Cost of riverboat ownership

What Does It Cost To Own A River Boat?

"How much does it cost to own a boat in the river?"

The usual answer is "That depends on the boat, how you use it and where it is moored."

Because of this, this article will identify the various costs involved and where practical provide a link to further information.

The South Australian Transport Department provides guidance on things to consider when purchasing a vessel.

The best way to get an indication of the costs involved is to speak to the owner of a vessel similar to the one you are considering.

NOTE: The RMBOA is a member of Boating Industry Association of South Australia (BIASA). Aerofloat and Mannum Waters are commercial members of the RMBOA.

Typical Costs

Purchase price

This is the most obvious and the most variable price of them all. Prices vary with the season and demand. The best way to estimate how much it will cost to purchase a vessel is to look at what is currently on the market and how much it costs. Don't forget to take interest payments into account if you intend to borrow the money.

The RMBOA For Sale web page is a good place to start looking for vessels. A wider range of vessels can be found on the web pages of the various brokers. The RMBOA is not in a position to recommend a  broker, but they can easily be found with a Google search "houseboats for sale".

 Vessel Survey/Valuation

It is recommended that vessels obtain a marine survey and valuation before a purchase is concluded.

This gives the buyer an independent assessment of the state and worth of the vessel.

Vessels permanently moored in the river will need to be put on the slip before it can be inspected.

Where the vessel is slipped will depend where the vessel is located. Even if a vessel is currently in commercial survey as a hireboat, it is usually prudent to get an inspection of the vessel out of the water.

This is the only way that you can be sure that there isn't significant damage under the boat and the under the waterline. It is possible that major damage can be caused by hirers without the owner's knowledge.

The Boating Industry Association of South Australia may be able to provide the contact numbers for marine surveyors in their association.


Vessels with 240V and gas installations must be compliance with the regulations.

Make sure that the installations have compliance certificates or agree on who will pay for the certification and any costs in becoming compliant while negotiating the purchase.

If you are intending to permanently reside on your vessel, then it must also be fully complaint with the greywater regulations. These regulations require that a live-aboard vessel must contain all greywater for disposal on-shore, or it must treat the water to the approved standard before returning it to the river (see below for more information)

Vessels that are not permanently occupied and deemed to be low risk (no washing machine, no dish washer and only one shower) may take alternate steps to reduce the quantity and impact of river discharges.

RMBOA members have access to Greywater Standard Operating Procedures that have been reviewed by the EPA. A greywater/blackwater compliance inspection will carry a cost. Travelling costs to inspect your vessels may be extra.


The minimum recommended level of insurance cover is 3rd Party Insurance which covers the owner for damage to other people and their vessels. Even a modest boat can destroy a million dollar boat if it burns.

Comprehensive insurance is a must If the vessel is of significant value,

Remember that if you have an accident or your vessel sinks, you will be responsible for cleaning up and removing the wreckage, including sunken vessels from the river.

River Murray Boat Owner Association and other boat clubs will require participants to to be insured when on club functions to ensure that they do not inherit any liability if there is a boating incident during the function.

For comprehensive insurance, estimate on about 1% of the value of the vessel per annum.

 Potential insurers should be aware that some insurance companies may require an out-of-water inspection before providing any insurance cover.

Vessel Registration

Like any motor vessel, houseboats and cruisers are required to have an annual registration.

 Currently registration for vessels permanently moored in the  Murray River have a lower registration rate than vessels that are not permanently moored in the river. The registration cost is proportional to the size of the vessel.

Don't forget that any motorised tender, such as a dinghy, will also need to be registered. Current registration fees can be found on the SA Transport website .

Boat Licence

A licence is need to control any motorised vessel on the river.

While it is permitted to only have a car driver's licence to operate a self-drive hire boat, a boat licence is required to operate all motorised private vessels.

Information about obtaining a boat licence can be obtained from SA Transport.

The RMBOA periodically run courses to prepare members to obtain a boat licence.

Living Aboard

It is permitted to live aboard your vessel in South Australia, however, there are more stringent environmental conditions placed on the vessel.

Mooring fees may also be higher for permanently occupied vessels as they will use more marina resources than the average vessel. At the very least, you will need grey water processing. Typical systems can be found at Aerofloat.

You will need to take into account that you may not be able to live on your vessel when it is on the slip for maintenance and inspections.

Be aware that if a houseboat is your primary residence, it will not appreciate in the same way a house and land may. This means that it can be difficult to get back into the housing market if you decide that you no longer want to, or able to, live onboard.

Mooring Fees

There are no mooring fees for staying at town moorings and on leasehold land along the river, although there are limits on how long you can stay.

If your vessel is permanently in the river and you are not permanently on-board and travelling, you will need a place to leave your vessel while you are away. There is a wide range of mooring locations from a friend's river frontage to luxury lifestyle marinas will all facilities.

As a result mooring fees can range from a token amount to a sizeable fee depending on location and facilities, etc. When looking at a marina and their fees, things to consider are:

(1) Cost - Can you afford to pay that amount of money each month?

(2) Extras - Do you have to pay extra for things like power?

(3) Marina Facilities - Do you need the facilities that the marina provides?

(4) Marina Access - How easy is it to get in and out of the marina?

(5) Waste Disposal Options - How far away is the nearest Waste Disposal Station on the river? Will you need to pay to have your sewage pumped out?

(6) Marina Reputation - Like any line of business, there are good operators and not so good operators. Find out about the marina and if there are likely to unexpected costs or hassles with the marina management about your dog or whatever.

The Boating Industry Association of South Australia may be able to provide the contact numbers for marinas in their association. If you are looking for a marina with residential housing, or a marina berth with security and offering full services, perhaps Mannum Waters may be of interest.


The amount of fuel that a vessel uses depends of many things such as the size of the vessel, the type of engines, the wind and river conditions.

Try to get an indication of the average consumption of the vessel to estimate how much typical voyages will cost. Consumption will vary depending on travelling speed, river flow and wind conditions.

Refueling from riverside pumps will be more expensive than going to a service station because of the lower volume of sales for the proprietor. Expect to pay 10~20 cents per litre more at the riverside. Take that into account if you plan to use riverside fuel.

Slip Fees

If your vessel is permanently moored in the river, you will need to periodically pull your vessel out of the water to check for damage and repaint, if necessary.

Costs vary between slips and depend on the size of your vessel and how long you want it to be up on the slip. Plan on pulling out your vessel every couple of years to insure that your hulls are in good repair.

Engine Maintenance

Like any engine, the motors in a vessel will require maintenance.

Expect a comparable service on a boat engine to be more expensive that for a car. Also remember that if the service personnel travel to your vessel, you will need to pay for that travel.

Check to see if that cost is shared if more than one boat in the area is serviced on the same day. Normally it is preferred that outboard maintenance is conducted while the vessel is on the slipway.

General Maintenance

Besides the maintenance of the hulls and the engines, you vessel will require general maintenance just like your house.

Whatever you need to maintain in your house will probably be a maintenance cost on your vessel.

RMBOA Membership

At $30 per annum for two family members you get access to information  provided to members and access to the experience of the members. Information provided includes the Members Handbook and the Voyage Planning Guide.

The RMBOA provides support for its members when dealing with government departments.

Join the RMBOA

Click here to access our online membership application and read about our philosophy in more depth then send off a membership form. New members are very welcome!!


If you have any enquiries feel free to contact the Secretary:on

Join the RMBOA

Why Join

We work toward protecting the River Murray and its environs.

The RMBOA communicate with members and boat owners by keeping them informed of relevant developments.

The RMBOA provides you with a link to governments and other relevant organisations for your benefit.

We arrange, manage and co-ordinate functions of recreation, education and conservation surrounding the river

Meet new people and catch up with old friends when you join us on our river rambles.