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Is Boating Really Expensive?

A question that many of us boaters get from non-boaters is whether boating is expensive or not.  Even still, sometimes we have people tell us that it is expensive and they swear they know this from experience.  For example:  One of my friends is a pilot and has a small plane that he keeps at a local airport near where I live.  I was hanging out with him at the airport one day and he introduced me to his friend, John.  John and his wife had a private hanger with an apartment upstairs and a machine shop in the back.  His wife, who was also a licensed pilot, flew a twin engine Cessna and John had an old WWII warbird that he had restored years earlier.  He was very proud of his toy and told me that he bought it for a song at 80 grand and then spent several years and over a hundred thousand dollars having it restored.  Needless to say, I was impressed.  When he asked me if I flew as well, I responded by telling him that I was into boating. 

“Oh”, he said.  “We got out of boating because it was too expensive.”

“You gotta be kidding me”, I thought as I stood there looking at well over a half million dollars of the toys in their hangar.

Obviously, his boat must have been a hell of a lot bigger than mine!

I had another friend tell me recently that he had also gotten out of boating because of the expense only to tell me less than five minutes later that he just bought and Audi R8!  Uh, have you seen the price tag on that car!!??

Now, we all know that the bigger the boat is and the more gadgets that it has, the more expensive it is going to be but you can apply that rule to just about anything.  The truth is that boating does not have to be expensive unless you just don’t mind allowing it to be.  Here are some rules of thumb to keep your boating costs down.

New boats are quite nice but at a much greater expense.

 Do you really need a new boat?  - Have you seen the cost of new boats today?  I bought my first boat brand new in 2002 and I remember what I paid for it.  A boat of similar size and equipped the same way now costs almost three times as much as what I paid back then.  It is no secret that boat prices have skyrocketed in recent years. 

If you are looking to purchase a boat, consider buying a used boat.  There are many people who buy a boat because they love the idea of having a boat but later find out that they do not have the time to enjoy it.  Hence it is easy to find slightly used boats that are only a few years old at a great price.  You also have owners that treat their boats like babies over many years before finally selling it which ends up being a treasure for the next owner.  My current boat is 30 years old and was 28 years old when I purchased it.  It had been well cared for by the previous owner and everything works perfectly. I happen to be a big fan of classic boats and that was the main reason why I purchased it but the fact that I could buy a boat of its size and features for a fraction of the cost of a new one was a big plus as well. 
A fluid extractor makes changing the oil on your boat quite easy.

Do the maintenance yourself – You could pay twice as much to a mechanic for changing the the oil on your boat compared to what you might pay to change the oil on your car.  Sure, it is a little different but I don’t think the difference justifies that much of an increase.  This seems to hold true for other marine maintenance jobs as well.  The fact is, however, that you can perform most marine maintenance tasks yourself, whether it be oil changes, outdrive maintenance or changing spark plugs.  If you can do regular maintenance on your car, you definitely can on your boat.  Even if you aren’t a grease monkey, it’s really not that hard. 

Save on fuel – If you buy a sailboat, you are probably not spending much on fuel.  If you have a power boat, then the fuel budget is a factor.  The bigger the boat, the more fuel you will use.  My first boat was a 24 footer with a single 5.7 V8.  My current boat is a 34 footer with twin 454’s.  To put it mildly, there is a bit of a difference in fuel consumption. 

The important thing to remember is that you are in control of how much fuel you use.  My favorite thing to do is find a quiet cove somewhere to drop anchor and spend the day and/or night.  Sometimes that cove is only a mile away from my marina so for the cost of a few gallons of fuel (a few more if I run the genny), I have a weekend of blissful peace on the water.  Your fuel cost still ends up being less than a dinner at a nice restaurant and eating under the moon and stars is a lot nicer in my book.

Keeping your bottom clean is another way to help you get the best fuel economy out of your boat.  If you keep your boat on a trailer, the bottom probably does not get very dirty but if you keep it in the water, algae and other marine growth can build up and easily rob you of fuel economy.  My boat stays in the water so I sometimes clean the bottom when I jump in for a swim and occasionally, I will hire a diver to do a real thorough job.  If you keep your boat in the water but have a trailer, pulling it out periodically to pressure wash it will make a big difference.

Storage – The options you have for storing your boat will differ depending on the size and type of boat you have.  If you purchase a trailerable boat, you may very well be able to keep it in your driveway, yard, or even garage and that will cost you nothing.  Other options would include a storage yard or a slip at a marina.   Getting a slip at a marina is the most expensive option.  However it does make using your boat a lot easier and more convenient.  Either way, this is also a cost that you control.  If you don’t want to pay for a slip, don’t buy a boat that requires one.

Stay on top of the care and maintenance – If you stay on top of the maintenance of you boat, it is a lot easier to control the costs of boating.  For example:  Changing your own oil and doing other basic engine maintenance are things that you can do yourself.  Do them regularly.  If you ignore those maintenance items, it’s a good chance that problems will occur that you may not be able to fix yourself and that could end up costing big money.

Learn to do it yourself – In the age of YouTube and other internet resources, there is no reason why you can’t do a lot of boat projects yourself.  In one of my previous articles, I wrote about how I rebuilt the engine in one of my previous boats instead of paying a mechanic.  Recently, on my current boat, I installed new flooring.  In both cases, I used YouTube to learn how to do the projects.  In addition to saving money, projects like this also allow you to stay involved with your favorite pastime during the winter months. 
Don't forget to use your boat or it just may become a money pit.

Use your boat – Lastly, make sure that you use your boat.  You may ask how this can save you money.  After all, doesn’t using your boat cost you money in fuel?  Technically, yes, but not using your boat costs you more in repairs over the long run.  Remember:  The worst thing you can do to a boat is not use it.  Over time, an unused boat turns into a problem boat due to lack of lubrication, bad fuel, corroded metal and wiring . . .  and the list goes on.  Besides, you bought it specifically so you could use it, right?

If you have any tips for keeping boating affordable, please share them below.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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  1. Naaa.... lol.

  2. Nah ... no way !

  3. BOAT stands for Break Out Another THousand

  4. No it isn't.... unless the boat owner chooses for it to be that way

  5. How can you put a price tag on your enjoyment. If you amortize the cost over the # of years you will be dead it equals zero!

  6. I don’t find it any more expensive than restoring muscle cars (ever rebuild a 440 six pack? Makes a new 5.7 Mercruiser seem trivial). And the family gets to enjoy it with me.

  7. Such a great article. great topic to touch on. thanks again !!

  8. I recently had the pleasure of paddle boarding in Lake Tahoe, and it was truly magical! The calm waters and stunning scenery make it an ideal spot for paddle boarding enthusiasts of all levels. From leisurely paddles along the shoreline to more adventurous excursions exploring hidden coves, Lake Tahoe has something for everyone seeking a memorable outdoor experience. Tahoe paddle board


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