In Classic Boating, You Get What You Pay For.


Your options are endless.

Looking for a cool classic boat? Trying to figure out what to buy, and how much to pay? You’re not alone, it’s a bit of the wild wild west out there. One rule of thumb that I have learned…the hard way.. is each boat is unique and a work of art. Each one. You can have two identical models, years, everything, and one can be worth double the other ones. Yes, the Hagerty Price Guide can help, but sometimes stuff is just the same. Lets take a 25 Sportsman for example. I only mention this because its the latest personal one for me. These boats range from $20K -$225K. How does one price one, or buy one? How does one have two and price them against each other? You can start with these questions. Usually the answer is in these.


Stunning Riviera at Katz’s marina – Perfection is a value in the long run.

  1. Who did the restoration? This can be a huge difference. Did Nelson do it? Add a bunch, Katz’s, Same. Lenny in his back yard? Subtract.
  2. Bottom, how was it done and when? Who did it. There are plenty of crappy 5200 bottom jobs out there.

    Engine Chris Craft

    The “Trusty W’ From Van Ness

  3. Who did the engine? Napa? Or VanNess? Huge difference.
  4. Trailer?
  5. Finish, is it clear and crisp? Does it need refreshing.
  6. Interior, did they use real leather or short cut?
  7. Who owned it? History.
  8. Is it correct or been altered?
  9. Does it run? You may be surprised that some folks just don’t check that part. ALWAYS WATER TEST if possible.

    Barn century1

    Barn find, up the mountain in Idaho. Thanks to McCall Boat Co. Yikes thats a haul.

  10. Where is it? Have two identical boats, one out west one out east? Shipping can add into the cost. And sometimes, SOMETIMES. the local climate your in can be somewhat unique to the boat. Take a boat from humid Florida to dry lake Tahoe, and you are gonna see a different boat in a month. . Hey its small, but if you are comparing two boats, location can be part of the choice.
  11. Support. Dealers like Katz’s offer a Warranty. Antique Boat Center has a Water Tested thing, and other reputable dealers like Sierra know there boats and will always add value and give you objective advise you may not even know what to ask.
  12. Make sure it’s the right boat for you. You may save on a runabout, when a utility is really what you use. Be sure you know as much as you can. Go to shows. Try several styles. Not all classic boats are the same. Seems simple, but they are more diverse than boats today.


    This is what its all about!

Hopefully this has helped you with your purchase. It’s very important to us that you are happy and enjoy your Woody Boating. The world needs more of the dreamers, artists and romantics. Woohoo, it’s almost Memorial Day!

12 replies
  1. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    Great advice, unless your like me and are into it for the challenge of “The Save” and love the work of it. If that’s the case, you’ll get a better deal from Lenney. You may even get a pretty good boat for free just cause Lenny’s wife is sick of seeing it in the back yard.

  2. mike s
    mike s says:

    As a buyer, the first thing you should do is hire a surveyor that knows wood boats and vintage engines who will look out for your best interest. There are plenty of “backyard Lennys” doing incredible restorations and many highly advertised restorers turning out a questionable product. Also, consult with people who have been around this hobby for a while and have nothing to gain. You’ll get a more honest opinion since they’re not trying to sell you anything.

  3. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    For me 12 is one of the biggest things to decide. The challenge is that there is the boating we think we are going to do, and the boating we really have the time and money to do. These two worlds can be miles apart. That is why pontoon boats are so popular, they are versatile, low maintenance, and represent the way a lot of people actually boat.

  4. Greg Wallace
    Greg Wallace says:

    I agree with Mike. The best course is a qualified inspection by one with no skin in the game. History and documentation of work done helpful. “Trust but verify” The Shop given credit by seller may have just been the last to paint the bottom. Don’t discount the “Lennys” out there, I know of more than one with a “Antique Boat of the Year” trophy on the mantel. With all due respect to Mr. VanNess, I can name at least two NAPAs to whom even he would pay tribute and I’d venture he can tell you who they are. I don’t envy a newbie entering the woody life but luckily they have help from here and other great interweb venues.

  5. Sean
    Sean says:

    You may “get what you pay for” but, that doesn’t mean you have to pay it all at once to one person. Sure, big name professional restorations give you peace of mind (and maybe a warranty) with a beautiful 100 point result for the show circuit. As a bonus you can name drop just like designer labels on 5th Avenue. However, there’s no substitute for knowing (and learning) what goes into your boat and doing it yourself… step by step or acting as a contractor through the same process. Especially important to learn if you want to use your boat regularly. Further, there are other high quality options for say, engine rebuilding, interior, rigging or finish work other than just the big buck guys. Let’s not pretend this is just about protecting your investment with quality and not adding prestige, elitism and dockside bragging rights.

    As far as buying a boat, I agree, you should buy the one you like and that suits your needs. There are lots to choose from and don’t let anyone tell you a Ditchburn 42′ launch for example, is a better boat than a 20′ Lyman lapstrake utility boat. One may cost more but, they’re Apples and oranges. Likewise, there are other choices of preference that differ in initial cost but, are not necessarily better or worse. Inboard, I/O or outboard comes to mind as does clinker built vs. carvel built. Plywood vs. plank is another, as is the runabout vs. utility question. All good choices with different features and benefits if they suit you. History of any boat is good to have (and fun to research) and factory correct is nice if you like that sort of thing but, there’s nothing wrong with a boat that has changed through it’s life… it’s the boats history!

    So, do you get what you pay for? Yes, that’s the way the world works but, don’t think that a big name attached to a boat makes it a better boat or worth any more or less… it’s just a name.

  6. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I wouldn’t bash the NAPA engine when the “Trusty W” fresh off a big name rebuild has been far from trusty! 😉

    IMHO, this is actually a hobby where you don’t always get what you pay for. You generally will get what you pay for from the reliable venders with good reputations, but a high asking price does not guarantee there are no hidden problems.

  7. Herb Hall
    Herb Hall says:

    At Sierra Boat, I get a lot of people looking at East Coast boats they want to bring to Tahoe. Tahoe is at 6,200′ elevation and is very dry, about 15% humidity on average. The midwest and east coast are much more humid. The result is massive seam movement and cracking when those boats hit Tahoe. For that reason I encourage my buyer to buy boats that are already here. they may pay more up front, but will save in the long run.

    • Ollon
      Ollon says:

      So True. I brought an old childhood boat from Long Island N.Y to Big Bear Lake CA. (Elev. 6900′) I expected some movement but wasn’t worried since it was in rough shape and I was going to restore it anyway. After a month it was literally coming apart at the seams. Still trying to decide whether to restore it or just make a planter or bar out of it.

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