Buying a boat

How to avoid a sinking dream

Pennsylvania may be landlocked, but we have a deep connection with the water. With over 85,000 miles of waterways and 700,000 acres of impoundments, every citizen is within minutes of a favorite retreat. So it is no surprise that each year, thousands decide to buy their own boat. For most, this is the pinnacle of a long-held dream. For others, it is the beginning of a nightmare. Let’s look at some tips to help you avoid falling into the latter group.


One of the first mistakes boat owners would make is buying their dream boat rather than the boat they need. You’ve probably heard this advice before — when purchasing a vehicle or house — but it is a little different with a boat. When buying more ships than you need, the problem isn’t just inflated payments; it’s about using the boat on your favorite water. It may be too big, fast, or flashy, and you may find it unsuited for fishing on your favorite lake or stream.

Remember to take into account your tow vehicle. Unless you keep your boat at a full-service marina, you must trailer and tow it at some point during the season. You want to ensure you have a vehicle capable of safely towing the boat you purchase.


As with any purchase, you want to shop around. This will not only help you secure the best price but also allow you to compare different models and determine which will meet your needs.

Marinas, trade shows, and dealers are obvious choices when looking for your first boat, but there are other options. Online market sites, yard sales, and even someone’s front yard are perfect for finding great deals on used boats. It would help to be careful with online purchases to avoid getting ripped off.


Have you heard the phrase “too good to be true”? These should be the words you live by regarding deals on boats. If the price is too reasonable to be accurate, there will be problems. Sometimes, this might mean damage or mechanical issues, but even more troublesome is missing documents.

In Pennsylvania, all boats more significant than 14 feet, powered by a motor, and built after 1997 must be titled. Many other ships have been voluntarily titled or titled due to land requirements. Once a boat has been titled, it must remain titled, meaning every subsequent owner must transfer and maintain a valid title.

When a boat is sold, the owner must legally provide the title to the buyer. With this title, you can obtain registration or legally sell the ship. While it is not impossible to get a title after the fact, it is intentionally tricky — this is to protect owners from fraud and theft.

No title is one reason boats are sold far below market value. If the ship you want to purchase does not have a title, you should contact the Fish & Boat Commission to determine precisely what will be required to register and legally transfer the boat into your name.


Taking your potential boat for a test drive is the best way to ensure everything functions as needed. If a test drive is impossible, you should see the engine(s) running, check all electronics, and thoroughly inspect all cables, wiring and accessories. Inspecting the boat by a licensed mechanic or surveyor may be required if you are financing the purchase.


Regardless of your experience level, every boater can benefit from formal boating education. Pennsylvania regulations require all boaters born after Jan. 1, 1982, when operating any boat more significant than 25 horsepower, first to obtain a Boating Safety Certificate. Anyone operating a PWC, regardless of age, will also need a Boating Safety Certificate.

A Boating Safety Certificate can be obtained via in-person classroom instruction or online training. Additional information can be found on the Commission website.


Buying your boat is only the beginning of your journey. Keeping your boat running and on the water will require continued investment, which many first-time owners overlook. Besides fuel and routine maintenance, you must also consider docking fees, winterization, storage, and insurance costs.


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