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Boat Buying Guide: How To Buy A Boat

The Ultimate Guide To Buying A Boat

Boating is good for you. No, really — author and marine biologist, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols conducted research that found that people experience emotional, behavioral, and psychological benefits of being near, in, on, or under water. And you may notice that as well! Boating, and being on the water in general, release those feel-good hormones that make you smile from ear to ear. So why not have access to a boat whenever you want?

Buying a boat — whether as a first-time owner or a veteran owner — is a big deal. It’s exciting, freeing, and confusing all at the same time. Confusing, only because there may be a million questions running through your head such as where do I start? What boat do I want? What certifications do I need? All valid questions. We created the ultimate guide to buying a boat to help you understand the process and get on the water. Let’s get started.

Determine your boat: What type of boat is best for you?

Catamaran sailing

First things first, figure out what type of boat you want and how you’ll use it.

  • Do you envision yourself taking offshore fishing trips with friends? A sportfish or center console might be the best place to start your search.

  • Are you dreaming of sailing into the sunset at a leisurely pace? A monohull or catamaran sailboat is the perfect boat for that.

  • Or, are thinking about using a boat for entertaining guests or cruising along the coasts? An express cruiser or motor yacht offers enough onboard space for guests to feel comfortable while underway.

There are so many different types of boats on the market that it might seem like a tough decision. Narrow down your search by determining:

  • What type of activities it will be used for?

  • How many people do you plan to bring onboard?

  • Do you plan to trailer the boat?

  • Where will you be using the boat (vessel draft is important here)?

Once you can answer those questions, it’s time to research further into size and brands, or new versus used.

Set your budget: How much does it cost to own a boat?

boat console

Better yet, how much boat can you afford? As you continue to narrow down the type of boat you want to own, it might be a good idea to set a budget (and research boat financing).

For instance, owning a new boat versus a used boat comes with two different price tags. While a new boat offers brand new technology, design, mechanics, personalization, and warranty protection, it also comes with a higher purchase price and results in a faster loss of value in the form of depreciation.

On the other hand, a pre-owned boat depreciates much slower, thus holding its value longer than a new boat and allowing you to stretch your budget further. And when it comes to boat size, typically (but not in all cases), the bigger the boat the higher the price tag. There are many factors that also affect the price including engines, electronics, condition, model, and features.

Just be sure to work with a professional boat surveyor when purchasing a used boat so that there are no surprises with maintenance or engine function before you sail away. (We’ll come back to this topic in a moment.)

Shop with a broker: How do you find the right yacht broker?

people talking on a boat

Now that you know the type of boat you want and set your budget, it may be time to bring in the big guys to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Finding the right yacht broker is like dating—explore different brokerage firms and connect with someone who works well with you.

Ask around local marinas or boatyards for referrals when searching for a yacht broker. In this industry, it’s all about reputation. Bluesail recently partnered with Just Catamarans, one of the leading yacht brokerages in Florida. Their team of professional brokers are licensed, bonded, and members of the International Yacht Brokers Association (IYBA) and will help you find the best boat that fits your needs.

Having a broker by your side during the boat buying process is extremely valuable as they act as a guide and ensure a smooth transaction.

Inspect the boat: Do you need a professional marine survey?

two people preparing the sails on a boat

We highly recommended it. When you find the right boat, be sure to set up a sea trial and marine survey. This is a pre-purchase inspection to uncover any flaws in the boat’s systems and hull(s) and understand how well the vessel runs.

During a sea trial, try to recreate a typical day on the water. It’s okay (often encouraged) to bring friends or family along. Remember, performance may be different during a lightly loaded test ride versus a normal boat day with coolers, gear, passengers, etc.

As you get underway, check driver visibility, listen for rattles or vibrations, and point out anything that doesn’t sound or feel right to your marine surveyor. Test the boat as a driver and a passenger, writing down any observations or questions you may have during the trial. If all goes well, then it’s smooth sailing from here.

Buy the boat: Can you buy a boat without a boating license?

A sailboat underway

Wait…shouldn’t this be the first question we ask? Yes and no. The purchase process itself is simple. Technically, you can buy a boat without a boating license. You can even buy a boat without ever having sailed or gotten behind the wheel. This is, of course, a disadvantage for insurance purposes and boater safety, but there are ways to enhance your maritime skills and knowledge before and after you purchase a boat.

Bluesail owner and Licensed Yacht Broker Scott Mayer recently developed MarinerIQ, a program that gives boaters the opportunity to learn basic seamanship skills with a licensed Captain and professional accredited instructor. The program provides new, soon-to-be, and veteran boat owners and charterers with real-world boating experiences, ensuring that boaters are comfortable and capable of operating the vessel. Ask your broker about using MarinerIQ to enhance your maritime skills, impress your insurance underwriter, and ultimately become a safer mariner. A great place to start is with our Safety at Sea online course, offered through Bluesail partner NauticEd.

Buying a boat is easy. Owning a boat is fun (most of the time). Now that you understand the boat buying process, you’re that much closer to getting on the water and entering a peaceful state of mind. Contact us to learn more about buying a boat through Bluesail or learning how to become a more competent mariner through MarinerIQ.

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