Our Boat Buyer’s Guide will help you get through the initial steps of buying a boat, but once you take ownership of your pride and joy some budgeting and financial planning is in order. Boats require a constant cash infusion, for a range of expenses. In order to be prepared for the future, you’ll need to budget for:

  • Operating expenses

  • Maintenance and repairs

  • Mooring, storage, or both

  • Insurance

  • Upgrades and replacements

  • Depreciation

Hopefully these future boat owners, shopping at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, know that buying a boat is only the first step in financially planning for your future afloat.

Operating Expenses

Each and every time you run your boat, there will be operating expenses associated with the voyage. Fuel, of course, is the most common one. But the amount of fuel you burn can vary radically; the owner of a sailboat or a small skiff may need just a gallon or two of fuel but those triple-engine center consoles you see at the docks can chew through hundreds of gallons of fuel in a single outing. Read Fuel-Saving Tips for Boaters and How to Find Most Efficient Cruise on a Boat, to gain some insight into how you might minimize your fuel expenses.

On top of fuel costs, there will be various expenses you need to account for which are specific to different types of boats. Those with two-stroke outboards, for example, will have to purchase a regular supply of two-stroke engine oil. Boaters with carbureted engines should plan to regularly purchase fuel additives to eliminate ethanol problems. Even electric boats are likely to have some level of operating expenses since most will need to be plugged in at the end of the day, and you’ll have an electricity bill to pay.

How much should you budget for operating expenses? That’s impossible for us to say, since the range can be so great. But sit down with a pencil and paper, and try to account for all these variables ahead of time so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Today’s boats actually require less maintenance and repairs than those of yester-year, but these factors do still represent a major cost of boat ownership.

Maintenance and repairs

Maintenance and repairs are a bit different, since maintenance costs are regular and ongoing (such as bottom paint, engine tune-ups, or wax jobs) while repairs can come up at unexpected moments. But these two costs also go hand in hand. Slacking on maintenance will require more repairs in the long run, and repairing things quickly and completely can reduce maintenance cost.

Even if you buy a brand new boat, maintenance and repair expenses do need to be in the planning. Again, the exact costs will vary greatly from boat to boat. What makes budgeting for maintenance even more difficult is the fact that two identical boats can have very different maintenance costs due to how hard they’re used, conditions they encounter, and plain old luck.

This is, however, one form of expense which you can have a personal impact on. Treat your boat gently, and it will help reduce maintenance and repair costs. Do some of the work yourself (check out our How-To Maintenance section, to get some good tips and learn how to perform many basic tasks), and you can bring them down further. And while it’s impossible to predict just what your costs will be, many boaters believe it’s smart to budget around 10-percent of the boat’s value for maintenance expenses. During seasons when the costs are lower the extra cash can be banked, and saved for those unfortunate times when mechanical problems or unexpected damage boosts your maintenance and repair needs.

Whether you keep your boat in a slip, on a trailer, on in a rack, mooring and storage costs need to be in the budget.

Mooring and Boat Storage

While the exact cost of mooring changes by the region and the nature of the marina, fortunately, with a little bit of legwork you can nail down exactly how much this will cost you each season. Slips can range from a couple hundred dollars a month for a runabout kept in a municipal marina, to a thousand or more dollars a month for a large boat kept in a yacht club. Most marinas charge a bit less for long-term leasing as opposed to going month-to-month, and in cooler climates, you may also get a price break if you agree to winter storage on-site. Either way, be sure to include that winter lay-up expense in your calculations.

In many cases, even boats kept on trailers will be subject to some level of storage expenses. Many urban trailer-boat owners opt to keep their rig at a storage facility with security, which in the long run can save you money by reducing the risk of theft or vandalism. And if you live a long way from the boat ramp, it may actually cost you more in fuel expenses if you trailer the boat back and forth, as opposed to keeping it stored close to the water.

One final word about mooring: make sure you have your boat secured properly, or in the long run you could end up having to budget in more money for repairs since the boat could be banging against pilings or breaking free. To get the low-down on how to properly secure your boat in a slip or at a dock, read Tying Up Boats: Mooring Basics.

Insurance needs go beyond the norm for boaters, in many cases including towing coverage.

Boat Insurance

Boat insurance is another “hard” cost, which is predictable and relatively easy to budget for. Don’t forget that most people want to not only get boat insurance, but also towing insurance in case of break-downs. Also note that you may be able to get reduced insurance by taking a boating education course, or installing a theft-prevention system. To find out all the ins and outs, see Boat Insurance 101.

Upgrading your boat’s systems will become a need in the future, so plan for it now.

Upgrades and Replacements

Even when everything is working just fine, through the years you’ll probably want to make some upgrades to your boat on occasion. Marine electronics are an excellent example of one facet of your boat which is likely to become dated well before your boat becomes long in the tooth. People who want to expand their boat’s capabilities, such as weekenders who decide to make long-distance cruises, may need to make upgrades to refrigeration and freshwater systems. And performance boats are commonly upgraded with new propellers or drive units that might be able to provide a speed boost. If you set aside three to five percent of the boat’s value every season, when it’s time for those upgrades you’ll be ready for them.

While the length of time between upgrades will vary wildly between boats depending on how they’re used and the desire of the owner, the below list will give you a rough idea of the life-span of certain items and systems that will probably need to be upgraded or replaced on a regular basis:

  • Air conditioning – 10 to 20 years

  • Batteries – Five to seven years

  • Diesel engines – 20 to 30 years

  • Electrical – 20 to 30 years

  • Exterior vinyls and upholstery – Five to 10 years

  • Exterior canvass – Five to 10 years

  • Gasoline engines – 10 to 20 years

  • Marine electronics – Three to five years

  • Plumbing and sanitation – 10 to 20 years

  • Refrigeration – 10 to 20 years

  • Sailboat rigging – Five to 15 years

  • Sailboat sails – Five to 15 years

  • Winches and windlasses – 10 to 20 years

Yes, the value of your boat will drop as time goes on, so it’s best to be prepared for the financial hit.


While it may seem odd to budget for depreciation, this is an important factor to take into consideration. Boats do tend to devalue quickly, and as a result, you should be prepared to get significantly less than you paid for your boat when you sell it. Buying the new boat you want to move up to, or even replacing the old boat with one of equivalent size and style, will end up costing more money.

To get a solid feel for just how much your boat is likely to depreciate over time, check out Best Bet Blue Books for Boat Buyers. Using the Blue Books properly will help you get a handle on how boats of similar makes and models tend to maintain their value—or not—through the years.

Put all of these factors together, and how will your budget shake out? Most people end up planning for the cost of owning a boat to run at between 15 and 25 percent of the boat’s overall value. That’s a wide range and plenty of boats will fall outside of it, with the general rule of thumb being that the larger and more complex any vessel is, the bigger a percentage it will require. Whatever the numbers end up being, remember one thing: the cost of owning a boat is money well spent. Because considering how happy boating makes people like us, whatever the price may be it’s a bargain.

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.