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Why Are Boats So Expensive?

Anyone who has ever thought of buying a boat has experienced the inevitable sharp intake of breath when they first see the price tag. There is no getting away from the fact that boats are expensive – both to buy and to maintain. But is the cost justifiable? What exactly are you getting for your money?


Many factors influence the cost of owning a boat. It begins with the purchase cost, whether new or used, and continues on to the upkeep, where maintenance, birthing or storage fees, fuel, and insurance can add up. For a more in-depth look at the costs involved in keeping a boat take a look at our article on The Cost of Boating: Creating a Budget. Here, however, we take a look at the purchase cost of boats, and answer the age-old question: Why are boats so expensive? sad


Supply and Demand

The comparison with cars often arises when discussing why boats are so expensive. Even a top of the range luxury automobile is pocket change when compared to a boat of a comparable specification. Yet the difference lies in supply and demand. A car has become a necessity in our modern world, while a boat is still very much a luxury. While some of the world’s top boat builders - Sunseeker, Bayliner, Fairline, Princess, Azimut, Beneteau and others - have waiting lists, ultimately they do not sell the same numbers of boats as car manufacturers do and therefore need larger profit margins to make the business viable. 

Many people choose to hire boats for holidays or weekends rather than head down the path of ownership – a fact that is especially relevant to those who don’t live near the sea or large bodies of water – and that too affects the supply and demand of new boats being built and sold. When manufacturers can’t lower their costs through high-volume efficiency, it drives the price of each boat sold higher. 


Manufacturing Costs

The cost of actually building a boat is ultimately the main reason for their high price tags. Unlike cars, whose manufacturing process is now almost wholly automated, boats have to be built mostly by hand. Vast shipyards are required, where often just a handful of boats can be built over the course of several months. Their sheer size and complexity means that skilled labour is intensive and therefore costly, but also that there are few ways to lower those costs. Cumbersome hulls cannot be moved around, and so building them in countries where labour is cheaper and shipping them to Europe or the United States, for example, is impossible. 

Enormous facilities are required to build boats, all of which have to meet stringent safety and environmental regulations. The materials designed to withstand the rigors of life at sea are expensive in themselves, whether it’s teak decks or innovative fiberglass hulls. Research and design play a big part too, and the marine industry is constantly evolving, with engineering innovation creating bigger, better, more comfortable, seaworthy boats. 

If you consider a boat from its very shell to its final touches, it is overwhelmingly complex. The hull itself is a goliath undertaking, where the mould needs the application of fiberglass resin, gel coat, foam, and various other patented materials. It is labour intensive, with holes needing to be cut by hand, as well as sanding, finishing and assembling it with the superstructure. 

Once the hull is complete, the boat is fitted out with everything from electrics to interior design, lighting, and fixtures, galleys, gauges, navigational instruments, bilges, pumps, sails. The list can be endless, depending on a client’s specification and requirements, all of which come after the basic necessities. And all of which have to comply with very strict safety regulations. 



Second, the manufacturing costs are the price of installing a boat’s engine. The horsepower behind a boat, whether it’s a slow-moving riverboat, a powerful RIB, or a racy day cruiser, has a huge effect on the end price tag. The latest modern engines which are quieter, have lower emissions, are more fuel-efficient and have more torque, are innovations that come at a cost. The days of noisy, diesel-chugging engines may soon be behind us, and this level of research and development – something which even in the fast-moving car industry is still in its infancy – is costly. 


Research and Development

This factor has already cropped up a couple of times, but the cost of research and development deserves an explanation in its own right. In today’s modern, technologically-advanced world, computer simulations, 3D modelling and specialized software play an enormous role in making the boats that we see on the water today the most advanced there has ever been. Trial and error methods are a thing of the past, replaced by precision boat building planned to perfection with state-of-the-art technology. 

Boat plane quicker and more smoothly than ever before, runabouts can now create the perfect water skiing wake, a bowrider can skim the surface with unparalleled comfort, and multi-hull vessels offer stability in even the biggest seas. All thanks to technology. But there’s on-board technology to consider too, with computerized ballast systems, advanced navigational equipment, gyroscope stabilisation systems, and on-board entertainment all factoring into that overall final number. 


Fittings and Extras

As with many industries, there are high-end and low-end boats, and the cost will reflect the finish, style, and size. Even the resale value of new boats is taken into account in its initial purchase price – boats from manufacturers with reputations for quality and safety will reflect in their purchase price. It is obvious that a larger yacht will cost more than a small fishing boat, however, boats of the same model can vary hugely in price depending on the finishes chosen or whether they are limited edition versions, have luxury finishes, upgraded features like additional seating, or customized interiors. Take the hugely popular 10-metre Jeanneau Merry Fisher, for example. The Jeanneau Merry Fisher 1095 version retails new for around £172,750, while the same specification Jeanneau Merry Fisher 1095 FLY, with its additional flybridge, is in Italy for €215,000. 

A Luxury Lifestyle

We’ve looked at the figures that are tangible and can be calculated into the overall cost of producing a boat. But then there’s the value that is not easily calculated, yet one which impacts the cost in many ways: the luxury effect. Non-working boats are undeniably a luxury, something we take enjoyment in, make memories with our families in, soak up ‘me’ time in, and explore the world in. From a Jon boat to a superyacht, and everything in between, a boat is to its owner a slice of luxury, and that luxury, like all others, has a price. It is perhaps this which answers the question ‘What do I get for my money?’ far better than the sum of material parts. It is hard to put a price on adventure and relaxation, enjoyment and special memories. And ultimately, that’s why we’re drawn to the sea and the boating lifestyle.

For a vast selection of the best-priced new and used boats from the world’s top manufacturers visit Rightboat.com for thousands of choices to suit all budgets.


See also:

The Most Expensive Yachts

8 of the Best Runabouts


Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

Get in touch:Linkedin

More from: Samantha Wilson

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