Why Are Drift Boats So Expensive?


Expensive drift boat

Drift boats are elegant inland vessels that are usually used for river running. They can be considered the boat version of the river kayak. They do well in calm rivers and flat water but really excel in rapids. This is a great boat for anglers to use for river fly fishing. Drift boats are often considered to be an expensive purchase, but why are drift boats so expensive?

Drift boats are so expensive due the manufacturing costs and the price of the materials used. Wooden drift boats tend to be more expensive because of the extensive amount of time needed to make one and the superior quality of the wood used. Many are hand built. Even fiberglass, aluminum, and polymer drift boats tend to be expensive compared to other similar sized boats due to a lack of bulk manufacturing. 

Manufacturing costs

One of the main reasons for drift boats being so expensive is down to the costs of manufacturing these boats. But, why do manufacturing costs of some boats, like drift boats, greatly differ from others?

Well, it’s all about supply and demand.

When there is great demand for a product a manufacturer can buy construction materials in bulk and thus save money on purchase costs. Likewise, when products are built in bulk the price to make each one goes down significantly as only a nominal amount of extra resources, such as electricity, is needed to build extra units. For example, it will costly roughly the same to start and run machine in order to build 3 items as it would to build only 1.

Additional savings are made when machines are used in the manufacturing process to speed up production and reduce wage costs. But the initial purchase of these machines can only be justified if bulk manufacturing were to ensue.

As drift boats are not as popular as other types of inland river boats, such as Jon boats or even sled boats, they are built in fewer numbers. Thus manufacturers are unable to take advantage of the savings offered from bulk building. Many drift boats are also hand built driving the costs up even more.

Although some kayaks are expensive these boats are a perfect example of how bulk manufacturing can drive down costs – you can pick up a kayak for less than $200. The same is true of Jon boats.

The cost of a good quality drift boat, on the other hand, can run into many thousands of dollars.

Types of drift boat materials and their prices

Another key factor that makes drift boats so expensive is due to the materials used in the construction of the boat. Although all drift boats are expensive, the more durable the material used for the boat the more expensive the boat will be, taking the size of the vessel into account of course.

Here are the different types of drift boats available in the market:

  • Wooden Drift Boats.
  • Fiberglass Drift Boats.
  • Aluminum Drift Boats.
  • Polymer Drift Boats.

Let us see how the different construction material options affect the overall cost of the boat.

Wood drift boats

A wooden drift boat is clearly a head turner because a wooden boat will reflect the beauty and the hard work of the craftsman who made it. Wooden drift boats also somehow pay homage to the history and evolution of dories, from which drift boats were derived (for an explanation and history of the Dory boat read this article).

Wooden drift boats are still a favorite today, not just because of their looks and handling but also, because of how well they absorb and dampen sounds of objects dropped in the boat as well as lessen sounds that come from objects striking the boat. Always an advantage to a fisherman.

A wooden drift boat is also heavier than most other drift boat types which means that the added weight provides more stability for the boat. A lot of anglers will attest to how well wooden drift boats track.

A downside to wooden drift boats is that it is a little too easy to crack the wood especially it the boat keeps banging against rocks while river running.

A wooden drift boat also requires constant maintenance. When the coatings that protect the boat wear down, they must be reapplied so that the water will not seep into the wood and lead to rot.

Wooden drift boats are almost always built by hand which makes them expensive.

Wooden drift boats can cost from $3,000 up to as high as $24,000.

Aluminum drift boats

Aluminum drift boats are very popular though unfortunately this does not equate to a cheaper boat.

There are three factors that contribute to aluminum drift boats popularity. The three factors are durability, availability, and low maintenance. Although this popularity helps keep costs down, aluminum is more expensive than wood and so the price of these boats tends to be higher.

There are a lot of manufacturers that produce and sell aluminum drift boats. They offer a wide variety of different lengths, styles, widths, configurations and many come with accessories, usually geared toward the angler. With this variety in boat, comes variety in pricing.

Aluminum drift boats are easy to handle and are durable because they do not chip, crack, rot, and are not affected by UV light.

Unlike other boats, aluminum boats require little maintenance unless they are used in saltwater (see our guide to using an aluminum Jon boat in salt water as the information in that article applies equally well to an aluminum drift boat). However, unlike the dory from which the drift boat came, a drift boat is almost always used in freshwater inland waters.

A major, and more common, disadvantage to using aluminum drift boats is that they are loud and generate to much noise for most anglers as they scare off the fish.

Aluminum drift boats also need a coat of epoxy on the bottom of the hull to help protect the base of the boat so it can slide more easily over submerged rocks. This is an additional cost to the buyer.

Aluminum drift boats are priced from as low as $8,000 to as high as $15,000.

Fiberglass drift boats

The most popular drift boats you are going to see on the market are made from fiberglass. Fiberglass, both hand-laid and vacuum infused, offers a lot of benefits compared to other materials.

Fiberglass is a very strong material that absorbs shocks from impacts which is a big advantage for a boat that rides rapids. Additionally boats made from this material are not affected that much by environmental factors such as the temperature.

Techniques used to manufacture fiberglass drift boats also allow for unique design features to be incorporated into the hull such as recessed pockets or channels that allow better tracking and manoeuvrability.

Additionally, fiberglass is also a relatively cheap material to buy, mold and to produce.

However, there are also downsides to having a fiberglass drift boat.

One problem you might run into with a fiberglass drift boat is that the gel coat that serves as an outer protective coating for the boat may become damaged from impacts with rocks and the prolonged dragging of the boat on the dry ground during portages. These scratches, if left unrepaired, can allow water to permeate the inner layering of fiberglass which might lead to rotting of the material.

Fiberglass drift boats also need to be stored properly because some gel coatings might deteriorate, crack, or become discolored with prolonged exposure to UV light.

Thus maintenance costs are greater for fiberglass drift than aluminum ones.

Albeit, the above problems are easily avoided and sometimes just as easily fixed, but some people just do not want the hassle, commitment an cost associated with regular maintenance of the boat.

New fiberglass drift boats range in price from as low as $3,000 up to around $6,000.

Polymer Drift Boats

Drift boats that are made from polymer are relatively new to the market. They are some of the toughest boats in existence.

Polymer boats are no stranger to abuse because kayak builders have been using this material to make their kayaks for a long time now.

Polymer drift boats are incredibly quiet and durable and aside from that, they are lightweight as well.

Polymer drift boats are practically maintenance-free.

The only downside is finding a polymer drift boat at your price-point because they are not that readily available compared to other types of drift boats.

Polymer drift boats cost from $6,000 to $10,000.

What about used drift boats?

Used drift boats are obviously cheaper than new ones but that doesn’t mean they are cheap.

Buying used is always a good option if you do not have enough cash to splurge on a brand new boat, but the problem with drift boats, (or advantage depending on your perspective), is that they hold their value exceptionally well. In fact, a used drift boat that is in great condition could cost about the same price as a brand new one.

But buying used is still a viable option to many people because if you shop around you will eventually find a good deal and so this is still a cheaper way of owning a drift boat. You just have to be smart about purchasing used boats (follow the advice in our used boat buying guide).

A fully kitted-out, high-end used drift boat can cost as much as $20,000.

Accessories for your drift boat

Buying a brand new drift boat can mean having nothing else but the boat itself and paddles or oars. So you must be prepared to add the price of additional items to your overall purchase cost especially of you plan to use your boat for fishing.

Additional costs to consider:

  • Anchors.
  • Oars.
  • Rod rack.
  • Rod holders.

Overall, drift boats are expensive because of the manufacturing costs and the construction materials used. Accessories can further add to the costs of a drift boat.

Both new and used drift boats can cost from $3,000 up to $20,000.

If you want to reduce the cost of owning a drift boat you should consider building your own.

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