Guide to Boat Financing

View of a marina full of boats on a calm morning

raevas / 191285276 / Shutterstock 

Unless we are talking about a kayak, boat ownership is not exactly known for its affordability. If you dream of owning a superyacht, or even just a modest sailboat or pontoon boat, how much is it going to cost you—and how expensive a boat can you afford?

You will probably need to get a boat loan unless you are planning on paying the full price of a boat out of pocket. Financing a boat is a process similar to getting any other type of loan, and can be broken down by answering a few simple questions.

How Expensive a Boat Can I Afford?

Unless you plan on living in a houseboat year-round, a boat is a luxury or leisure item, not a necessity. As such, you need to set realistic expectations of how much you can afford to pay month to month, and how much you have to set as a down payment. Considering that you’ll also have to account for moorage, maintenance, and fuel costs, definitely give yourself some padding in your budget.

How Big a Down Payment Do I Need for a Boat?

Unlike a home, the percentage you can expect to be asked to put down largely depends not only on your creditworthiness but also on the cost of the boat itself.

If you are purchasing a boat for less than $150,000, you will probably need to make a 10% down payment. If you’re looking at a fancy boat that costs up to $250,000, you will need to put down 15%. For a yacht or a houseboat that costs up to $500,000, expect to put down 20%.


Of course, if you are deemed a risky investment by a financial agency, you’ll need to put more money down (and a higher percentage) than you would otherwise.

How Much Can I Borrow for a Boat?

It depends on your debt-to-income ratio, which you can find by dividing the total of all of your monthly debt payments (e.g., mortgage, school loans, credit cards) by your monthly pre-tax income. For example, if you have a $250 monthly student loan payment and an $800 monthly mortgage payment, and you make $4,000 a month pre-tax, your debt-to-income ratio is 26.25%.

If your debt-to-income ratio is higher than 40%, then you probably won’t qualify for a boat loan and should focus on paying down your current bills before trying to finance such a significant purchase.


Ideally, even with the boat, you should try and keep your debt-to-income ratio at or below 43%. In the above scenario, that means you could afford about $670 a month in boat loan payments.

Do I Need Good Credit? What Will Be My Interest Rate?

Applying for a boat loan with bad credit is a major red flag: Why are you trying to make a big luxury purchase, a lender would wonder, when you can’t even handle your finances? And even if you do find a lender, it’s still not a great idea.

Assuming you do have good credit, you can probably expect to find an interest rate around 3.4% to 8% for a 12- to 20-year boat loan.

Where Can I Find a Boat Loan?

Your best bet is to check with your financial institution. Not only will it be a more natural process in terms of hunting, but you might save yourself some unnecessary paperwork, too. If your current bank or credit union doesn’t offer boat loans, ask other boat owners you know rather than merely searching yourself, and at the very least, choose a reputable financial institution. Boat sellers may also offer loans, although in some instances, the terms may be less advantageous than those you’d receive at a bank.

How and When Should I Look for a Boat Loan?

You should look for a boat loan after you figure out what you can afford and before you look for a boat. Getting pre-approved for a loan will help ensure that you realistically only shop for boats in your price range. Just remember that the amount you’re approved for is a ceiling, not a floor.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. House of Representatives. "Interest."


  2. IBISWorld. "Industry Report 44122c Boat Dealership and Repair in the US." Page 4.

  3. National Marine Lenders Association. "2017 Annual Report Executive Summary." Page 8.

  4. BoatU.S. "Boat Buyers Toolbox." Page 10.

  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "What Is a Debt-to-Income Ratio? Why Is the 43% Debt-to-Income Ratio Important?"

  6. National Marine Lenders Association. "Things To Consider Before You Shop for a Boat." Page 2.

  7. Office of Comptroller of the Currency. "Installment Lending." Page 2.

  8. National Marine Lenders Association. "Boat Loan Basics."

  9. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Get a Prequalification or Preapproval Letter." Accessed Oct. 7, 2019.

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