Buying a bass boat can be stressful, especially if it is your first boat. If you have a significant other, the cost is likely to be a significant topic of conversation around the dinner table. So how much will it cost? Well, it depends on a number of factors. We will cover them here to help you get the biggest bang for your buck, and hopefully limit your time in the dog house when you make your purchase.
Should I Buy New or Used?
There are many factors to consider when purchasing, but the most significant is new or used. We will cover that first and separately since it can be the most significant factor in cost. New bass boats have a wide range of prices from around $30,000 for a new 18 ft. Triton to around $85,000 for a 21 foot Ranger with a 250hp motor, both with standard features. Upgrades can increase those prices by thousands. There are many different boat manufacturers with many different options, so it's possible you can find something for less and definitely for more. So, before you decide you are buying an $85,000 bass boat, plus $15,000 in upgrades (and likely a divorce on top of it), let's see what else you should consider.
If you have never owned a bass boat, I would say you should either consider a used boat (hopefully for less than the $30,000 new Triton), or if you would rather a new boat - you may want to consider an 18 foot Triton or similar, with few options and upgrades. New anglers buying bass boats don't know what they don't know just yet. They aren't sure what they like or dislike or even how much they will fish. So, unless you have money to burn, you want to start out as cheap as possible and learn. No article or posting will help you determine the details about what you like or dislike. That only comes with hours on the water. I'm reminded of an angler who was selling his fairly new boat and advertising it as having new live wells... he had never put a fish in it. If you end up being that guy - you don't want to be upside down in an $85,000 bass boat!
One other point to consider on used boats... You always need to be wary of buying someone else's problem. It is not uncommon for people to sell the boats to rid themselves of a problem. Either buy from a trusted dealer or source, or have a trusted mechanic check out the boat.
Brand or Manufacturer
Not all bass boats are the same. Each manufacturer may build their boats differently with different designs, have different accessories, or have brand identification that you are paying for. A 2022 21 foot Triton is about $13,000 cheaper than a 2022 21 foot Ranger. These two manufacturers are both owned by the same parent company now, so many of the accessories and overhead are likely similar, but the Ranger costs more. Some of that cost difference is the Ranger brand. So when you are looking for boats, new or used, understand that there will be price variation from brand to brand. So with that difference, what other factors can impact cost or value?
Other than the cost of the boat itself, the motor is the other primary cost factor. Motor size is also linked to boat size. An 18 foot boat will likely have a 115hp motor or less, so that is significantly less expensive than a 250hp engine. The primary difference here is speed and power. While its possible to travel around 50-55 mph in an 18 foot boat, its significantly less than 70-75 mph that you can run in a 250hp boat. If you are just starting out, this is likely not an issue for you. This typically only becomes and issue for serious tournament fishermen who depend on maximizing fishing time - and sometimes arriving a few minutes quicker can make the difference in paycheck. If you are into tournament fishing, you already know that this is your most significant consideration in price.
Boat length is linked to engine horsepower. A larger boat takes more horsepower to move through the water. 21 foot boats today generally have 250hp engines, but 300hp is available also at about a $5,000 price increase. If you don't need 250hp, the other primary consideration on length is ride comfort. With a 17-18 foot boat, the boat is much lighter and shorter which can cause a much rougher ride, especially when the water has chop on it. For me, upgrading to an 19 foot boat made the ride much more comfortable. Likewise, if I were to upgrade to a larger 20-21 foot boat, the ride would be that much more comfortable, especially when conditions are rough. The distance from bow to stern can make the difference, if your bow isn't crashing into every wave. A longer boat is much more likely to ride over the waves, instead of crashing into them.
The sky is the limit when it comes to electronics and accessories. From fish finders to trolling motors to power poles, it would be easy to spend $15,000 - $20,000 in accessories if you were buying them for a new boat. If you are just starting out, I would recommend that you get a fish finder for your console and one for your bow. I would keep the cost of each unit around $500, if possible. Since you can spend thousands on each unit, you will want to see what you like before upgrading (unless a nice unit comes with the boat). With trolling motors, there is also a wide variety of motors and prices. Usually, any boat you are buying will come with a trolling motor. Assuming that it is operational, I would hold off on spending money upgrading until you have gotten use to the one on the boat. Lastly, as far as power poles, unless you are a seasoned angler who will depend on these for shallow water or bed fishing, do not waste your money. I see many anglers who only ever use their power poles as anchors at the dock. That's one expensive boat anchor!
As you learn or advance as an angler, I would first spend money on upgrading my fish finding capabilities. While the considerations on this topic are vast, you want to make sure that you have down imaging and side imaging if you don't have it. This will allow you to start to see things that may not have been visible to you if you didn't have that capability. Even beyond that, having 360 degree sonar or now live sonar will open up even more fish finding opportunities, but I know many anglers who have these things and have no idea what they are looking at or how to work it. I would recommend that you add these features as you learn. If you don't know how to use traditional sonar, chances are you don't need live sonar just yet.
The next thing I would consider upgrading is the trolling motor. The primary difference in trolling motor options is power capabilities. A 12v trolling more takes one 12v battery, but will not last very long. A day of fishing in the wind could leave you with a dead trolling motor battery. I would not recommend a 12v setup. 24v is what I would consider a bare minimum for anyone who is more than your occasional Saturday fisherman. Some smaller boats may have space limitation for 2 deep cycle batteries, so ensure that you have the space. For larger boats, or fisherman who are on the water a lot, 36v is what you would want. Again, some boats do not have room for a 3rd deep cycle battery. There are some options now for light weight lithium batteries. So check out those options if you can afford them.
While there could be many other drivers of price, the variables listed here are generally the most significant. So when you are considering buying a bass boat, don't necessary go for the best looking, most expensive boat. I can almost guarantee that boat is not for you. Instead, consider what you need for how you will be fishing. If you don't need a 250hp engine to start, then don't pay for it. If you don't know how to bed fish during the spawn, don't buy power poles. If you can't locate fish using traditional sonar, don't spend $5,000 for live soar. If you approach buying a boat in this way, you will spend less and likely be happier as you mature in the sport. As you grow, you can upgrade or trade up and that's much easier than overbuying to start.
For those of you who have gone through this process, what did you consider? Leave us some comments below.