The Hidden Costs of Owning a Boat

A few weeks back I wrote a post about about the weird things you might not realize about boating culture and I talked a bit about some hidden costs. Well it turns out that a few peeps out there at least want to hear more about that! I also mentioned that there is a long standing joke that a boat is actually just a hole in the ocean into which you throw money. Isn’t that the truth! For most of us mere mortals including the upper middle class if someone offers you a free boat you should turn it down as it is too dang expensive!  The costs are usually higher if you leave your boat in the water, use it in salt water or it’s really big but we’re going to try to cover all the costs for everyone here. Also know that it’s a pain in the ass to load your boat on and off the trailer so lots of people with that intention eventually end up leaving it in the water. I’m aiming to be brief on each point but we all know that’s not my strong point! I’ll also be doing my best to point out how you can lessen these costs.

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Ice damaged wharf? You’ll need a guy for that and an excavator, the largest tow strap ever made, a fishing boat with a towing prop and …. it’s not insured.


You probably already thought of this but you might need an eye opener on the reality of the situation. Boats are thirsty little pigs. On average a boat burns 0.5 lbs of gas or 0.4 lbs of diesel per hour per horsepower per hour. The reality is it actually burns a bit more. This number assumes that the motor is perfectly tuned, it’s a four stroke,the bottom and motor has no growth on it, in calm water and you drive efficiently. So converted out to liters and Canadan and USD that’s what this means for gas engines.

  Tiny 10 hp trolling motor, 5 lbs/hour. 3.3 litres, $4 Can or $3 USD

  • 25 hp out board, 12.5 lbs/ hour, 8 litres, $10 Can or $8 USD
  • 75 hp motor, 37.5 lbs.hour, 24.5 liters, $31 Can or $25 USD
  • 150 hp motor, 75 lbs/hour, 50 liters, $62 Can or $50 USD
  • 225 hp motor. 113 lbs/hour, 73 liters, $93 Can or $73 USD
  • Diesel engines are approximately 80% of these costs

As a point of reference our 25 hp, two stroke burns about 1.5 times that to double under actual conditions. These numbers are kind of like the fuel estimates for your car, tested under ideal conditions and quite optimistic. These are the numbers you’ll actually hear from the sales guy so expect reality to be a lot higher. Expect to run your engine over half the time you’re on your boat. So if you’re taking your boat out with a 150 on if for a 6 hour day expect to burn at least $156 USD to $200 USD in gas. 150 might should like a big engine but it’s really not especially since most boat purchases are male motivated. Also if you’re boat stays in the water you have to let it idle if you’re not using it every few days to keep the battery charged and that too burns gas.

Insurance (if you’re lucky)

Boat and wharf insurance is incredibly expensive if you can get it. It’s usually 1.5 – 2% of the boat’s value each year. So a $60 00 boat and motor costs at least $900 to $1200 a year to insure more in hurricane prone areas or if you’ve had a previous claim. The thing is getting and keeping a policy for replacement value is getting harder and harder. Many companies are now just offering liability policies given current weather trends. Plus once you have a claim it’s like the mark of the devil and you’ll be paying more for a long, long time!

If you plan to keep your boat at your wharf and insure that, because let’s be clear it wasn’t cheap, well good luck. To be perfectly honest with you I’m super confused as to how you should even go about trying to insure your wharf. Last summer we replaced two wharfs that were damaged two winter’s previous and the sound of wharf’s cracking during our huge January 4th this year was epic! Actually we lost a big one and we’re repairing another this week. All those people tried their insurance company and got no where. I’m aware of another person now with significant wharf damage from a clearly insured summertime peril and his insurance company is trying to weasel their way out of it already. So here’s how it seems to go. When you buy a standard house policy they tell you the wharf is included, ask about your ramps and docks because that’s unclear. It’s pretty typical that some combination of ice, wind, surges and waves are either included or excluded so ask about that. We’ve only repaired wharfs due to ice damage which is the big one around here but … when they send the adjuster out he can some how tell it was a rouge wave (even in a protected cove) and that’s not covered. Or they start saying that the wharf extends out from the end of the property so it’s not covered. One guy had a monster of a wharf over 6 figures and you could drive a boom truck on it no problem so he put a specific and expensive policy just on his wharf, we also managed to capture video of the ice taking it which was a specifically insured peril. The company said they could tell the ice sheet was so thick it was a once in a hundred years event and so it’s not covered. So I don’t know what to tell you, maybe get a broker and a lawyer and shop carefully but from where we’re sitting we’re telling people it seems companies are no longer covering them.

Running away from boating yet?

The stuff you just have to keep buying

This is freakin constant! Batteries loose their capacity and have to be replaced, bilge pumps clog, life jackets are constantly flying out of the boat, 2 stroke oil, fuel lines clog, you loose your gaff, new fishing gear, bumpers deflate, special antifouling paint, replacement covers, brackets and bolts bend, pins get lost and on and on and on. This stuff is expensive and the marina tax is high! You’re really just adding an extra category to the errands list by owning a boat and boy does the little stuff add up!

The big stuff breaks down over time

One thing we’re currently dealing with is finding a new boat trailer so our boat is still in the water. Boat trailers are a short term purchase with a long term price tag. Cheap and it lasts a season or two expensive and you’ll get about 5 but be dragging it back and forth to the welder more than to the water if you launch in salt water. Even though we’re religious about hosing them down the instant they get in the yard the salt water just eats them. Plus we park it next to salt water so that doesn’t help. Think about how fast your BBQ get’s rusty. Floats get rotten and need to be replaced or re-decked (to minimize this make sure no wood is in the water) or floats themselves need to be replaced at about $200 a pop. Chains and cables to the docks need to be replaced to say nothing of mooring chains and swivels. Those covers and canopies crack over time and need to be special ordered or the wiring in general gets old, crusty and unreliable. You’re cribs sink (make sure your builder uses a trash pump to install them), get eaten by bugs or the tides are higher now due to sea level rise and the whole deck needs ripping off and the cribs need to be built up. If you’re lucky ice damage means it can be jacked over a week of low tides and you can limp on for a few more years. Every few years it needs a new gel coat or fibreglass and alternators don’t like damp air. Every 5 years you should expect to spend some major coin like $10 000 on your boat, your gear or parking spot.

You need a guy for that

Even if you have tonnes of spare time, you lift heavy, love to learn new skills, tinker and you’re actually Mcguiver’s long lost brother sometimes you need a guy. It might be a boat shop, an engine overhaul, damage from who knows what, rope on you’re prop or a new wharf all together sometimes you just have to hire someone. Because of the liability involved, sometimes danger and specialist skills you’ll end up paying that guy more hourly than your accountant and potentially your lawyer.

No matter how careful you are shit will go sideways

This could also be called you’ll suffer losses. No matter how big your boat is you’ll loose phones, watches, prescription glasses and other expensive things over board. Some times you can dive for them but you’ll need a guy for that. Some of the reason is boats are a small space and there really isn’t a good place to put things down plus waves, waves makes this all so much worse. Motors get stolen a shocking amount and you’d be shocked how many people loose their motors over board. You say they’re and idiot, until it happens to you! Hell someone might even T-bone you’re boat with theirs, it happens! Even if none of that happens a storm will!


More than likely you’ll end up wanting to keep it in the water (and buy a bigger one)

Pulling you’re boat in and out is a pain and you might have to pay to use a marina’s slipway especially if it will be low tide at in or out time. Public slipways are great at high tide but the angle on the one’s at the paid marina’s are so much better at low tide. And since you need you’re trailer (and truck) there in and out you’ll pay twice if you’re doing the trailer option. You might end up paying marina fees on longer trips and it really is a bit of a pain in the ass. Here’s the thing though it’s worth it. The safest place for your boat to be is in your yard.

But boats are also like fake boobs no mater what size you start with you’re likely to wish you had gone bigger. The bigger the boat the more of an ordeal it is to put it in and out. So you’ll end up wanting to keep it in the water either at your house meaning your wharf, ramp, docks and moorings need to be up to snuff or maybe even built from scratch. Every set up is different and fancier is more but expect all that to START at $30 000, $4000, $10 000 and $1200 respectively. Add $1000 for every stability mooring you need for your float. Or expect to pay marina fees to store your boat in the water there. But once you’re boat is in the water that’s not necessarily it either. You’ll have to have it lifted out and put in once a season at $500-$1000 bucks a pop. I would recommend taking it out and in once more half way through the season for a few days to clean off the bottom, it’s worth it! But…. if you’re boat needs work during the season that’s another in and out and if a storm is forecasted you’ll be in a blind panic to get in the out along with everyone else.

Which brings me to my next point. We get that you want to get the most out of the season and god knows you’re paying a lot for it. We recommend you be a bit realistic about how long your season will realistically be and balance that with potential storm damage. Put it in for the May long weekend (end of May) and take it out after labour day (beginning of September and hurricane season). Sure you’ll miss a couple of early may warm nights and end of September early October nice days but you’ll also sleep easier, anti-foul only once and beat the rush on both ends. The first two days over 15 Celsius everyone wants their stuff in the water and winter-ish storms might not be really done. More scary no one wants their boat out until a hurricane is predicted off shore, then it’s a mad panic and usually we get everyone out but we don’t have that many people to take care of. Last year we ended up dragging a few customer’s boats and trailers to the ramp close to our house with the trucking guy hauling trailers steady all day, I’d run honey to the next boat, he’d drive it to our cove, then on to the next boat and we pulled them all out at high tide one after another. We scrapped them and pressure washed them in our yard (that smelled great by the way) and covered them just as the storm was hitting and that’s where they stayed until it was over. My truck, well that was parked on the lawn. Keep in mind not everyone will do that for you so earlier out really is better!

Some closing thoughts

You might think you’ll save a tonne by buying a used boat and you will but chances are you’re buying someone else’s problem as no one sells until they are well and truly fed up! Still a used boat can be a good deal just pay a boat shop to look it over first like you would with a used car at the mechanics. Given how insurance companies seem to be operating these days only spend money you can afford to loose on your boat and wharf. Like a home the purchase price and the gas and insurance isn’t all you should expect to spend and as we know that all costs more than advertised. So don’t spend your whole budget out of the gate. Read that last post on weird things and this one again and see if buying a boat really is your dream after all or not. Alternatively get your kinda angry boating friend a little drunk and see what he thinks about boat ownership, it’s an eye opener!

Some days though, you’re just living the dream!

If you’re a boat owner was it the dream you thought it would be? How much more did you spend than you initially anticipated and did you stick with it long term?

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