Buying a Boat

How it all begins...

  1. See boat
  2. Love boat
  3. Do a personal survey (Purchase Costs below)
  4. Make offer contingent on professional marine survey and sea trial **
  5. Hire a marine surveyor to do a Professional Survey
  6. Review survey and get estimates on important repairs
  7. Perform sea trial with owner and someone whose opinion you trust
  8. Finally, do one of the following:
    1. Adjust offering price to reflect problems found in survey.
    2. Conclude the sale at the offered price.
    3. Keep looking - the right boat is out there!

Read this: Buying a Pleasure Craft (Transport Canada). Basically, the boat must have a Hull Serial Number. It may require a Canadian Compliance Notice. Importing a boat requires extra paperwork.

What to Buy

Along the seacoast or on inland lakes and waterways, people are sailing, boating, cruising, racing, fishing, water-skiing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, wakesurfing, and some newer activities like sea kayaking and coastal rowing.

For first-time boat buyers, walking into a boat store can be an intimidating experience. With about 20 categories of boats and dozens of manufacturers, buyers need to spend some time deciding what they need (or want) and learn about options before they go shopping. The first rule of boat buying is to have a survey done by a completent professional before you agree to buy, or make an offer (legal agreement of purchase and sale).

Fishing is the number one reason people say they buy a boat. Make your "list" of the boating you want to do. Consider renting a few times before committing to ownership so you are certain you wish to take that next step. Take the whole family to a few boat shows - and for heaven sake, don't buy the first boat you see! Most first boats are kept a short time because they were the wrong type or their family hated boating!

“47% of all boats sold in Canada are sold in Ontario.”
- Rick Layzell, CEO, Boating Ontario

Purchase Costs

New Boat?
It probably costs less to buy and operate a boat than you think - surveys show that people who don't own a boat believe prices are 30% higher than they actually are.

However, buying a new boat is not like buying a car - there are no industry-wide regulations about warranties and repairs. Before any purchase agreement is signed, and before you write any checks, check out the reputation of both manufacturer and dealer and get legal advice.

Used Boat?
Used boats often come with expensive safety equipment and extras - and maybe problems. Purchasing a used boat from a person or dealer is the same. Your offer to purchase (a legal document) should be conditional upon a professional boat survey showing no major problems, absense of liens, and a sea trial. Remember, a boat is a hull and a motor (and sails). If these are well-built and in good condition, everything else is secondary. You might use our boat inspection checklist so you don't let "infatuation" blind you to obvious problems! Hire the professional surveyor for a better choice. After you buy a used boat, you will need a "bill of sale" signed by the owner to transfer the boat licence to your name.

Brokerage fees
There may be a boat "broker" from a marina or agency involved in selling you a boat. Broker fees are paid by the seller, so don't forget they do not work for you. To protect yourself, you can hire a marine professional or boat broker to help you buy a boat, arrange surveys and draft purchase offers. You may also wish to get legal advice before you sign any agreements to purchase a boat.

It's normal to add conditions in the Offer To Purchase such as a satisfactory marine survey, a mechanical evaluation, and a sea trial. Many things that can go wrong with hulls and motors (and rigging) that you cannot see. Although it will cost several hundred dollars done by a qualified professional, it is strongly recommended even for a small boat before you make a legal committment.

But buyer beware - surveying is an unregulated profession. Anyone can call themselves a Master Marine Surveyor or a Certified Marine Surveyor. Ask what organization they belong to and visit websites to check standards and members list. I don't normally promote commercial interests for free, but you might as well hire an Accredited Marine Surveyor (AMS?) from the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors?. AMS members just have training, experience, exams and mandatory ongoing education. Your surveyor should also be an ABYC? member (American Boat And Yacht Council?).

Other costs for New or Used Boats:
Before you decide to buy a boat, you need to consider the costs of financing. GST and provincial sales tax (paid with boat licence) are payable on both new and used boats. Other costs to consider are mandatory safety equipment, and ongoing operational costs such as fuel, maintenance, marina fees, and winter storage. Generally, the cost of these items increases with the length and size of a boat. Boaters also pay taxes and fees before, during and after buying a boat. Some provinces have combined HST (provincial and federal taxes).

The day a sailor buys a boat is the happiest day in a sailor's life. The second happiest day is the day it sells!

Boat Licence or Registration?

In Canada, you must get a licence or registration as soon as you buy a boat. Licences are most common for pleasure boats, and are good for the life of the boat, The buyer of a used boat must transfer the licence and pay provincial tax on the purchase price of the boat. Separate bills of sale for trailers or removable accessories will make paying taxes and fees simpler (and could save money).

Boat licensing is not the same as car licensing, and does not guaranty legal ownership. Read more about boat licences and registration to understand the difference. A boat broker will usually arrange for a licence and payment of sales tax. Used boats can be transferred with a "bill of sale" signed by the previous owner. Make sure the trailer is on a separate receipt for tax purposes.

Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. -- Voltaire

First Things First...

Get insurance immediately, even if the boat isn’t in the water. You can usually add a rider to house insurance for a small boat. A cruiser usually requires special boat insurance. [Insurance for your boat]

“Cruising has two main pleasures.
One is to go out into wider waters from a sheltered place.
The other is to go into a sheltered place from wider waters.”
    - Howard Bloomfield, Sailing to the Sun

Boat Ownership Costs

Other costs to consider are safety equipment, boat licence (sales tax), and ongoing operational costs such as fuel, maintenance, marina fees, and winter storage. Generally, the cost of these items increases with the length and size of a boat. (Statistics)

Annual Costs
In 1994 a new 17-foot powerboat with 150 to 175-horsepower stern drive engine that is trailered would probably cost under $1,500 a year to operate in Canada. Insurance would be about $400, maintenance and upkeep about $200, with any major repairs likely covered by warranty through at least the first year of ownership. You don't have to pay for dockage if the boat is trailered, so the major cost remaining is fuel. A 17 to 19-foot stern drive boat with 50 hours of actual engine running time (more for skiing, less for fishing) will require about $475 in fuel. Total: about $1095 per year for an average boat.

(1994 Statistics from Industry Canada & the Canadian Marine Manufacturers Association)

Safety Equipment:
Your boat must have required equipment aboard --in 1999 there were a number of new requirements. In addition, you may wish to carry extra safety equipment (money well spent). Some equipment, such as flares requires annual checking since all flares are dated.

Insurance can be a large annual expense. For small boats, ask your insurance agent to quote the fee for including the boat in your home insurance policy. Insurance is generally less expensive if you have a high deductible, your boat has more than minimum safety equipment (such as installed halon fire equipment), you don't have fuel burning appliances, your insurance record is clear, and you are not going south, etc. Discounts are available from many companies if you have taken a comprehensive boating course (in addition to the test for a Pleasure Craft Operator's Card).

Lynn and Larry Pardey, a world-famous cruising couple who have written many books, did a survey some years ago of cruising boats transiting the Panama Canal. They discovered that the annual costs of cruising varied directly with the length of the boat! In other words, a boat twice as long costs twice as much to cruise in, regardless of other factors.

Shared Boat Ownership

Although uncommon, people may choose to share boat ownership to reduce costs. A written partnership agreement is usually written to keep things on an "even keel". This agreement defines who get the boat at what times, how much will be spent on maintenance each year, how costs will be paid, etc. Dispute mechanisms should be specified. It can include a clause that lets one partner buy out the other, if either wants to dissolve the partnership. For example, if one partner make a low offer to the other, the second can reciprocate and buy out the first at the low offer - this keeps things honest.

A bad partnership happens when people use boats in entirely different ways, when one is messy and the other very tidy, when one person wants to upgrade to spinnaker and the other wants to motor sail, or if one does the maintenance and the other just wants to sail.

Operator Licence

An important consideration when you buy your first boat is for the entire family to take an government approved boating safety course, and take a test for a Canadian Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC). Yes everyone - your kids will benefit from learning about boating, and will enjoy it more. They can also be helpful on the water as well as in an emergency.

Everyone is required to have the Pleasure Craft Operator Card to operate nearly all boats equiped with motors. Note this is different from the boat's licence which simply identifies the boat.

Importing a Boat

Buying a boat (and trailer) in the U.S.A. provides you with research and recent experiences of boaters who have imported a boat (and trailer) from the U.S.

With the Canada-European Trade Agreement (CETA) provisional implementation in 2017, customs duties on imports from a European Union (EU) country to Canada are removed or will have a tariff phase-out. (That should mean new or used boats originating from Europe will no longer have any duty.)

Government Directory: Canadian Border Services Agency - importing boats
Provincial governments - sales tax on imports

Benefits of Boat Ownership

Dollars & Sense

... We all know that boats are basically dollar driven. The saying that the "wind is free" is true enough, but that's about it. Everything else costs money.

But, what about thinking of it this way. Think of all the benefits that are derived from the cost. Not only our benefit as owners, but to all those who are somehow even remotely involved in the process. For example: "The" list could go on and on. How fortunate we are to be able to provide so many benefits to so many people. Bottom line - cost-irrelevant, benefit-immeasurable.
From Nelson & Marty in the Aloha owners (Dec./2000)
Great news for Canadian boat buyers - the 10% tariff on American boats that came into effect June 2018 was rolled back May 2019. CBC News (May 3, 2019)