Why Are Boats so Expensive? We Explain

Short answer: Why are boats so expensive? Several factors influence the cost of owning a boat, from the upfront purchase price to continual maintenance and storage. The boat’s brand, design, material construction, and the general market demand for boats can influence the purchase price. However, after purchase, the following factors also contribute to the total cost of ownership: fuel, insurance and registration, labor and maintenance, accessories, storage or mooring, and safety training. We go into more depth on the cost of owning a boat below.

Why Are Boats so Expensive?

Boats can be expensive both to purchase and to own, for several reasons — from brand and design to storage and maintenance. Here, we will explain the factors that contribute to a boat’s high price, as well as other expenses involved with owning a boat.

Cost Factors in Purchasing a Boat

Brand

As in any industry, there are both high-end and low-end brands that sell boats. Premium brands like Bayliner, Boston Whaler, Grady-White, Lund, MasterCraft, and Sea Ray have strong reputations for quality construction, have won awards for design or innovation, and tend to maintain their value even in the resale market.

Design

Boats come in a very wide range of styles, sizes, and designs. The price of a boat will consider factors such as its length, whether it includes cabin space (and how much), and whether it is designed for saltwater or freshwater. It goes without saying that a large yacht is going to cost more than a small fishing boat; however, smaller differences in design can also impact the cost. Limited edition designs, luxury finishes, upgraded features like additional seating, and customized interiors will all add to the cost of a boat.

Material Construction

Boats are typically made of either wood, steel, fiberglass, or aluminum. The material used in the construction of the boat will have an effect on its price due to both durability and the amount of labor required in building. In general, the better the material is at resisting corrosion, the more expensive it will be — both to purchase, and to maintain. Wood, for example, typically takes more time and effort to build from, and is prone to leakage and decay if not properly maintained. Fiberglass is also typically hand-laid, which can increase its price.

The kind of motor in your boat will also affect the total cost of the boat. Is the motor an inboard or an outboard? The following are some differences to keep in mind:

  • Inboard motors tend to be more expensive, though they are generally more fuel efficient. Inboard motors are located inside the boat, which can make them more challenging to service or replace.
  • Outboard motors are, as the name suggests, located on the outside of the boat — which makes them readily accessible for service and repair. They can also be lifted out of the water when not in use, which can help you keep the motor in good working condition for a longer time.

When looking at motorized boats, those with more powerful motors that can reach faster speeds also tend to be more expensive.

Demand

The recreational boating market is growing worldwide, but boat ownership is still a relatively limited market. In the U.S., boat ownership is generally concentrated in coastal regions, where owners have the opportunity to use their boats most frequently; however, even in regions such as the Great Lakes, many boaters will choose to rent rather than buy to avoid the cost of winter storage. The consumer may be hesitant to purchase a boat if they can only use it for a portion of the year.

Because of the somewhat limited demand, boat manufacturers aren’t able to scale production in the same way that other industries are, so they can’t lower costs through efficient, high-volume production. In general, the more of a product that is built, the lower the cost of each unit can be.

Cost Factors in Owning a Boat

Fuel

Motorized boats need gas and oil to run. How much you’ll spend on fuel depends on horsepower, the engine, and how often you take your boat out. Additional factors to consider in estimating your fuel cost include the cleanliness of the hull — which affects how the boat moves through the water and can make it less efficient — and other maintenance issues, such as damaged propellers.

Labor and Maintenance

Maintenance costs vary based on the amount of labor required to complete the project. Typical maintenance procedures include cleaning, replacing the oil, winterization (if storing the boat for winter), and checking and replacing the propellers. Most boat owners prefer to do the maintenance themselves to save money, but particularly complicated repairs may need to be completed by a professional.

Note: Sailboat maintenance is a little more expensive. It is recommended that you replace fuel filters, transmission fluid, and zincs, and have the bottom scrubbed, sanded, and painted yearly. You will also need to keep an eye on all sails and lines to be sure everything is in working condition.

See our dedicated article for information on the cost of getting a boat repainted.

Mooring and Storage

If you don’t own a dock but want to keep your boat in the water for the majority of the year, mooring at a marina will add to your total ownership cost. Fees vary based on where you are mooring and what kind of boat you have; larger slips, of course, will be more expensive. In some cases, you can moor a boat on a quay instead of at a marina, but you’ll need a way to get from the shore to your boat and back, such as a kayak or canoe.

If you’d rather store your boat on land and launch it each time you use it, you may choose to pay for an indoor or outdoor storage space. Indoor boat storage rates range from $200 to $300 per month, on average. While you may also be able to store the boat on your property or in an outbuilding, be aware that some communities have laws against keeping recreational vehicles in publicly visible areas such as driveways.

Insurance, Taxes, and Registration

After purchasing a boat, you may need to purchase insurance, register your boat and trailer, or pay property taxes. The sum of these costs varies significantly by state, your boat’s age, and your boat’s size; registration alone generally costs between $30 and $300. Laws regulating the purchase, registration, and use of boats are different in each state, but can usually be found through your local Department of Natural Resources or Department of Motor Vehicles.

Accessories

In addition to the necessities, such as lines and towing equipment, manufacturers and gadget dealers offer optional accessories to add to your boat. Depending on how you use your boat — for leisure, for fishing, or another purpose — you may spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on tools and added technologies. Common accessories include sonar and radar systems, GPS, radios, rod holders, swim platforms, boarding ladders, lights, bait tanks, Bluetooth technologies, and speakers.

You’ll also need a trailer to haul your boat. Most boat purchases include a trailer, but should you choose to upgrade, high-end models with features like customized paint, additional lights, or power winches can cost up to $7,000 or more. (The exact price will vary based on the features you choose and the size of your boat.)

Safety Training and Supplies

Some states require boating licenses or safety certification in order for you to operate a boat. Insurance companies may also offer discounted rates to boaters who have completed safety courses. Courses are available through organizations like Boat Ed and Safe Boating America; the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary also offers a range of inexpensive boating skills and safety courses. Course duration and pricing will vary depending on your state’s requirements and which organization you choose to take courses from.

Before heading out on the water, you should also check the laws in your state to know what safety equipment you’re required to keep on board. You may be required to keep a certain number of life jackets or other emergency gear, such as flare guns.

In Summary

Why are boats so expensive? The top ten reasons boats are expensive to buy and keep are brand, demand, design, fuel, accessories, insurance and registration, labor and maintenance, materials, mooring and storage, and training. When considering purchasing a boat, be sure to check for state laws regarding taxes, licensing, and other requirements.

Interested in purchasing a boat, but not sure you’ll qualify for a loan? See our article on where to get a boat loan with bad credit.

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