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What to know before buying a boat

Thinking about buying a boat? What to consider before signing on the dotted line.

Our family lives in Northeast Ohio, land of cold winters and humid summers. A place with an abundance of lakes, rivers, and let’s not forget that big beautiful body of water up north (ahem, Erie).

My wife grew up on water-skis and jet skis. I come from a fishing family. Our kids are half seals willing and ready to swim in a swimming pool, ocean, a tub—basically anything with water in it.

Which is why, the past couple of years, we’ve flirted with the idea of buying a boat.

But, here’s the thing: I don’t have a clue. I’m not sure what type of boat to look for or even what type of boat I should buy. Which is exactly why I reached out to Keith Ammons with Discover Boating for his insight.

First off, Ammons—who is simply known as the ‘boating guy’ around boat shows due to his wealth of knowledge on the subject—recommends that new boat owners consider a new boat because of the trade-in value and warranty benefits.

Then, he said knowing the answer to three key questions will get you in the perfect boat for your budget and lifestyle.

What do you want to do on your boat? 

From trawlers and bass boats to yachts and deck boats, there’s a boat out there for you. However, finding the right boat depends on figuring out exactly what you want to do with it.

According to Ammons, taking the time to rank which boating activities are most important to you will help streamline your search for your dream boat.

“Today’s boats are more versatile and often equipped to do a variety of activities,” Ammons said. “But make sure the type of boat you choose has the amenities you want for fun on the water.”

Where do you plan on boating? 

Do you prefer boating on big bodies of water like Lake Michigan or the Gulf of Mexico? Want to take your fishing boat to various lakes? Or, maybe you’re into cruising up and down a local river?

Regardless of your preference, it’s important to pinpoint exactly where you want to dock or park your boat on a day-to-day basis.

“Out of the three questions, this is probably the easiest to answer,” he said. “Prior to buying, most people have an idea where they’re going to be doing the majority of their boating.”

What’s your boat budget? 

In order to figure out your budget, Ammons said it’s important to think about these five expenses of boat ownership:

1. Your boat

There seems to be a boat out there for every budget and they can range anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to millions. “In some instances, you can finance a new boat for around $250 a month,” Ammons said. “Just be up front with a dealer about how much you want to spend and they’ll help equip you with the best possible boat within your budget.” Here’s a boat loan calculator to help determine your boat budget.

2. Where you keep it

Unless you plan on living on the water full-time, you’re going to need somewhere to put it when you’re finished for the day. Compare prices on docks and marinas. If you’re in an area with cold winters, consider storage options for the offseason.

3. Maintenance

Boat, trailer and motor maintenance can be as simple as a freshwater wash down after each use and keeping them covered between adventures. Costs for routine maintenance vary by region, but for more involved services, such as oil changes and winterizing, expect to pay what you would for your car on an hourly basis.

4. Fuel

Currently, we’re enjoying fantastic gas prices at the pump and, on average, people use around 100 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline a year on their boat. Nearly 95 percent of boats on the water today are less than 26 feet in length and fitted with newer, fuel-efficient motors that help to minimize fuel costs.

5. Boat insurance

Boat insurance costs vary by boat length and type, cost of the boat, and level of coverage. Ask your insurance agent for a quote or compare rates yourself online. Some smaller boats can be insured for a nominal sum as a rider on a homeowner’s policy. Ammons offered this insider tip—reduce the cost of marine insurance premiums by taking a boater’s education course.

“People look out at this big body of water and picture themselves on their boat having a good time,” Progressive Boat Insurance Manager Rick Stern said. “But it’s important to know that both you and your boat are protected when you’re out there with those other boaters.”

Stern recommends, at the very least, getting liability insurance in case something happens to someone on your boat. Followed by uninsured boater coverage as well as basic comprehensive and collision. And then, if you want to be 100 percent secure out on the water, consider medical payments—which pays for any extra medical expenses after an accident.

“In many states, the average year-round premium (consisting of Bodily Injury and Property Damage, Comprehensive, Collision, and some various additional customized coverage of your choice) is less than $250, which is around $20 a month,” Stern said. “In some states, like Florida, the average premium tends to be more expensive because there are more boats on the water year round.”

Are you still undecided on whether or not to buy a boat?

Ammons recommends visiting DiscoverBoating.com to tinker around with their boat selection tool, dropping by some local marinas to talk to people about their ownership experience, and even visiting a boat show to see first-hand what boats are available in your price range.

As for my family, I think the wife and I are going to wait a couple years before taking the boat plunge. But I’m sure, come summertime, the itch will rear its head as we drive along Lake Erie, stare across that big, beautiful, blue water and see hundreds of boats bobbing up and down—with people having the time of their lives.