Sally needs braces, Billy needs a new smart phone, and you need… a new boat? It can be a tough argument, but it’s one we dedicated boat-lovers all go through a time or ten in our lives.

If you're having trouble justifying buying a new boat, when there are so many important demands on the family finances, maybe renting makes sense. Here are the pros and the cons.

rental boats

Which makes more sense, buying the boat or renting it? Asking the question assumes you can apply logic to this emotionally-driven decision, but considering the pros and cons will help you figure out which is the best move.

PRO: Let’s start with the obvious - if you rent, you don’t have to sign on the dotted line and take on the heavy expense of purchasing a boat of your own.
CON: Just as with a car, in the long run, even though your initial lay-out is far smaller, it’s possible to spend more money by renting. This is only going to be true if you rent regularly and if you would maintain your own boat extremely well to get the maximum resale value. But for someone who wants to go boating every nice weekend in the spring, summer, and fall, it probably makes more economic sense to buy.

PRO: Renting a boat is a smart move for new boaters, who haven’t yet decided whether the boating lifestyle is really right for them or which boat would best fit their needs. Renting allows you to get your feet wet first.
CON: If you rent a boat, you’ll never get that full feeling of ownership. You'll care less about the boat since you don’t have time and effort invested in it, and you’ll have zero pride in your ride.

PRO: No regular maintenance chores. And in most cases, you won't even have to worry about washing down the boat at the end of the day.
CON: Maintenance on many rental fleets is sub-standard. If you rent you stand a better chance of breaking down on the water, or putting up with broken or worn-out accessories.

PRO: If you rent, you can travel to new places and embark upon new adventures in new waters without trailering or making long cruises.
CON: When you get there, you’ll have to take what you can get. Anglers, for example, might be limited to bowriders or deckboats that aren't really set up for fishing. Watersports enthusiasts may have to settle for ho-hum acceleration. And speedboat lovers might find themselves being passed by fast rowboats.

PRO: You’ll never, ever have to deal with the task of (shudder) emptying out the head.
CON: You have to haul all of your gear to and from the boat, on each and every trip. That means water skis, fishing rods, coolers, and anything else you like having aboard must go in and out of the car, and be carried up and down the dock. If you own your own boat,  you can load it up with the gear you want and leave it onboard until the next weekend.
Bonus CON: The more often you transport all that stuff, the greater the chances of breaking something.

PRO: You don’t have to worry about storing your boat in the off-season. Many neighborhoods won’t allow you to keep your boat in the driveway, and off-season storage can be expensive. Worse yet, if you store your boat in a sketchy area, theft and vandalism can be real worries.
CON: Availability can be an issue; if you wait until Friday night to decide that you’d like to rent a boat on Saturday morning, you might find that the entire fleet has already been reserved.

So what should you do, rent or own? Give each PRO and each CON a score of one to 10, depending on how important it is to you personally, add up the results, and see which wins. If owning is a winner but you just don’t have the cash for the type of boat you want, consider fractional ownership, where you share the responsibility—and the boating time—with partners.

Another option is boating clubs, like the Care Free Boating Club. Joining a group like this isn’t cheap, but it gets you access to the club’s fleets in multiple locations and you can choose between a variety of boat styles.

Whichever option you decide on, there’s one bet we’re willing to make: once you’ve tried boating you’ll be hooked for life. And then all logical economic arguments will go right out the window.

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Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, 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.