of a motor boat cockpit.

Boating Licenses

You’ll have to pay to drive a boat in most places. “It’s different from a normal driver’s license, and you’ll need to take a test in order to get licensed,” warns Liam Davies of Fishing Command. This means more money and time before you can even enjoy ownership. 

Tax forms with Treasury check and calculator


If you think you’re done with expenses, think again. “Next up comes the tax for your boat,” Davies says. Taxes are dependent on which state you’re in — in Rhode Island, there’s none, but in South Carolina, owners pay a tax equal to 10.5% of the value of their boat yearly. Ouch, 10.5% every year? No thanks. 

Mooring rope on sea water background

Docking or Mooring

If you want to moor a boat, waitlists for a mooring can run years. “You might be lucky to get one,” Davies says. If you do, plan to spend anywhere from $250 annually to as much as $1,000 monthly for larger boats. And “if you get a mooring, you’ll need a rowboat, dinghy, or kayak to get to your boat.” 

Inflatable luxury fishing motorboat wrapped in cover standing over trailer for winter period seasonal storage at backyard. Shrink-wrapped vessel winterized on parking
Kyryl Gorlov/istockphoto


When winter rolls around, you’ll need to prepare a boat properly or risk damage. If you pay to have your boat winterized, it’ll cost around $300, with larger boats likely to be more expensive. While you might be able to save money with a DIY job, you still have to put in the time and effort to complete the task. 

Multilevel Motorboat Garage

Boat Storage

Unless you rent a slip at a marina or have a large area at home, you’ll have to pay to store your boat when not using it. Nicholas Swartz of Boat Anchor Hub warns of high storage costs. Depending on where you live, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 per foot for a season of storage.

a few bright orange life jackets on the yacht fence
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Boat Supplies

After buying a boat comes added expenses for supplies. You’ll need to buy things such as life vests, a safety horn, flares, and an anchor. Want an upgraded stereo system or supplies for water sports? That's going to cost you too. 

Man pouring fuel


After all these expenses, you still can’t use your boat for “free.” That’s because most boats require fuel, which adds another unending expense.

Let me rush to harbor office and grab some paperwork

A Boat Shouldn’t Be a Status Symbol

Some business owners buy boats they cannot afford in an effort to impress business clients, says Baron Christopher Hanson, a growth strategy consultant and business coach. Hanson says he has to convince some people to sell their mobile money pit before it takes them and their business under.

adventure trip on dinghy

Even Small Boats Can Have Large Expenses

If buying a smaller vessel seems like a happy medium, think again. “I bought a small dinghy thinking it would be a good investment. I was sadly mistaken,” Yurii Brown says. Even though her boat is small, expenses are large and, Brown says, not worth the cost or the hassle. 

Related: 19 Destinations Where Houseboat Rentals Beat the Beach

Senior couple canoeing in the lake

You Won’t Use a Boat as Much as You Think

Being unable to use a boat as often as anticipated is a common theme among regretful boaters. Chris Klenner of Yak Logic recommends kayaks and kayaking gear for a living, but says even these small watercraft often sit and gather dust rather than being used. 

Pontoon boat in Haldeman Creek in Naples, Florida

Depreciation Hits Boats Hard

Most boats experience depreciation, and buyers opting for pontoon and fishing boats may regret it more than most, say experts at The Mariner. “Pontoon boats and fishing boats will depreciate faster than many other boats, with the resale value dropping by about 25% to 30% percent after the first year or two of ownership,” according to a post on the site. 

sport boat on a trailer parked in the shade in a yard next to a house,

Vanity Wears Off Fast

A boat purchase can be initially thrilling but lead to regret. Thomas Jepsen of Passion Plans is a buyer who doesn’t use his boat nearly as often as he expected. “It's much better to simply rent a boat,” he says. 

Related: The Most Extravagant Yachts in the World

Taking in the view

You’ll Be Stuck Boating More Often Than You Want

Here’s a problem that might surprise you, since most owners naturally want to use their boats — but Stephan Jacob says he feels like, as a boat owner, he can’t take other vacations. “I hold back when I think of taking other trips because of how much it’s costing me to keep my vessel in tiptop shape,” Jacob says. 

Man's hand on the steering wheel of a motor boat close up

Boat Owners Must Be the Captain

Music enthusiast James Bulllard loves to crank the tunes on his boat, but says he can never truly relax. Although at first it was fun to captain his own vessel, the novelty wore off quickly. “Being the permanent boat captain has become more like a chore, rather than a treat, especially when I have friends on the boat who are drinking,” Bullard says. 

Multi generation crew on sailboat having a party

Liability Concerns

Being the “party person” for a group of friends might seem fun at first, but there are significant liability concerns with hosting boating events, says Val Streif of Get My Boat. If someone is injured or worse while on your boat, they or their family could come after you with a lawsuit. Some boat insurance policies cover only you or your immediate family as the driver, which must be taken into account when there’s a fun crowd aboard. 

Yacht in the rain in summer, warm summer rain, big round raindrops
Nikolay Kireev/istockphoto

Adverse Weather Makes Your Toy Unusable

In some locations, including many Great Lakes states, boating is popular but seasonal and at the mercy of stormy or cold weather. Torben Lonne of DIVEIN recommends avoiding a boat purchase unless you live somewhere with consistently pleasant weather. 

Related: The Best Lakes in All 50 States

Waiting for next summer
Martin Wahlborg/istockphoto

You Can Use a Boat Only Part of the Year in Many Places

Weather and seasonality are just part of why most boats sit unused. “Various studies indicate that the average boat is used only 8% of the year, sitting unused but still costing money for the remaining 92%,” Streif says.

Mouse peeking out of the hole
Dejan Kolar/istockphoto

Boats Are at Risk for Infestations

Not many things could be worse than being stuck at sea with a rodent or insect infestation on your hands. “Boats are susceptible to being invaded by pests. Rats and mice only need a 10mm gap to squeeze through, and cockroaches thrive on boats in freshwater,” warns Ed Spicer, CEO of Pest Strategies. Not only are they gross, but these pests can cause significant and expensive damage. 

A man drives a motor boat. Speed boat.

Boats Hurt the Environment

As a socially and environmentally conscious fitness guru, Chad Alexander warns of the environmental downsides of boating. “Two-stroke motors can emit 25% to 30% of their unburned gas and oil mixture into the water,” according to a study by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which is why Alexander encourages people to get out and enjoy the great outdoors in a more environmentally conscious way. 

Aerial View Of Ship Sailing In Blue Sea

Boaters Hurt Wildlife

Boats can harm fish species and water quality, but even the habitats of onshore animals can be disturbed by wakes created by boats. Nesting birds near the shoreline are especially at risk. Following rules regarding no-wake zones are one way to mitigate the impact. 

Massive algal bloom

Boats Can Contribute to Algae Blooms

Algae blooms can be dangerous to people and animals and in some cases arise because of boaters. In shallow areas, boat motors can churn up sediment from lake bottoms, which releases nutrients for algae to feed on and allows them to grow rapidly.

Cleaning a boat

Transportation of Invasive Species Is a Concern

If you bring a boat from place to place, you could be inadvertently transporting aquatic hitchhikers that will turn into an invasive species. Proper cleaning, drying, and transportation can limit this, but is one more factor boat owners have to deal with.

Shipwreck in the sea

Boating Can Be Dangerous

There are personal risks associated with boating. Alexander lives in a province with only 100,000 people, yet says “each year it seems I hear about someone never returning from a boat trip.” U.S. boating deaths surged during the pandemic, increasing from 613 in 2019 to 767 in 2020, likely due to many first-time boaters entering the market. There was a sizable uptick in injuries and accidents, too.

Marek Trawczynski/istockphoto

You Can Enjoy Fishing Without a Boat

Avid anglers may be unable to imagine not owning a boat, but many of the best fishing spots can be accessed without one. Anglers fishing from shore will find it cheaper, less of a hassle, and better for the environment. 

Related: Best Fishing Spots in All 50 States

yacht for sale

Boats Take a Long Time to Sell

Once you buy a boat, the decision isn’t easy to reverse. As if to add insult to injury, boats are notoriously difficult to get rid of. According to Yacht World, it takes about eight months to sell a 26-foot boat, and the longer your boat, the longer it will take to sell. In the meantime, you’ll be stuck with all the problems and fees. 

old wooden boat lying in the bushes
Stefan Rotter/istockphoto

You’ll Want to Get Rid of It

Despite being a water sports guru, O'Brien doesn’t recommend most people buy a boat. “Let me tell you from firsthand experience, there are two happy moments in the life of a boat owner: the day they buy and the day they sell,” O’Brien says. If even industry experts recommend against buying, it is probably wise to heed their advice. 


Join a Boating Club Instead

If your dreams of boating are crushed, have no fear. There are options. Jamie Miller doesn’t own a boat but is a member of a boating club, which allows him to enjoy the benefits of being on the water with minimal expenses. Miller recommends clubs as a way for beginners to learn about boating safety and explore different vessels. 

Small boats for rent, on a beach in Corfu, Greece

Renting May Be More Cost-Effective

For most people, renting is cheaper and easier. Streif says she tries to make renting a boat simpler than ever at her business, whether it’s for a kayak or a luxury megayachts. “At Get My Boat, we have over 140,000 boats to rent in over 9,300 destinations,” Streif says. 

She wants to try to drive a speedboat.

Make Your Boat Into a Business or Don’t Bother

If you plan to use a boat purely for pleasure, most boat owners say not to bother — that unless you’ll use it every day or for a business, it’ll be a money pit. Turn a boat into a business and you may see the financial benefit, though then you’ll have the stress of worrying about someone sinking your ship and your business together. 

Related: 24 Passive Income Ideas to Increase Your Retirement Savings