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A Complete Guide to Buying a Fishing Boat
A Complete Guide to Buying a Fishing Boat

Approximately 38.49 million fishing licenses and permits were sold in the United States in 2020. Investing in a fishing boat is a great way to get a leg up in such steep competition. However, you need to know how to buy a fishing boat that's right for you.

In this article, we provide a fishing boat buying guide with all of the information you need to make an informed decision. Continue reading if you want to avoid investing in the wrong boat. 

How to Buy a Fishing Boat

Learning how to buy a fishing boat that fits your needs involves asking yourself the right questions. It's easy to fall into the trap of assuming you fully understand what you want or need without taking the time to sit down and consider it.

We start our fishing boat buying guide with these questions because you might be surprised by your answers. They can change how you look at the buying process and what kind of fishing boat you ultimately end up choosing.

Why Do You Want a Fishing Boat?

You're probably thinking, "I want a fishing boat to go fishing." While this is obvious, ask yourself what kind of fishing boat trips you're envisioning. 

Do you picture out in the middle of a lake at dawn by yourself with only your pole and cup of coffee? Do you want to bring your entire family with you? Or is it a bit of both?

Answering the question, 'why do you want a fishing boat,' can help you determine what type and size of boat you need as well as what features are important.

What Kind of Fishing Do You Want to Do?

Whether you plan to keep your boat solely at the dock outside of your lake house or want to venture out to see, it's important to consider the type of fishing you plan to do.

Smaller boats can be dangerous in the rough waters of the ocean. Large boats may struggle with navigating small lakes and rivers. Finding the right boat can help make your fishing trip experience easier and more enjoyable.

What's Your Budget?

An important factor in this fishing boat buying guide is your budget. Don't fall into the newbie trap of overlooking all of the expenses that go into boat ownership. The boat is far from the only cost involved with buying a fishing boat.

Once you've decided what exactly you want from your boat, you can factor in your budget. Keep in mind that you may need to make concessions on features or size to stay within budget. You might also consider fractional boat ownership.

Fishing Boat Cost Details

Before making any final decisions on your budget, we want to include a list of all that goes into the final fishing boat cost in our fishing boat buying guide. Knowing all the fine details can help ensure you can afford boat ownership.

Boat Cost

The actual boat cost is the largest singular expense when it comes to boat fishing. The actual price depends on factors such as the size of the boat, whether you're buying a new or used boat, and any additional features.

Ideally, a boat purchase will include the cost of a trailer, but it may be an added expense. You'll also want to be sure you have a vehicle that's equipped to handle towing your boat by checking the towing capacity. 

License and Registration Cost

Depending on your state, boats over 16 feet in length need to be registered with your state's Department of Transportation. You'll also need to register and license your boat trailer if you have one. 

The cost of boat registration alone can range from $25 to $250 depending on when your boat was made and its size. Older and smaller boats tend to be cheaper to register. 

Cost of Accessories

Some boating accessories are optional expenses, while others are required. An example of required accessories is safety equipment depending on your state. We'll get into details on accessories later on. 

Maintenance Cost

A commonly overlooked fishing boat cost is maintenance. Newer boats tend to require less maintenance than older boats as they are more likely to be in good condition. 

A neglected boat can quickly turn into a major expense and eat up a large portion of your fishing boat budget. When buying a used boat, pay close attention to any signs of wear or damage and factor in the cost of potential repairs.

Types of Fishing Boats

A fishing boat guide wouldn't be complete without discussing our favorite types of fishing boats. These are far from the only boats you can use for fishing, but they are some of the most popular and best-equipped options.

Joining a boat club is a great way to test out different types of boats before committing to buying one model in particular. 

Bay Boats

One of the benefits of bay boats as fishing boats is their size and easy maneuverability. They are perfect for fishing near the shore and offer a smooth ride. These boats can accommodate approximately 4 passengers plus the captain.

It's easier to fish in shallow water without worrying about damaging the hull. They're also great in deeper water. However, since they're on the smaller side, they're not ideal for rough water or open-ocean fishing.


Catamarans are great for off-shore fishing since their double-hull feature can handle rough, choppy waters. The two hulls also make it one of the most stable and comfortable fishing boats available.

There's a wide range of available sizes that can accommodate anywhere from 6 to 50 people. Since they're more fuel-efficient, you can bring more people with you at a lower expense than other vessels of the same size.

Center Console Boats

Some of the best visibility for fishing boat captains comes from a center console fishing boat. While dependent on size, you can typically fit anywhere from 5 to 7 people, including the captain. 

It can also accommodate multiple fishing lines without the risk of tangles since the helm is at the center of the boat, allowing for 360° fishing access all around it. 

This type of boat may not be the best option for cold days or days of harsh weather. They offer little to no protection from the elements and few other types of comfort.

Pontoon Boats

pontoon boat is a great fishing boat for someone looking to combine luxury and fishing. They are safe and stable boats which makes them a great option for children and elderly boaters. 

Since they have a higher weight capacity, smaller boats can often hold more people. One of the detriments of a pontoon fishing boat is the lack of maneuverability and speed. You also shouldn't take them too far from shore.

Skiff Boats

When fishing in shallow waters, you'll want to have a skiff boat. Also called flat boats, skiffs sit mostly on top of the water. They only penetrate the surface by a few inches. 

Skiffs aren't meant for a lot of passengers, so these are mostly ideal for those looking to fish alone or with one other person. They aren't meant for deep or rough waters. 

Fishing Boat Tips

Regardless of the type of boat you choose, you need to do your research on how to take care of it. While some newer boaters tend to abide by the trial-and-error method, seasoned boaters know that's not the way to go.

If you want to enjoy your boat's maximum lifespan, you need to use the best fishing boat tips from experienced boaters. 

Schedule Regular Service

Scheduling regular boat service is an important part of our fishing boat guide because it's what keeps your boat functioning as it should. Neglecting routine maintenance can result in poor performance.

You may also experience issues with safety if the boat can't operate as it normally does. If you don't have the experience or skill to perform the service yourself, you should schedule it with your local boat mechanic.

Invest in Proper Storage

Don't underestimate the importance of proper boat storage. This includes winterizing your boat at the end of your boating season. Winterization should be done to prevent damage caused by low temperatures and long-term exposure to the elements.

Once winterization is complete, decide how to best store your boat. If you need commercial storage space, decide between indoor, outdoor, or wet storage. A quality boat cover or shrink-wrapping is recommended as well.

Consider Boat Insurance

One of our top fishing boat tips is to invest in boater insurance. Many states don't require boaters insurance, but it's a way to protect your investment. If something becomes damaged and unusable, you have additional peace of mind.

It can also protect you in the event of an accident while on the water. If you collide with another boater or get stuck in the sand, boat insurance can help cover the cost of repairs. 

Fishing Boat Safety

One of the most important considerations in our fishing boat guide is concerning safety. As the captain of the boat, you are the one responsible for safety measures. This includes following your state's boating safety requirements.

Navigational Devices

Some boats come equipped with a Global Positioning System for navigation. If your boat doesn't, you can either have one installed or purchase a portable device. 

It can be easy to get turned around out in the water, especially if you can't see land. It's not only important in finding your way, but it can also be important when telling the Coast Guard how to find you in an emergency. 

Proper Communication

You may feel as though a two-way radio is unnecessary in the age of cellphones, but when you're out in the middle of the ocean, you may not have service. You can even have this problem when you're out on a lake with spotty service.

You can choose from either a handheld VHF (very high frequency) radio or one that can be mounted directly to your boat. The mounted versions tend to offer more power but can't be transported between boats as easily.

Passenger Safety

It can be easy to forget about safety when heading out with friends and family on a fun fishing excursion, especially when you have a brand new fishing boat. 

Keeping your passengers safe with a debriefing is one of our important fishing boat tips. Instruct them on how and when to wear their life jackets, what to do if someone falls overboard, and how to use emergency equipment. 

Fishing Boat Accessories

One of the best aspects of owning a fishing boat is adding convenient gadgets. The type of boating accessories you need (or want) depends on the type of fishing you plan to do as well as where you'll be fishing. 

Fish Finders

Fish finders are a great tool for any type of fishing as they show the location of fish at different depths below and around your boat. Some boats have them built right into the boat. Be advised that accuracy varies between models.


Using downriggers in conjunction with your fish finder is a proven fishing method. A downrigger allows you to set a specific depth for your bait to sit at while trolling. Be sure to attach the correct weights for optimal use.

Livewells & Baitwells

Many fishing boats come equipped with livewells and baitwells, which are used to store living fish and bait, respectively. If you're going to be fishing for extended periods, livewells help keep your fish fresh.

Trolling Motors

If you prefer trolling to other types of fishing, you need a trolling motor. These are easily attached and detached from your boat and allow your boat to move at a slower, smoother speed than your boat's outboard or inboard engine.

Rod Holders

While simple and often inexpensive, rod holders are an important addition to your fishing boat. If you have you're finishing with more than one pole, it's a convenient way to keep your lines from tangling. 

Get to Buying a Fishing Boat

Finding the right fishing boat for your fishing needs is easy if you follow the above fishing boat buying guide. Start by asking yourself the right questions and weighing each fishing boat cost before diving in.

Try out a variety of fishing boats by becoming a member of the Freedom Boat Club near you.