Unexpected Costs of Boating: Keeping it Cheap(er)

BoatingAnyone with a boat knows that there is an ongoing joke about the expense of boating. Vessel purchase, maintenance and upkeep is undoubtedly pricey. However, many folks fail to consider the costs associated with boating that don’t automatically pop to the forefront of their mind when they sign that contract to wheel their very own “Lady of the Seas” right off the lot. Insurance, docking, lake access and accessories are all charges that come above and beyond purchase price and fuel costs.

Boats are like kids. Not only do you have to pay for the hospital bill, there’s clothes, diapers, food and toys to buy constantly thereafter. While there are more coupons available for diapers than innertubes, there are ways to keep the associated costs of boating as low as possible.


Like car insurance, boat insurance can be expensive. Prices typically vary based on the type of coverage that you choose and evaluating the coverage you have –and need- can play a key part in lowering your annual costs of insuring your vessel. Look at your policy; have you moved and no longer live in a coastal area where hurricane coverage is needed? Or are you carrying more protection than you need based on the replacement cost of your boat? A broker can help evaluate your needs, while national associations, like BoatUS, may offer member discounts that fit your needs much like AAA for your wheeled vehicles.

Water Access Fees

Here in California, they recently raised the rates for lake entry at a number of reservoirs controlled by the State Parks Department. While the fees may have only raised $1 to $2 per entry for launching a boat those fees can add right on up if you’re frequenting an area. At the beginning of each boating season, evaluate where you’ll likely spend most of your time on the water and consider buying an annual pass. Most lake passes for boaters will include the cost of entry for a certain number of people, your tow rig and boat launching for an unlimited number of entries throughout a season. This can add up to significant cost savings and even encourage you to get out on the water more often. If you’ve got the access, why not use it?


Last time I checked, nobody launched from the dock with just a boat. Inevitably, you need lifejackets, coolers, water toys, towable inflatables, and perhaps even wakeboards, tow lines, ski flags. The list goes on. And on. And on. Depending on your interests out on the water, you can easily sink thousands of dollars into boating accessories. However, there are ways to save! Most anything you’d want to take on a boat will go on sale after Labor Day at summer clearance sales. Stock up on new goodies now as retailers make way for fall and winter gear. You can also find great deals on tow toys via online forums and sales boards as others sell their boat, and thus the toys that go with it, or get rid of equipment that didn’t suit their needs.

Boat Slips

Storing your boat on the lake can eliminate the need to tow and launch for each lake trip. However, lake slips can be expensive and hard to get, especially in popular recreation areas. To help hedge your bets in getting  a spot, and the best deal, call marinas a year or more out from your season start and ask about availability. Inquire on pre-pay discounts and ask for a break on price if you can give them the cash to reserve your spot now. While this can be risky, especially due to shortened seasons in drought-prone areas, savings can be worth it if the cards play out right.

Savvy boaters can take advantage of savings associated with unexpected costs and keep a little cash in their pockets to buy some burgers for grillin’ on the beach. Because cheap beans and weenies are  hard to prepare at the lake.