Beginner Boat Guide: What to Look for and 5 Options to Consider

What is a good first boat to buy?

When getting into boating, there's a lot to learn. You need to stay up to date on boating laws in your area, learn how to navigate sailing spots and docking areas, and also get used to steering the boat itself. The last one is no easy task, and it can take practice—but having the right boat can help with the process, plus let you figure out if boating will be a lifetime passion or a one-off adventure.

So what is a good first boat to buy? We have some recommendations, plus factors you should consider to find the best fit for you.

Things to Consider When Buying a First Boat

Not everyone is going to have the same needs for a personal watercraft, and experienced sailors usually have a decent handle on what serves them best. If you've never shopped for a boat before, the number of options can be a bit overwhelming. Think about these factors when considering your options.

Price

This factor plays a role in any significant purchase, and the same applies when it comes to picking out a boat. Not all ships cost the same, and you'll find that some are much more expensive than others—and it's effortless to pick out a boat that's more than you can afford. Sailboat prices will be much different than a motorboat or larger watercraft like a yacht. Set a budget before you start looking so that you don't become swept up in the excitement of what's available.

Also, don't determine your budget based on monthly payments. Yes, you should be able to afford that cost (and a boat payment calculator can help you figure out what that number will look like), but it's much safer to determine what total price you can afford first. You'll also want to consider how much it will cost to maintain your boat in the numbers.

New vs. Used

On the factor of costs, new and used boats can play a substantial part in that. However, if you've ever bought a car or anything else that is available pre-owned, the same factors come into play. Used boats can potentially come with several issues that you'll need to repair down the line, but a new vessel will generally be much more expensive.  Some brands, like G3 Boats, are more reliable when purchasing used.

Each option has its pros and cons, but you can go either way so long as you give it the proper consideration. If you don't feel confident in your ability to evaluate a used boat, have someone with experience help you appraise the vessel before putting any money down. A boat history report can also help ensure it’s received the appropriate maintenance and check if any parts have been replaced, like used outboard motors.

Size

Boats come in all sorts of sizes, and you want to pick out one that's suitable for your plans. Some areas where it's essential to have the right sized boat are:

  • How long you want to stay on board (day trip vs. staying overnight)
  • Where you plan to sail (rivers, lakes, and ocean can fit different sizes)
  • Number of passengers you want to carry (more people need more space)
  • Maintenance costs (bigger boats need more storage, insurance, gasoline, etc.)

Additionally, bigger boats tend to have higher selling prices, so this area factors into your initial budget as well.

Insurance

Boating insurance isn't always a legal requirement, but it's still a meaningful way to protect your boat—especially if you're investing in a pricey model. Since you'll need to pay your premium in addition to your loan costs, it's essential to have an idea of what your insurance costs will be to keep your budget in check.

Brand new boats and larger vessels tend to have higher insurance premiums than their used and smaller counterparts. Likewise, you can adjust the cost by determining what types of coverage you need (liability vs. full coverage, what protections you include, the value of your deductible, etc.). Be sure to compare deals between different companies to save money.

While cutting back on insurance can save you money up front, you could end up not being able to pay for damages if you don't have enough coverage. Carefully consider your options and find the right balance between the two.

Sail vs. Motor

While there are plenty of different types of boats out there, two of the major categories are sailboats and motor-powered vessels. You'll generally need to pick one or the over, and both provide plenty of options for first-time boat buyers. Usually, motorboats are more comfortable to drive, but sailing has its set of benefits, too.

Overall, the kind of activities you want to do will play a role in the best type of boat for you. Motorboats lend themselves well to watersports like waterskiing, and sailboats work well for fishing or those who don't necessarily want to cruise along at high speeds. Both types have their different maintenance concerns, so consider what you feel comfortable dealing with in the long run.

Included Equipment

Boats on sale can come with additional equipment, especially when it comes to used vessels. The best approach is always to ask what the seller plans to include. Since you're looking for your first boat, you'll likely need at least some of the amenities, but not everything may be useful to you.

You can expect to pay more if you take the included equipment, but it may save you in comparison to shopping for new things on your own. If you do accept extras, check that everything is in good shape so that you don't need to go out and get a replacement right away.

5 First Boat Recommendations

Because of how several boaters are, there's no one perfect vessel for everyone. But to help you get an idea for what's out there, here are five quick recommendations for some first-time boats you may want to give a try.

Bayliner VR5

Boating doesn't have to be a solo activity, and, for plenty, having a ship makes for a perfect adventure with the family. The Bayliner is a bowrider, which is generally a good fit for those with kids, and this vessel has more space than most similar ships while still being secure. Even though it has more room, you'll find it costs about the same as other bowriders that aren't near as roomy.

There's enough seating capacity on this ship for up to nine passengers, allowing for trips with the whole family. It can also handle aggressive turns if necessary and should respond well to newcomers. And when you want to play some jams, the stereo has both AM/FM stereo and auxiliary inputs to bring your tunes along for the ride.

Starting Price: $28,399

Carolina Skiff 17 DLX

If you want a boat to go fishing and it needs to be able to handle salt water, consider the Carolina Skiff 17 DLX. With a fiberglass hull and a flat bottom design, you have high levels of stability at rest and materials that won't wear down when put up against ocean waters. As a fishing vessel, you have a dedicated platform for casting and a live well to store your catches.

As an optional upgrade, you can also get rod holders, and it's also up to you if you want an engine or not. If you're going to bring electronics along, there's enough area to place them. A downside of the design is that things can get a bit wet and uncomfortable on choppy waters.

Price: $8,000 - $17,495

Ranger Z175

On the other hand, this fishing boat is more suitable for fresh water, and Ranger is one of the top brands around for this option. That means you get plenty of features, like rod storage and lockers for tackle and whatever else accessories you bring along. There are even onboard chargers to keep your batteries in top shape.

The fuel economy is also top notch on this boat—perfect for those who want to save some cash on that front. The LED navigation lights let you sail safely, no matter the conditions.

Price: $29,795

Bennington 20 SL

Pontoon boats have a distinctive shape and area to allow for some casual relaxation. You won't get much protection from the elements while on board this pick, but you will have enough room for up to eight passengers, plus you have the right amount of storage and a pedestal for entertaining your guests.

Other entertainment essentials include the stereo system and the easy access swim platform. Bennington is another well-known brand, so you can expect quality from this boat, while the 20 SL model has a more affordable price point for new boaters.

Price: $16,000 - $30,000

Marblehead 22 Daysailer

To balance things out at the end of our recommendations, we have a potential sailboat option for those who want to try out the occasional trip to see. The cockpit is just under twelve feet, which means you have enough space for family or friends to come along, and there's plenty of storage space as well.

In terms of looks, this sailboat has a traditional aesthetic that still operates with plenty of modern technology. What better way to sail with the wind at your back?

Price: Custom.