What to Know Before Buying a Boat

Any boat owner will tell you that boating is an expensive hobby, but it can also be very rewarding. Before embarking on your boat buying journey, it’s important to get the facts on what the process involves and what costs you’ll have to consider. Doing a little bit of research ahead of time can help avoid unexpected hurdles.


    Selecting Your Boat

    Boats come in all shapes and sizes, and vary based on hull shape, length, freeboard, material, and engine type. You should think about what you’ll use the boat for, how many people will be riding on the boat, and what kind of power you’ll travel under. Don’t forget that boats spend lots of time out of the water, so you have to evaluate transportation and storage options.

    Considering The Costs of Buying a Boat

    Size, age and condition are the biggest cost factors for a boat, but also keep in mind your location and the time of year. Your goal should be finding the newest boat possible that checks your boxes while still coming in under budget.

    Remember that after buying a boat itself, the spending has only begun: maintenance, antifouling, mooring, marina fees, fuel, insurance, and safety gear are all ongoing costs. Keeping your watercraft in good shape is critical for lifespan and potential resale value.

    To help manage the expense, many boat owners take advantage of boat financing to pay for part or all of the purchase. If you plan on financing, it helps to go get pre-approved for a loan early in the process to see what you’re working with.

    Deciding Between a New or Used Boat

    Just like when buying a car, you can choose between new and used options. Newer boats are more expensive upfront but have a greater resale value. Used boats are still a great option, but there are a few things you have to find out about them first. These include any maintenance & service records, the number of hours on the boat and the engine, the previous use for the vessel, and any history of damage & repairs.

    Understanding Registration and Licencing

    To promote maritime safety and accountability, the government closely tracks who is buying, selling, and operating boats. For boats traveling to other nations, registration with the Australian Register of Ships is a requirement. However, most boaters stay in Australian waters and are subject to the regulations of their particular state.

    Registering a Boat

    Registration or re-registration is needed when you are buying a new boat, buying a used boat from someone else, or moving to a new state. When first registering a boat, you’ll need the vessel specifications, proof of ownership, proof of identity, and your Hull Identification Number (HIN).

    The cost to register a boat will depend on the type of boat, size of the boat, and what its intended use is. Length is usually the primary factor. Costs vary by state, as described below.

    StateSmaller BoatLarger BoatMax Cost
    Vic$44.30 for up to 4 m$92.50 for more than 4 m$92.50
    NSW$70.00 for up to 3 m+$11.00 per each additional 0.5 m$702.00
    Qld$94.15 for up to 4.5 m$209.30 and higher for more than 4.5 m$862.80
    WA$140.50 for up to 5 m$298.20 and higher for more than 5 m$874.70
    SA$51.00 for up to 3.1 m$90.00 and higher for more than 3.1 m$733.00

    Boat Licence Requirements

    Just like with registration, licencing requirements look very different depending on the type of boat and the state you are in. The majority of motorized watercraft will require a boat operator’s licence for most states.

    StateLicence cost
    Vic$38.20 and up
    NSW$65.00 and up
    WA$31.00 for motors with more than 6 horsepower
    NTNo licence needed

    Protecting Your Boat

    There are many dangers to consider when operating, transporting, and storing your vessel. From natural hazards like severe weather conditions, to manmade hazards like collision or theft, it’s important to make sure that you’re protected for any scenario.

    • Insurance

      Boat insurance costs depend primarily on the age, size, condition, and use of the watercraft. Think about the natural conditions in your area and what the most likely hazards to your boat might be. Average annual insurance prices will be about 1-5% of the boat’s value. Be sure to compare quotes from several providers so that you get the best price.

    • Theft Protection

      Unfortunately, boats are frequent theft targets. Apart from physical security measures like not leaving the keys on board, you can also take legal security measures by registering with BoatCode. This is a program run by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and is intended to track Hull Identification Numbers to deter theft and resale.

    Hidden Costs of Buying a Boat

    When thinking about boat costs, several things come to mind immediately: the vessel itself, the insurance, the registration, the fuel, and the trailer. However, some other costs are less obvious and have greater variability.


    Safety gear is a major but necessary expense, and includes life jackets, emergency beacons, flares, emergency paddles, and more. Other gear is necessary for the regular operation of the boat, like GPS, mooring ropes, and fishing or water sports equipment depending on your intended use. All of this equipment can add up to around $6,000 to $10,000 on average, though the total price can range widely.


    Regular maintenance and upkeep is crucial for maintaining the condition of your watercraft, especially given the corrosive effects from being in water for prolonged durations. Annual maintenance expenses add up to about 2-10% of the boat’s purchase price, averaging around $2,000 per year. Maintenance includes the following components:

    • Cleaning and detailing: This includes both the interior and the exterior. Polishing and waxing each season is important to prevent damage.
    • Engine service: A boat’s engine should be cleaned regularly and inspected for leaks, and it should get proper servicing annually or every 100 hours of use.
    • Electrical system: The electronics on a boat can get damaged or waterlogged, so plan for battery replacements, wiring repairs, and electrical inspections.
    • Hull protection: Anti-fouling, sanding, and painting the boat’s hull will all help keep your vessel in seafaring shape. This upkeep helps prevent costly repairs.

    If these costs are beginning to stack up, remember that you can always use boat financing, which works similarly to car financing but is specialized for marine vessels.

    Choosing Boat Storage Options

    Many smaller vessels can be stored at home, especially if you have the yard space. However, medium or larger boats will be more difficult to store, and are generally kept on or near the water. Storage costs range from $100 to $1,000 monthly depending on the boat size, location, and storage type.

    Common Types of Boat Storage

    When deciding where to keep your boat while it’s not in use, you have several options. Learn about each one to help figure out which best matches your needs and your plans for the watercraft.

    • Boat trailers: These are towable metal platforms that can attach to your car or truck. They are relatively cheap and very convenient due to the portability, but they have mechanical components that must be maintained in good condition.

    • Swing moorings: These are floating buoys where your boat can be stationed on the water. The main drawback will be the process of embarking and disembarking, and also potential weather issues out on the water.

    • Dry storage: Boats up to around 10 meters can be kept on elevated racks out of the water. To use the boat, you will need to plan ahead with the facility so that they can take your boat off the rack. This also helps avoid water damage issues.

    • Marina berths: These facilities give you dedicated dock space for your vessel and provide services like power connections, waste disposal, onsite maintenance, or even a clubhouse. However, they come at a premium price.

    • Private wharf or pontoons: If you have access to a private onshore facility, storing your boat there can be a huge cost-saver while still enjoying the conveniences of marina-style storage. Keep in mind there may be size limits.

    Buying a Boat FAQ

    Which types of boats can I get loans for?
    Many kinds of boats are eligible for financing. These range from smaller boats like dinghies and speedboats all the way up to higher-end vessels like sailing cruisers and yachts. You can even get jet ski financing if you are interested in a jet ski purchase.
    When is the best time to buy a boat?
    Australia enjoys temperate climates and a massive coastline, making water sports a favorite national pastime. Winter and spring are active buying seasons for dealerships as customers prepare for the summer ahead. Late summer and fall are a good time to find used boats.
    What features should I look for in a boat?
    The most important thing to think about is what your intended purpose for the boat is. With that in mind, consider the cabin size, seating and storage capacity, electronic equipment, and safety capabilities.
    How many hours can I reasonably expect for a used boat?
    For outboard motors or gas inboard motors, look for boats with up to 1,000 hours. For a diesel-powered boat in well-maintained condition, you can look at boats with up to 3,000 to 5,000 hours.


    Buying a boat is a complex process that features multiple decisions at every step. Between registration, insurance, equipment, and storage considerations, there’s a lot of money to be spent before you can actually get out on the water. However, proper planning and smart utilization of boat financing can help you realize your dreams without breaking the bank.