Is Buying And Owning A Classic Boat As Expensive As People Think?

Simple pleasure

Photo Texx

Is this an April Fools Joke? The quick answer a big huge capitol letters NO!  Think we have lost our minds? Read on! Lets start right out with the purchase price. All we gotta say is shop around for a new plastic boat. Lets say a 22 foot boat. Ya.. They start in the $45K area and go as high as your ego needs to go. For the record, a $45K Classic 22 ft boat is a very sweet if not almost new boat with a new bottom. So lets compare those.

barn riv5

19 ft Riviera! A little less than a 22 fter in size, but $45 K will get you a show stopper!

Resale! In three years, your classic boat may actually be worth more, if not around the same if you keep it up. The new boat, even if you wrap it in cellophane and park it in a climate controlled box, Will loose 25% if not more. If you use it, there will be cost of use, about the same as a restored classic boat. Gas about the same, maybe a tad more for a classic boat. So Resale is huge.

Chris Craft Varnish 2

Part of the fun

Maintenance. The word everyone uses to talk themselves out of classic boats. If its a Woody, then you will have a refresh of varnish every couple years. $2-$5K depending on who does it. You get what you pay for. On a classic plastic, its a yearly buff like a new boat. So thats about the same. Engine service, far less on a classic boat, same with electronics and general service. This is all assuming you treat both the same. You can not leave even a new boat outdoors in the sun either if you want your finish to last.

Bob blonde

You always ride with history!

Ego Boating. This is where a classic boat kills anything close to it in plastic for the same price. You get sooooo much more fun for the buck in a classic boat. Pull up in a $45K 22 foot woody next to a $200K anything , and you own the dock. They will find you dock space. Women actually like your classic boat, especially if its a Woody Boat. No not a pun.. TROY! There is a romance with a woody boat, people understand you follow your heart and have passion and something to say. Even if its about Reed and Prince screws. At least you are alive and live life with style. A 45K plastic boat is most likely a pontoon boat. The mini van of the seas! Sold out for the kids did ya! Justify it all you want. Its a friek’n station wagon and you look like the shorts and knee sock dork that you are scared you really are! Own the $200K white milk bottle. Your just an idiot with either too much money or so maxed out on your credit that filling up the tank requires another loan. Either way you may as well wear a banana hammock and smell like High Karate.

New Family

When Its OK To Own A New Boat? – Only if you have a Woody Boat or Classic Plastic Boat. Period. No exceptions. Want a Pontoon boat, buy a small Chris Craft Rocket. Now, of course this all makes owning a new boat more expensive, cause you have to own two.. And of course while your at it, buy another classic boat, cause that Glastron in your neighbors garage is so dam cool for 1,500 bucks you gotta have it. And so it all begins. You now have the disease! Mahoganities! And then and only then, does a classic boat…sssss cost you more!

40 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    I can never tell if you are trying to justify your own addiction or just preaching to the quire?

    Don’t forget once you have a classic you can have a nice piece of art done of you and your nice piece of art.

  2. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    You are way under estimating the depreciation of a new boat, but you are also ignoring the ability to buy a very nice, slightly used modern boat for $10k-$20k.

    On the flip side, you are leaving out the much less expensive smaller wood utility and DIY side of the hobby. A nice enough small wood utility can be had for $10k or less. DIY varnish (every 2-3 years is kept out of the sun) and engine maintenance can average out to only a couple of hundred per year. A 17 Sportsman or a plywood Cavalier is still a very cool wood boat and can be purchased and maintained for less than a well worn Honda Ciivic. A small lapstrake with an outboard is even less.

    Classic glass takes it to a whole ‘nutha level. If you are diligent and patient, you can find a very cool boat for under $1000, sometimes well under, and a couple hundred more of DIY materials can get you a great looking boat for less than the cost of a new lawn mower.

    So for some, $45k may seem like a bargain, but for the average family that is still well out of reach. No need to despair, there are much more affordable options that open the hobby to almost anyone willing to work at it a bit.

  3. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    I’ve long felt that classic boat ownership can be as costly or as reasonable as the owner wants. If you want Concours stuff, be prepared to pay – just like everything else. But, there are many ways to get into classic boats in ways that are cost effective, fun and will provide you with great experiences. I am sure people will post many examples today.

    I think the biggest omission in the minds of many is of course depreciation on the new stuff. When they ask about maintenance or operating costs (of classic boats or anything), folks are not usually referring to depreciation. It’s the biggest single line item cost, but because they don’t write a check people don’t “feel” it. Depreciation on a well purchased and maintained classic should be around zero, or it may even slowly increase. Instead of focusing on the fact that they may not take all the much maintenance when asked, why not start by saying – “Depreciation is zero$!

    M-fine, I don’t think “average” families have every been boaters. No matter what kind of boat they had, a boating family must have had some sort of lifestyle or financial infrastructure to support the use of the boat, which would place them above the “average” level of subsistence wage earning people. It has always been a luxury indulgence of sorts at whatever level and that’s unlikely to change.

    People seem willing to buy boats and RV’s with steep depreciation curves on 20 YEAR PAPER! What the hell are they thinking? And they worry about maintenance costs on a classic? I may be out of touch, but I was astonished the other day when looking at new trucks to find them offered now on 8 year notes. I thought 60 or maybe 72 months was it? The RV/boat/car industry copes with wage stagnation and higher retail pricing simply by lengthening the amortization of the loans which underwrite the foisting of this upside down silliness on consumers. Why can’t people finance a non-depreciating classic boat with long notes, if this is what it takes to create the illusion of affordability? A classic boat, car or similar thing can be viewed as an asset, not a liability, which is what new stuff with 20 year paper is. I fear many who use these means to get into a new whatever don’t know the difference.

  4. Kevin F
    Kevin F says:

    I have this discussion with people all the time; and it all “depends”. I have owned both fiberglass and wood, but I tend to do keep costs low. As an example, I buy either fully depreciated fiberglass, or one that is such a deal I make money after a year of use. So in the aggregate, I have made money on my (5) fiberglass boats even after upkeep; barely.

    My U-22? At this point I could sell it and make a profit after almost 25 years of ownership (although not if I take into account opportunity cost of the initial investment). I do have to drop a bunch of money into her though over the next few years to refresh her.

    Maintenance? About the same if one does the work themselves and wax and buff the fiberglass boat every year, like I varnish every year. The wood boat bottom painting is more of a pain though, since the trailer is in the way.

    The big difference is that that I don’t HAVE to wax the fiberglass boat. I can leave it in the sun all year, subject to the ravages of nature. I don’t have to WORRY either. Huge storm? The people will give up before the boat will; in the woody, life jackets with strobe lights, radio, and whistle are always close at hand (just in case 🙂 ). I always check on the woody, and when on vacation, I have others do it for me. Fiberglass? Hey, its insured.

    For me, it is not too expensive compared to my other boats. And it is ALWAYS worth the work when I am using it with all those great sounds, smells, and the feel of wood.

    I am now only boating in wood; I do need a bigger boat for sleeping, cooking, etc, again, so a classic glass cruiser in the future.

  5. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    OMG, you have put me in that sick demographic. Two woodies and a minivan floating at my dock. I will wear my skippers hat and knee sox to make sure I have on the proper attire!
    Good story with some great talking points today!

  6. m-fine
    m-fine says:


    There are plenty of average working class families that own boats. Maybe an aluminum fishing boat, or a moderately worn bow rider, or sometimes something a an 80’s Fountain. With cheap boats on Craigslist and many public launches, boating is no less accessible than a used motorcycle or snowmobile. On a warm summer weekend, they get so thick in certain areas around here you could practically walk across the water by hopping from boat to boat.

  7. Matt
    Matt says:

    Dang it! That image was an older image and potential poster. I forgot I even put those captions on them so they were not right. And now I have to leave them so people understand the comments. Oh how this all gets so complicated.

    • Dave Nau
      Dave Nau says:

      Several comments.

      First. It might be just me, but looking at the lead off photo, the new Chris-Craft Carina looks almost as wide as a pontoon boat. What happened to boats that are narrow enough to fit in a garage or boathouse? Just because a boat can be 8′ 6″ before needing a special permit for trailering does not mean it has to be. Which is also why I don’t like owning a pontoon boat. If you need to take out a dozen people, you don’t buy it, you rent it.

      Second, while wood is great, I find that maintaining a classic outboard fiberglass boat in great condition costs next to nothing. If trailered, you never have to do bottom paint. Once buffed out, a quick spray wax job is all you need to keep it looking great, as long as you cover it and keep in the garage when not in use. If the motor dies beyond reasonable repair, there are old replacement outboard motors everywhere, parts are still available if you stick with Johnson, Evinrude or Mercury, and a replacement outboard motor is much less than a complete rebuild of any inboard motor. The fiberglass boat is also often
      a lot less expensive to buy initially and then insure, for equivalent condition.

      Lastly, the key to having a reasonable maintenance or repair cost for any boat, just like a classic car, is to get one already restored, or once in a while, you can find a really fine original. On that front, fiberglass can be almost expensive for restoration if you have to replace the floor, stringers, transom, interior, and paint it. Which, by the way, is a 5 point deduction if it was originally gel-coated and if judged at an ACBS show that uses the published score-sheets.

      I like original, unrestored fiberglass, and I like the colors of classic glass. The all too common all-white of new boats is really boring. But a nice restored or recently refinished original Lyman is still the most beautiful to me. Just whatever you do, keep any classic boat under the cover of both a shelter and a boat cover when not in use. The year-round sun, wind, rain, and snow is a killer for any boat.

  8. Tim Robinson
    Tim Robinson says:

    It doesn’t matter how good a skier you are as long as you look good in the lift lines. It’s all about the coolness factor.

  9. Verne
    Verne says:

    So, how come you need to re-varnish every one or two years? Does that stuff evaporate in the sunlight? Geeeze, the wax on my car lasts that long…………

    • Troy in ANE
      Troy in ANE says:


      It does wear off in the sun light, but if you do it yourself it is no where near what Matt is putting up for pricing.

  10. Kent B
    Kent B says:

    Everybody thinks two things when they see wood boats: “A lot of work” and “Is that a Chris-Craft”.
    There is more to the classic boating world than Chris-Craft (Or even Century or Lyman).
    Understanding this can lead to some fantastic opportunities.
    Case in point: Plywood boats were once regarded as throw-away craft. But the survivors can be easier to maintain and repair than the solid wood counterparts. And the purchase price anywhere from free to downright cheap.
    Case in point: My 1959 CruisAlong pulled from 35 years storage in a barn and used as a latrine for Raccoons. It was either going to be a bon-fire or a chicken coop. $500 Later ( after convincing the owner that it was not a Chris-Craft) I donned full Haz-Mat gear and shoveled out poop, vermin carcasses and shredded cushions to find to my surprise that she was not in such bad condition. In less than a week the gray 109 was unstuck, the boat cleaned up, and running in the water!

  11. Nautilus
    Nautilus says:

    I don’t understand where the $45,000 figure comes from. I find turn-key mahogany runabouts all the time for way less than half that amount. Some need a little work, some need none. Here’s one I found locally. He’s not giving it away but based on the photos, he’s in the price ballpark and the $25K is his ASKING price, which we all know is nothing more than a starting point for negotiations.

    • floyd r turbo
      floyd r turbo says:

      If you are marketing a boat this guy who is selling that Sportsman has done an excellent video. He could have added shots of the bilge and motor but the editing, lighting, music (on the second version), pans, and production values are excellent quality. Lee Dashiell was the producer, maybe he’s the boat owner. Well done.

  12. Andy C
    Andy C says:

    It does not take a significant amount of money to get into the classic boat lifestyle as long as you are willing to do some of the work yourself and are willing to take a chance. Here is an example: I bought this 1965 Coronado at the Clayton boat auction for $5500 after all premiums. They said that it hasn’t floated or run in a long time. This is what it looked like.

    • Cobourg Kid
      Cobourg Kid says:

      Andy I clearly recall inspecting your wonderful Century at that very same auction and quickly becoming smitten by her sleek lines, ultimately however I decided not to throw in a bid , but only because I wagered that based on her age and Century Boat Co’s “unconventional” flexible hull assembly techniques that she she would surely need a new bottom, and soon, something I had absolutely no desire to finance

      Obviously I was wrong . Looks like you played your hand well and came up all aces on this one! fantastic seeing this sweet vessel out of retirement and happily back on the waves.

  13. Andy C
    Andy C says:

    In under a week I cleaned the boat and checked the oil and put it in the water (has a traditional type bottom so it did need to swell), and by the next weekend after I bought it I was out using it.

  14. jim g
    jim g says:

    What was hard to believe is the most expensive new boat at the Greenville, S.C. was a 23 foot Moomba ski boat. List was 220,000.00 boat show special was around 210,000.00. Average ski boat is in the mid 50,000.00 and up.

    Some of the lakes around here are outlawing the ski boats with the ballast tanks because of the damage they do to the docks and shoreline.

    Plus as others have mentioned is the deprecation. Me personally I would rather buy something thats going to go up then lose a quarter to half its value in the first year.

  15. Kentucky Wonder
    Kentucky Wonder says:

    Trying to see what is in some of the submitted photos. I sure miss the ability to open the photos in another window at their full size……my old eyes need big photos!

  16. Briant
    Briant says:

    I would disagree with Paul, there are thousands of average, middle class families with affordable boats.

    Our 1930 woody, with a new bottom and strong engine, in overall pretty good condition, and complete with actual photos of the boat being built in a Portland warehouse in 1929 (I do not know of many award winning woody boats that have those pics of their actual boat) was purchased by us for only $4500.

    Zoomer has been a major part of our family’s summer time fun since the purchase in 2006.

    And I can tell you that $100 in my house is still a rather large amount of money.

    • Paul H.
      Paul H. says:

      I don’t doubt you disagree, but somehow you accumulated the money to buy the boat, and posses the “infrastructure” to use it – a vehicle to pull it, a place to store it, proximity to water and the flexibility in your family’s schedule to actually use it. After all that, presumably you can afford to maintain and fuel it. All that is great and the commitment to it is nice to see. But the fact is most people in the US, numerically speaking, have little to no discretionary income. Upper middle and above of course do, but few below that threshold could manage it, and that means this is not an “average” person’s activity – it never was.

      It is quite easy to see what income levels constitute these classifications, and what the classification themselves actually mean. The numbers are stark. Certainly when the typical wood boats discussed on this forum were built, they were the near exclusive province of the wealthy, costing double or much more than cars of the period. Boats today are priced similarly, but with 20 year paper, almost anyone can pretend.

      I am glad you are making the effort you are to enjoy your boat, but the competition for scarce discretionary income is fierce and boating probably falls far down the list for most people resident in the shrinking middle to upper middle class pond.

  17. Sean
    Sean says:

    Plywood is still wood. And the popular Greavette Sunflash can be had for a very reasonable number (I currently know of a few available) . I bought mine for $ 6,000. It needed some work… I just did way more than it needed (because I needed it that way). Still, all in, just a tick over $30,000.

    Now, we are not affluent. No cottage, just a trailer and a love of boating. You plan for, accommodate and make time for what you love. And yes, $100 is large here too 🙂

  18. John Baas
    John Baas says:

    Well, coming into the discussion late….all I have to say is that in 2006 I stumbled onto a nice outboard lapstrake 17′ 1959 Woody at a farm auction. Boat, motor and trailer…$380! DIY cosmetics and we’ve won several awards with the Chetek-made boat. A few years later, we found a sweet little Correct Craft Atom Skier inboard for under 3k! Keep your eyes open and they are out there!

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