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Bass boat sitting in a parking lot

It is a big decision to buy a boat, whether it’s a fishing boat, ski boat, or even a pontoon boat, the question that always comes up is how much will it depreciate after I buy it. It is no secret that when you buy a new car, it loses some of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot, and the same can be said for both recreational vehicles, and all watercraft, especially boats. This is one thing that will be very important when considering whether or not to buy a boat because you will need to make a decision on whether to take the depreciation up front or buy a used boat that already has some depreciation on it, and save some extra money. The problem is that there are no real answers out there of how much an actual boat should depreciate.

The Variables

The problem when trying to figure out how much a boat will depreciate is all the different options and variables that go into a boat. Each new boat is customized for an individual customer, and what they wanted at the time of buying it, and that is not always what you had in mind. When using this article as a guide for making a decision on whether to buy a new or used boat, you have to be willing to sacrifice something that you may have wanted on a new boat, but just won’t get with a used one. If you are in the market to get everything you want, but on a used boat, your search might take you a decade because there might only be one or two other people that had the same exact specs in mind when purchasing their boat. Not that you could not wait and just keep searching until you found the perfect boat, but if you are going to buy used, be prepared to get about 90% of all the buttons and bells you wanted. If you are happy with that, then buying a used boat might make sense to you, and you can save yourself some instant depreciation on a new one. Here are some of the variables that you might run into that could differ from a new customizable boat, and a used boat bought by someone else brand new:

  • Color: Color can be customized to each person own liking, so if you are buying used, you are going to buy a color that someone else picked out.
  • Motor: You can upgrade to different sized motors, or have multiple motors if you want, so unless they bought just a stock motor, you might have to deal with something that a person chose.
  • Trim and Interior: Trim and Interior color and extras can be added on to the purchase of the boat. People can also add extra bait tanks, and live wells into their boat if they want.
  • Trailer: You have the option to take the stock trailer, or upgrade to a beefier two axle trailer, and have new tires and rims put on it, so you Two wave runners in the lakemay have to pay extra for someone else’s upgrade.
  • Added Electronics: If a person wants added electronics like a stereo or more speakers, to a fish finder and custom wired in trolling motors, you may have to pay extra for something. Electronics are a very popular upgrade for boat buyers, as it is easier for a dealer to add stuff than a DIY project.

If you are okay with the interior, and maybe the boat color being a different shade than what you originally wanted, you are probably a good candidate for buying a used watercraft, but if some of these things are just deal breakers, you might have a harder time finding what you want, if at all. You also have to take into consideration of how long you are willing to look and not buy, so if you are okay with searching for 3 to 6 months, you will most likely find more of what you want. If you only have a month to find a boat, your options will start to suffer, and you will get less of what you want, and more of what you can find for your price point.

How Long Do Boats Depreciate For

On average, you can expect a boat to depreciate for approximately 7 to 10 years, or until the boat is roughly $100 dollars per foot of the boat. For example, if you have a 10-year-old 18-foot fishing boat, you can expect to get about $100 dollars per foot, or $1800 dollars for it. Keep in mind these are average numbers, so if your 10-year-old boat looks brand new, and has every upgradeable option on it, you will most likely ask for more money. However, if your boat is regularly used, with typical wear and tear and needs some TLC, then you are going to be right around that number. Before we get into depreciation, let’s take a look at a few key things that go into making up the value of a boat when preparing to sell it. Some of these factors can skew the depreciation by a ton, and make your boat retain its value, or depreciate more than 50% in a year, so it is good to keep your boat clean and maintained.

  • Cleanliness
  • Maintenance schedules
  • Storage
  • Paint and decals
  • Motor and Electronics

As you can see, if you store your boat in the garage, and wipe it down and clean it after every use, and the boat looks like it just came from a dealer, you

Old fishing boats on concrete

will be able to demand more money for it when you sell it. If you keep your boat covered out beside your house and wipe it down every once in a while, it could stay with the depreciation rate below. If you just drop your boat off on your property and leave it out in the sun to bake, and never wipe it down or change the oil, you are going to have a hard time saying with the below depreciation and will probably get less than what you think. Care and maintenance show new potential owners that they are not going to buy something that is going to strand them or their family out in the middle of the lake or river and will make them feel more comfortable with your price point.

Depreciation Chart
Depreciation Of A Fishing Boat
  • Year 1: 20 – 25%
  • Year 2: 15 – 20%
  • Year 3: 10 – 15%
  • Year 4: 5 – 10%
  • Year 5: 5%
  • Year 6: 5%
  • Year 7: 5%
  • Year 8: 5%
  • Year 9: 5%
  • Year 10: 5%
  • 10+ Years: About $100 dollars per foot of the boat.
Depreciation Of A Ski Boat
  • Year 1: 20%
  • Year 2: 15%
  • Year 3: 10%
  • Year 4: 8%
  • Year 5: 7%
  • Year 6: 5%Three seadoos at the lake
  • Year 7: 4%
  • Year 8: 4%
  • Year 9: 4%
  • Year 10: 2%
  • 10+ Years: About $100 dollars per foot of the boat.
Depreciation Of A Jet Ski Or WaveRunner
  • Year 1: 18%
  • Year 2: 16%
  • Year 3: 15%
  • Year 4: 13%
  • Year 5: 11%
  • Year 6: 9%
  • Year 7: 7%
  • Year 8: 5%
  • Year 9: 4%
  • Year 10: 2%
Depreciation Of A Pontoon Boat
  • Year 1: 25%
  • Year 2: 21%
  • Year 3: 18%
  • Year 4: 14%
  • Year 5: 11%
  • Year 6: 7%
  • Year 7: 4%
  • Year 8: 4%
  • Year 9: 4%
  • Year 10: 4%
  • 10+ Years: About $100 dollars per foot of the boat.

Knowledge Is Power

When pouring over hundreds of different brands and types of boats, I learned a lot about similarities and differences between all the different boat manufacturers out there on the market, and I found some very interesting stuff. Take a look below at what I found when looking into boat prices, options, and extras.

Similarities:
  • Motor Size
  • Boat Size
  • Accessories (fish finder, lights, radio, cup holders, trolling motors)MasterCraft boat on trailer
  • Boat Shape
Differences:
  • Colors
  • Trim Pieces
  • Interior features
  • Seating

As you can see, there is not a lot of differences that set manufacturers apart from others than personal preference, and maybe some minor upgrades. In my research, it looks like people take the advice of other people as the main factor when buying a boat or watercraft. If your friend or neighbor suggests a brand, that takes a much bigger consideration than doing research about it. Reputation is a big factor when picking a boat, so when a manufacturer wins the popularity prize, they normally have higher sales, and other manufacturers sales will dip. No matter what forums or your friends say, do your own homework.

Extended Warranties

If you are buying a new boat from the store, you may think that getting an extended warranty, but what does a warranty cover exactly? The first thing you need to understand is that extended warranties are not like a manufacturers warranty at all, so you really need to understand what is covered, and what is not before you buy it, or add it into your boat loan. Generally, whatever is going to happen to a boat, especially a new one, is going to happen in the first year or two if you use your boat a lot. An extended warranty can be a good thing if you want to cover the major parts, but let’s take a look at the difference between a manufacturer warranty and an extended warranty or service contract:

Green Ski boat driving on the lake

Manufacturer’s Warranty
  • No out of pocket expense
  • Included in the purchase price
  • No limitations
  • No deductibles
Extended Warranty (Service Contract)
  • Cost money
  • Have a deductible
  • Have limitations
  • Can have maximum payouts for issues
  • Can be transferred if you sell the boat
  • High source of revenue for boat dealers
  • Consequential damage not usually covered

As you can see, there are some major differences between a manufacturer warranty and an extended warranty you have to buy when getting your boat. For me, when purchasing something this big, I will always spend the extra money for peace of mind because even though an extended warranty may have out of pocket expenses like deductibles and other costs, it is much cheaper than having it all out of pocket. The choice of buying an extended warranty is completely up to you, but my advice is to read everything before you sign it, and actually ask questions about “what if’s”, and have them answer your questions before buying it.

Take Your Time

When it comes to buying a boat, whether it is new or used, DO NOT RUSH IN! Take your time and do some research on what type of boat you want, and what brands there are that will fit what you are looking for. If you want a 20-foot bass boat, take some time to research all the bass boat manufacturers out there and get a ballpark of what they have in common, and what sets them apart. Do not rush into buying a boat, or you could easily buy a lemon, and end up having to sink a lot of money into fixing it, or adding things that you really wanted in a boat, but just didn’t buy. Make sure you understand what your limitations are, and if you cannot do something like wiring a fish finder, or setting up a trolling motor, make sure that any Pontoon boat dockedused boat you want to look at has the wiring or the full setup. Some projects like adding live wells, or bait tanks require you to pull the seats out and add new wood and carpet and can be expensive, so if you know that it is something you could not do on your own, make sure the boat you buy has it. Adding a stereo and speakers is pretty common, so that can be done in about a day, and adding extra batteries, or changing lights is a pretty easy fix as well. Know your limits, and that will tell you what you really need to look for, and will tell you if you can either find it in a nice used boat or if you might have to buy a brand new one to get what you want. Do your homework up front and you will not get ripped off in the end.

Conclusion

In my findings, I noticed that boats depreciate at a reasonable rate depending on the boat, and how it is kept up by the owner. If you are looking at buying a boat for resale value, I would suggest starting out by buying a used boat first because someone else has taken the most depreciation on it already, and can be a very good deal for you in the long run. If you do plan to buy a new boat, understand that you will take most of your depreciation hit up front in the first three years before you see a significant plateau in depreciation. Ski boats tend to be the best boat for the smallest amount of depreciation over time because they can hold their value longer than a typical bass boat or wave runner, so if you are looking at a family boat that you can fish off of, that will be your best bang for the buck. One last thing I can say is that if you do buy a boat, take care of it, and you will retain more of your value in it when it comes time for you to sell it and upgrade. If you do not take care of your boat, then you are going to see a more significant increase in the depreciation, and the boat will be worth much less in the long run.