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Your Personal Boat Buying Guide

Ah, the freedom of the open water.

Feel the breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean or one of the Pacific Northwest’s many lakes and rivers as you put the throttle down or point the sails leeward. Or maybe it’s just you, your fishing pole, and the early morning serenity of your favorite watering hole.

Boats come in many shapes and sizes—sailboats of all kinds, high-performance speed boats, yachts, pontoons, fishing boats … the list goes on and on. And the price range is vast, from a used fishing boat for a few hundred bucks to a superyacht checking in at over a million dollars.

Whatever your pleasure, there’s a watercraft for it.

So, ready to buy a boat? Before your emotions get the best of you, keep in mind that owning a boat demands your full attention. It starts when you entertain the thought of buying one and continues throughout the life of your ownership.

“Owning a boat in itself is almost like a hobby,” said Laura Tryon, Lending Administration Manager at SELCO. “Hobbies are great, you have lots of fun, but you’re constantly throwing money at them. And you have to be prepared for that with a boat.”

Here are a few tips for buying and getting the most out of a boat.

When is the best time to buy?

That depends on a few factors. Do you enjoy the glitz and glam of boat shows in the spring? Or do you prefer the low-pressure offseason, when dealers may be more willing to wheel and deal? Perhaps it’s more about when a third-party seller has the one you want. It really comes down to when everything lines up for your situation.

'The motor is 90% of the boat, 90% of the cost, and 90% of what can go wrong.'

“Spring is a great time to buy because lenders and boat dealers put their best foot forward by offering special financing and giving you great deals,” Tryon said. “But for private sales, fall or winter are best because sellers don’t have as many options.”

For the boat expo-going crowd in this region, there are three big shows in Oregon—the Portland Boat Show, KEZI Eugene Boat & Sportsmen's Show, and Central Oregon Sportsmen's Show—and a really big one in Seattle.

Do your due diligence

You’re all in for buying a boat. There are a few steps you’ll need to follow before jumping in with both feet:

  • Get preapproved for a loan. If you plan to secure financing, how much you qualify for will influence your decision (that $50,000 dream boat may not be in the cards). To get a loan through SELCO, financing both a boat and trailer are required. Use this handy calculator to get an idea how much you’ll pay throughout the life of a loan.
  • Do your research. While researching different types of boats, keep a wish list of items for your ideal boat and make sure to read reviews of specific models. Maybe the manufacturer doesn’t even make that motor anymore, or no one seems to have the parts you’d need for upkeep. Here’s a good place to start.
  • Inspect, inspect, inspect. Wow, the paint really sparkles in the sun. But what about the rest of the boat? A quick 10-minute inspection will do wonders, and the most important check is the motor. Run it even if it’s into a garbage can or bucket. If you’re not sure what to look and listen for, bring along someone who does. “The motor is 90% of the boat, 90% of the cost, and 90% of what can go wrong,” Tryon said. “The rest is just window dressing.” After all, a boat isn’t much good without a functioning motor.
  • Take it for a spin. The boat may be pretty, but how does it look, feel, and sound in the water? Put a boat through its paces to avoid feeling buyer’s remorse.

The boat's yours. Now what?

You’ve put a bow on your new or used boat and hauled it home. It’s time to put some gas in, get out on the water, and have some fun. Life is grand.

Ideally, as you got caught up in the excitement, you fully committed to your boat. There are a lot of associated costs, requirements, and maintenance that go into boat ownership. Here are a few:

  • How much will this really cost? The purchase price is just the beginning. For starters, boats use a lot of gas. Then there’s insurance, which SELCO offers—most lenders (including SELCO) require insurance with any loan they finance—a trailer, storage for the offseason, licensing and registration, and permits (in Oregon, an Invasive Species permit is also required). All in all, annual expenses can run into the thousands of dollars.
  • Safety and other requirements. In Oregon, boats must be equipped with proper safety equipment, including a fire extinguisher, sound-producing device (whistle, horn, bell), and ample personal flotation devices. All boat operators are required to have a boating license, as well.
  • Regular maintenance. Much like a vehicle, your boat will love you for taking care of it. You should be able to handle some basic maintenance, but other items are best left for the professionals. Here’s a quick maintenance guide to get you started.

As you’re contemplating owning a boat, keep in mind that it’s a major purchase and treat the entire process that way. Make sure there’s room in your budget, be diligent about maintenance, and continue to learn the finer points of boating. If you can check those boxes, the open water beckons.

“A boat is definitely worth it, you just want to do your research and stay focused on what's important to you,” Tryon said.

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