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Buying a New Boat Vs. a Pre-Owned Boat

By: Richard Crowder

You may think choosing to buy a new boat versus a pre-owned boat is a dilemma for a lot of people, but after decades of experience in the recreational boat industry in Canada, I have never found this to be a real issue in the minds of boat buyers, and the question rarely, if ever, is broached. It seems to be much more of an issue in the minds of car buyers, and that’s just fine.

Sure, everybody would love to buy a new boat, all things being equal. The new look, the latest technology, the knowledge that you are the first to use it, not to mention the feeling of accomplishment and the pride in owning something new. Yes, some boat buyers only search for new boats.

But in my experience, boat buyers are more concerned with the value they are getting and this “value” has different meanings and perceptions to different people. But one thing is always consistent: their definition of “value” always boils down to “how much boat can I get in the type and style I want with the budget I have?” So sure, we all want the most value for the dollar, and your budget is the operative factor in whether to buy a new or a used boat.

Let’s take a basic example. You have decided you want to buy a canoe and have set aside one thousand dollars for your budget. You find that you can buy a brand new fourteen foot canoe at a big box store well within that budget, or you can buy a brand new sixteen foot canoe with better quality construction at a specialty store just within that budget. Your third option is to buy a used but much better quality seventeen foot canoe in apparently excellent condition that falls just within your budget.

Which do you choose? It depends on your definition of value. If it’s just for your kids to mess around in near the shoreline and is likely to get beaten up quickly, you might choose option one. But you are an experienced canoeist who needs the volume to explore and you like the better quality so you may choose the last option. Someone else may choose the middle option as it’s still a new product and doesn’t come with the risks of purchasing “pre-owned.” It all depends on your definition and perception of value.


And so go the same value considerations as you explore through the different styles and types of boats- from dinghies to aluminum utility, to fishing boats and pontoon boats, to runabouts, express cruisers, and yachts. This value consideration even applies to highly specialized boats like fishing or professional watersports or offshore high performance boats. Your own experience coupled with your definition and perception of value all tied to a budget will determine your choice to buy a new or a used boat. But there are criteria that you assess, consciously or sub-consciously, that will arrive you at this very personal definition of “value.”

Like buying a car, some people simply do not want a boat that someone else has used and possibly abused, or has sat in, or in the case of a cruiser, has slept in used the galley. If you’re this person and have the budget, you’re going to buy a new boat.

However, most buyers do not place “newness” right at the top of their “value” considerations. Cleanliness and cosmetic condition along with appearance of “newness” often come near the top of the considerations when choosing used over new, but it isn’t always a deal breaker. If you can handle light use and the boat comes from a trustworthy source, you may be in a good position to save yourself some money and purchase a “pre-owned” boat. That being said, vet your source. No one wants a boat that has been abused. Used yes. Abused no.

Warranties, or lack thereof, can also be deciding significant mitigating factor. Generally speaking, and yes there can be exceptions in exceptional cases, there are no warranties on used boats. As opposed to the automotive industry where the brand manufacturer provides the warranties of differing lengths on differing parts of its product, warranties on new boats come from several different sources.

The boat manufacturer will generally offer a warranty on those parts of the boat that it manufactures – the hull, deck, flooring, cabinetry, seating, and upholstery. The engine manufacturer will supply a separate warranty, as will most of the individual manufacturers of the individual parts that have been assembled together to form the boat you see, i.e. the instruments, windshield, canvas, electronics, pumps, electrical, hydraulics, and so on. You may end up with literally a bag full of individual warranties for your new boat.

The boat warranty will generally consist of a structural component varying from a few years to even a “lifetime” for the original purchaser, plus an upholstery component of usually one to five years, and in the case of fibreglass boats, often a blister or osmosis component of a few years. The engine warranty may be from one to five years, and all of the individual parts warranties from one to two years or perhaps longer with some brands.

Extended warranty programs have come and gone but some are still available. Generally speaking, if warranty is near the top of your list of value considerations, a new boat is almost your only choice unless you find a very recent used boat within the warranty period of the original purchaser and is transferable for the remaining period to a second buyer. This is rare, but great to take advantage of if it is available. Always ask.

Other factors to consider in new vs. used are financing and insurance. Usually, bank financing on a new boat can be up to twenty years depending on the loan amount. Given the same criteria, financing on a used boat can be twenty years minus the age of the boat. So as a rule, a twelve year old boat may only be financed for eight years. This calculation alone may determine the viability of the boat you are considering unless you can finance it through home equity financing (a popular choice) or even private financing.

You will want to also consider that both bank financing and marine insurance for your used boat may require a clean structural and safety survey from a qualified and reputable marine surveyor before either financing or insurance is obtainable. This requirement can apply to boats over a certain value or certain age. Make sure you check into this before committing to buy that particular boat, lest you find yourself unable to insure it.

So let’s say you have found a new boat of the type and style you are after that falls within your budget. Within that same budget you have also found a very decent looking used boat of the same type and style but it is slightly longer, wider, deeper, with more amenities and even more suited to the boating lifestyle and the type of water in which it will be used.

The new boat has warranty. The used one does not. The new one has the latest in engine and electronics technology and is spotless. The used one has a few scuffs on the hull and some minor fading on the seats but it has some very useful and expensive options that the new one doesn’t and it has a slightly more powerful engine. And as we said, it is bigger. You would like to have the added features and amenities of the used one but are uncertain as to its condition. These are some of the trade-offs you need to consider in order to make that new vs. used decision. How will you decide? Consult every resource you have: your financial provider, your insurance provider, your local marina connection, or do as much online research as you can.

Buying any boat requires compromise. These are your own personal compromises that affect your perception of value. Determine and rank these compromises in on paper before going boat shopping and your task and your decision-making will be made much easier.

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