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A guide to buying your first boat

18 July 2022

A guide to buying your first boat

So, you’ve finally decided to bid adieu to life as a landlubber and become a captain on the high seas. Good choice. Welcome to the world of boats!

Shortly, you’ll be catching a feed with the family, wakeboarding with your mates or maybe even hoisting a few sails. But before you part with your hard-earned money and hit the water, there are a few things to keep in mind. So you don’t have to stress too much, The Captain has put together this helpful guide to lead you through each step in buying your first boat.

What floats your boat?

Step one for buying your first boat is simple — choose your ride. So what kind of boating do you want to do? Will you be cruising, fishing, sailing, wakeboarding, waterskiing or hunting for sunken treasure? Next, think about how many people you plan on taking out and what size boat you’ll need. Do you plan on taking it offshore? Do you want a monohull or a multihull? Fibreglass or aluminium? Inboard or outboard engine?

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Top tips

Tinnies tend to be lighter, which is great for towing and means you can also get a bigger boat. They are also very durable when running up on the beach or riverbank. However, tinnies can be noisier and don’t usually have the same ride quality as fibreglass boats. They also can suffer electrolysis if not properly maintained.

Fibreglass or GRP (glass reinforced plastic) boats tend to ride softer and faster due to their smoother lines and relative heavy weight. However, that weight comes at a cost. It’ll take more more horsepower to push through the water, and a glass finish isn’t as rugged as alloy and can chip and fade if not looked after properly.

Multihull vessels such as catamarans have relatively more floorspace than monohulls, and tend to be more stable, which is why you see them in sea rescue applications. On the downside, they can be heavy and often require multiple engines, increasing running costs.

Outboard engines are popular because they allow the lower unit of the motor to be kept clear of the water for trailering or when not in use. They also allow more cockpit space within the vessel.

There’s no single answer, as it all comes down to personal preference and how you plan on using the boat. If you’re still unsure about what type of boat you want to get, a good idea is to head to a boat show where you’ll be able to jump aboard everything from a tinnie to a super yacht. You’ll also be able to talk to people in the industry and pester them with any questions you might have.

This list of different boat types will help get the inspiration flowing:

  • Dinghy — a good way of getting to the mothership
  • Tinnie — everyone should do their unofficial apprenticeship in these hardy gems
  • Side console — an alternative to the console
  • Centre console — 360-degree fishability and visibility
  • Centre cab — a compromise between cabin space and walk-around
  • Runabout — a classic allrounder
  • Bowrider — room for the kids up front
  • Wake boat — if you’re seriously into water sports, specifically wakeboarding
  • Ski boat — family fun awaits
  • Race boat — strap in for high-octane action
  • Bass boat — a low-profile boat to stalk fish
  • Hardtop — keep the weather out and the family warm
  • Flybridge — the ideal spot to view the game-fishing action
  • Yacht — sail away, no fuel tickets required
  • Pontoon — inshore party animal
  • Catamaran — stability and efficiency
  • Motor yacht — take your home with you
  • Super motor yacht — take your mansion with you

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New Vs Second-hand

Once you’ve picked the style of boat to purchase, it’s time to decide on a budget — and whether you’re going to go new or second-hand. In most cases, a boat will immediately lose value the moment it sails off the showroom floor. In the long run, this can be a small price to pay compared to buying a second-hand boat that has serious issues. When buying new from a boat dealer, the BMT (boat, motor and trailer) will come with warranties, you’ll get a full rundown on how everything works in the handover and you’ll always have someone to call if you’ve got any questions or problems.

But if you’ve got a bit of experience with boats and are a bit handy on the tools, then you can score a gem second-hand. To help identify potential problems, you can hire a shipwright (a person who knows about boat construction). A good shipwright will be able to tell you whether the boat’s hull is in good shape, if there are any potential issues with the stringers/transom and if any repairs are needed.

If you do decide to buy second-hand, ask the owner to supply the boat’s HIN (hull identification number) so you can check the online database to make sure it’s (a) owned by the seller, and (b) no finance companies have a claim to it. Like a second-hand car purchase, you should always ask to see the motor’s service history and receipts for any work allegedly done. Additionally, make sure the boat is registered to the relevant state authority and that the seller has the transfer papers ready to sign over to you. Remember before you set sail, make sure you're covered both on and off the water.

Time to get wet

With the boring due diligence out of the way, it’s time to have some fun. A crucial part of buying a boat is the sea trial — just like test-driving a car. Obviously, a boat test is a little more involved, so only ask the owner or dealer to take you for a sea trial if you’re very serious about the purchase. Along with getting a feel for the boat, this is also a good time to make sure everything works as stated by the seller. Ensure all the electronics and pumps are operational and that the motor starts easily. If the boat is designed for offshore use, take it into some swell to make sure it performs correctly, as even a poorly designed boat will run nicely on flat water. Drive the boat slow and drive it fast; drive it into the sea and down the sea. After 20 minutes, you should have a fair idea how the hull performs in the water and how well the motor runs. The sea trial is also a great opportunity to get the seller to give you a rundown on the boat’s systems and features.

Don't rush

Buying a boat requires patience and research. It’s important not to rush into a purchase or make one based on impulse. Many things can lead you astray when shopping for a boat — it may be tempting to buy something because someone else will beat you to it or the price seems right. But it's best to take some time before making the big decision — and only pull the trigger on the purchase when all your ducks are in a row. It’s also smart to keep in mind that boats are expensive toys, even after the initial purchase. Factor in ongoing wallet-busters such as storage/berthing/mooring costs, regular maintenance, fuel, registration and insurance.

See you on the water

Now that you’ve got the basics of buying a boat down pat, it’s time to take the plunge. You’ve got this. And NRMA Insurance has got you.  NRMA Boat Insurance includes cover for accidental damage on or off the water, up to your agreed value.


Boat Insurance
Buying a boat
First Boat
Jack Murphy
The Captain
New boat
Second Hand Boat
Boat Ownership