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The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Boat

Every boat owner begins with a dream…

  • A dream to sail
  • A dream to escape
  • A dream to bring the family together
  • A dream to seek thrills
  • A dream to fish
  • A dream of freedom….

Whatever your boating dream is, you can make it a reality with our Ultimate Guide to Buying a Boat to help you through the all-important processes before committing to such a big purchase. It is important that you choose the exact right boat that suits your needs, dreams and desires as you don’t want to end up disappointed later down the line when you or someone in your family decides they want to try water skiing but your boat doesn’t allow for it. Be precise, honest and open about everything you want from your dream boat.

Now, there’s nothing quite like the freedom of owning your own boat, whether it be for the lavish lifestyle, the relaxing weekend breaks, or the thrill of the waves. It’s a past time that the entire family can enjoy together.

However, it’s also a costly purchase and a decision that should not be taken lightly, lots of thought, research and preparation must take place before handing over the cheque for your new boat. The process can be quite daunting, particularly if you’re a first-time buyer, but fear not, this guide has got you covered.

1 – Who will use the boat & how will it be used?

The first thing to consider when looking to buy your own boat is “who will use the boat?”. Will it just be yourself for fishing trips? Family? Friends? The list is endless. Really think about who will be on board as these decisions can have a real impact on the type of boat, the size and the features.

If you’re looking to escape on family holidays at weekends or for a week or two at a time, you’re going to need quite a lot of space and living quarters, somewhere to entertain, to eat, to shower and go the toilet etc. This can give you a real indication into the layout, design and structure of the type of boat you opt for.

This links on well to the next step to be considered, which is how you will use your boat.

You may simply be wanting to use the boat for cruising around on small day trips, you may want to own a boat to fuel hobbies such as fishing, skiing, wakeboarding, diving, river cruising, coastal cruising, and so on. With so many different possibilities, there’s so many different choices on boats with so many suited to different needs.

Perhaps you have a dream of bringing your family together for some much needed quality time, and want to use the boat as a way to do so, but think about what activities people may want to partake in, and by all means, involve your family in the boating discussions and decisions.

Our advice would be to create an extensive list of all the reasons you want to own a boat, such as:

  • To cruise
  • To cruise and occasionally race
  • To race and occasionally cruise
  • To race to win
  • To potter about in
  • To fish from
  • To relieve stress
  • As a style statement
  • To satisfy peer pressure
  • To promote family togetherness
  • As a retirement project
  • To live on full time
  • For exercise
  • As a DIY project
  • As a status symbol
  • A family decision
  • To find new friends
  • To keep existing friends
  • To use as a floating caravan
  • To charter
  • To fulfil a dream
  • To help in recuperation from an illness
  • To relax on
  • To long-distance cruise
  • As an investment
  • To coast = hop cruise
  • Pride of ownership
  • As a mobile property
  • Long-distance racing
  • To cruise inland waterways
  • For training prior to your dream/ultimate boat
  • Other reasons

This is not a fixed list and is entirely dependent upon you and your needs, be thorough, precise and truthful about the reasons you want to own a boat, that way it’ll become easier to then choose that all important vessel.

Once you’ve created your list, it’s a good idea to go through a determine which points are completely essential, and which are not entirely vital, that way you can begin to prioritise what aspects and elements are needed for your boat. Be sure to keep the list handy through all the steps in the process of buying your boat, that way you can keep referring back to it to make sure you are sticking to your objectives, look at it as a wish list and your boat needs to reflect those wishes and requirements.

Remember: it is your boat, your dream, your money, your choices – try not to be influenced by others when making your decision.

2 – How often will the boat be used?

This is, again, another important factor when considering the purchase of your boat, you may only be wanting to use your boat seasonally in the warmer months, or perhaps you’re wanting to use your boat year-round.

If you’re looking to use your boat all year round, you are probably looking to fish, to escape at weekends or potter about whenever you can and is therefore, again, important to know in order to choose the right boat suited to those needs.

Using your boat more regularly will inevitably mean more fuel consumption

If you’re looking to use your boat seasonally, you’re probably looking to holiday, to use it to soak up the sun, to enjoy an escape and so on. In this case you will need to think about things such as storage – are you going to keep your boat in storage during the months you’re not using it? This is important to consider when purchasing a boat as you’ll need to be fully prepared and have an indication of what your plans on with regards to boat storage, maintenance and moorings etc.

Thinking about storage and where you’ll store your boat will have an impact on the size of boat you’re looking to buy – you won’t want to buy a boat that you can’t fit in storage, if you have somewhere in mind already, that is.

3 – Where will the boat be operated?

If you have a dream of owning a boat, you will likely already know the answer as to where you want to operate your boat – River/estuary, offshore or to live-abroad. Knowing where you will be operating is an important factor when looking to buy a boat as it allows you to know what kind of boat is best suited to your needs.

For instance, if you’re looking to live abroad on your boat, then you’ll need to opt for a vessel that offers comfortable living quarters with a place to sleep, with a galley, a cabin and other amenities. But, if you’re looking to travel along inland waterways and canals, you’ll need a smaller boat that suits the narrower canals/waterways.

4 – What is your budget?

It’s no secret that boats are an expensive investment, a little like a house, and you have to be 100% happy with your purchase or it’s a lot of money to throw away if you aren’t entirely happy with the boat.

With regards to budget, it’s best that you stay honest with yourself and ensure that you know exactly just how much you can spend on a vessel, perhaps you may want to sit down and go through all the extra costs that you’ll need to consider once you’ve bought a boat, as these may have an effect on the overall budget you have to spend on the actual boat itself.

Let’s go back to the idea of creating a list that we did earlier when looking at the reasons for owning a boat, but this time consider the ongoing & other costs of owning a boat.

  • Mooring
  • Insurance
  • Maintenance
  • Fuel
  • Relevant licences – e.g. river license
  • Engine and Outdrive service
  • Replacing Anodes
  • Antifouling
  • Boat safety certificate
  • Extra equipment – e.g. skiing, fishing, safety etc.
  • Winter storage
  • Cleaning products or services

Read our blog post on ‘Staying afloat – how can you ensure you can afford the ongoing costs of your boat?’ to find out more.

Having taken other various elements into consideration, you’ll then have a clearer indication of the real budget you’ll have to splash out on your dream boat. By knowing this budget, you can then get an understanding of what kind of boat you can go for – whether it be used or new and so on.

5 – What type of motorboat is best suited to you?

It can be easy to let your head rule your heart, so try to always keep the practicality at the forefront of your boating considerations, if fishing is your forte, then you’ll be looking towards a more practical, utilised vessel rather than one with a lavish interior. Perhaps young children will be on board your boat, so their safety will be paramount – secure seating, a deep cockpit and toilet facilities are all things to be considered in this case.

Going through the purchase of a boat is rather similar to that of buying a car, there’s so many to choose from, brands, types, models, engine…the list is endless, so really make sure you keep referring back to that list of needs from your boat that we mentioned earlier. By referring back to that list at every step, you are able to make sure you are still sticking to your most important needs and wants from a boat.

Types of boats include:

  • Trailer boats
  • Second-hand boats
  • Ski/wake boarding boats
  • Rigid Bottom Inflatable boats (RIB)
  • Fishing boats
  • Centre console boats
  • Bow rider boats
  • Walk around boats
  • Canal or narrow boats
  • River cruiser
  • Sports cruiser
  • Flybridge cruiser

If you’re naturally someone that is looking for a thrill and excitement, a boat the offers more power and speed will be best suited to your nature, or perhaps you’re looking to own a boat for some calm, relaxing tootle down rivers, then a much quieter, more luxurious boat would best suit your needs.

Read our guide on different motorboats here to find out more.

6 – What construction type should you opt for?

Boats are built from a variety of different materials and every construction material has its own advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s best to check which are best suited to you and your boating needs.

Classic wooden boats:

While these boats can provide lots of character with their structure, it must be noted that hard work and dedication is required. Maintenance is key, and if you are someone that loves to work on your boats and keep everything in tip top condition, then a wooden boat may be for you. Rotting of the wood is quite common, particularly if rainwater finds its way through gaps, leaving the wood to soak up the rainwater and leading to rot.

Wooden boats are perfect for those who have the time and money for their upkeep as well maintained and looked after wooden boats can live a long and healthy life, however, during that lifetime, they will most likely have had major sections of their structures replaced.

The maintenance of wooden boats requires extensive knowledge and skills that take a long time to acquire and therefore are expensive to buy. However, a well-maintained wooden boat arguably produces the greatest pride in ownership.

Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP)/Fibre glass boats:

Glass reinforced plastic is the most common material used for the production of boats, mostly due to the ease in mass production. Prior to the use of these materials, boats were hand crafted from wood and made to order for individuals, this being a lengthy and expensive process, but now boating has become more accessible to a wider range of boat owners through the production of cheaper and more sustainable materials, such as GRP.

Like any construction material, there are positives and negatives, but it is up to you on whether you think this material is what you want your boat to be made of. If your intended boat builder has a good reputation, there are minimum structural requirements to which a builder must work to, to be able to put their products on the European market.

GRP material has allowed for larger volume of boat production than any other material, they all have an outer skin called the gelcoat, which is usually self-coloured, and avoids the need for secondary painting for many years. Although coloured gelcoats look good while new, white gelcoats are the better bet for long-term good looks as they do not suffer the effects of ultra-violet rays and oxidisation to the extent that the blues and reds do.

These boats are by far the most popular as they’re lighter and relatively low maintenance, they’re long lasting and tend to hold their value well. A very safe and good option if you are looking for a long-term investment to continue that family fun for years to come!

If buying second hand, check for any signs of stress cracks on corners and any star crazing within the gelcoat around the hull and deck, as this could signal clues towards minor impact damage. At the same time, it’s also best that you check for any signs of osmosis – the penetration of water through the outer gel coat, causing a small blister below the waterline. Osmosis damage can be expensive to repair as the gel coat has to be planed off, the hull dried and the affected areas to be re-coated.

Plastic boats

Many smaller boats are made from plastic using methods such as injection spin, vacuum or hot deforming. These methods are only suited to volume construction due to the tooling costs involved and have not yet featured in larger boats.

Plastic boats have a reasonable life expectancy, if of good quality but must ensure they are protected from the effects of ultra-violet rays when not being used.

Metal boats

Metal boats are mainly made out of steel or aluminium alloy; however, steel is the preferred material for canal boats as it can withstand the various impacts that they experience. Using steel is economic and easy to repair.

Steel is also strong and secure, however, just in the way wood can rot, steel can rust so great care must be taken to avoid rust.

Aluminium Alloy boats

Aluminium alloy boats are produced in small numbers and mainly from one-off designs, therefore there’s a limited number of production boats built, and they tend to be for a specialised market.

This material is more difficult to work with than steel, while it’s easier to bend, it stretches while bending and is more difficult to weld structurally. However, high levels of skills are needed for the build of these boats which leads to a more expensive building cost.

On the plus side, alloy does not corrode from saltwater as easily as steel does.

Rubber boats:

Rubber boats are ideal for those that want to potter about and have a bit of fun, they’re easy to deflate and can be packed away until the next use. They’re very light making them suspect to high winds and strong seas but are lots of fun to use.

Most rubber boats have multiple inflation chambers, so they have a higher level of safety, however, they don’t have a very long lifespan and often due to neglect. As with any boat, you must ensure you keep the vessel well maintained in order for the boat to have a happy and healthy life!

To prolong a rubber boats life, make sure you wash regularly, dry and use talcum powder to dust over before extended storage and keep covered to avoid ultra-violet rays.

7 – Where will you base your boat?

Other considerations to take note of when looking to buy your boat is knowing where you want to base her. If you are already, or have been, a member of a boating club, you may already have plans to moor at that marina. Or you may be completely new to the concept and are looking to weigh up all your options.

If you live near the water, this question will likely seem silly, as you’re probably going to want to base her there. However, you may live an hour or so away, in which case you’ll have a wider choice of harbours in which you can base your boat. As with anything, it’s best to do your research, so why not get out and about in your car and go and take a look at all your options, that way you can get a real feel for the place you’ll be basing your boat, and ultimately feel happy with your choice.

Things to consider:

  • Are there places within easy cruising distance to go to? It can become tedious covering the same patch of water each time.
  • What are the local facilities – fuel, life-out, servicing etc?
  • What does the local boating club offer – club racing, organised cruises, mooring facilities, social activities?
  • Is the mooring within easy travelling distance from home? Is the route troubled by long queues during the season?

If you have space at home in your garden, the cheapest option for your boat is to keep it on a trailer at home. This option can also be the most convenient, with the boat so close by, with any spare time you’re able to keep on top of any small maintenance jobs easily!

The less time you spend getting to the water and setting up the boat, the most time you’ll have enjoying her on the water!

Some marinas will operate a dry storage based in a secure area, and will even launch your boat prior to your arrival, but with the boat being based and stored so far away from home – will the maintenance get done?

Launching and recovery of a trailer boat:

The big advantage of a trailer boat is that it gives you the opportunity to trail the boat to explore different places and take her with you on family holidays either at home or abroad.

The first task in launching your boat is to locate a good slipway that you can launch and recover from at any state of the tide. The second is to then have a good trailer, preferably with a swinging cradle at the back end, which takes up the natural line of travel when the boat is launched and recovered. These trailers are designed to that the wheel hubs and brakes never need to be immersed in water, they not only simplify the whole process, but cut down on maintenance and corrosion that leads to brake and hub failure.

The swing cradle reduces the single-handed recovery to a simple routine. The trailers wheels need to be immersed no deeper than the tyre rims, and with the boat’s centre point close to the pivot point of the cradle, this rocks backwards, its rollers acting as a guide for the boat to slide off.

During recovery, the same rollers receive the bow and centre of the boat, and as you winch in, the cradle tilts and these rollers then take up the line of the bilge as the keel is brought in line with the rollers set along the forward spine of the trailer. There is no risk of the boat moving off line and grazing the finish on the rollers. The wheel bearings are kept dry and the trauma of recovery becomes a thing of the past!

Swing mooring:

These are also known as simple or single-point moorings and they are the simplest and most common kind of mooring, consisting of a single anchor at the bottom of a waterway with a rode (a rope, cable or chain) running to a float on the surface. This float allows the vessel to find the rode and then connect it to the anchor.

They’re known as swing moorings because a boat attached to this kind of mooring swings in a circle whenever the direction of the wind or tide changes.

Marina berth:

A marina berth can cost up to 2-3 times the amount of a swinging mooring, but does however allow for 24-hour access, free parking, electricity and water, together with a greater amount of security. With other amenities such as restaurants, toilets and showers nearby, making it much easier to entertain guests on board your boat.

Things to consider:

  • What are the tidal restrictions to getting in and out of the basin?
  • Is there plenty of parking space?
  • How noisy are the neighbours?

Pile moorings:

You may want to consider basing your boat at a pile mooring. A pile mooring is a pair of substantial wooden or metal posts between which the boat is secured, with the bow tied to one and the stern to the other, and they were introduced by way of maximising space in crowded anchorages.

This option is more secure that a swing mooring because the boats are attached fore and aft to the piles, however they are more expensive.

But you must consider how you will get to and from your vessel, should you go for this option, some harbours operate a water taxi which can simplify the process, but you must consider whether this service operates during weekdays and out of season?

Things to consider:

  • Do the public have access along the tow path?
  • Is there security or CCTV?
  • Is the area sheltered from prevailing winds?

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when looking at somewhere to base your boat, and ultimately it comes down to you, and your needs. If you’re wanting to keep things cost effective, and the boat close to home, the best option may well be to keep your boat on a trailer at home, although if you have a greater budget, you may well want to enjoy the luxuries and ease of a marina berth! The choice is yours!

8 – Single or shared ownership? What is best for me?

Partnerships and syndicates can offer a great, cost and time-effective solution to owning a boat. Joint ownership offers all the benefits of single boat ownership, without the major impact on time and finances that the latter can sometimes entail.

Shared ownership can also be a fantastic option for the passionate individual who wants to take part in a number of different types of boating such as sailing dinghies at local club level, competitive sports boat racing, and a more cruising-oriented yacht for family sailing. Joining a number of shared ownership schemes can allow this to be a reality, whereas out-right ownership could well make this financially difficult.

Other benefits can include organised social events and training, so while it is not right for everyone, if social life, time, money or multiple activities fit your boating lifestyle then it is certainly an option worth considering.

Syndicate – Syndicate ownership is similar to managed shared ownership. An idiot dent company will set up the syndicate, seek members and source the boat. Then once the syndicate is running for a period of time i.e. 5 years, the syndicate members enjoy a fixed cost for enjoying the boat.

Boat Clubs – For motorboats and yachts, a boat club will be set up by a marina and then a number of members can share ownership of a boat. An approach that makes it easier for individuals who don’t know each other to buy a boat together.

Fully Managed Shared Ownership – A management company will purchase the boat and then sell the shares in that boat. These can be anything up to £1m boats and include all costs and in some cases a captain and crew to sail the boat whenever and wherever the owner wishes to go.

To find out more read our guide on shared ownership here.

9 – Should I charter my boat?

Chartering a boat is similar to that of renting a boat, boats for charter are usually bigger sailing boats or motor yachts, equipped for longer and more comfortable stay for a week or more. There are three general types of charters; bareboat, cabin and crewed charter.

  • Bareboat Charter is similar to boat rental: no crew or provisions are included as part of the agreement. As a charterer, you obtain possession and full control of the vessel along with the legal and financial responsibility for it. It means you pay for all operating expenses, including fuel, crew and port expenses. Most charter companies require competence – valid skipper licence which validates you have the necessary experience to charter and operate the boat you want. Also, when bareboat chartering, you need to provision the boat, meaning you need to buy the food, beverages, and other items you’ll need for your trip and also gather your boat crew. As a captain, you decide about everything connected with the boat.
  • Cabin charter is the type of charter where you are part of the crew which hire competent captain (skipper) who operates the boat, provision it for meals, and do all necessary operations on the boat. You pay for your berth, meet new people and fully enjoy the experience of boating under his professional supervision.
  • Crewed charter unlike cabin charter, this type of charter manages you to decide who will be in your crew which means you hire a skipper and other boat staff like cook and hostess at your service on the boat.

10 – The legal requirements – Choosing the appropriate insurance:

Before using your boat, you must register your vessel, particularly if you want to use it on inland waterways, rivers and canals, but in order to do so, you’ll need to make sure your boat is insured and it must have a boat safety scheme certificate (BSS).

Boat insurance depends entirely upon the type of boat and how you’ll be using your boat.

Sometimes your home insurance policy may include coverage for low value boats, but that coverage is often very limited. Just as with car insurance, you’re also able to choose your level of cover and optional extras.

Even though you must insure your boat, there’s not actually a legal requirement for boats in the UK to be insured, however, navigation authorities for the waterways and marina and harbour operators usually insist upon at least third-party insurance, which protects others from damage your boat may cause. The bottom line is, without third-party insurance you’ll be unable to use your boat on the waterways and unable to obtain a mooring agreement for it.

Things to remember:

  • Boat insurance isn’t a legal requirement, but you’ll need at least third-party cover to access rivers, canals, boatyards and marinas.
  • The cost of insurance will vary depending on factors including boat size, type, power and usage.
  • You can cut the cost of boat insurance by building up a no-claims discount and improving security.

Now you’ve read this guide, you’ll have a greater understanding of the steps you need to go through before buying a boat, and all the things that must be considered so that you don’t go into the buying process ‘blind’.

Buying a boat is a big investment that can create a lifetime of memories, it’s important that you get it right so that you can ensure you’ve chosen the right boat for you and your needs.

Remember to:

  • Know your needs – who will use the boat, how often and where?
  • Know what type of boat you want – weigh up their pros and cons, and how they fit your needs
  • Know your budget – break down the costs and ensure you know what you have to work with.
  • Know your legal requirements – what type of insurance do you need?