How Much Does It Really Cost to Own a Boat?

Financial IQ

How much does it really cost to own a boat?

I ask my husband this question every time he prods me about buying one.

I would never buy a boat for our family if it were up to me, so researching the true cost of owning a boat gives me something concrete to cling to.

With the answer in hand, I can argue that we cannot afford to buy a boat, or I can concede and make my husband extremely happy.

As I suspected, there are many costs related to boat ownership. Many. (Yikes! I’m getting an expensive feeling already.)

For this post, I’ll focus on owning a sailboat. Here are 13 to consider:

Purchase price.

This may be the one cost of boat ownership that you can truly control!

I’m pushing for a teeny tiny sailboat, while my husband dreams of owning a powerful 40-footer.

If we compromise in the middle on a J-22, which is 22-feet long, we could pick up a new 2010 model for about $23,000 or a used 2003 model for about $15,000, according to NADA guides.

Cost: $20,000

Taxes.

State tax laws on boats vary.

In Rhode Island, there is no boat tax. In other states, like South Carolina, boat owners pay a tax equal to 10.5% of the boats assessed value yearly if the boat spends more than 180 days in the state.

Cost: varies

Insurance.

Rates average about 1.5% of the boat’s insured value.

In this case, a $20,000 boat would cost about $300 to insure. Rates are higher in hurricane-prone areas.

Cost: $300

Registration.

Just like a motor vehicle, the registration costs vary by state, from pocket change in some states to more than $250 in New Jersey for a boat 65-feet or longer.

Cost: varies

Mooring.

Wait lists for a mooring can run years, so if you’re lucky enough to get one, plan to spend anywhere from the low hundreds annually to as much as $1,000 per month for larger boats.

Cost: varies

Alternative: Instead of paying for a mooring, find a boat yard where you can store your boat in between sails for a seasonal fee. This also negates the need for No. 6 and No. 7.

Little boat.

If you get a mooring, you’ll need a row boat, dinghy, or kayak to get to your boat at its mooring.

A basic row boat with oars will cost you about $1,000 new or about $500 used.

You may be able to find one significantly cheaper (and significantly worse for wear) on Craigslist, where I saw an 8-foot dinghy going for $100.

Cost: $500

Alternative: A more expensive option is to keep your boat at the dock, a cost that is typically calculated by the foot. So the bigger the boat, the more you pay. Some docks have a flat fee for various size categories.

Trailer.

In the off-season, you’ll need a trailer to haul the boat to your backyard or winter storage facility.

If you opt to keep your boat in your backyard year-round, your trailer will get a lot of use!

A trailer for a 22-foot sailboat can run $300 used on Craigslist to more than $2,000 for a new one. You’ll also need to register your trailer with your state DMV.

Cost: $1,000

Winter storage.

Unless you live in a warm climate year-round, plan on budgeting for winter boat storage.

This annual fee includes paying someone to haul the boat out of water, shrink wrap it, and set it on blocks.

Cost: about $2,000

Alternative: Free if you park your boat in your backyard or driveway, but be sure to budget for marriage counseling to resolve disputes about the eyesore.

Maintenance.

Annual maintenance is roughly 10 percent of the cost of the boat, estimates Bloomberg.com.

That includes painting the hull every year, cleaning the deck, and replacing the sails every few years. So for a $20,000 boat, that 10 percent comes to $2,000 annually.

Cost: $2,000

Gas.

None! A sailboat is completely wind-powered.

If you opt for a boat with an engine, remember to include costs like oil changes and mechanical repairs.

Cost: free

Safety items.

You’ll want to purchase a life jackets for each member of your family and have a few extra on hand for visiting crew.

At about $70 a pop, a set of five life jackets adds up to $350. A safety kit, including a horn, visual flares, fire extinguisher, and other items, will run you about $150.

Total cost: $500

Navigation equipment.

If you’re taking the budget route, plan on sticking to the harbor or very familiar waters so you can skip the GPS.

But if you plan on venturing away from port or taking an overnight trip, a low-end marine GPS starts at $200. A fancy computer system can soar into the tens of thousands.

Cost: $500

Miscellaneous costs.

What am I missing on this list? Fellow boat owners, speak up!

The grand total.

What’s the true annual cost of buying a $20,000 sailboat like a J-22?

Purchase price: $20,000

Taxes: varies

Insurance: $300

Registration: varies

Mooring or dock fees: varies

Little boat: $500

Trailer: $1,000

Winter storage: $2,000

Maintenance: $2,000

Gas: free

Safety Kit: $500

GPS: $500

The Grand Total For The First Year of Sailboat Ownership Comes to $26,800.

The annual tab for upkeep, including insurance, winter storage, and maintenance comes to $4,300. That’s $358 per month.

Neither of these estimates include taxes, registration, and mooring or dock fees so the real cost of owning a boat is even higher.

In my wildest dreams, I did not imagine that owning a relatively small sailboat would cost so much money. I am loathe to spend our savings on the big first-year investment that buying a boat entails.

And where would we find $358 per month to maintain this boat? That’s like a car payment.

And you know I like to buy used cars outright to avoid the dreaded monthly payment.

My goodness, for a lot less we can rent a sailboat when the seafaring mood strikes.

Of course, this is a general estimate. There may be ways to economize, like buying all second-hand products, pulling favors with friends, and searching for local discounts or saving solutions.

Still, it would be a significant investment for us.

Would we get $26,800 worth of enjoyment from a boat? Would you buy a boat?

Julia Scott helps people save money on everyday expenses at BargainBabe.com.

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Comments (9) Leave your comment

  1. 26 foot sailboats are laying around backyards all over the country. You can simply buy a used one, neglect the oxidation, insurance, use your phone to navigate, and save money like everyone else.

  2. Thanks for listing down how much it costs to own a boat and what else is needed for it. My wife and I are thinking about having our summer lazily cruising along a beach front with the kids, and it gave me an idea. What about renting a boat? Would it cost less?

  3. Boats are not sound financial investments, and unless used for business, never have been; anyone buying a boat should know all of this information (there are actually a lot more costs than the ones you’ve mentioned, hence the phrase “a boat…is defined as a hole in the water into which one dumps their money”). It’s one thing to get involved in a boat purchase (lots of sailors do joint ownership) because you’re the lucky type of person who, if they aren’t on the water at least once every two weeks, their head explodes. That’s realllllly expensive, even if your cerebellum can’t be scraped off the pavement. There’s a huge difference between folks thinking, in their late 40’s, “I’ve always wanted a boat” and folks who are sailors eternally bound to the sea… I wouldn’t recommend anyone who hasn’t done a lot of sailing – like, years and years – on OPB’s, in sailing clubs, as a racing crew, or boat deliveries, to buy a boat, especially a brand new one. My wife knew damn well I was a sailor before marrying me, we have no rugrats, right-side up on our mortgage and I still have put this off well into the future.

  4. I have gone through your post and found some valuable information about the cost to own a boat and other expenses. I am also planning to buy a boat for my family.one of my friend suggests me to check boats from Boat Lagoon Yachting. This is the largest and most reputable yacht importation in the world.

  5. I found a working 28’ Luhrs cabin cruiser on craigslist for $1.
    I keep her in a tidal creek off a major river from the sea
    I found a place to tie up to shore where the parking lot owners don’t mind my coming and going too much.
    Can’t afford insurance
    But paid $52 for registration in my state (a good friend paid for it as a gift)
    My wife and I live aboard year round until we can obtain supportive housing (we are disabled)
    Heat is with propane at around $8 day currently
    ( I tried a wood stove last year and appreciate that propane allows not having to work as hard finding hauling and cutting up wood as I am quite ill and have not too much strength- but the cost is a factor)
    Aside from gasoline if we do take her out for a cruise (we do from time to time go out in our boat) oil changes and other stuff it hasnt cost more than a few hundred to set up solar panels etc

    I still have our fist boat a 26’ 1976 Grampian sailboat I called salvation.
    It was our first boat and first home for a year w wood stove for heat
    We paid $1500 for her with a working motor all sails and required gear.
    Found on Craigslist

    I still take her out on occasion to motor about or sail sometimes
    It runs for about an hour per gallon of gas at 9.9 hp is enough to push a 26’ sailboat
    Tied up nearby.
    So far, the Lord God has blessed us with these solutions to the troubles we have been enduring.

    So, it is possible to own a boat for far less than your estimates
    That being said it is true that in most cases owning a boat is quite expensive and would not be possible for us is God was not merciful and loving in my experience.

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