New Boater Tips From a Boating Pro

By Alan Wendt

Published on August 25, 2020


After taking delivery of a half dozen Sea Rays from 18 feet to 40 feet over the years, and mentoring new boaters along the way, I’ve realized there are unmentioned minor expenses facing first time buyers. They are not insurmountable and if anything a huge part of the excitement leading up to delivery day.

Every boat regardless of size needs a Coast Guard Safety Kit. Some dealers include them, others have them for sale in a ship’s store. Retailers like West Marine love to see new boaters in the store. Life jackets, flare kit, pollution placards, are the basics. Plan on spending roughly $100. Since safety is so important, I’d recommend you take the kids into the store and get life jackets that are more form fitting and comfortable to wear. That’s the whole point, they will wear them because life jackets in a storage bag with the instruction booklet still attached to the zipper that no one has time to read in an emergency does no one any good. Watersports life jackets will set you back between $100 to $200 each. If there are four members in your family, you want six to eight life jackets. Noah’s Ark syndrome applies here.


You’ll need a good garden hose and soft nozzle for cleaning, a bucket, soap that is approved for fiberglass and is environmentally friendly. Be sure the hose will reach all the way around the boat. Plan on two large sponges, since cleaning is a team support and a pole brush to reach the hull. Some newer outboard engines have a freshwater hose inlet, but most require “rabbit ears” that attach to the hose for flushing the engine at the end of the day. Flush couplers cost about $15. There are other cleaning products you’ll want in the months ahead, but for the first weeks of boating, just have fun. FYI. Waterspots on windshields can be annoying if your spouse has serious OCD…just saying.


If you plan on trailering and travel on toll roads, remember your car transponder is good for two axels. You may need to adjust your account or purchase a transponder just for the boat. Those mail in fines add up.  While most boats today have built-in USB chargers for smartphones, the prudent boater also has a watertight, floating pouch for the phone.  At $1,000 for a new iPhone, it won’t take long to learn that swim suits have weak pockets for phones, waves occur when you least expect them, and wet hands and phones are cousins to the greased pig contest at the county fair.


Where are you going to keep the boat?  Explore your options as marinas often have waiting lists. For those storing a boat in a dry stack or kept in a wet slip, your budget should take into consideration those monthly fees. The price varies on location. Some dry stacks include cleaning the boat, and if budget allows, it’s worth the price. Boats kept in wet slips in saltwater need bottom paint and probably a diver service each month. The diver keeps the bottom clean and barnacles from growing on props. You can do the work yourself at the sandbar but that’s for first time sport yacht buyers who have yet to be heckled by others in the marina. You know the guy, the one wearing the 10-gallon sun brim hat always holding a frozen drink or beer, his eyes hidden behind movie star sunglasses. All kidding aside, if you can afford the big cabin cruiser, your time on the water will be more important than time cleaning the bottom. As I said, lessons learned from my second boat and wise-cracking marina neighbors.


The location of the marina to where you want to boat is equally important. If you choose a less expensive slip but have to spend an extra two hours coming and going to where you hang out on the water, the lost time and extra fuel burn will be a sour note.


Don’t put off any service. Ever, ever, ever. An engine alarm, small drip, rough sounding engine, rattling cabinet door, and the list goes on, will become a major problem on the weekend the inlaws come for a ride. Those memories haunt you for years, even after they have departed this world, because spouses love to perpetuate folk lore.


Insurance is another consideration. Few homeowner policies will cover your boat. Your dealer can recommend several good marine insurance agents that handle your size boat. If you plan on a cruise to Canada, the Bahamas or Cuba, you’ll need specialty insurance. Also, Triple A does not have tow trucks on the water but Sea Tow and Tow Boat US do. Spend the money for an annual membership. If you run out of gas, and you will, or breakdown, hopefully you won’t, the small monthly premium will more than pay for itself.  In the grand scheme of boat finance, these are minor expenses. Smart buyers can wrap up many costs in the financing. No dealer is going to walk away from a sale over a bucket, brush and bottle of boat soap.


Unexpected startup costs can put a damper on fun for a family budget. If I was blogging for MasterCard, the tag line would go something like this, giggles and smiles, time with the family, hours of recharge on the water, Priceless.

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