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In the Market for a Boat? Weigh the Price Against QTR (Quality Time Remaining)

Forget the 5 percent rule. You’ll give up many other things to pay the price for that boat, whatever it is. Love always finds a way.

Singer Patti Page notched a chart-topping hit single in 1953 with the novelty tune “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” With TrawlerFest in Stuart and Seattle and major boat shows just around the corner, we’ll be seeing lots of doggies in lots of windows. Temptation is everywhere in the form of sensuously curved hulls, mirror-polished stainless steel and acres of flawless teak.


Before you make the leap to ownership, though, the primary question you need to ask yourself is not, “How much is that trawler?” Rather, you should be thinking, “What am I willing to exchange to make her mine?”

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The cost of ownership is not to be confused with the purchase price. Opinions differ among boatowners and brokers on what constitutes a reasonable amount to spend on a yacht, but they seem to average around 5 percent of net worth as a good benchmark. That works out to $2 million in net worth if you want a $100,000 yacht.

The figure sounds reasonable and conservatively sensible, but if I were to have followed that dictum, I never would have bought my first boat. I believe yachts have much more to do with emotion than reason, and many other people agree, including my old mentor, designer Jack Hargrave. He once chastised me for discussing cost versus benefit with a client.

“If an owner starts thinking about what makes sense, he is likely to go away with no yacht at all,” he sternly advised.

J.P. Morgan, the famed financier and serial yacht owner who is alleged to have said, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” also offered some additional insight on the issue a hundred years ago: “A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing, one that sounds good, and a real one.”

So, what is the real reason for a vessel purchase? Most often, I think, the new owner simply wanted the boat—and, occasionally, didn’t want someone else to have her. The matter of a “reasonable amount to spend” was never in consideration.

A welder or mechanic who makes less than $20 an hour, and loves to fish, will buy a bass boat that costs twice his annual salary, 10 times his net worth, and he’s happy. A retiree with a dream will sell the home she’s worked for all her life to buy a cruiser and see what’s over the horizon, and she’s happy. I once had a client, well-off but not ultra-high net worth, who had us design a custom motoryacht for his family. It was far more than he could “reasonably” afford, but he had it built, and lived and loved the lifestyle. He, like so many others, was happy he’d done it.

My boat purchasing decisions have always been based on two principles, neither of which is the 5 percent rule. The first is this: “I can definitely afford it, even if I can’t afford it indefinitely.” This means that if I can pay the current costs, even if just for a while, then I can enjoy the boat for a season or more, for a few years when the kids or grandkids are that magic age, for that special cruise of a lifetime, or for the waning years of life when QTR—quality time remaining—is the overriding factor.

The second principle is less complicated: You can have anything you want in life as long as you’re willing to pay for it.

If you are a true devotee, you understand. You’ll forget the 5 percent rule. You’ll give up many other things to pay the price, whatever it is. Love always finds a way.