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Buying a boat on a shoestring budget

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Buying a boat on a shoestring budget

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Old 11-06-2018, 02:57 PM
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Default Buying a boat on a shoestring budget

Hello--I'm the new guy. First, this site is an awesome resource--I've learned a ton just scrolling through old forums. I'm hoping to get some advice as I buy my first boat. I grew up using a pontoon (~24 ft.), so I'm very comfortable handling those. But I'm realizing that isn't necessarily the best option for me now. Any advice is appreciated! The goal is to get on the water as cheap as possible while trying to be reasonable...you get what you pay for, and I want something that's somewhat reliable. But we want to take a small bite before investing in something that costs more than our house. So we're looking for something used.

I'm fairly handy. I don't at all mind cleaning up an old boat and doing cosmetic work to make something suit my needs. But I know very little about engine mechanics. I'm willing and eager to learn, but I'm not there yet. Can handle routine maintenance, but probably couldn't diagnose a problem myself.

I'm on Tampa Bay, which has a lot to do with why I'm leaning certain ways...

I'm planning to use the boat for family + fishing. I'd like to be able to take 4-6 people out just cruising, hopping off at an island to let the kids play, etc. I'd also like to do some fishing, mostly inshore, but also a little offshore. For this reason, I'm looking for something in the 23-26 ft. range. I'm also leaning toward a closed (or at least notched) transom for kids' safety. I've read the debates on this...

If you're not familiar with Tampa Bay, the average depth is something like a few feet. Yes, there are channels. But to get around safely and get to some of the flats for fishing, outboards seem to make the most sense. I've been told I/O is an absolute no-no and inboards are fine, but obviously require more water. Would love to be corrected on this, but that's what I've gathered in doing a little reading.

I know there's a lot of discussion about single vs twin outboards...my approach is to find the hull that I like best without a strong preference to single vs twin. Is that the wrong approach?

I'd also like something with a little bit of cabin space. A cuddy is fine...don't need to throw dinner parties in there. But we get little pop up storms nearly every day in the summer, and they can come up quickly (and pass just as quickly). So it would be nice to have a little space to duck out of the rain for a minute (and also for a little storage).

I know that's a lot of info...but what am I missing? Anything obvious I'm not thinking about? It seems a 23-26 ft. walkaround with a cuddy would make sense...a little deck space to throw some chairs out, and plenty of room for fishing.

Please pick apart my approach/thought process...eager to learn! It seems like every person I talk to has valuable insights, so I'm hoping to soak up some of the THT community knowledge.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:02 PM
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Buy a puppy !!!!!
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:04 PM
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Maybe narrow down the range a bit tighter than "as cheap as possible" to "less than a house"

I like the idea of a walkaround but in practice in Florida it doesn't usually work out for most people. A rain jacket is about all you really need for a warm Florida rain shower, up north this would be different. I wouldn't have a cabin down here unless I cold air condition it, you are basically bringing along a sauna.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:09 PM
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Originally Posted by aquaholic23 View Post
Buy a puppy !!!!!

This quote isn't as off base as it may sound. First, I wish you the best. I have owned boats since 1986.....sure seems like a long time now, and I have loved almost every minute of boating but your "shoestring" comment concerns me. The worst thing you can do is get something on a budget and then after a few break downs and mishaps, you are not able to sustain boat ownership and you end up out of boating due to affordability. Mechanics at $85 - $125 an hour. Parts expensive. Being handy may or may not be a good thing because boats require different skills than a car mechanic, for example.

Ding a prop? A few hundred dollars
Lose a lower unit? $3000
Wet spot on the deck? Maybe a few hundred or more depending on how bad it is.
Wet transom? Who knows but expect to spend a lot.
Chartplotter craps out? $800 and up.

Not even going to get into the costs of the trailer.

As much as I wish you good luck, I think I wish you would find someone with a boat and become good friends. Boat ownership simply isn't for everyone. And the joy of getting that boat can quickly turn to misery when you realize that you can't realistically afford it.

Good luck either way.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:13 PM
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I can sympathize with the boating on a budget. I have done that for years with 16-19 foot boats. I am amazed at the prices you can pay today for a 23-26 foot boat!

You say you aren't a mechanic, that would make a project engine perhaps somewhat impractical. Good luck with your boat buying. I once bought a boat with a rotten floor and a blown engine (bought it from a "friend" and trusted that the engine was ok.) . Hopefully you can avoid doing that with a little help from a good mechanic and someone who knows a little about boats. Thankfully my son fixed the rotten floor and I was able to get the 115 Johnson outboard rebuilt for 1500 bucks. (this was some years ago).

If you would consider a 26 foot Pontoon I had a great experience with a used Pontoon with a 100 horse outboard. Great boating on a budget. If the weather isn't too bad I would be comfortable in Tampa Bay with a 26 foot pontoon.

Last edited by Lobstercatcher229; 11-06-2018 at 03:30 PM.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:19 PM
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We are going to need a little help with the budget. Some on here that means under $200k, others under $5k. Boating is expensive. Buying the boat is the cheapest part of the experience.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:28 PM
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Welcome aboard. One thing to keep in mind was that nobody was born knowing anything about boats or boating. Everybody started from absolute zero.

The first thing to think about is your budget. I live in MD, near Annapolis, and one observation that I am reminded of pretty frequently is that no matter how good, or bad your boat is, there will always be someone with a better boat or a worse boat.

That said, I would start with something very simple. Maybe a 17-18 foot Key West, or something like that? 18' Parker? Make sure to get a bimini top, to keep the sun off. Maybe something even a little smaller. I can tell you though, a little weight can smooth out the ride quite a bit. If you buy the right starter boat, when the time comes to sell, you can move on without loosing your shirt. Try that for a season or two, and see how you like it. Personally, my preference is for very small boats. For example 15' Hobie power skiff. It's kind of a cult boat.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:31 PM
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You can pick up a 2014-2016 tritoon that will probably handle 75% of what you want to do. The benefits are you get a newer boat that probably won't have many problems, easy to work on, your comfortable handling it and chances are you won't lose too much money on a resale in a couple years if you take care of it. Its all about going out and having fun. Buying something you are comfortable with is probably your best chance of success and upgrading will be an easier process with the family if everybody is happy.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:36 PM
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Boating is a disease with no cure if you like it, they are great at pulling money out of your wallet, ask me how I know
I got a free hull 8 years ago and have over 8K in it, it's now set up how I want it and will soon be repowering to the tune of 12K, yes I'm sick
Is it worth it, no! Is it fun, yes!
Make sure you really like it, remember, it's a disease with no known cure.
Note! I now work on all my son's boat projects and kinda like it!
It's a sickness! Help me
BWP
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:40 PM
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You'll never buy your last boat first. Come up with a realistic budget and take the plunge. Lots of nice used stuff out there, just take your time and keep an open mind.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:44 PM
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I read the title and saw shoestring budget, but then I read the post and now I really don't understand what shoestring budget means to you.
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:45 PM
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Just kidding with ya, good luck buy some thing you can like, and easy to handle, anything you buy will need tlc. Maybe look for outboards, gas inboards always need something and are hard to work on. Good luck
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Old 11-06-2018, 03:57 PM
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Break out another thousand
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Old 11-06-2018, 04:00 PM
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Join a boat club.
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Old 11-06-2018, 04:00 PM
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Thanks for all the quick responses! I guess I didnít include a hard budget for two reasons.

1. I donít have a hard number in mind. It isnít that I canít afford to spend $20k. Itís that Iím new to boat ownership, so Iíd rather dip my toe in the water for $5k. Seems like a lesser risk. The idea would be to own a boat for a while to truly understand what we want, and then upgrade to that. Rather than buy a really nice, newer boat only to discover that the style of boat or the power choice doesnít suit us.

2. Iím looking for advice on the type of Hull, type of power, things to watch out for, etc....not looking for advice on specifically which boat to buy. I can find something in my budget, but there is a big difference between a pontoon and a cruiser and between onboard and outboard.
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Old 11-06-2018, 04:05 PM
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Originally Posted by IronBay View Post
1. I donít have a hard number in mind. It isnít that I canít afford to spend $20k. Itís that Iím new to boat ownership, so Iíd rather dip my toe in the water for $5k. Seems like a lesser risk. The idea would be to own a boat for a while to truly understand what we want, and then upgrade to that. Rather than buy a really nice, newer boat only to discover that the style of boat or the power choice doesnít suit us.
$5k for a 23-26' boat will not get you anything that is in good shape and has a running motor. Even at $20k in that size range, you are looking at a 10-20 year old boat and motor, and best plan on spending at least $5k on average to keep it maintained and running.
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Old 11-06-2018, 04:09 PM
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When I bought my boat, I had a similar thought as you did. I quickly realized that a $5k boat was going to cost me as much as a $20k boat but would have resale of $5k whereas the $20k boat would be worth close to $20 after a year or 2.

Especially in the 23-26 foot range, I would not look in the $5k range unless it's because you love restoring boats. That will be an expensive mistake as you will spending a lot of money making it work for you.

You are better off looking closer to $20k as a purchase price on a boat that you may throw another few thousand $$ at over a year and be able to sell close to $20k.
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Old 11-06-2018, 04:18 PM
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It is all about compromise when your are selecting a boat. No boat will be perfect for everything. Some run better in rough water, some drift better, fuel economy versus 70 MPH. Buy something that will fit 75 percent of your needs. Make a list of must have, and activities that will be done the most. Than the type of boat will come into focus. Good luck....as others have said....the buying is the easy part, the cost of ownership needs to be considered.
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Old 11-06-2018, 04:27 PM
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You ABSOLUTELY MUST get either SeaTow or Towboat US. It's not an option. A relatively simple tow on your broken down low-budget boat can easily cost you $800 out of pocket without tow insurance. It isn't like the old days on a local lake. You aren't going to easily be able to flag someone down for a tow across the bay.
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Old 11-06-2018, 04:32 PM
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Not trying to take the wind out of your sails but $5k will at best buy an average condition solid entry tier 15'-16' skiff with a few years and something along the line of a 50-60hp motor that you would likely be able to enjoy relatively soon after your purchase, probably needing some elbow grease, cleaning, minor repairs and updating to make it exactly how you want it, and you have limited any potential loss to an acceptable amount. A word of caution and I'm going to guess many will agree; dont get sucked into the old "it's a great boat that would be worth 4 or 5 times what I'm selling it to you for if (insert problem here) was fixed...." you can find lots of those type of project boats that have been sitting in someone's backyard for years and never once hit water, and most probably if you go that route you will have three outcomes: A, it will sit in your yard for years and never touch water before completely crushing your boating dreams and you sell it the next dreamer, B, you will hemorrhage money into it trying to get it right and end up with a so-so boat that if you had just used that money you spent on it you could have bought a much nicer turn-key boat from the get go, or C, you will spend ridiculous amounts of money and time completely going through it to make it brand new, use it for a while after the divorce and your children are being raised by someone else and then decide it just isnt big enough or what you want and find out you cant get a fraction of what you have in it and youre completely crushed again. Start small, limit losses and choose wisely. See how it goes and size up as the insanity progresses.
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