We just finished two weeks of boat shows in Annapolis, and now it is Fort Lauderdale. Seattle is on the horizon. It is the season to see what is new in boats and equipment, and for many, it is also time to finally buy that boat and get started living the dream. While the current shortage of new boats has created some gaps in an otherwise packed show floor plan, there are lots of boats to see and go aboard. If you don’t mind standing in line, that is. The crowds are record-breaking.

It is also that time of year when I ponder the next boat and my friends and I talk as we all have the itch. They have boats now, but many of these are getting older, needing more repairs and upkeep than they want to deal with. It is part of owning an older boat. One of my friends recently bought a late model Downeast cruiser that he is having a blast with and has not had even a hiccup from the engine or any of its systems, which further highlights the issues and downside of older boats.

For those of us above a certain age, we also wonder how many years we have left for quality time on the water. Over the years I‘ve called it the Magic Decade, as so many of us come to realize we likely have ten years of active boating in front of us, and we need to make sure we are fully mindful of that and not watch them pass by. Let’s savor these golden years, where we can enjoy the wisdom and confidence gained from a lifetime on the water and maybe let someone else change the oil. Others have discussed this natural phase of one’s boating life and the need to acknowledge the ticking clock.

This ten-year window is simply a realistic acceptance that we are not immortal, and that we won’t stay as strong, mentally alert, and fully functioning past a certain age. This awareness is powerful, and if we have our health, and we have the means, we can continue to enjoy life…on our terms.

couple cruising on a boat

The above discussion is the basis for my justification for selling the older boat and looking at a new one, or one that is only a few years old. You want a boat that lets you go cruising, not “cruising” from one yard to the next, fixing or replacing an endless series of broken parts, sensors, or corroded heat exchangers. This mindset has worked very well for many people I have known over the years, my friend being the latest example. Having a new or newer boat is almost a guarantee your boat will be a reliable companion instead of a ball and chain.

I used to do seminars on buying the ideal cruising boat, and even now, my four basic questions remain valid. How many people? Where are you going? For how long? And what’s the budget?
Ah, the budget. How much should I spend on my dream boat? Where is the equation to determine how much of my money I should use to buy that next boat?

I recently ran across a survey done on this subject, and I found it odd that they approached it as a percentage of one’s net worth. I’ve never heard anyone speak in such black and white terms, as if the boat-buying budget is based on calculations on a spreadsheet. While the survey results did not share the portfolio values of those surveyed, it was still interesting to see that the largest number of answers were in the 10-20 percent column. That is, these people spent 10 to 20 percent of their net worth to buy their boat. The next highest number of answers were people who spent over 20 percent of their net worth.

What was not mentioned in this report was whether these numbers were calculated post-purchase, or whether these numbers drove the boat buying process.

Obviously, we must all determine how much we are willing to use of our “net worth” to buy that ideal cruiser. But as a percentage of total net worth would not figure into it in my mind at all, as it doesn’t seem relevant. It is too clinical, too black and white, and unrelated to the world I live in. But maybe that’s just me.

(Below: The 365 Coupe from Nimbus Boats is an easily managed, solid cruising boat, perfect for a couple looking to explore the islands, coast, or waterways.)

nimbus 365 coupe

Whatever that number is, or however each of us arrives at it, this number is only one part of the process. Yes, it will help to create boundaries to keep us from buying something too big, which is a good thing (although the other questions are just as important for the same reason). It also helps one’s broker understand and channel the search in realistic directions. But again, the other three questions also aid in that process.

Obviously, whatever you spend to buy the boat, expect to lose some of that when it is time to sell. That is a fact of life. But take care of the boat, keep it in great shape, and you will be rewarded when you sell it because it will hold its value best. The current crazy market notwithstanding, the financial loss when the boat sells is merely the cost of the adventure. And most will agree it is worth every penny.

Which brings up where I’m at these days. I attended the last cruising event of our yacht club this past weekend, and once again, was reminded of the special moments we experience in boating.

Hearing people talk about their summer cruise to New England, or wherever, everyone had unique stories. Beautiful anchorages, meeting wonderful people, seeing the sites, and dealing with the challenges that come up in so many ways. No one goes cruising who doesn’t wind up with interesting experiences and lasting memories.

There is no other pursuit I can think of that brings such adventure, fun, excitement, fear, fulfillment, and need-to-be-in-the-game than boating and cruising. I heard couples talk about unexpected events around every turn, from whales to logs, good and bad. Some brought challenges that forced them to rise to the occasion. This is not found playing golf or on a river cruise. It is the unpredictability of water, weather, and the many elements of the boats, the people, and the lifestyle. Cruising is unique.

Owning a boat is a healthy release from daily stress and routine, and a great way to unwind, recharge, grow, and stay in life’s game. It can be the foundation of a healthy lifestyle that is balanced and fulfilling. It keeps our passion for travel new and fresh and adds wonderful experience and people to our life's logbook. What price do you put on that?

In the end, these subjective and somewhat intangible benefits are what are important, and you won’t find them on any spreadsheet.


Enjoy these other boating and cruising articles by Bill Parlatore: