dive flag Your Own Dive Boat

Chuck Tribolet

This is incomplete, but some folks asked for what I had, so here it is. 

So you are tired of Monster Berries and are thinking about getting your own dive boat.  Here are some factors to consider.

First, there is no perfect boat.  If there were, every diver at the breakwater would have the same boat.  What's right for your buddy may be completely wrong for you.

Second: EVERYTHING about a boat is a tradeoff.  Room vs. money vs. weight vs. speed vs. gas mileage vs. stability vs. ride quality vs. ...

Now, what kind of boat are you going to get?  Wrong question.  First ask yourself some more pertinent questions:

  • How much money am I willing to spend?

    This is the BIG question.  There are those that say boat is an acronym for Break Out Another Thousand.  Other say it's a hole in the water into which you throw money (and I'd add time).  Figure out what your budget is, and make sure all the little stuff (anchors, electronics, ladders, etc.) gets figured into the budget.

    And it's not about saving money.  After seven years of diving off my whaler both days every weekend, my more optimistic models say I'm almost even relative to using the commercial boats.  The more realistic models say I still have quite a ways to go.

  • Where am I going to keep it?  How big is that space?  How secure?  When can I access it? How much does it cost?

    You have to have a place to keep the boat when you aren't diving.  The best place to keep a trailer boat is in the garage (though that may mean putting a car outside).  It's out of the weather, locked up, and convenient to do maintenance on.  Other options include side yards, driveways (not legal in some cities), the street (not legal in most cities), storage yards, and storage units.  If you have a big boat, you'll need a slip.  Check into slip availability and cost.

  • What am I going to tow it with?

    You need a suitable tow vehicle, and that's a function of the boat.  Check the weight of boat, motor, trailer, gas, battery, etc.  My whaler hull weights 925 pounds.  The whole rig weighs over 2000.  It adds up fast, huh?  And figure out how much the dive gear weighs.  Then go check the specs on your tow vehicle.  Be sure to check check both the  trailer capacity and the gross capacity -- there are some vehicles that can tow their max trailer capacity only of there's no cargo and no passengers in the tow vehicle.

  • Where do I want to dive?  And where am I going to launch it?

    You don't want to buy a 25' boat if you want to launch at Pt. Lobos.  And you don't want to buy a 12' inflatable if you want to dive the Big Sur coast.
  • How many divers on board?  How many tanks?

    "We gotta get a bigger boat.". 
  • Are any of the divers female dry suit divers?

    You MAY, depending on the female, need to get a boat with a head.  That means a pretty good sized boat.  But maybe that's what you want.  ;-)
  • Are any of the divers photographers?

    Photographers metastasize fragile expensive gear all over the place.  You can't stack it up like tanks.

  • How am I going to get back into it?

    If you go to the climbing gym three times a week, this is probably not a problem.  But see if you can haul yourself back into the sort of boat you want.  Or figure out a ladder and where to stow it.

  • What else are you going to use the boat for?

    A 12' inflatable would make a lousy ski boat or salmon fishing boat. 


A lot of folks think all they need to operate a boat is the keys (and maybe a six-pack).  Plan on taking a course from either the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or the US Power Squadron.  If you can arrange to take it from a group of Monterey boaters, that would be even better.

Types of Boats

OK, now lets look at the various sorts of boats you might buy:

Dive Kayak

Dive Kayaks are (relatively) inexpensive, can be carried on top of your car, and can be launched most anywhere you can beach dive.  The down side is that you provide the motive force which limits range (though I've seen kayaks launched at the Breakwater whale watching a mile outside Pt. Pinos -- fitness and practice counts), and you are generally limited to one tank.  They are the easiest boat to launch at Pt. Lobos, and can dive any where in Lobos where diving is allowed.

Price range (new): $???-$???

Soft-Bottom Inflatable

Soft-bottom inflatables are the least expensive per diver, and they are light and can be towed behind most anything that can take a trailer hitch.  The down side is that room is at a premium because the tubes take up a lot of space, and they aren't terribly fast, so it takes a long time to get anywhere.  It's really not feasible to launch one at the Breakwater, and go to Carmel.  On the other hand, you may not NEED to do that -- they are fairly easy to launch at Pt. Lobos.  Soft-bottoms can be a just little directionally unstable because they have no chines, the raised ridges in the fiberglass that keep a boat tracking straight.  And they can be hard to climb back into after a dive.

Inflatables (both soft-bottom and RIB) have tubes made of one of two materials: Hypalon or PVC.  Hypalon is the good stuff, and they'll call it Hypalon.  PVC doesn't hold up as well in the sun, or with exposure to gasoline, and the boat makers have many fancy names for it.  In general, if they don't call it Hypalon, it's PVC.

If you think you can get a a soft-bottom inflatable, and carry it rolled up in the back of your vehicle, think again.  I know a fair number of people who thought along these lines, and they either get a trailer, rarely use the boat, or sell the boat.

Price range (new): $???-$???

RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat)

A RIB adds a fibreglass center section, and keeps the tubes.  This adds speed, and directional stability, and usually improves the ride because the V-shaped hull cuts through the waves.  But the tubes still take a lot of space., and they can still be hard for some folks to get into.  As the size gets bigger, you are probably going to need a V-6 truck to tow it.

Price range (new): $???-$??? (though there's one occasional RIB in Monterey (27' IIRC) that probably cost $100,000 or more)

Hard Boat on Trailer

Price range (new): $10,000-$25,000 and up

Hard Boat in Slip

Keeping a boat in a slip saves having to tow it, but you have to schlep tanks, you have to pay for the slip, and you have to pull the boat annually to have the bottom repainted.

Note that there's a long waiting list for slip space in Monterey and it's expensive.  Moss Landing is cheaper and more available, but a long ways a way.  Moss Landing would be a temporary alternative while waiting for slip space.

Price range (new): $???-$??? and WAAAY up PLUS $6.50 to $8.00 per foot per month slip fees.


Price range (new): $???-$??? and WAAAY up.

Power Options

Two-Stroke Outboards

Two strokes fire the mixture on every stroke.  The upside is that you get a power pulse on every stroke, the downside is that the pulse isn't as powerful and the exhaust is dirtier because there's no non-power rotation (as in a four-stroke) to clean out the nasty stuff and bring in clean air.  There's always some stuff left over from the previous stroke.  Because of this, two-strokes are lighter than four-strokes of the equivalent power.

Another downside of two-strokes is they are, ah, cantankerous.  They don't start on the first twist of the key like your car.  And they need to have oil mixed with the gas because they don't have an oil pan like a four-stroke.  Most now have an oil tank and add the oil automatically to the gas, a few still need to add a bit of oil to the gas tank.

California has adopted the 2007 Federal outboard motor emission requirements early.  They apply to new motors and aren't all THAT tough.  I'd equate them to the 1980 automobile requirements.  While they don't ban any particular type of engine, carbureted two-strokes haven't been able to meet them, nor have electronic fuel body injection (EFI) two-strokes.  Direct injection (DI) two-strokes and four-strokes have, with some tweaks, passed. and in fact are now quite clean.  So the net is, you can't buy a new carbureted or EFI two-stroke in California.

There are a lot mistaken ideas about two-strokes in California.  They have NOT been banned on all lakes.  In fact, they aren't banned per se anywhere, but a few lakes, most notably Tahoe, have emission requirements that carbureted two-strokes can't meet.  DI two-strokes can, and are allowed at Tahoe.

Four Stroke Outboards

The only downside to four-strokes is that they are heavy and expensive.  They start on the first turn of the key, don't stink, don't pollute, and get about half again better gas mileage.  I think they are going to get better over time.  Today's EFI four-strokes are rather unsophisticated by automobile standards and get about 1 HP per cubic inch.  My TRUCK gets 1.17 HP per cubic inch.  The marketplace will make the outboard industry catch up.


You absolutely positively want a galvanized trailer or an aluminum trailer.  Salt water will turn a painted steel trailer into a rust bucket in short order.

You also want a trailer that will keep your truck out of the the salt water.  A long tongue helps, as does a trailer where the boats sits between the wheels rather than above the wheels.

Tow Vehicles 

 Find out what the towing capacity of you vehicle is, then plan on staying under about 60% of that number. When you are close to the maximum towing capacity, I think things start to get a little marginal.

If you tow frequently, change your oil more often.


A boat is a luxury.  Cash is best for luxuries.  It's certainly not something you should go deeply into debt for.  There is some fairly long term boat financing, but if you can't pay it off pretty quickly (3 years max), don't buy it unless it's so big you can live on it.  BTW, check with your tax accountant, but if it has head, bed, and galley, interest MAY be tax deductible.  And if you are REAL reliable about paying your bills and have a mess of equity in house, a line-of-credit second mortgage may be a good way of financing a boat.  Good rates, generally tax deductible, you write a check to the boat dealer.

Where to Find a Used Boat


The classified ads.

Bulletin boards at dive shops



Craig's List

The best (cheapest) time to buy is Autumn and Winter.

OK, What Would I Have, If Money Were No Object?

I'd have more than one boat.  I'd have a two-diver soft bottom inflatable for Pt. Lobos.  And something in the high twenties  to mid-thirties kept in a slip for going farther afield.  And my current 17' Boston Whaler Montauk.