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Aug. 27, 2021

Costs Associated with the First Year of Boat Ownership

While there’s a boat for every budget, new boaters should also consider the other costs involved when planning for their first season.

Those who have decided to buy a boat for the first time will find it’s often a lifestyle-changing experience. To make sure the first year is one of fun, discovery and bonding with the family, new boaters need to make sure they understand all the costs associated with boat ownership. Underestimating the expenses can create a financial burden that can stand in the way of taking advantage of the best boating has to offer. Purchasing a boat through a reputable dealer is a good idea for new boaters. A dealer can help find a boat within your budget that’s a perfect lifestyle match, and can help create a plan to meet the upcoming year’s expenses.

Here’s a look at some of the initial costs.

Essential Purchases

Every boat needs to be equipped with the gear that’s required by the U.S. Coast Guard. Be sure to also check state and local regulations where you plan to boat, as there might be additional requirements.

Life jackets – Lightweight inflatable models are more expensive than bulky orange vests. However, they’re also more comfortable, and, therefore, you and your passengers are more likely to wear them. Learn more about how to choose the right life jacket for all passengers on your boat.

Visual distress signals – Signaling devices range from pyrotechnic flares to distress flags to LED lights. Be sure that the devices you choose are U.S. Coast Guard approved and that you carry at least the minimally required number of signaling devices for the waters where you’ll boat. You’re also required to have audio signaling devices. In addition to a boat’s horn, disposable air horns are inexpensive and can be heard over great distances. A whistle attached to every life jacket can help if a person accidentally ends up in the water.

Fire extinguishers – The type and number of fire extinguishers required varies based on the boat’s size and fuel system. Consult Coast Guard and state regulations.

Items a Well-Equipped Boat Should Have

Being prepared is about more than meeting the basic legal requirements. The following items are essentials that you should include in your first-year boating budget.

Dock lines – A boat should have at least four dock lines, which can also be tied together to form a tow line should the need arise.

Fenders – Many new boaters call fenders “bumpers.” A minimum of two should be carried, but if you plan on being part of a raft-up, at least four are needed to protect your boat.

Anchor, chain and line – On some bodies of water, boaters are required to carry an anchor. Even when it’s not required, keeping an anchor on board and understanding how to use it is an important part of basic boater safety. Different types of anchors work best on certain types of bottoms, and a dealer can help pick an appropriate model. For all but the lightest anchoring duties, your anchor should be connected to a length of chain, which then connects to the anchor line. Together, the chain and line are called the anchor rode.

Electronics – A GPS/fishfinder display helps with navigation and lets the driver know the depth. If boating on large bodies of water, a VHF radio augments cellphone communications.

Additional Expenses

Other expenses vary based on where you boat, how you’ll store your boat and the type of boat you own. You can use your first season on the water to create a baseline budget for later seasons.

Boat insuranceBoat insurance is surprisingly affordable and offers peace of mind should a mishap occur. A high-deductible keeps premiums low.

Boat storage – Many boats are trailerable and offer the least expensive storage option for boaters. Some homeowner associations don’t allow boat trailers to be stored outside at home, so an owner may have to rent space at a storage yard. Keeping a boat in a marina, either in the water or on rack storage, is more expensive but offers greater convenience to boat owners who tend to go boating more often when they can just jump on their boats and go.

Winter storage and winterization – Boats being stored for the winter need special attention, and for the first year of ownership, it’s probably wise to turn that chore over to professionals. Many experienced boaters prefer to do it themselves. Dry storage and shrink wrapping are additional ways of keeping a boat safe in winter.

Gas – On-water gas pumps are more expensive, but often, part of the extra cost is for gas with no ethanol added. Fuel breakdown and other issues related to ethanol-blended gas can be detrimental to boat engines if the fuel isn’t used within a month or so. You should also treat your fuel with a stabilizer such as Mercury Quickstor® if it may sit in the tank for a while, like during winter storage. Quickstor is part of the Mercury Fuel Care System, which can help protect your boat’s fuel system from problems that might otherwise lead to costly repairs in the future. If you have a Mercury SmartCraft® engine, you can also outfit your engine with the VesselView Mobile® system, which allows you to track fuel consumption on a mobile app. The app can help you pinpoint the most efficient speed and rpm to conserve fuel.

Maintenance – The amount of money needed for routine maintenance doesn't vary much. Annual tasks usually include changing the engine oil and gear lube. Other items such as spark plugs, water pump impellers and drive belts are typically changed less frequently per the operator’s manual for each engine and part. Older engines and boats will likely require more money for maintenance as older components of the engine and rigging eventually wear out.

Towing assistance plans – Boats occasionally break down or run out of gas, and the cost of a tow can be pricey, depending on the distance. Where available, boaters on large bodies of water should strongly consider subscribing to an on-water assistance service that operates in the area. For a yearly membership fee, you get unlimited towing and other services. While many of the services generally won’t be used for a well-maintained boat and engine, it’s something you’ll appreciate if you do need it, and the added peace of mind is a nice bonus.

Budget for Fun

In addition to purchasing the essentials and a few optional, yet recommended services, you’ll probably want to stock up on some activity-based items such as tubes, skis, fishing tackle and swim mats to get your first-year boating adventures off to a fun start.

A first-year boating plan should also include a budget. Try to plan ahead and factor in the annual costs of boating with the costs of the boat and engine you choose. Once you know your budget, your dealer can help you find the right boat for your needs and get you started on a lifetime journey of on-the-water fun.

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