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The Ultimate Guide to Boat Ownership
The Ultimate Guide to Boat Ownership

Approximately 320,000 boats were sold in 2020. As boat ownership becomes increasingly popular it becomes essential to understand the real cost of boat ownership. Without a boat ownership guide, new boaters face debt and expensive damage due to inexperience.

In this guide, you'll find boat ownership explained including our top boat ownership tips. Continue reading if you want to be able to take on boat ownership with confidence.

Types of Boat Ownership

Consider your situation when following our boat ownership guide. Whether you currently have a boat or are looking to get into boat ownership, you should understand your options and choose based on what works best for your situation.


The most common type of boat ownership is when a private entity or person purchases the boat as the sole owner. They have complete control over the use of the boat and can make any changes as they see fit. 

This is the best option for people who want the most freedom to go where they want and do as they please with their boat. However, it's also the most costly of all the different options under the same conditions.


Next on our 'boat ownership explained' guide is leasing as a form of boat ownership. Leasing a boat is similar to leasing a car. For the most part, you can use the boat as you see fit but you're paying the owner of the boat to use it.

Leasing a boat is less common than leasing a car because of the overall expense. Even at a fraction of the price, the monthly cost is a high percentage of the value of the boat. Plus, you still have to pay for storage and gear.

Fractional Boat Ownership

Being the sole owner of a boat is likely what comes to mind when you think of boat ownership, but that's not always the case. Fractional boat ownership is when you share ownership of a boat with other individual buyers.

Unlike leasing a boat, you have partial legal ownership as do your co-owners. As few as two people can take part in fractional ownership, but there could be as many as you wish. 

This is a great option for people who want to own a boat but not take on the entire expense. You also have the freedom to share your share of ownership at any time. However, you can't typically customize the boat and have to schedule use of it in advance.

Cost of Boat Ownership

It's important to understand that the cost of boat ownership doesn't end with the cost of the boat itself. In fact, you should plan to invest a significant portion of your boat buying budget into the other pieces of ownership. 

The Boat

The boat is often the main expense when it comes to boat ownership. Depending on the type of boat you choose, you could spend anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Before making a final decision, it's important to ask yourself what you want from your boat. If your goal is fishing, you'll find different options than if you wanted to speed around the bay with your friends.

The Trailer

The only way you won't need a trailer for your boat is if your new boat is already in the water and you have no plans to take it out. Otherwise, you'll need to invest in a trailer to transport your boat. 

Some sellers include the trailer in the cost of the boat or as an additional expense. You'll want to make sure the trailer size is appropriate for the size and weight of the boat in order to avoid any mishaps during transportation.

Purchasing Equipment

An important factor when calculating the cost of ownership is equipment. This includes communication equipment, safety equipment, spare parts, and recreational equipment such as towable tubes and water skis. 

Even if you only factor in the cost of essential equipment, you'll still be spending a significant portion of your budget. When making your calculations, be sure to factor these in. 

Cost of Storage

Unless you have storage on your property, you should consider the cost of private storage. The most common options to choose from include indoor storage, outdoor storage, and wet storage. 

The decision largely depends on the local climate, the type of boat, and your budget. Indoor storage, especially climate-controlled indoor storage, is the best option for your boat but comes with the highest cost. 

Outdoor storage is more affordable, but you'll need to invest in a high-quality boat cover or shrink-wrapping to prevent exposure damage. Wet storage prices vary depending on the services provided by the marina.

Other Costs of Ownership

Other costs of ownership include licensing, registration, insurance, and maintenance. Depending on the type of boat, these can be moderate to extensive expenses. 

Registration and licensing are required for boats longer than 16 feet in most states. While insurance and maintenance are not required, they are essential for the longevity of your boat, so consider them carefully. 

Boat Safety

Boat safety is one of the most important aspects of our boat ownership guide. As a boat owner and operator, you're responsible for the safety of everyone aboard your boat.

You're also responsible for following responsible operating practices while in the water. This is part of keeping you, your passengers, and other boaters safe. 

Rules of the Road

While some states require boaters to complete a boater's safety course and/or obtain a boater's license, not all states do. Regardless of your state's laws, we recommend all boaters complete one of these courses.

In a boater's safety course, you'll learn how to properly communicate with other boaters as well as the 'rules of the road' on waterways. You'll also learn your responsibilities as the operator of the boat.

Boat Navigation

One of the essential pieces of equipment we mentioned is a means of navigation. If you're good with maps, you might feel comfortable relying on a map and compass. If you're not good with maps, consider investing in a GPS.

A GPS (Global Positioning System) is a great tool when you're planning a boating trip far away from the shore. If you experience bad weather and get lost or miss a turn, you can easily find your way back. 

Tools for Communication

Once you've completed your safety course, you'll understand the need for communication tools. Many boats come equipped with the required light and sound-based signals necessary for communication.

It's always a good idea to have backups onboard as well. Consider storing an air horn as well as some safety lights in a location that's easily accessible in case your boat experiences malfunctioning electronics.

We also recommend a two-way radio. You can't always count on cellphone service. A marine two-way radio can help you contact the Coast Guard if you become stranded or need other assistance. 

Personal Flotation Devices

There are multiple types of flotation devices and you should have at least two types onboard your boat. Out of the five types of personal flotation devices, Types I-III are wearable. Any of these are appropriate for you and your passengers.

Always have enough personal flotation devices for everyone aboard. You'll also need one or two tossable flotation devices, which is a Type IV flotation device. These are helpful if you, a passenger, or another boater falls overboard. 

Boat Ownership Tips

A lot of boat ownership is trial and error as you find what tools and techniques work best for you and your boat. Even if you've done a lot of research on the subject, it's helpful to take some advice from experienced boaters.

Boat ownership tips from other boat owners can make your boating experience much more enjoyable whether you're a newbie boater or you've been on the water for decades. Part of becoming a better boater is always learning new tricks.

Try Before You Buy

Even with tons of research, it can be difficult to find the right boat for your needs, especially if you need one that's multifunctional. Consider joining a boat club where you can try out a large variety of boats.

Schedule Regular Maintenance

A responsible boat owner always makes sure their boat is in the best condition possible. This means treating it carefully while out on the water, storing it correctly, and keeping up with routine maintenance. 

While routine maintenance tasks such as changing the engine oil, checking your battery, and lubricating filters can seem daunting and laborious, they're essential. If you aren't equipped to do the work or prefer not to, schedule with a professional.

Experienced hands are often the best choice for your boat since they can help ensure a task gets done quickly and correctly. They also have the experience necessary to catch small problems before they become expensive problems.

Keep Your Boat Clean

It may seem like a relatively unimportant task to clean your boat after every outing, but it's part of responsible boat ownership. If you primarily boat in saltwater, washing is especially important due to the damage caused by the salt.

Salt is corrosive and can result in cosmetic, performance, and safety problems. Leaving your boat unwashed can also result in contamination between bodies of water, which introduces invasive species. 

Using soap and fresh water, spread and scrub down the outside of your boat with a soft sponge. Make sure the boat is completely drained of any water and allow it to dry before storing it until the next use. 

Get an Appropriate Towing Vehicle

Once you have the boat and have the trailer, you may be inclined to believe you're ready to take your boat to the water but that might not actually be the case. You also need to check your vehicle's capabilities as far as towing is concerned.

This is one of our top boat ownership tips because new boaters often overlook this important detail. If a vehicle doesn't have the capacity to tow a boat of a certain size and weight, it can pose a danger to you, your boat, and others.

An imbalanced towing load can not only result in a damaged transmission for your vehicle but may also end with your boat sprawled out across the interstate.

When launching or retrieving your boat from the water, your vehicle may be unable to handle the weight. Your vehicle could end up underwater or experience significant damage. Check the towing limits before hooking your boat trailer up.

Preparing for a Boat Trip

As the owner and/or operator of your boat, preparation is key to being able to thoroughly enjoy your outing. This process can start as soon as you plan an outing which may make less work as the date approaches.

Create a Checklist

You should always create a checklist before every outing to be sure you have everything you need. You might consider creating a basic checklist that includes things you'll need for every outing such as spare parts and personal flotation devices.

Then, you can customize your list based on the details of each trip such as the specific body of water, the type of outing, and the weather. A detailed checklist can help you avoid accidents and forgotten essentials.

Brief Your Passengers

Before heading out onto the water, it's important to brief your passengers on the safety protocols. Show them where they can find their personal flotation devices and let them know they'll need to wear them during the entire trip.

You'll also want to show them where to find communication and navigation devices in case you aren't able to show them in an emergency. Give them a brief overview of how to use the devices as well. 

Stay Alert

An often-overlooked cost of boat ownership is the weight of responsibility. You need to stay alert during the entire trip to prevent accidents and to keep everyone safe. 

This means you should never consume alcohol while the boat is under your control, even if the boat isn't in motion. You need to be watching for oncoming boats, swimmers, and other external factors. 

Boat Ownership Explained

Use the above boat ownership guide to not only find the right boat ownership situation but also maximize your enjoyment. Taking care of your boat is the best way to ensure it lasts its full lifespan and offers you the best experiences.

To make the experience of boat ownership easier and more enjoyable, become a member of our boat club today.