A guide to buying your first boat

Owning a boat is much more affordable than most people think, and much more fun! Buying a boat could be the first step towards discovering two thirds of the planet’s surface that those on land simply can’t. So why wait?

Well, before you set sail, there are some questions you’ll need to consider when shopping around for your first boat, including type, size, storage, where, when and how you plan to use it. With this in mind, here is our guide for buying your first boat successfully.

What activities are you interested in?

Boats are usually designed purposefully, although some types offer more opportunities than others. So, whether you’re interested in a quiet cruise, water-skiing, fishing, entertaining, or travelling for weeks at a time, you’ll need to consider this when buying your boat.

Cruising boats are designed for entertaining guests and provide the most luxury. While bow riders are more suitable for day trips, you will find other styles such as motor yachts with cabins are better for overnight stays. Determining if you plan to stay overnight is a big part of choosing your style of boat.

If water sports are your thing and you want to water-ski or wakeboard, you’ll need something a bit more speed-oriented. Considering this is your first boat, it’s best to stick to something basic, as some sports boats are only recommended for experienced drivers. For your first boat, a bow rider, jet boat, or basic sports boat would be more appropriate.

Fishing boats are designed to maximise the available deck space needed for fishing apparatus and accessibility, and less so for comfort and accommodating guests. However, like cruising boats, you can find some with cabins for longer fishing trips.

What size boat is right for you?

Bigger boats can carry more features, including cabins, kitchens, toilets etc. but they also rely on more complex systems. Deciding the size of your boat depends on your level of experience as well as interests, and how much it will impact your budget – both to buy and to maintain.

Remember this is your first boat, so you’ll want to start out with something simple and affordable, to make the experience enjoyable. 24 feet is probably going to be your upper limit. Whatever the size of your boat, make sure it’s certified to carry the number of passengers and amount of equipment you need for your activities.

Finally, you’ll need suitable boat moorings for your size of boat. Do you want a small boat that you can move around the country by trailer, or a larger boat that stays put for longer?

New vs used, and insurance

Buying a new boat comes with certain advantages. They will usually come with a warranty, and the most up-to-date safety guarantees. You’ll probably get your boat delivered much quicker, which can be helpful if you’re looking to move in. You’ll have a few more colour options and customisations than buying second hand, but for your first boat these should be the last considerations.

If your budget means your first boat has to be second hand, try to find one that is still covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. The seller should be a dealer who has taken the boat as a trade-in, or a broker selling on behalf of the owner. Just like a car, you should know the history of the boat before you buy – i.e. how well it has been maintained, or whether it’s been involved in any accidents or requires repairs.

Well-established dealers and brokerages will generally have contracts with third-party surveyors as they’ll want to make sure their customers are in good hands, but you can use independent surveyors as well, they will help to make the process of buying your first boat pain-free.

Our advice is that you look at a new boat, or a used boat no more than three years old.

What’s your experience level?

Boating is definitely not like riding a bike. Even if you’ve had experience with small boats in the past, larger boats carry more complexity and risk, so make sure you gain the training necessary before your first trip. You’ll need to learn how to deal with wind, tides, currents and waves, rain, and traffic to ensure a safe ride. The more you know, the safer you will be, and the more fun you can have with your first boat!

Buying a boat can seem daunting, but in the end buying your first boat should be a fun experience for all the family, and should be less complicated than buying your first home. If you consider carefully what you and your family need, do your research, training and go for test drives, the less daunting the decision will become. Don’t rush into a decision and you should be able to find the boat that ticks all the boxes, and enjoy it for years to come – or until you decide to buy your second boat.