Why are new boats so expensive?

Published on December 16th, 2021

The pursuit of improvement may enhance the sailing experience, but at what cost? Here’s the view of Don Finkle from RCR Yachts which has been serving the boating community since 1972:

We hear this question often – Why are new boats so expensive? You could say the same thing about new vehicles and plenty of other capital items. There are various reasons, but among the more impactful is the level of equipment and specifications that boaters of today expect and demand.

My wife found an old photo of me at the helm of my parents’ HR28 cruising sailboat and had it framed for my most recent birthday. It was taken in the summer of 1968 after my junior year in college. Marinus III was by far my family’s largest boat to that point and we thought it was huge and wonderful.

I look at that photo often and it reminds me of the point we are making here. Here is a partial list of what Marinus III did NOT have that a similar sized cruising sailboat would be expected to have if we were selling it today:

Inboard diesel engine, wheel steering, self-tailing winches, propane stove, hot and cold pressure water, refrigeration, 110v shore power, double lifelines with gates and stern pulpit, opening ports, electric anchor windlass, stereo, VHF radio, knotmeter, depth sounder and usually wind speed and direction, GPS/chartplotter, autopilot, low stretch running rigging, internal halyards, typically in-mast mainsail furling, modern sailcloth, Genoa roller furling, geared folding propeller, multiple batteries with charger, electric head, shower, and more.

If we are talking about a powerboat the same idea would hold true; it is hard to sell a boat without the bells, whistles, and comfort features people want.

Of course, there are other factors involved such as cost of labor and materials, inflation, and more expensive equipment, transportation, but from the list above you can see that we are not comparing apples to apples when looking at the cost of then and now. This is obvious when you look at an older boat side by side with a new one.

Another key factor is the change in design over the years. Today’s boats are larger for their length as the waterline, beam, freeboard and other specs have grown to accommodate demand for more space and comfort.

While the above example is for a cruising boat, the same holds true, if not more so, for racers. Higher tech construction, new hull and deck materials, carbon fiber mast, booms and sprits, various core materials, high tech standing and running rigging, resin infusion all add to increased performance but at increased cost. Add on the typical electronics suite of today and the cost of high-tech sail inventory and the price goes up.

Another significant factor is production volume. Boats used to be built in higher numbers, and the more you build the less expensive each copy becomes.

Offsetting the cost is the fact new boats today offer more in almost every regard. Builders build what customers want to buy, so the products of today reflect the desires of today’s boaters. Those that do not adapt to changing customer preference don’t last very long. The list of those no longer in business is extensive.

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