How Much Should You Spend on Your First Boat?

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and buy your first boat.  Such an exciting time!  Boats have been enhancing the lives of their owners for as long as boats have been around. 

There is something about being on the water and not tied to the shore that gives a sense of freedom and control that is hard to replicate anywhere else – the wind, the waves, all your favorite people.  But, how much should you spend on your first boat? 

You’ve probably asked yourself this very question a few times and maybe you haven’t been able to come up with a great answer.  What if you buy a boat and don’t use it as much as you thought you would? 

What happens if you buy a boat and your family just doesn’t like it (doesn’t happen often, but some folks aren’t boaters)?  If you spend too much, you could be out a lot of money. 

On the other hand, if you buy a very inexpensive boat and don’t do your due diligence on the front end, you might end up with a boat that needs a lot of work and you aren’t able to use it without spending a lot of money on repairs.

This guide will help answer the question about how much you should spend on your first boat while keeping in mind that everyone’s financial situation is different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

How Much Should You Spend on Your First Boat?

How much should you spend on your first boat? Buy an affordable, reliable boat that gets you on the water today!

Deciding just how much to spend on your first boat can be challenging since it’s something you’ve never done before.  There are also differing opinions on how to approach your spending limit. 

Some people may tell you to save and buy the exact boat you want right out of the gate while others might tell you to go out and buy the least expensive boat you can find for your first boat.  Here we are going to talk about something in the middle of these two extremes. 

While it is easy to get carried away, any time you make a big purchase, including a boat, your budget should be a driving factor in your decision.  Keeping your boat well within your budget will help keep your boating more enjoyable and less stressful.

How to choose your first boat

If you’ve started your search, you know there are a lot of boats on the market, both new and used, within every price range. 

Having a firm grasp on the type of boat you are looking for and how much you can comfortably spend will help you wade through listings to find exactly what you are looking for. 

From personal experience, I can tell you there is a good chance you’ll be able to find exactly what you want and stay within your budget, but it may take some time. 

Also, keep in mind that some times of the year are better for buying than others – at the beginning of the boating season, a lot of people will be looking to buy and prices will be higher.

The first step to choosing your first boat is to think through how you’re going to spend your time on the water most often. 

If you are going to spend most of your time cruising around the lake, something like a pontoon boat might fit your needs. 

However, if you plan on taking your boat offshore, you’d be better off with a 25 Ft., or larger, center console or catamaranUnderstanding how you’re going to use your boat will help point you towards the boat to best fit your needs and avoid buying a boat you can’t fully enjoy because you can’t use it the way you hoped you could.

The next step is to decide how large a boat you need.  Boat size can largely be left up to personal preference and your ability to drive a boat (a larger boat can be more challenging to control, especially around a dock). 

But, the number of people you expect to bring onboard and how you will use your boat will also play a role in the size boat you need.  A smaller boat will get into shallower water for inshore or bass fishing, a larger boat will accommodate more people, and a larger boat will also handle choppy water better.                                                                         

The third step when choosing your first boat is to define your budget.  As mentioned before, staying within your budget will take away the stress of boat ownership, leaving room to enjoy your boat as much as possible. 

Everyone’s financial situation is different and understanding yours before you start your boat search will help set your expectations for what you can afford.  While some may have less than $10,000 to spend, others may have more than $50,000 to spend; whatever your budget is, great boats are looking for new owners.

How Much Should You Spend on Your First Boat?

How much should you spend?

Buying your first boat, it’s likely you aren’t going to know exactly what you need, how you’re going to spend most of your time on the water, or even if you will have as much time for boating as you think you will. 

Because of this, waiting a long time while you save for the “perfect” boat may not be the best option because you may not know what the perfect boat for you is and the day may never come when you’ve finally saved enough. 

Instead, find a boat you can easily afford and get on the water today!  You can always buy a different boat in a year or two once you have a better feel for what your needs and wants are.

How to find your first boat

Whether you are looking for a new or a used boat, there are great options at almost any price range, and a lot of resources for finding the perfect boat. 

Websites like and are marketplaces where private party sellers and dealerships can post their boats for sale, including written descriptions and pictures. 

When you search for a boat on a website like these, the filters allow you to narrow down the search by location, type of boat, size, manufacturer, etc. showing you only the results that fit your specific criteria. 

Other websites like are a good resource for finding boats in your immediate area but don’t have as many filter options to narrow your search. 

Other options for finding a boat include dealerships and boat brokers.  Like a car dealership, boat dealerships accept trade-ins when people are purchasing new boats, so often they will have a diverse selection of used boats on their lot

A benefit of buying from a dealership is they tend to perform routine maintenance on boats they sell before putting them on the lot.  This helps them sell a boat more quickly and helps give the buyer confidence in the boat they are buying. 

Boat brokers are third party specialists that assist their clients in buying, or selling, a boat.  Like real estate agents, boat brokers listen to your criteria, perform a search on your behalf, facilitate test drives, and help negotiate the purchase. 

With their specialized market knowledge and network of connections, boat brokers sometimes have knowledge of boats for sale that aren’t necessarily listed anywhere, opening a larger pool of boats for you to choose from.

Whichever way you choose to perform your boat search, there’s bound to be countless options available to choose from. 

Once you’ve found a boat you are interested in, make sure you inspect the boat and take it for a test drive before you buy. 

If you are buying a used boat, ask the previous owner as many questions as you can about how the boat was taken care of, how often the oil was changed, if there has been any damage to the boat, what kind of repairs (if any) have been done to the hull or engine, etc. 

For even more assurance, take the boat to have it inspected by a professional mechanic.  You want to buy a boat that is reliable and won’t leave you stranded. 

There are always some unknowns when buying a used boat, but asking questions, doing a visual inspection of the boat and trailer, and having it inspected by a professional can help give you confidence in your purchase.

How Much Should You Spend on Your First Boat?

Get on the water!

If you are considering buying your first boat, the best time is right now.  Buy a reliable boat you can easily afford and get on the water as soon as possible. 

Keep in mind that this may not be your dream boat, but it will allow you to learn more about what your wants and needs are.  In a year or two, once you have some experience boating, upgrade to a boat the fits your lifestyle better. 

Boating is an excellent way to spend a Saturday with family and friends, and there isn’t a time like the present to get started.