This in itself is a loaded question. Many factors go into boat ownership such as type of use, amount of free time, and budget. Owning a boat initially sounds like a great idea, which for many it is. But some find a different truth after they have made the leap unprepared and are left broke with a headache.
The first question you want to ask is, “will I actually use it?” A brutal truth that many new boat owners find is that your friends are not as passionate about the activity as you. Many of us have found that those that say they want to come, and those that actually do, are dramatically different numbers. This means it is important to make sure you have a social group that is consistently available and as eager as you to get out on the water. There are many jokes and memes out there about “finding a 3rd” for a reason. So how much is enough to justify ownership? That is entirely up to you! But most would say you should aim to get your boat out every week or two during boating season to justify owning it, hopefully a lot more! Many locations only allow for a several month period of boatable waters, this makes ownership a bit more challenging.
Another thing to think about is what kind of a boat should you buy? If you see yourself spending the vast majority of your time on the water either wakesurfing or wakeboarding then a wake boat is for you. If you see yourself mostly relaxing with friends, pulling a tuber, and the occasional novice wakeboarder, than a much cheaper multi-purpose boat would certainly fit your needs. It is important to honestly evaluate your needs before buying the wrong boat and suffering from boat envy that so many have had before or spend over $100,000 on something you don’t need.
The cost is the largest thing that many do not anticipate. We will keep this part to strictly wake boats to not overcomplicate things. Many think about simply the cost of the boat and a couple boards plus some gas to have a good time. Those things are just the tip of the iceberg. Many hidden costs such as insurance, maintenance, storage, and more gas are things to account for. Wakeboats burn anywhere from 6 to 8 gallon of gas per engine hour. You may get lucky and have some trips where your crew offsets that cost, but the vast majority of the time you are left paying for a chuck of your friends ride time. Your friends are also not paying for the expensive and labor intensive fluid changes, impeller replacements, and all the other maintenance that comes along with the boat.
To ensure a good time, you often need to have multiple boards for the crew. These can range anywhere from $400-$1000 each for a quality wakesurf board. A good wakeboard setup can run you 300- 800 plus the cost of extra vets (by law you MUST have a USCGA vest on board per person), ropes, backup prop, towels, and many other items. It adds up very quick. You can find a great amount of items on the used market that will serve you well, but nevertheless it is a lot of extras that you will need.
The cost of Wakeboats has went up almost 50% in the last 5 years. This is due to a vast amount of improvements in the new boat market. What this means is that if you are shopping for a boat, you have to first decide if you are looking for new or used. Some opt for a used boat. By going this route you are letting the previous owner take the hit on depreciation which can be substantial, especially with just a year or two old model. You also have a boat that has been broken in and often do not have to worry about that first scratch. This makes for a little less worry with your new toy. But going this route also means that you will most certainly have some extra maintenance or issues on the horizon. Boats are like cars and around that 500-hour mark (similar to a car at 100k miles) you will need to plan on a little extra time here and there to show some attention. You can minimize this by taking good care of your boat in the time leading up. The unknown is what can really take its toll on you.
Others chose to have “new boat smell” and be the first to launch their new craft. With this, you get the bonus of having the factory warranty behind you for the first 3-5 years (depending on the manufacturer) and you just have to cover maintenance. You also get to have the latest and greatest of the industry and know you will be happy for years to come. The issue here can come when it is time to sell. Boats are no different from cars in that you lose value the second you take it off the lot. The difference is that losing 20% of a $50,000 car, and losing 20% of a $150,000 boat are completely different stories. In order for a dealership to resell that boat you bought if you need to unload it, they have to make money. They must price it competitively below their new stock, which means they pay you less then what they sell it for, usually a lot less. Boat dealerships are not like car lots. They do not move the same amount of volume as your local new car dealership so they usually have higher markups. If you are able to pay cash, than this is not as much of an issue. But the average boat owner has a 10-20 year loan on their boat which means minimal principle reduction in those first couple years, which could sting a little if you sell the boat in a short time frame (the first few years).
Owning a boat is fantastic! Not many other places can you be as social and have as much fun while also being healthy and fit in outdoors. It also makes you part of a great culture! You have the opportunity to make memories for years to come and experience the freedom of the water. Just make sure that before backing down the ramp, that you have done your homework and have made a move that suits your needs both long and short term. Happy boating!