Should You Buy a Boat?

It’s a luxury item that many people love, but few know how to purchase. Here’s what to look for when you’re ready to buy a boat.

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Every Friday night, from May until Thanksgiving, Linda Waddell and her husband drive from their Orangeville home to the shores of Georgian Bay. They then climb onto their 32-foot cabin cruiser –  a large boat with sleeping quarters onboard – and spend the rest of the weekend puttering around the area.

“It’s the highlight of our life. We spend so much quality time together,” says Waddell, president and director of Canadian Boat Shows Inc., which runs boat shows in Toronto and Vancouver. She has been boating since childhood, and first bought one with her own family 17 years ago.

She’s by no means the only one who loves to spend as much time as they can on the open waters. According to a 2012 survey, 35% of Canadians participate in boating, while Canadians own more than 4.3 million boats.

Getting a boat for weekend cruising can give you a newfound love of Canada and its gorgeous, and plentiful, lakes and rivers. But with so many options out there, buying one can get confusing.

While Waddell’s 26-year-old craft requires some maintenance and gas adds to the costs, it’s still an affordable weekend escape, she says, and it serves as a cozy retreat.

Getting a boat for weekend cruising can give you a newfound love of Canada and its gorgeous, and plentiful, lakes and rivers. But with so many options out there, buying one can get confusing. Here’s how to figure out if you’re ready for a boat of your own, and which type will give you the most waterborne joy.

Identify your goal

“You have to make sure you get the right kind of boat for what you want to do,” says Tracy Hart, director of marketing for Discover Boating Canada. No need for a souped-up powerboat for fishing. If you’ll be on a large body of water you’ll need a boat that can handle the waves. Sailboats also need a large lake with good wind — and boaters willing to do some work while they cruise.

Shop around

“Most people spend a lot of time researching a boat purchase,” says Waddell. Take the entire family out to boat shows and marinas to look at crafts and ask questions. There are creative ways to get more boat for your money: about two-thirds of buyers opt for used, as Waddell did. “They don’t age. They keep their value and they last a lot longer than cars,” adds Hart.

Consider costs

A new personal watercraft runs upwards of $20,000 but used sell for $5,000 or less. A bigger cabin cruiser, similar to Waddell’s, go for around $60,000. Since boats last so long, dealers will often offer financing over long periods. “You can get a boat for $250 a month,” says Hart.

Insurance will run a few hundred dollars a season, while renting a spot to dock can be costly in the city and much more affordable at a small rural marina. Every year a boat must be tidied up and stored for the winter, which usually involves encasing it in plastic. You can do some or all of this work yourself. Annual maintenance expenses run about 10% of a boat’s purchase price, less if you’re handy and can store the boat at the cottage. Gas typically runs $100 a weekend.

Other considerations

Everyone in the family will need a boating license, which you can get one online for $50 in most provinces). When you own a boat, kids need to pitch in to keep it clean, help with docking and the like, and they must learn that safety on the water is no joke.

Once that stuff’s covered, you can focus on enjoying the community of boaters and the unparalleled beauty of spending time, whenever you like, fishing, waterskiing, joyriding or just looking at the scenery. Says Waddell, “It’s just the place you want to be.”

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