Why Are Boats So Expensive? (Simply Explained)

When comparing boats to other vehicles such as cars or RVs, they seem to cost unreasonably more. There are many different reasons for this; however, here’s a quick summary of the top reasons:

Boats are usually built by hand and not mass-produced in a mega factory. This means the labor cost is very high for building boats. Along with that, designing a boat that rides well, is safe, and looks good, involves a lot of engineering that you have to pay for.

To put this in more depth, I’ve created a list below of 10 different reasons boats are expensive:

1. Boats are not mass produced

Unlike cars, very few boats are produced every year even by the top brands. For example, Mastercraft, the top brand in water sports boating produces about 3,500 boats per year according to encyclopedia.com. This is nowhere near what even the least popular car brands produce. For example, Forbes.com reports that Chevy sells more than 2 million cars per year.

So, this low amount of production means that investing in very efficient automation is not worth the investment, and boat manufacturers are forced to produce their boats with outdated and subpar manufacturing equipment when compared to how cars are manufactured.

This means many boats are built by hand which jacks up labor costs and makes the boat end up costing much more than if they were able to use automated robots to build it.

2. Boats require a lot of engineering to get right

Especially when we’re talking about something like a wakeboarding boat or center console, getting those boats to function well involves a lot of engineering. If you’ve ever been on a Grady-White or Boston whaler and then later went on a boat of a lower quality brand, you will be able to tell the difference.

Those top brands have been in the industry for decades and have engineered their hulls and boats to be perfect. This makes them as smooth as possible to ride in waves, comfortable to be in, and aesthetically pleasing to look at. When you buy a boat from one of those brands, you pay for that perfection in engineering.

3. It is a small market that runs into supply and demand issues often

Boats are not a necessity to people such as a home would be. This means that the people buying them, are usually buying them with extra “play” money. This also means many of the people buying boats are wealthy. So, boat manufacturers understand this and charge accordingly.

If the market for boats was much larger, companies could afford to cut prices and receive less profit per product, but because the market is so small, they need to mark up their products a lot in order to make their money.

Along with that, there aren’t many new boats being made or sold, and most buyers go to the used market. This often creates a supply and demand issue, such as the one we see today where many used boats are actually appreciating in value. Some are even being sold for more than their original MSRP.

4. Marine engines are very expensive

A marine engine is so expensive, it can sometimes even cost more than the boat itself for older boats. For example, a new Lowe Boats 18 Bay is starting at $28,000. Of that $28,000, $10,000 of it is for the 90 hp outboard motor. This means the motor is 36% of the cost of the boat.

If you want to get a larger outboard engine such as a 300 hp, many of them cost over $27,000 new. These engines are also very costly to maintain, and if anything were to break, it almost always will cost a lot to fix.

5. Boats require a lot of maintenance

Boat, also known as “bust out another thousand”. This is because they break down a lot, and it costs a lot to fix them. Just like how there is a small market for boats, there’s also a small market for fixing boats. Meaning it’s harder to find mechanics, and most mechanics charge a lot.

Some maintenance that needs to be done often includes:

  • Waxing
  • Winterizing
  • Oil changes
  • Impeller replacement

And there are many more.

Related article: Boat Maintenance Simple Guide: Checklist, Costs, Tips

6. There are a lot of expensive accessories and equipment in boats

Besides the engine, boats have a lot of other equipment that costs a lot of money. This includes things such as:

  • Navigational systems
  • Fish finders
  • Automatic anchor retriever
  • Water ballasts
  • Side thrusters
  • SeaKeeper

These things are great to have but cost a lot of money. Just by selecting a couple of extra accessories, the price of your boat can jump tens of thousands of dollars.

7. Gas costs a lot

Boats are not fuel efficient when compared to land vehicles. This means your going to be spending a lot on fuel, especially if you have a large boat. Most boats use around 3-30 gallons of gas per hour. Small personal boats will use 3-8, and large cabin cruisers and yachts will use 20-30+ gallons per hour.

This means at a bare minimum, it’s going to cost $10 per hour for gas. Many larger boats such as cabin cruisers and yachts cost well over $100 per hour to run at cruising speed.

8. Storage costs a lot

Not only will you have to find a place to store your boat in the off-season, you’ll also need to store your boat somewhere during boating season as well.

According to my article “How Much Do Marina Dock Slips Cost? (With Examples)“:

It costs around $9-$20/ft per month to rent a marina dock slip. Marina slips in prime locations cost around $17-$30/ft per month. Utilities and other fees add another $50-$250 per month. Prime location marinas include places like Miami, Newport Beach, Key West, etc.

For off-season storage, I wrote another article titled “How Much Does Boat Storage Cost? (15 Examples)“. In which I found that:

It costs around $8-$18 per foot of your boat per month to store your boat in an indoor garage, and $4-$10 per foot per month for outdoor storage. Some marinas may also let you store your boat in the water all season (known as wet storage) for about $6-$12 per foot per month.

9. Boat trailers are expensive

Using the Lowe Boats Bay 18 as an example, it costs $35,000 starting. This includes the lowest tier engine and trailer. Of that $35,000, $7,000 of it is for the boat trailer. That means the price of the trailer is 20% of the price of the whole thing.

There larger 22-foot model costs $8,200 for its trailer.

30+ foot boat trailers are going to cost $15,000 or more new.

Yes, you can find used trailers for less, but it will be difficult finding one that will fit the boat exactly.

10. Boats are generally sold in high cost of living areas

Miami, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Newport, and the Chesapeake Bay are all examples of some of the most popular boating destinations in America. They are also examples of high cost of living areas.

Many boat manufacturers target these areas, so they know the people they are selling to are used to purchasing things for a higher price. This allows manufacturers to charge more.