Most boat enthusiasts dive into buying a boat without understanding the difficulties of owning one. It’s no secret that the boating industry is booming – the annual U.S. marine industry expenditure for boats and related services was $56.7 billion in 2021.
However, most buyers become boat owners without adequate preparation. For starters, every state in the U.S. has different boating regulations.
Some states require a boating education card while others have strict waterway rules regarding specific types of boats. Not to mention all U.S. recreational vessels require proper registration.
Not understanding these rules and regulations can lead to hefty fines – not having life jackets on board alone can carry a $200 fine. That said, even if you tick all those things, you have to stay on top of your boat’s maintenance to keep it in good shape. Annual maintenance for a boat is around 10% of the boat’s cost.
If you have external boat storage that keeps your boat out of the water, you only have to worry about general maintenance. However, if your boat stays in the water, there’s a whole lot more that goes into it.
For example, extended periods of time in the water can lead to barnacle growth – it can happen within a three-month period if you’re not careful.
Collectively, new boat owners pay around $5,000-$8,000 per year in maintenance costs. That’s why it’s a good idea to get an idea of the true cost, monetary and effort-wise, of owning a boat before getting one.
To learn more about the true cost of boating and how you can prepare for it, check out the infographic below.
Here’s a closer look at each statistic, along with some additional statistics we found during our research.
1. Annual maintenance for a used boat is approximately 10% of the boat’s cost; for a new boat, it’s 2% (Intuit 2021)
There’s a lot that goes into maintaining your boat throughout the year, like cleaning the deck, painting the hull, and replacing sails. Here are some other costs associated with boat ownership:
• Regular washing and cleaning
• Boat detailing
• Complete servicing
• Boat trailer maintenance
If you have a marina membership, you can factor those costs in too.
While small boats can set you back around $2,000 per year, most recreational boats cost between $5,000 to $8,000 per year.
While the size and type of boat play a role in determining the costs, there’s another factor – whether you maintain your boat yourself or hire a professional.
Hiring professionals can cost up to 5-10 times more than doing your own boat maintenance, depending on the task.
Most recreational boat motors have a dependable life of around 1,500 hours, and that is usually the upper average. At 75-150 hours of use per year, that puts the average life of a boat between 10-20 years, provided it has been regularly maintained.
For boats with diesel engines, it’s possible to get up to 5,000 hours out of them. That makes them a much better long-term investment. That said, diesel engines require a lot more maintenance and are generally more expensive to maintain.
Based on the average annual use of recreational boats, boat owners are expected to complete a full inspection once per year.
There’s a general rule of thumb that every 100 hours of boating, you need to address key components. That includes fuel and electrical systems, propeller oil, and more.
The boat manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines usually have exact numbers based on the model.
The 2020 recreational boating statistics report by the United States Coast Guard also found that for every 100,000 boats, there are 6.5 deaths.
The type of boat with the most accidents was open motorboats (46%), followed by personal watercraft (22%) and cabin motorboats (13%).
You can winterize your boat yourself to minimize the cost every year. However, that cost still depends on the size of the boat.
If you hire professional services, the cost of winterization can cost $300-$600. And the closer you are to winter, the more expensive it gets. It’s best to get your boat winterized before peak time. Since it’s ideal to winterize your boat before the temperature drops below 40 degrees F, peak time may vary depending on where your boat is located.
However, if you winterize it yourself, you can expect to pay about half what you would if you hired a professional.
7. The average cost of boat insurance ranges from $1,000-$5,000 per year (Gulfstream Boat Club 2021)
It’s crucial to have liability coverage and proper boat insurance to ensure minimal loss in accidents. The Coast Guard estimated a loss of almost $62.5 million due to recreational boating accidents in 2020 alone.
Arkansas and Utah also require you to have boating insurance by law. You should always factor in insurance fees when calculating your boat’s maintenance.
If you have a large boat (30 feet or longer), your annual cost will increase significantly, ranging between $3,000 and $7,000. That’s mostly due to recurring costs like insurance fees and docking payments.
Other factors that determine maintenance costs include the length of your boat, typical usage, sail area, and location of usage (freshwater or saltwater).
These costs can come down to around $1,500 in some instances. However, most pontoon boats cost at least $3,000 per year to maintain. Costs depend on the length and size of the boat, the age of the boat, the state it’s registered in, type of insurance, and whether you do all the maintenance legwork yourself. Some common recurring maintenance costs include:
• Slip rental
• Winter storage
• Mooring fees
• Title, registration, and tax fees
The location, size, and age of your pontoon boat determine each of those costs. In any case, pontoon boats are a good starter option for potential boat owners.
10. The average cost of boat trailer maintenance comes to approximately $100 per year (Boating Valley 2021)
The average cost of buying a boat trailer in the U.S. is between $1,500 to $5,000, depending on the size of the boat. And while the average maintenance is around $100, there are things that can make it cost more, such as an axle change ($600).
For minimal costs, keep tire pressure in check, clean the brakes regularly, check trailer lights, and lubricate the coupler.
Most professional services charge you on a per-foot basis, which is around $12-$25 per foot. To wax your boat yourself, it can cost $150 up to $500 or more. The bigger your boat, the more expensive it’s going to be.
Keep in mind that waxing isn’t a yearly requirement. It’s recommended once every 1-3 years.
There’s a lot of variance in boat batteries based on the kind of boat you’re using, its size, and specs. Most of the cost is associated with keeping the battery clean, replacing the battery’s electrolyte, and regularly checking its terminals.
The cost of replacing a battery ranges from $100-$500, depending on the quality. A high-end premium marine battery can cost $500 but will likely require fewer maintenance costs in the long run. The average marine battery lasts 3-5 years.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary runs a Life Jacket Observation Study that monitors life jacket usage and statistics. According to data spanning 21 years, less than 5% of recreational boaters wear life jackets and that number has been consistent.
Federal law states that children under 13 must wear a life jacket when the boat is underway, unless they’re below deck or in an enclosed cabin. Depending on the state you’re in and the kind of boat you have, fines vary for not having life jackets or a personal flotation device for every person on board.
14. 75% of all boating-related deaths are due to drowning – 86% of victims weren’t wearing a life jacket (USCG Boating 2020)
In total, the United States Coast Guard reported 767 boating-related deaths in 2020. The total number of reported accidents was 5,265.
According to the Coast Guard, the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents was alcohol usage (18%), followed by a lack of boating safety instructions, operator inexperience, and excessive speed.
15. If your motor dies, it costs around $250 to $500 per hour to be towed back to the dock (Farmers 2022)
These prices are contingent on you having a sea-towing membership. If you don’t have one, those costs can increase significantly. On average, a tow will set you back $750 with a membership.
To ensure you can call for help, you need to have emergency beacons and a working VHF marine radio on board.
16. Last year, traditional powerboat sales missed 2020’s high by 4-6% but finished 7% above the five-year average (NMMA 2020)
During the 2020 pandemic, traditional powerboat sales surged, leading annual sales to top 300,000 units for the second time in 15 years.
Along with new boats, about 1.1 million pre-owned boats were sold in 2021. The top five states that spent the most on boating in 2020 were Florida, Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, and Minnesota.
While depreciation heavily depends on the condition of the boat, the average boat still depreciates to half its value in 3-4 years. That’s why most boat enthusiasts advise potential boat owners to shop for a boat that is already 3-4 years old rather than getting a new one.
It’s true that the maintenance costs increase as a boat gets older. However, the amount you save by buying a pre-owned boat often trumps any additional maintenance costs that may show up.
That said, additional costs like insurance fees and taxes may tip the scales. That’s why it’s best to do your research and find out your state’s tax and insurance requirements.
Most boat manufacturers advise going for an oil change after 50-100 hours of use. The $160-$190 range is contingent on if you choose to hire a mechanic. If you change the motor oil yourself, you can save a significant amount of money.
An oil filter for a typical 150HP outboard motor costs between $8-$20. One quart of boat motor oil costs between $5-$10, depending on the brand. Calculate how many quarts your motor needs and factor in the oil filter cost.
The final DIY cost will range from $30-$70. Furthermore, most boat manufacturers advise going for an oil change after 50-100 hours of use.
19. The global boat repairing market grew 7.6% from 2020 to 2021, totaling $6.81 billion (Research and Markets 2021)
Looking ahead, the market is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 6.5% and reach $8.75 billion by 2025.
The total U.S. sales of marine products, services, and boats in 2020 was $49.3 billion. That was a 14% increment from 2019.
20. The worldwide boat and ship building and maintenance market is projected to drop from $229.11 billion in 2019 to $137.83 billion by 2027 (Verified Market Research 2022)
The market currently shows a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -6.16% due to the rapid use of robotics technology. As more companies utilize robotics and AI, the cost of creating new vessels will drop drastically, and the cost of maintaining large vessels will also decrease.
The vessel underside cleaning robot alone can help save almost $15 billion per year by improving fuel efficiency by 5%. That alone can reduce 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
However, for small recreational boat users (21ft and smaller), things will hardly change. In fact, professional services may start charging more as the pool of potential clients decreases.