Key takeaways

  • On average, owning a boat costs anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 per year.
  • Renting is a good option for testing options and infrequent trips.
  • Buying is best for people who plan on boating frequently and can handle maintenance costs.

If you are looking to join the 100 million Americans who go boating each year, you may be considering whether you should rent or buy a boat. With many different sizes and types of boats, price points for renting and buying vary greatly.

Both renting and buying boats have pros and cons, so you need to decide what works best for you. Consider your long-term boating goals and your budget when comparing your options.

Renting a boat considerations

Looking to have some maritime fun without all the responsibility? Renting a boat is the way to go. By renting, you get to enjoy a boat for a day or two without worrying about its day-to-day maintenance.

You can easily find boat rentals of all different kinds using sites like GetMyBoat or Boatsetter. But remember, many rental companies require you to take a brief training before you rent.

There are many types of boats from small fishing boats to yachts and catamarans, so rental prices vary greatly. You can expect to pay at least $200 a day for a boat rental, but some cost multiple thousands of dollars per day, reaching as high as $50,000 for a super yacht. If you only want to use the boat for a few hours, you may be able to find partial day boat rentals for a bit less.

Advantages

Renting a boat has some key advantages.

  • Try out different boat types. When you rent, you aren’t committed to one boat or even a specific type of boat. You can rent a speedboat one day and test out a pontoon the next.
  • Use the boat as much or as little as you want. You don’t have to take out the boat a certain amount to make it feel worth it. Go out for a few hours, and if you like it, you can always rent the boat again.
  • No upkeep or maintenance. Arguably the best part about renting is that you don’t have to fix anything or figure out where to store the boat when you’re done using it.

Disadvantages

You may miss certain things if you rent a boat instead of purchasing one.

  • More expensive over time. Renting a boat once is definitely cheaper than buying one, but if you plan to rent a boat many times, the fees can quickly add up. Buying a boat may be the most cost-effective option if you plan to boat often.
  • The boat may not be in tip-top condition. Whether you rent through a boat rental company or a peer-to-peer rental service, you don’t have control over the condition of the boat. Make sure you read reviews of any company you plan to rent a boat from.
  • You have less freedom. Every rental company restricts where you can go or what you can do in the boat. For example, you may not be allowed to water ski or go tubing with a boat rental.
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Who renting is best for

Buying a boat’s a large expense, so if you don’t plan to use it often, it is cheaper to rent. If you are thinking about buying a boat but aren’t sure what you want, renting can be a great way to get familiar with different kinds of boats and decide if you like the boating lifestyle.

Buying a boat considerations

Buying a boat comes with perks — you always have a fun place to hang out on the water, and you can take it out whenever you want. But when you become a boat owner, you are also responsible for taking care of the boat, which takes time and more money.

Boats are also expensive to buy, and a loan will likely be necessary. The price tag depends largely on what type of boat you choose and whether you buy it new or used. You can expect to pay at least $10,000 for a small used motorboat. If you want to buy a new boat, the average price is between $40,000 and $60,000. However, that price tag can climb much higher depending on the size and functionality of the craft.

Advantages

The responsibility of being a boat owner comes with some advantages, including:

  • You can use it whenever you want. When you own a boat, you don’t have to plan around the rental company’s schedule to take it out.
  • Customize your boat to your liking. The name, paint job, and boat decor are all in your hands.
  • Maintain the boat to your standards. You manage the upkeep of the boat and can easily keep track of maintenance, so you don’t have to wonder about its condition.

Disadvantages

Owning a boat isn’t all fun and games. It might not be a good idea if these disadvantages outweigh the advantages for you:

  • Boats are a money pit. Some boat owners joke that “boat” stands for ‘bust out another thousand’. All jokes aside, boats are expensive. Owners must pay for gas, maintenance, storage and off-season maintenance.
  • You may feel guilty when you don’t use it enough. In 2022, the average U.S. boat was only operated 54 times a year. So for the other 311 days, a boat sits idle. When you spend so much money on it, you can start to feel bad if you feel you don’t use it enough.
  • Their value goes down over time. When you buy a house, your investment often gains value over time. However, boats typically lose their value over time, similar to cars and other vehicles.
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Who buying is best for

It’s important for boat owners to really enjoy their boat. Otherwise, they may regret their purchase. If you understand all the costs of owning a boat and it fits comfortably within your budget, owning a boat might be right for you.

5 questions to ask before buying a boat

You need to consider how you will store and fuel your boat during the season and how you will overwinter your boat. Other factors to consider are the cost to fuel it, how much you will use it and the monthly payments when you finance.

1. How do I prepare my boat for the winter?

Since your boat won’t be used for several months during the winter, you need to prepare for this inactivity. Standard steps include:

  • Replacing the engine oil.
  • Draining the engine’s cooling water.
  • Stabilizing the fuel with a fuel additive.
  • Replacing the gear oil.
  • Protecting the internal engine components with a fogging engine spray.
  • Greasing and lubricating the engine’s fittings.

If you’re not able to perform these tasks yourself, winterizing your boat will be an added annual expense that could range from $150 to $600.

2. Where will I store the boat in the winter?

When you’re not using the boat in the winter, you have several options for storage:

  • Keep the boat in a slip at a marina and pay slip rental fees.
  • Place it on a trailer and store it in your garage or in your yard if you have the space, and if you have an HOA, it’s allowed.
  • Place it on a trailer and store it at a self-storage facility.
  • Place it in dry dock storage at the marina.

Three of these options require an additional monthly payment you’ll need to factor into your budget.

3. How much will annual maintenance and fees cost?

The average annual cost to own and maintain a boat is $5,000 to $8,000. This includes state taxes, insurance, license and registration, gas, maintenance and repairs, trailer and tow vehicle, safety equipment and education, navigation equipment, docking fees and winter storage.

The annual cost does not include the monthly payment you will need to make when you get a loan, however. Be sure to factor the annual cost of your loan alongside these other expenses when you determine how much your boat will cost each year.

4. How will I manage if the boat breaks down when I’m on the water?

If you take your boat on the water enough times, you’ll likely experience being stranded due to an engine breakdown or malfunction. You should plan for this possibility in advance. The plan should include the company to call for a tow and the repair shop you want your boat towed to. The cost to tow a boat ranges from $250 to $500 per hour.

5. Will I use the boat enough to justify the expense?

The answer to this question differs for each person and their wants and needs. But, if you’re like the average boat owner, you’ll use your boat less than two months of the year.

With an average cost of around $5,000 minimum per year, that breaks down to a little under $100 per day of use. Depending on the cost of renting in your area — and the type of boat you want to rent — it may still be cheaper to own. However, renting frees you from added responsibilities, which could be worth the higher daily price point.

Financing a boat

If you want to buy a boat but don’t have the cash needed to buy one, you may be able to get a boat loan or a personal loan. Talk to a local bank or online lender to find out their loan options for purchasing a boat.

In general, a boat loan works similarly to an auto loan. The boat will act as collateral for the loan, which can help keep interest rates down. If you are unable to repay, the lender can repossess your boat.

If you opt for an unsecured personal loan, you won’t need to provide any collateral. However, it may be much more difficult to qualify for a loan amount — and interest rate — that can cover the cost of a boat without being too expensive.

The bottom line

Boats aren’t a small expense and for most, will require some sort of financing. Weigh the pros and cons of buying a boat versus renting before you decide how you will get out on the water.

Once you decide on how you want to enjoy the boating life, make a plan. If you decide to rent, compare large apps and local options. If you decide to buy a boat, determine how much money you need to budget. Then if needed, you can look into financing options.