Why Are Boats So Expensive?

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A 20 feet boat will probably cost something around $30,000, depending on its features and purpose.

What about 30 feet boats though? Or 40 feet boats? Well, these will probably have a price tag somewhere in the hundred thousand or millions.

But why are some boats so expensive and others so cheap? What’s the reason for the sharp price jumps after some point?

Let’s try to find that out.

Why Are Boats So Expensive?

Costly manufacturing process

The first and biggest reason why boats are so expensive is their costly manufacturing process.

You sure can find cheap boats on the market. However, there is no guarantee that those cheap boats will serve you long. Moreover, there is no guarantee that very cheap boats will be able to do what you want from them.

Durable boats, on the other hand,are made to withstand harsh marine environments. Saltwater and even freshwater are no joke –the minerals contained in the water are very damaging to boat hulls, meaning that manufacturers need to make them as durable as possible to prolong their life.

Not only that, but boats need to withstand the constant impact of waves and shifts in the center of gravity. This means that boat hulls have to be built so as not to lose their structural integrity when the boat is receiving hits and while the boat is tilted on its side.

When it comes to building requirements, boat builders probably have to follow regulations that are just slightly less stringent than those of planes. Planes are among the most complex and demanding pieces of tech manufactured today, and boats aren’t that far off.

The manufacturing process of boats is also highly complex. In fact, most of the building process is done manually–this is because the low production volumes of boats don’t really justify the expense of automation.

The costs of materials used, of course, have a major impact on the price of a boat. Even boats with low amounts of expensive materials like fiberglass are going to be pricey, not to mention boats with hulls made entirely from fiberglass.

One thing that prevents manufacturers from saving money on materials is that boat hulls are very difficult and thus unreasonable to transport from one country or another. Due to this, manufacturers cannot affordably produce hulls in one country and then ship it to the end country.

Small details like the material screws are made from can also significantly increase the production costs of a boat. Switching to durable stainless steel screws can easily add several thousand dollars per boat – there are so many screws used in boat hulls that seemingly small changes make a huge difference.

The assembly of boats is also a very costly deal. Since there are no large-scale presses that can stamp hull pieces out or robots that could weld those pieces together, manual labor still plays a key role in boat assembly.

Then, you add the conveniences that a modern boat should have, including pumps, hoses, lighting fixtures, and other essential items, and the price increases by several thousand dollars.

And when you are dealing with luxurious boas with premium upholstery, high-quality facilities, entertainment systems, or whatnot, you may outrightdouble or triple the price of the boat, depending on its base cost and the kind of conveniences added to it.

Low demand

The low demand for boats is the second thing that makes it seem that boats are unreasonably expensive.

In terms of demand, boats are often compared to cars. In 2017, around 17 million cars were sold in the US, while the number of boats sold in the same year was just around 29 thousand.

This huge difference in the sales volume is due to the high demand for cars. Cars are essential in today’s world, and in 2010, the number of passenger cars in the entire world has reached 1 billion for the first time ever.

In 2015, a total of 11.87 million recreational vessels were registered in the US, while the number of cars registered in the same period was around 263 million. While the production volumes of boats are by no means small, they are much lower than the production volume of cars.

First of all, what this means is that boat manufacturers cannot take as much advantage from the economy of scale. If you didn’t know, economies of scale are the cost advantages that come due to large scalesof production. The cost benefits of small production volumes are lower since there simply are many fewer boats produced in the world than cars.

Consequently, the low demand makes automating the boat production process unreasonable, as mentioned a little earlier.And due to the increased share of expensive manual labor in boat manufacture, boat prices rise sharply.

There is one interesting observation that we would like to note. For example, as a user from The Hull Truth forum points out, the prices for boats appear to rise exponentially after 22 feet for just a few additional feet.

If that’s indeed true, then the reason for this may be the low demand for boats longer than 22 feet. It may also be that boats longer than 22 feet are usually made for highly-demanding purposes, which increases their manufacturing cost. And needless to say, specialized boats are going to have lower demand than recreational or general-purpose boats.

Cost of research & development

R&D is also a big part of the boats’ high cost. R&D, in fact, is often considerably more expensive than the construction and the materials of the boat itself!

R&D basically is planning the boat’s construction to ensure that it does its job as intended. Not only that, but R&D is the driving force behind innovations in boat design, and needless to say, these innovations aren’t cheap. It may take months and even years of R&D and millions of dollars until an innovation makes it from paper into a boat.

R&D involves computer simulations and 3D modeling that require investment in expensive software and high-performance computers that can do the calculations in a reasonably short time frame. The salary of specialists who know how to use all the R&D tools also takes a sizable share in R&D costs.

And while the use of software and simulations allows to virtually eliminate trial and error and develop new designs in a shorter time frame, R&D still remains a very expensive stage of boat development.

Engine cost

The type and size of the engine used in the boat are also going to significantly affect the boat’s overall cost. And while “more power = higher cost” is a no brainer, some people may not be aware that the engine type can also noticeably affect a boat’s price.

Boat engines are mainly categorized into inboard and outboard motors. Inboard engines tend to be more expensive up-front, and their maintenance can also be difficult and costly, but they tend to be more fuel-efficient.

Outboard engines are the inverse – located on the outside of the boat, they are easier to access and repair, but they tend to be not as fuel-efficient as inboard engines.

Costs of Owning a Boat

Boats can cost a lot by themselves, but you aren’t quite done after spending a few ten or hundred thousand dollars to buy a boat. Then come the costs of ownership and maintaining the boat, and these costs can be quite significant when compared to the cost of the boat itself (especially if you have a cheaper boat).

The costs of boat ownership are important because in the long run, they could quickly reach and exceed the boat’s upfront price.Sowhen choosing a boat, you should consider not only its storefront price but also its long-term costs of ownership.

Below are the key things that you will have to take care of as a boat owner.

Fuel

Motorized vessels require gas to run. Boats use up plenty of gas, so you can be sure that you will have to pay more for boat fuel than for fuel for your car. Not only that, but the price of gas for boats can be much higher than the price of gas at the gas station.

How much money you will have to spend on gas for your boat will depend on how often you use your boat and how fast you cruise.

Many of the faster motorboats tend to use around 25 gallons of fuel per hour at high speed.If we take $3 per gallon (which is around how much boat gas costs) as a basis for calculations, then a 4-hour trip would cost you $300 (if we take the average of 25 gallons per hour). If you use your boat just once a week, then this would translate to over $15,000 of annual fuel cost.

Needless to say, every boat has its own fuel consumption rate. The bigger the engine, the more fuel it will consume, and there are some other factors that impact fuel consumption. You should do calculations for the desired boat model yourself.

Accessories and maintenance

Accessories and maintenance probably won’t cost you as much as fuel per year, but depending on your needs and how you maintain your boat, maintenance costs may vary a lot.

First of all, you have accessory costs that you don’t have to bear often. For example, you may buy a boat trailer for a few thousand dollars and use it for a couple of years without the need for replacement.

Then, you have recurrent maintenance costs associated with oil replacement, cleaning, winterization, propeller replacement, general checkup, or whatnot. Such procedures could add a few additional thousand dollars to your annual boat expenses.

You may do maintenance yourself to save money, but you might need to have a technician involved for complicated repairs. Besides, how much money you will spend will depend on how well you maintain your boat.

Mooring

You may also have to pay plenty of money for mooring. If you are living full-time in a boat, then you may have to pay tens of thousands of dollars annually. And if you use marinas AND travel a lot, then your expenses could easily reach $100,000 annually.

With that said, if you will be staying at a marina full-time, then you won’t have to worry about fuel costs. Besides, if you have your own place for keeping your boat, then you won’t have to pay a dollar for mooring.

Insurance

Insurance is a thing that you should do but don’t really have to. Repair expenses resulting from a boating accident can be outrageously high, so you should cover your boat with insurance to avoid most, if not the entire repair expenses.

Fortunately, boat insurance doesn’t cost that much – usually, it’s something like $300-$500 annually. But depending on the type of vessel, the insurance policy, and the history of the owner, the annual cost of insurance may reach and exceed $1,000.

Registration& taxes

Registration is a one-time deal, and you won’t spend too much money on it, but it should be considered as well. Depending on where you are, registration alone may cost from as little as $30 up to $300. Your local department of motor vehicles should provide you with information on registration expenses.

Property tax is another deal. How much you will have to pay will depend on your boat and your state laws, but you generally should expect to pay no more than a few percent of the current value of the boat annually. Still, property tax can become noticeable with expensive boats.

Final Words

It’s not really crucial why boats are so expensive. It’s more important to understand whether you need to pay $100k for a boat or no. Even if you have ten times the money, spending $100k on a boat may not be the best idea.

Boat prices can rise exponentially after some point, and you can do nothing about it. We’ve roughly explained why boats can be so expensive, and all these factors are beyond your control.

Instead of wondering why boats are expensive, try to understand if you need that pricey boat. If you do, then you don’t really have many options. Otherwise, look for a cheaper boat that would better satisfy your boating needs.