The ABC’s of Buying a Boat

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy wikimedia
Now that spring has sprung in NE Florida, many people head for the water.  While the surf might still be a bit chilly, that doesn’t deter boaters who are all too eager to set sail.  Being a boater myself, I can tell you that skippers in Florida have it made in the shade.  Not only does the boating season in the Sunshine State extend nearly year-round, but skippers can choose to cruise both inshore and offshore.  This makes boating much more forgiving when storm season arrives.  Instead of bobbing around on the high seas in ten-foot chop, Florida boaters can navigate the intracoastal waterway where waves never top 3-feet.  If you’ve been considering joining the fun by buying a boat, this week’s blogs will tell you what you need to know.

What Does BOAT Mean?

The first thing most boat owners will tell you is that a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.  They will also point out the acronym BOAT means Break Out Another Thousand.  I’m not telling you this out to deter you from buying a boat.  I’m just letting you know that a boat can be a costly hobby for the uninitiated.  While you can buy a boat just as you would a car, understand from the outset that the bigger the boat, the more expensive a proposition it is.  Especially once you add a motor.  Below are the questions you need to answer before you start shopping for a watercraft.

      A.    Are you planning on buying a trailerable vessel, or will the boat require dockage?  Trailers can save you the cost of keeping your boat in a marina.  That being said, depending on the size of your vessel and your ability to maneuver the trailer into and out of the water, it can be almost as daunting as taking your boat to sea.  Even negotiating a slippery boat ramp with a skiff can be a tricky proposition. 

Image courtesy Max Pixel
Been out on the water very long, or are you new to boating?  If you’ve been crewing on boats for years, you know the ropes.  If you have just moved here from Tempe, Arizona and have little or no boating experience, buying much more than a kayak, daysailer or johnboat could quickly tax your ability to safely operate the vessel.  While the Coast Guard doesn’t require boaters to get a captain’s license or even take any boating classes, when you consider the fact that you’ll be sharing the water with vessels of all kinds, I’d advise any would-be boaters to join a boat club to get some on-the-water experience before they buy a boat.

      C.     Cabin cruiser or open boat?  Once you step up in class to a boat with a cabin, not only are there more systems requiring your attention, generally a cruiser is a lot harder to handle.  Unlike cars, cruising boats don’t have brakes, other than that provided by reverse thrust.  I’ve seen inexperienced boaters crash into docks, get hung up on pilings and smack into channel markers when the tide was running due to their lack of on-the-water experience. 

      D.    Do you plan on paying cash or financing your purchase?  As soon as you get a note on a boat you’ll be required by the bank to insure your vessel.  While this isn’t a bad thing even if you pay cash for your boat, the bank wants to make sure that if the vessel is damaged or sunk, they can recoup their investment.  Since hurricanes and storms are the norm in the Sunshine State, before you buy that boat it wouldn’t hurt to have a chat with your friendly insurance agent to find out what it will cost to insure it.

      E.     Expect the unexpected.  On a boat this means you need to invest in safety gear like anchors, fire extinguishers, life vests, a throwable cushion, a marine radio, distress signals, a bailer and an air horn. 

Image courtesy USCG
      F.      Forget about the Coast Guard coming to your rescue unless your vessel is sinking or on fire.  You might want to look into acquiring a Sea Tow membership as well, since you never know when you might need some assistance on the water. 

      G.    Get some advice from a more seasoned skipper before you buy a boat.  The problem with being a fledgling boater is you don’t know what you don’t know.  While it’s simplicity itself to shop for a boat online or make the rounds of boat dealers and marinas, trying to determine how seaworthy a vessel is can be tougher than you’d think.  Depending on the size of the vessel, it may even be necessary to have a marine survey of the boat before the bank will finance it. 

      H.    Hoping to sail away right away?  Not so fast, skipper.  Before you can legally operate a boat, you need to register and title the boat.  If you’re purchasing a used boat, this entails doing a title search and transfer just as you would before purchasing a house.  You’ll also need to make sure the boat doesn’t have any liens against it, or you could wind up owning someone else’s problem.

I.        If you’re seriously thinking of buying a boat, remember that many boaters consider the two happiest days of their boating lives the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on boat insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. The first thing you need to do if you don't want your new boat to be a hole in the water is not to buy more boat than you can safely handle.

  2. I have owned a couple of boats in my life and found that they are holes in the water. Enjoy them while you use them, maintain them and protect them with insurance. Then when you do sell them you will get the best return.


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