Buying a boat delivers the freedom to enjoy the natural world in a way that is hard to match. But is the joy of boat ownership worth all of the effort, planning and expense? What are the alternative options?
Whether life on the water runs deep in your blood or you are just getting started as a skipper, a boat purchase can be a complex decision and is worthy of significant consideration and research.
Practical considerations such as how much time and money you can commit to boating need to be explored in order to help inform your final decision on makes, models and features. The overall process can often take years.
Getting sucked into an unrealistic boating fantasy can be an expensive mistake. A logical approach to buying a boat involves drawing on your previous boating experience and thinking about the kind of boating you enjoy.
In this article we will outline some key factors to consider when buying a boat before comparing the benefits of boat ownership with the alternative options available.
Be realistic about the type of boating you want to do and with who. Many boaters enjoy meeting people with similar interests and participating in shared events, whilst others are looking for peace and solitude on the water.
There are an endless number of crafts available and many can be used in a variety of ways. A spacious cruising sailboat for the family provides a very different experience from the excitement of a high-performance racing-boat or the comfort of a motor cruiser.
It is also crucial to take into account your level of skill. Taking charge of a boat and crew is a significant responsibility and not one to be taken lightly. It shouldn’t just be about the safety of your crew – but also ensuring that they have fun!
Do I always want to sail in the same location or to have options to sail in different areas or abroad?
Dining in glamorous marinas, or stargazing in deserted anchorages?
Will I sail with novice family and friends or nautical addicts that share the bug?
Take a careful look at the time you can allocate to boating allowing for life’s other commitments. Most boat owners spend around 15 to 25 days per year on their boat but the cost per day for this level of usage by boat owners is significantly higher than those who choose to join a boat share club or basic charter. Popping down to the boat for an ad-hoc summer evening when the sun comes out often isn’t practical unless you’re a short journey from the boat’s mooring.
Whilst time afloat is what we all long for, don’t forget you need to maintain the boat. Some people enjoy maintenance, while others don’t have the skills, inclination or time to allocate to it. Even if you are planning for someone else to maintain the boat, don’t forget the time you need to organise and coordinate this work.
How often will I be able to get away boating bearing in mind other commitments?
Are circumstances likely to change over the next few years that will alter how much time I can spend boating?
What is my travel time to get to the boat?
The cost of boating is substantial and in particular boat ownership! It’s not just the predictable purchase or running costs either. A contingency fund for unexpected costs is a must. Expect a boat to cost 10% of the purchase price each year. If your boating vision includes berthing in a popular marina, with a full range of facilities, it may have a significant impact on the size and type of boat you can afford.
There is no point in stretching yourself to the point that you feel anxious about where the next expense is going to come from, or that you feel you can’t afford to take your boat out! It may be better to enjoy a smaller boat, than stretch yourself for a larger and more expensive one.
What is the initial capital cost and how will I finance this?
What is the annual cost going to be? Including mooring, maintenance, safety equipment, insurance, fees, fuel etc
How much will annual depreciation be?
Ownership is the traditional way to go boating, and for many, it is still the dream. Although by far the most expensive option, in some cases it may be that the type of boat that you want is not available any other way, ie. through a boat share scheme. Ownership may make sense if you are going to use the boat a lot and if it is important to you to configure it to your specific needs and personalise it with your own gear and décor.
Outright ownership does come with the ability to offset the costs through chartering, depending on the type of boat. This does, however, have an impact on your level of access, which is usually one of the main appeals of outright ownership.
Joint ownership is also a possibility. You could buy a boat with people you already know or through a company that manages the process. Effectively you purchase a share of the boat’s availability along with a share of the financial and practical commitments. It may be more cost-effective but does not come with the main advantages of outright ownership.
Use your boat at short notice or whenever you want it
Customise your boat to your specific needs and type of boating
A marina or sailing club may enable you to access a social network for races or other events
Very high initial costs and ongoing maintenance costs
Tied into using one type of boat for all occasions from the same location
Desirable moorings may have a lengthy waiting list to join
Boat and yacht clubs have existed since leisure sailing began. Clubs typically brought together owners to store, race and, importantly, to socialise.
In recent years, a new style of club has emerged, taking ideas from property and car clubs. Allowing for more of an owner experience than charter and offering short, custom booking slots. Members gain a familiarity with the craft they use which solves one of the headaches of chartering.
The level of commitment is far less than ownership, with minimum contract terms usually being 12 months. Couple this with the complete lack of servicing, maintenance and berthing fees and it is easy to see why these clubs are becoming more and more popular. This model is also popular with those concerned with the environmental impact boating has on the planet. Privately owned boats typically spend more than 90% of their time sitting idle. Boat clubs could be the more sustainable option, with fewer boats being needing to be produced for the same number of hours on the water.
Boat share clubs are an innovative and affordable approach to getting afloat and skippering your ‘own’ boat. The detail of each scheme is worth investigating as the range of boats, locations and availability can vary greatly. Typically points or days are allocated to each member for a fixed monthly fee. These can be used to book boats depending on the type of boat, time of year and weekdays or weekends.
Great value, especially for the number of days spent boating.
A variety of boats may be available
Excellent ability to change boat type and locations as necessary (with some clubs)
Social network with other members for joint events
Professional training and support network available
Limited ability to customise a boat to specific requirements or to personalise it
Boating times require a little more planning
Maximum booking duration
The most basic option and ideal for those who only want to charter or get afloat occasionally. Availability can be difficult at particular times of the year and your bookings will need to fit with standard boat charter schedules. The boats are typically worked hard and subject to high levels of wear and tear as they are not used by the same people regularly. Social or support options are not readily available when chartering.
You need to consider whether the location of your charter is appropriate for your skill level. If you want to charter a boat in the Solent, for example, you’ll need some local knowledge or a high base level of competency. Chartering in the Med or Caribbean with no tides and more settled conditions is suitable for less experienced skippers – assuming you have a level of competency around RYA day skipper.
No capital cost and relatively low costs of use
No maintenance responsibilities at all
Very limited boat options available (e.g. virtually no ability to charter motor cruisers)
Availability variable (can be especially limited for some periods or particular events)
Cannot build familiarity with the same boat or customise it to your needs
Limited training or support network to ensure you have the appropriate skills
Charter boats are typically subject to high wear and tear and damage
The boating dream is attainable, but it needs careful planning and a realistic assessment of your situation in combination with consideration of all the options available. The more recent additions to the marketplace can provide many of the benefits without the downsides or financial commitment of traditional boat ownership.
The emotional aspect of wanting to own a boat is a very real and forgivable goal. Some of the other options available, like boat club membership or charter are solid stepping stones on the journey to outright ownership. In particular, the relatively modest commitment of boat club membership can make it a valuable avenue of research prior to buying a boat.
Evaluate your suitability for ownership, boat share or charter with our quick 6 step interactive quiz.