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The cost of purchasing a boat is, like many major expenses, not the sort of thing that has one answer. Just like a Toyota Corolla and a Lamborghini Diablo have different price points, so too do many boats.
Some smaller boats may just be a few hundred dollars to buy. On the other hand, the most expensive yacht in the world costs about $1.5 billion. So that’s one heck of a range. There are many factors to take into account that will affect the cost but can help you better understand why certain types of boats are priced the way they are.
With the economy an ever changing roller coaster and inflation playing havoc with prices over the last few years, we’ve tried to keep our average prices here current and realistic but be aware we’ve provided a range that covers quality and sizes. It’s always important to comparison shop when you have found a boat you’re interested in and see what other people are charging as well as what the same boat may cost used to get the most accurate sense of what a boat truly costs when and where you’re looking to buy it.
Things a Boat Owner Can Consider That Affect Boat Price
Okay, so why is one boat $500 and another boat $50,000? Let’s take a look at some of the basic factors that can alter the price of a boat.
- Size: One of the most relevant factors when it comes to pricing boats. You can get two boats from the same manufacturer that are all but identical except one is maybe 5 feet longer. That extra five feet can add thousands of dollars to the price. And, of course,t his makes sense and is in line with how most things in the world are priced. Bigger things cost more money. Bigger houses, bigger cars and bigger boats. Some of this increased price is because there is simply more raw material included, some because more engineering went into how it works, and then other things like shipping costs and a general markup.
- Material: A boat made of aluminum is going to cost more than one made of polyurethane. Boats can have steel frames, fiberglass hulls, wood hulls, all sorts of different materials which can greatly increase or decrease cost. Cheaper materials can make for cheaper boats, but also ones that don’t last as long or require more upkeep, increasing the cost of ownership long term.
- Location: This is one factor that never seems fair but it’s still very true that it changes boat prices. If you live in a place where boats are in higher demand, you will probably pay more. This is doubly true if it’s considered a real vacation hot spot where everyone wants to have the coolest or best boat. The market is such that higher markups are standard. This factor in particular can skew your results when you’re researching boat prices because you may find the boat you like on the other side of the country for a cheaper price and wonder why it’s not the same closer to home. Location for boats, just like with houses, is sometimes a big deal.
- Season: Similar to location, when you buy a boat also factors into price. Ever buy an air conditioner on the hottest day of the year, as opposed to mid-December? When everyone wants a boat, dealers will charge more for them. Buying in the off season can usually result in a better deal. If you buy during peak season it’s not unheard of for some boats to be as much as triple their usual costs. Obviously that’s a little shady, and manufacturers would typically not do that, but it does happen in some places.
- Age: It goes without saying that a brand new boat is going to be more expensive than a used one. Some people want to discount the idea of used boats out of hand because of the potential for hidden problems but, with due diligence, you can get some great deals on boats that are in excellent condition. Used boats will be anywhere from 25% to even 50% less than similar, brand new models. Just make sure you have a very thorough walkthrough of the boat with a mechanic before agreeing to anything to ensure no hidden costs are lurking.
- Brand: Again, just like cars, sometimes you are paying for a name. Does a Ferrari need to cost so much more than a Kia? Obviously it’s higher performing but let’s not kid ourselves, that doesn’t cover the full cost. You’re paying for the brand name on top of all the research, development and materials that go into it. Some boat brands are just higher end than others and they can charge a premium for their product as a result. But, keep in mind, many higher profile brands do offer a superior product and often a superior warranty so it can be worth it.
- Type of Boat: This factors into size and brand to some degree but the kind of boat you want will definitely alter the price. A pontoon boat may cost less than a center console boat of the exact same size. A jet boat will set you back more than one with an outboard. A jon boat is cheaper than a sportfisher and so on.
- Power: Arguably the most expensive thing on your boat next to the entire boat itself, is going to be the motor. In fact, with some motors, it will be more than most of the rest of the boat combined. The most expensive outboard motors on the market today can crack $100,000 by themselves, no boat attached. So if you see a boat that costs $30,000, you can upgrade nothing but the motor and get yourself a $130,000 boat all of a sudden. That’s an extreme example (please don’t put a $100,000 motor on a $30,000 boat) but it’s also possible.
- Features: This is one of the other biggest factors that will alter your final price. This one is sometimes sneaky as well if you’re not ready for it. If you head to a manufacturer website and see a boat that costs let’s say $50,000, you may find as you go through a custom build that you can upgrade your motor, paint job, seating, electronics and a dozen other things that could more than triple the cost of your boat by the time you’re done.
Comparing the Costs of Various Boats
Now that we know what can affect the cost of a boat and why, at least to some degree, we can start looking at specific styles of boats. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular boat types out there and check out a range of what they might cost.
Pontoon Boat Cost
Pontoon boats were, traditionally, rather cheap but also fairly plain. These days pontoons are becoming more and more luxurious and the result is that low end pontoons may start around $15,000 or so but some of the largest pontoons like a Bennington 25 QX Sport can cost as much as $390,000. An average, good quality pontoon boat suitable for most boaters will probably start somewhere around $50,000 and go up from there depending on size and features required.
Deck Boat Cost
Deck boats and pontoon boats are often compared since, as the name suggests, a deck boat is designed to have a lot of deck space like a pontoon. They can’t quite match a pontoon because of their hull design, but some get close.
Smaller, more basic deck boats can cost you around $20,000 but larger and more luxurious deck boats can cost $60,000 to $80,000 or even more.
Canoe and Kayak Cost
Because canoes are so much smaller than most boats the cost does reflect that. You can get a decent quality brand new canoe for $700 or so. Of course, if you want something like a kevlar canoe it can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000. An aluminum canoe may be about half that or ⅔ of the cost.
Kayak costs are very similar to those of canoes as both types of boats are relatively the same size and are constructed with similar materials, with kayaks being cheaper overall. Even at the higher end, the most expensive kayaks will rarely reach the $3,000 mark. Cheap kayaks can be purchased for around $200 and many very good quality models will cost between $1,000 and $2,000.
A multi-hulled boat like a catamaran can have a remarkable range in prices. Because these vessels can range from medium sized to a fairly significant size you might find the smallest of cats around $10,000 while something like the massive 332 foot Nemesis One catamaran costs about $90 million. But sticking with a more accessible range for average people, you can still expect a catamaran to reach $100,000 for a moderate size and over $500,000 for some of the larger craft before they reach million dollar sizes.
RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) Cost
Rigid inflatable boats are boats with rigid hulls made of a material like aluminum that are also outfitted with inflatable air tubes like you might see on a pontoon boat that help give structure and buoyancy to the boat. The result is a boat that feels solid like a typical solid hull vessel but that is also much more lightweight and somewhat more affordable as well.
You can find RIB boats that are just a few thousand dollars at the low end of the scale up to about $12,000 for some of the largest models.
Cabin Cruiser Costs
A cabin cruiser is a broad term for boats that have sleeping quarters on board. The cabin can be very small or quite larger with a bed, a washroom, a galley and so on. It’s possible to live on a boat with a cabin if you want to. As such, these boats have to be of sufficient size to allow for that which, in turn, means they are more expensive than boats that aren’t big enough to have a cabin.
Smaller boats with bare bones cabins or used cabin cruisers can be more reasonably priced but expect many such boats to cost between $100,000 and as much as $500,000. At some point you’ll find a cabin cruiser and a yacht at terms that may be used interchangeably.
Aluminum Fishing Boat Cost
An aluminum fishing boat can take a few forms, including jon boats which we’ll get to in a second. But, in general, know that aluminum does usually cost a little more than other materials. Smaller, simple aluminum boats may be a $2,000 or so if they’re used with prices around $20,000 being fairly easy to come by for aluminum boats that are under 20 feet. You can pay considerably more for larger boats, up to $30,000 to $40,000 and more. Motor type and features obviously play heavily into the final costs.
Jon Boat Cost
Jon boats used to be some of the most simple and bare bones boats on the water. These flat bottom fishing boats are great for shallow waters and are typically very reliable though not very luxurious. The cheapest, smallest jon boats can be under $1,000 but if you want to go all over for a jon boat over 20 feet like some of the full aluminum models from Tracker you can expect to pay around $35,000.
Fishing Boat Cost
This is a really vague way to describe a boat and the last two we covered also qualify as fishing boats. But if you’re thinking more along the lines of a sportfisher, a center console, a cabin cruiser or something like that used for fishing, we’ll include all of those sorts of boats intended for fishing right here. Up to 20 feet, which is very small for this kind of boat, you can pay anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 or so for a boat.
As you hit the midsize boats, around 20 feet to 30 feet, the price definitely increases and it’s not unreasonable to see boats that cost anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 or more. The largest of these kinds of boats may be up to and above $100,000.
Like the name indicates, a bass boat is a boat meant for fishing for bass. These are not as big as your sportfishing vessels by any means, but they’re not usually as plain as a jon boat. A very small bass boat without too many features might cost you $10,000. But you can go all out with a larger model that has a lot of features meant to improve your fishing game that can cost around $75,000 or more.
Yachts are often associated with luxury even though there is no formal definition of what a boat has to be to qualify as a yacht necessarily. Most of us know what we mean when someone says “yacht” though. Smaller yachts are going to start at around $250,000 to $300,000. These boats can easily get over $1 million and the largest and most expensive yachts in the world cost over $100 million.
A bowrider is a boat that has extra space for seating in the boat and is usually identified by that central feature. Some of the lower priced bow riders may start around $30,000 with a handful of cheaper options for the smallest boats. At the higher end it’s not unreasonable to see bowriders up over $60,000.
The term “convertible” is confusing to some people but basically it just means a boat that is versatile enough to serve more than one purpose. You can convert it from one kind of boat to another, in other words. So it can work as a fishing boat, or an overnight boat, or a cruising boat depending on your needs.
Because the term is a little vague and there’s a lot of rumor for interpretation, you can find some boats that qualify as convertibles for $20,000 or so and others can be well over $100,000.
There is a lot of variety in houseboat design and features. You can find houseboats that cost well into the millions of dollars because of how extravagant they are. More reasonably priced houseboats may start in the low six figures and then range anywhere from $300,000 to $600,000. Because this segment of boating can be extremely unique and many of these boats are barely meant to actually be sailed on the water, you’ll find unusual designs and some very big boats with equally big price tags.
Boats that use jet drive engines rather than outboard or inboard engines are becoming more popular these days. There’s even a jet pontoon on the market now. In general, you can expect that a jet boat will range from $20,000 at the low end to nearly $100,000 at the higher end. This doesn’t include more reasonably priced jet skis, of course.
Some people call these fan boats or hovercraft though it’s worth knowing that a hovercraft is a different vessel that has a vaguely similar appearance. You’ll know an airboat because it has a giant fan on the back and a flat bottom. These can be used for fishing but they’re often used for transportation and tourism in swampland.
A small, basic airboat will cost you around $30,000. The top of the line models can get very expensive with some of them costing as much as $400,000.
Sailboats cover a wide range of designs and styles but the essential feature is a vessel that is powered by wind rather than a motor. Seems like it’d be cheaper then, right? Not always. The smallest sailboats can be around $12,000 but you can expect to find mid-range sailboats around $50,000 and many more that are $100,000 even up to $500,000 depending on the size. Keep in mind, some sailboats are also catamarans.
This is another fairly generic term for a boat but in this case we’re referring to a boat that is chiefly used for things like water sports. It’s not really a cruiser, not a fishing boat, but it goes fast and you can have fun water skiing or wakeboarding with it. That means a lot of what you are paying for is the motor.
Smaller speedboats are going to be around $30,000 while some top of the line models can be up to $75,000 or more.
Bay Boat Cost
A bay boat or a flats boat is designed for flats fishing and can handle traveling in very shallow waters between the shore and open sea. You can find some lower priced bay boats around around $20,000 while higher end bay boats can be as much as $100,000 or more. Extremely high priced bay boats are much more rare, and reasonable prices are typically have an average boat price in the $30,000 range.
Ski Boat Cost
A more specific kind of speedboat, a ski boat is specifically designed for water skiing. You can find these starting at around $80,000 with some of the higher end models getting up to $150,000 or even higher.
What Are the Other Costs of Boat Ownership?
Once you have settled on a boat and are ready to make the purchase, don’t forget there are a handful of other boat costs you’re going to want to keep in mind. These apply to a new boat or a used boat. These things definitely affect your bottom line even if they aren’t technically part of the cost of the boat proper.
- Fuel: Every boat needs to be fueled somehow. There are electric boats which you can charge just like a car but most still run on combustion engines and that means fuel. You’ll need to know what kind of fuel economy your engine gets so you can form a rough estimate on what a trip out will cost you. From there, you can extrapolate your yearly fuel costs, at least as a rough estimate given that it’s impossible to know what fuels prices will be from month to month. Some boaters need to put aside $1,000 to $2,000 per month in fuel costs. It all depends on how often you use the boat.
- Fees: If you keep your boat at a marina, you’ll have monthly marina fees to pay. This can change significantly from one marina to another but this can cost thousands per year.
- Storage: Storing your boat in the off season can come with a number of costs that vary depending on where you store it outdoors or indoors. It’s possible that indoor storage may set you back $1,000 for a season but if you keep in the water you could pay $2,000 to $5,000. You’ll definitely need to check with your local marina and storage facilities to find out for sure.
- Insurance: This depends on the type of insurance you get and the type of boat you have. Basic boat insurance costs for smaller vessels may just be a couple of hundred dollars per year but if you want a fully insured yacht or luxury fishing vessel then that is going up into the thousands.
- Maintenance: Maintenance can take so many forms it’s hard to narrow it down at all. Paint, repairs, upgrades, all kinds of things fall under the banner of maintenance. A good rule of thumb that most boaters go by is that you should expect to be paying around 10% of the value of a new boat for yearly maintenance. So if you have a $100,000 vessel, then you’re looking at $10,000 in annual boat maintenance costs. On average, boat owners spend around $5,000 to $8,000 per year in maintenance costs.
- Trailer: Not every boat will require a trailer, you may have a small enough boat and a big enough truck that you can work something out. But most boats require a trailer so you can tow it to and from the lake or the ocean. You can expect to pay around $2,000 to $3,000 or more for a trailer, depending on how big it needs to be.
- Registration: This works a lot like it does with a car, you need to have it all official and licensed before you take your boat out. This can change from state to state so you’ll need to research what applies to your region. In most states this is fairly affordable and may not cost you much more than $20 for a smaller vessel.
- License: Some states require you, as the operator of a boat, to be educated in proper boat operations and safety. That means taking a course and getting licensed, similar to how it works with your car. Not every state requires this and expectations vary from state to state. That said, depending on where you live, taking boater education courses and getting licensed can set you back a few hundred dollars. We definitely recommend everyone take a course to understand how to properly operate a vessel and the various rules they need to follow.
- Gear and Equipment: There are a lot of toys and extras you can buy as a boat owner but there are also some essentials you absolutely need to have on your boat at all times that are going to set you back some money as well. Any boat should have life jackets for every single passenger on board before it heads out. You should have things like a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, a VHF radio, a throwable flotation device and also signaling devices like flares and a horn. Depending on the side of the boat you may need to spend up to around $500 to get the gear you absolutely need to have before boating.
- Taxes: You can’t get away from paying taxes on your boat and what you pay depends on where you are. State and local taxes apply when it comes to boats and it varies from state to state. For instance, Florida has a 6% sales and use tax on boats. In Texas it’s 6..25%. Research your region to find out for sure what you’ll have to pay for your own boat.
The Bottom Line
The initial investment of buying a boat can cover a massive range. Brand new boats can cost just a few thousand dollars depending on the type of boat you’re looking at. Higher end boats that are much larger in size can cost $100,000 to $500,000 and even much, much more.
There are numerous factors that need to be considered when evaluating the cost of a boat ranging from not just the typeof boat but what it’s made from, who manufactured it and where and when it’s being sold.
After the initial cost of buying a boat, as a boat owner you need to understand that there is an annual cost associated with operating a boat that covers things like fuel, maintenance and so on. For many boat owners it can cost an additional $1,000 to $5,000 per year to operate a boat. This can increase significantly with larger boats. Some superyachts cost over $1 million per year to maintain.