Getting a Big Boat- Understanding Size, Function, and Cost

By: Bill Jennings

via Chuttersnap / Unsplash

What true boat lover doesn’t look at a super yacht with a touch of envy? You can just imagine yourself sitting on that aft deck, sipping a Martini. Well, maybe not. Few of us will ever experience ownership of a multimillion-dollar yacht. Instead, our traditional boat ownership route is small boats first, then gradually bigger ones up to the time we stop boating. And we may never own a boat with sleeping accommodations. I believe that most boaters stop short of owning a yacht because they believe they are more difficult to drive and cost a small fortune to own. I’m here to tell you that neither is necessarily true.

For most of us, the key to being a happy yacht owner is to be practical. This is not an oxymoron. My general rule for all boats is to find one that is as small as possible and still perform up to my expectations for comfort and amenities. When it comes to yachts, this translates to between 40 and 55 feet in length, depending on the make and model. Remember that a well-built live-aboard yacht in this size range can easily provide comfort, stability, and cruising range. Other factors depend on personal preferences. For example, when it comes to performance needs, I would select a planning hull. A trawler can offer better fuel economy, but I need to know I can plane my yacht to go faster when I choose to reduce travel time. So, once you have an idea as to the yacht you would like to own, you need to address the two main concerns that prevent people from buying one: handling and cost.

When it comes to handling, I can honestly say I would rather drive a 45’ yacht into a tight moorage than a 20’ sterndrive. Providing you plan ahead; the yacht is easier to drive. It will rotate in its own length by simply moving the throttle/shifters into opposite directions. Approaching a moorage at idle speed, with steering centered, my left hand on one throttle/shifter and my right on the other throttle/shifter, it is surprisingly straight forward to direct a yacht into spaces with only inches to spare. The key to such control is to maintain momentum and anticipate outside factors, such as wind, current, tide and traffic. A tweak on the bow thruster can compensate for small adjustments that may be necessary due to any unexpected movements. Your yacht may even have ‘joystick steering’ which makes driving a yacht so easy that it should be illegal.

Once in open water, navigating and the ‘rules of the road’ are basically the same for all boats and unlike roads, you are not restricted to specific lanes. You can set your own space and pace while becoming familiar with your newly acquired yacht.

What about the perceived higher cost of yacht ownership? You may be surprised to learn that yacht ownership can be as economical as owning a runabout. All you need to do is purchase carefully and take advantage of differing depreciation curves. Let’s say you are considering the purchase of a relatively new boat for the cottage but you would really prefer a yacht that you could keep at a holiday marina. To provide you with a specific example, I looked at some average asking prices for yachts and runabouts being advertised for sale and calculated their cost over two years. A new, 22’ Four Winns runabout is offered at $85,000. After two years, depreciation its value will be around $55,000, for an annual cost of $15,000. There are many used yachts for sale, but I selected a 2001, 41’ Carver yacht, where the owner is asking $129,000. After two years the estimated value of this yacht will be $105,000, for an annual cost of $12,000. Surprised?

I excluded operational costs and insurance in these figures because running costs can vary with personal use and insurance is generally based on the value of your boat. Moorage expenses can be similar for both categories because while mooring a large boat in a marina will cost more than your own dock, a small boat usually carries the additional expense of cottage rental or ownership. It is true that there are more things to break in a yacht, but if you are reasonably handy or willing to learn basic mechanical and electronic maintenance, such costs can be mitigated.

In your yacht selection process, check for a “Yacht Certification Plate.” This certification is provided by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) to confirm that the boat model has been manufactured to meet all ABYC standards of safety, design, and construction. The purchase agreement you sign should be subject to the yacht passing a professional survey that meets with your satisfaction. This will cost between $500 and $1,000 but is strongly recommended. As to sourcing your yacht, there are some great buys to be found on popular boating websites like

Now you know that you can do it, a whole new category of boating awaits. You and your family are ready to explore some magical destinations and enjoy a Martini on the aft deck.