Boating is a relaxing and rewarding hobby, but with so many types of boats to choose from, it can be intimidating to newcomers. Fortunately, with a bit of research, and some time to experiment with different hobbies, you can find the perfect boat for your lifestyle.

Where to Look for Boats

First, you should know where to look for boats. Even before you start considering what you want, it’s a good idea to look at the types of boats that are available to buyers like you. Once you see what’s available, you’ll have a clearer picture of different types of boats, which you can bear in mind when making your decision.

You can start by looking for a boat online. Browse through some of the most popular models in each of several different categories. Do any of these look like they fit your personality? Do some of them deviate from your mental picture of what a boat should be?

You should also consider attending a boat show in your area. They’re great opportunities to see various vessels in person, and tour them to get a sense of their physical space. You can also find good deals and negotiate prices at boat shows, but oftentimes, you’re still better off making a purchase online.

Setting a Budget

Before you get too far in the research phase, you should take the time to analyze your personal finances and set an upper limit for your boat budget. Many boating newcomers end up overextending themselves, buying a bigger or more robust boat than they truly need—and their finances suffer as a result.

You can get a reasonable boat for $50,000 or less—and if you look for used options, you may be able to find a boat for even lower. With a good loan, this can be realistically affordable for a wide range of people.

However, you’ll also want to consider the other expenses associated with boat ownership, like:

• You’ll have to regularly inspect, clean, and repair your vessel.

• In some areas, insurance is a requirement. In others, it’s just nice to have.

• You’ll have to pay to keep your engine running.

• Docking and other fees. You’ll need somewhere to anchor your boat when you aren’t using it, and you may face other fees as well.

• Long-term storage. Where will you keep your boat during winter months? Storage fees can rack up quickly.

With a clear picture of your budget, you’ll be able to eliminate some boat options immediately.

Why Do You Want a Boat?

If you’re not sure what type of boat you want, consider your motivation for owning a boat in the first place. These are some of the most common motivating factors:

• Do you dream of heading out on the water to be alone with your thoughts? Do you love the idea of peace and quiet, with a relaxing afternoon of fishing? If so, you can make do with a small, simple vessel with few embellishments.

• Are you more interested in using the boat as a conduit for social interaction? Do you want to go out on the water with a bunch of your friends and family members? If so, you’ll want a bigger vessel—and possibly, one with lots of luxury features.

• Some people want a boat so they can go on an adventure. If this is the case, you’ll want a boat that can easily navigate between islands, and one that’s easy to pilot.

• Do you love the idea of hitting high top speeds on the open water, or water skiing for fun? A speed boat is probably right for you.

Factors to Consider

There are dozens of small factors to consider when purchasing a boat, but these are some of the most important headliners to keep in mind:

• Optimization for hobbies. Is this boat able to support all the hobbies and activities you’re hoping to pursue? If you’re not sure what you’re interested in yet, you might consider experimenting with different activities before getting further.

• How big of a boat do you really need? Err on the side of caution here; many people end up with a bigger boat than they can reasonably maintain or afford.

• While it’s tempting to get a brand-new boat, you can often find a much better deal on a used vessel—and many of them operate as well as a new boat.

If you’re still not sure what type of boat is right for your lifestyle, consider reaching out to someone with more experience buying and owning boats. They may be able to help guide you to the right type of vessel for your goals and personality.