Should I Buy Or Rent A Boat?

Many in America dream of someday owning a boat. Owning a boat can be a path to the ultimate weekend getaway. A weekend on the lake, whether it be fishing, watersports, or just lounging with friends are all favorite American pastimes. Although some of America's favorite pastimes are found on the water, this doesn't necessarily mean that you need to own a boat to take part. In this modern age, it can be easier than ever to rent a boat. Every major lake in America will likely have a marina where boats are offered for rent. 

The allure of boat ownership causes many to make the hasty decision to purchase a boat without carefully considering the true cost of owning a boat. Before making this decision, one should first consider all of the costs, including the non-monetary costs. That's because the non-monetary costs such as the time to properly care for and maintain your boat add up as well.  

Here is a list of things to consider before deciding that owning a boat is right for you. This list is non-exhaustive so there may be additional things to add to this list in each individual situation.


At the top of the list should be considering the budget you can afford. If your budget is already tight, then owning a boat is out of the question. Even if you are able to pay cash for the boat, but your monthly budget is tight, then owning a boat will be difficult and possibly and unwise decision. As will be discussed, there are many ongoing costs to boat ownership. To begin, this budgeting calculator can help you determine and refine your budget. Before you take the plunge, you should outline your exact budget to ensure you can afford it.

Understand that purchasing a boat entails upfront costs like the purchase price, taxes, registration, as well as ongoing expenses such as insurance, maintenance, fuel, and storage fees. So understand that there are upfront costs as well as recurring costs to owning a boat. Renting, on the other hand, involves paying for each one-time use. Which may be more affordable depending on how often you hope to go boating.

Financing The Boat

If you are going to pay cash upfront for the boat, then a loan payment isn't something you will need to consider. However, if you can't afford to purchase the boat outright, then this may be a good indication that you should rent rather than own. But in the event that you believe it is a good idea to own a boat, even by using a loan, then it's important to understand how the boat financing and loan amortization will work.

First, you should understand that similar to an automobile, the second you drive a boat off the lot, and put it into the water, it begins losing value or depreciating. Unlike cars, however, a boat loan will likely be more difficult to get approved for. And if you are able to obtain financing, it is important to pay it off in a manner which ensures you won't become "upside down" on the loan. In other words, the boat could become worth less than the amount you owe on the loan. 

But if you are able to obtain financing, then it will be important to understand the amount of interest you will be spending on the boat. This may make you realize that renting rather than owning is the less expensive option. To estimate your boat's loan payments, you can use the boat loan calculator. To understand the nature of the loan, it's important to understand that with each loan payment, a portion of the payment will go towards principal and another portion will go towards interest. And as time goes on, each payment will have a larger portion going towards principal than the one before it. Here's an example of an annual boat loan amortization schedule.

Boat Loan Amortization Schedule Example

Resale Value

It is always wise to begin, whatever it is, with the end in mind. Boats, like any other motor vehicle, are a depreciating asset. Every year, there is a newer and better boat that makes your boat become less valuable in addition to the wear and use. If you plan to buy a boat, similar to purchasing a car, you should consider how well different boats retain their value. When you decide to sell the boat in the future, the resale value will be a contributing factor in the overall cost of ownership.

In the boat loan calculator from IQ Calculators, we allow you to assign an annual depreciation rate so that you can estimate how a boat will or won't retain its value relative to the boat's loan amount. As you research how much boats tend to depreciate, you will find that some sources claim that boats depreciate about 10 to 20 percent in the first year and about 5 to 10 percent each year after that. Some claim that a boat's value will level off in years 7 to 10. It might be difficult to get an honest answer from the boat dealer, but you could ask various dealers how much they are offering for an older model of the boat you are considering purchasing.

Be sure to research the brand that you want and purchase the one that retains its value. Sometimes, the boats that retain their value the best, are also a little more expensive. Not always, but sometimes this is because the boat is simply of a higher quality than others. You will need to determine if the higher price is justified by the higher quality and the ultimate higher resale value at the end. 

Frequency of Use

Part of understanding whether you can afford a boat is estimating how often you plan to use it. Each time you use a boat, there are variable expenses such as fuel. If you are using a boat for water sports, then using a boat for long periods of time will use a decent amount of fuel. 

Before purchasing, consider how often you plan to use the boat. If you only plan to use it occasionally, renting will be a more cost-effective approach. If you are not already an avid boater, then consider renting a boat for a few outings to determine if it will be something you truly enjoy and will spend a sufficient amount of time doing. However, if you intend to use the boat regularly, owning one could be more practical.

Once you understand how much you plan to use the boat, then be sure to calculate the expected variable costs from using the boat each time. You may realize that you won't have the budget to use the boat as much as you might like to.

Ownership Costs

Owning a boat requires you to factor in various expenses. These include insurance, maintenance, repairs, winterization, storage fees, and fuel costs. Make sure you can comfortably afford these expenses. it is a good exercise to try to estimate these expenses and determine how much more expensive owning a boat versus renting will be. It's as easy as creating a spreadsheet that shows the estimated annual expenses of owning versus renting. 

Here's a quick example of what a spreadsheet that tracks these costs might look like.

Boat Budgeting Example

The Flexibility of Renting

Renting a boat provides a lot of room for flexibility. You should consider your need for flexibility. This flexibility includes both the variety of the boat that you might need as well as the frequency that you might want it. Renting allows you to choose different types of boats depending on the specific requirements of that day's activity. Ownership, on the other hand, provides convenience of having immediate access to your own boat whenever you want, but requires a longer-term commitment.

Also, unforeseen events happen in life and there are always seasons where for whatever reason, you are unable to get onto the sea or lake as often as you might have hoped. In this event, renting a boat for each use provides that flexibility.


On the other side of flexibility, maybe there are very specific features that you want on your boat. In this case, owning one allows you to modify and personalize it according to your needs. Rental boats generally come as-is, with limited options for customization and it wouldn't be worth customizing something for a one-time use. If you really want to customize your boat so that it accomplishes what youare wanting and you can afford it, then owning a boat is likely the best option for you. 

Skills and Experience

This has already been mentioned in passing. However, it's important to evaluate your boating knowledge and experience. If you're a novice unfamiliar with boating, renting can be a great way to gain experience and learn which type of boat suits you best. This can give you the opportunity to try out different boat models before committing to ownership.

This will also allow you to understand if boating is something you will enjoy for the long-term, or just something you will want to do occasionally each year.

Maintenance and Responsibility

Owning a boat requires regular maintenance and upkeep. Consider if you have the time, skills, and willingness to take on these responsibilities. If you don't have the skills to perform the maintenance yourself, understand that this will be a cost you will need to pay others to do. Renting eliminates the need for maintenance, as rental companies will handle the upkeep and repairs. And if you are only using a boat seasonally or for a limited number of times each year, then letting the rental company shoulder this burden is well worth the cost of renting.

The average cost to maintain a boat varies from boat to boat, but on average, you can expect boat maintenance to cost about $2,000 per yer.

Local Regulations

Familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations regarding boat ownership and usage. Some regions have restrictions on boat size, engine power, or specific requirements for licensing and insurance. It would be a tragedy if you purchased a boat that you weren't able to use on a particular lake that you wanted to. Ensure you comply with all relevant regulations before making a purchase decision. 

Each lake may have its own set of regulations, depending on the jurisdiction. For example, here's a website devoted to Missouri boating laws that apply to the Lake of the Ozarks, a popular lake found in the heart of Missouri. 


 It goes without saying to also consider your long-term plans and how they align with boat ownership. If you anticipate a change in location, lifestyle, or interests in the near future, renting may be a more suitable option since it provides flexibility without long-term commitments, already mentioned above.

Renting or owning a boat may seem like a trivial decision to some. Most people know that they want to own a boat and if you make this decision without careful forethought, you might find yourself digging a financial hole. Ultimately, the decision to rent or buy a boat depends on your personal circumstances, preferences, and financial situation. Carefully weigh all of these factors to make an informed choice that suits your needs and ensures an enjoyable boating experience for you and your family.

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