How To Buy A Used Boat Without Getting Ripped Off!

Used boats, pre-owned boats, hidden treasure, yachts with experience! Whatever you call them, they are boats that someone else owned before. We all have the fears and nightmares of buying “used” and getting someone else’s problems. In reality a “useful” boat can be a very good deal—if you know what to look for and what to avoid! This report can help you separate out the lemons so that you end up with a plum! A pre-owned boat can give you and your family many, many years of enjoyment out on the water. The right boat can ski, tube, cruise, fish and do anything else you’d like—almost as good as a new boat. Plus, it will cost you less money, making it a wise investment. Currently, it is a very good time to be searching out a used boat. More new family powerboats were sold in the late 1990’s and 2000’s than in any other time in history. Many of these boats are now being re-sold. The marketplace has many “useful” boats available at good prices and they still have high value. If you are prepared, it is a great time to be shopping for a boat!

Aside from getting a good price you can find used boats that were very well made and can still perform extremely well. Fiberglass seemingly lasts forever, the engines are used less than half the year and proper care can keep the interior almost like new. The right used boat can be a great way to get out outdoors and enjoy the water. Where should you go to look for a used boat? There are used boats in the newspapers, magazines, Internet, bulletin boards even listings at the grocery store, You could even just drive around and come across a few of them. But most of us don’t have the patience or the time for such nonsense. Your initial choice will be to look to buy from a private individual or from a boat dealership. If you know someone who has just the right boat you are looking for, they took “real good” care of it, you trust them and they want to sell it at a good price—then by all means, buy their boat. You almost can’t go wrong in a situation like that.

But buying a boat from a “stranger” can often lead to problems. You think you are getting a great price and you hope you are getting what you paid for. But what happens if you have a problem or need help with something. Are there any guarantees? Will the stranger be available later on.? Do you have any recourse if you are unhappy? For every five good deals made with a “stranger” I’d bet there are three or four that turned out to be bad deals. A used boat from a stranger is always a gamble with odds that aren’t very good. Obviously being a boat dealer we are prejudiced, but we’ve been here over 50 years and we’ve seen what can happen. It will always be difficult to make a good deal with a stranger unless you are very knowledgeable and experienced with boats and can avoid the mistakes. (We have years of experience and factory trained mechanics—we still make mistakes on occasion regarding used boats.)
A reputable boat dealer will first of all give you a wide selection to choose from. You can see 20 boats at one dealer in the same amount of time it would take you to drive around and see 2 or 3 at different people’s houses. At a dealership you can compare the boats and easily decide what you like and don’t like.

A good dealer will also be available with advice if you want it. If you seek out a salesperson with experience you will be able to have all of your questions answered. How big should you go in length? How much engine do you need? Will this model work for your family? Is this hull able to work on your lake or river? A good salesperson will be the knowledgeable adviser you need when looking over all the possible pre-owned boats. The salesperson and the dealership have the responsibility to live with the choice you make. If the boat you decide on isn’t right, the dealer knows you will be very unhappy. If you are unhappy, the dealer knows that he not only has a problem to fix with you, but that you will be telling all your friends about it. A good dealer realizes that helping you make a good choice is the best way to build his business for the future. He actually should have your best interest at heart which you can’t get from a “stranger.”
At some point, you will find a boat that seems like the best choice. It looks like it will do everything that you want, at a price you can afford. But how can you know if it really is a good value—what should you look for? You can “check” the price by looking in the Blue Book. Just like cars there are a few different agencies that produce books that list the value of all used boats. They aren’t exact but they will give you an indication that the price is competitive.
Regarding the boat itself you can tell a lot from your first impression. Is it scratched up, ripped, dirty and beat up? Or is it shiny, clean and looks well maintained? But remember, even a flawless looking boat might contain some hidden problems. Walk around the outside of the boat. Examine the fiberglass for cracking and any signs of repairs.
Use the sun’s light to look down the sides of the hull to see that they are straight and not discolored where a “fix-up” was performed. Is the gel-coat finish faded beyond restoration?

The rub rail runs around the entire outside of the boat between the hull and the deck. Check the rub rail closely for dents and gouges. Be sure there is no hull/deck separation or leakage taking place under the rub rail. It is almost impossible to fix a separation problem properly. Bend over and look at the bottom of the boat, especially down the center or “keel” of the hull. Is there scraping or gouges that need repair? Are there small bubbles in the fiberglass called blisters—very hard to fix! While you are down on your knees look over the trailer. Is it still solid? When was the last time the lights and wheel bearings were checked? Be sure the tires are not all cracked or low on tread.
Now go to the back of the boat where the engine is. Check the drive and prop area for damage. A prop repair is easy but damage, cracks or leaking to any other parts of the lower unit area can be very costly to fix. Look closely where the engine contacts the boat. There should be no leaks, stress cracks or signs of wearing. Pay special attention to the transom. The transom is made of a combination of wood and fiberglass and older boats can show signs of rotting. Soft, waterlogged wood in the transom usually means a serious problem and the boat will be worthless shortly. After spending enough time on the exterior it would now be the time to get inside the boat. The interior should be clean and free of musty odors, which might indicate “dry rot” in the wood of the seats or floor.

Shake the windshield to be sure it is solid and won’t rattle. Operate all the doors, hatches, windows etc. to be sure they are OK. Check the seats for any rips. Sit in them to check for comfort and that they operate properly. Be sure the seat bases are sturdy and not coming loose. The floor is perhaps the most important single item to inspect on any boat. If the floor is bad it can be more expensive to fix than the whole boat is worth. Be sure the floor is flat and not wavy from poor construction technique. Walk over all parts, especially the corners, to determine whether there is any softness. Again, the floor is usually wood and softness would indicate rotting which usually means expensive, total replacement. Eventually work your way back towards the rear of the boat. The lowest area at the back is called the bilge. The bilge area should be fairly clean with no indication of oil leaking from the engine. Look for hull cracks, loose or corroded wires and inspect the gas tank. The tank should, obviously, not leak but should also be firmly mounted and not show any signs of corrosion or loose hoses.

Visually look over the motor. Is it clean? Are there any missing pieces? Check the belts—are they cracked or weathered? Pull the dip stick out and look at the oil. If the oil isn’t clean and dark but resembles a chocolate milk shake then you probably have water in the oil. Major problem! Look at the manifolds for any cracks or indications of leakage. Be sure any hoses are in good condition and not worn and cracked. Is there any rust, especially around the starter? Rust could indicate the boat has had extensive water in it or possibly it was submerged at some time. Look over all electrical connections— are they corroded at all? Are the spark plug wires cracked and hardened from age? Ask to see any service records that might be available. If the boat has now passed your visual inspection, you should arrange to have a test ride. You don’t want to be told it “runs good.” You don’t want to settle for dry land “start-up” to hear it run. You want an actual test ride—on the water, off the trailer, fast, slow, turns, honk the horn and you feel how the boat rides. A test ride is the only way to know what the boat will do and it should be a necessary step before you buy. Except for your kids —didn’t you test everything before you bought it!

For the test ride, gather the whole family and any friends that will normally be boating with you. This may seem inconvenient but you want them all to enjoy the boat, so you better get their approval before you buy. Secondly, the boat will perform very differently as you add more people. Be sure your test ride is taken with “normal” boat load aboard. If you are going to trailer the boat insist on being taught how to back up the trailer, launch the boat and put it back on the trailer. Once in the water adjust the seat and tilt the wheel so that you can get comfortable. Notice the position of the throttle and the gauges. Does the engine start easily? At idle speed is it quiet enough to hold a pleasant conversation? Does it turn easily at all speeds? Even high speed hard turns should feel solid and always have you in control, never hopping or sliding. When you accelerate from slow to fast does the boat respond quickly and get to level plane in four seconds or less? (If not it won’t ski well.) How does the boat feel, sound and respond to top speed? Drive over the waves (even if they are your own) and feel if the boat “pounds” through them or smoothly cuts through the waves. Any annoying vibrations or rattles in the boat? If you lift your hands slightly off the wheel does the boat continue straight ahead or does it pull to one direction indicating a problem? When you throttle down from fast to idle does the boat gracefully glide forward or does it “sink” in it’s own wake indicating a hull that is sluggish and insufficient? Practice parking at a pier and learn to use reverse. Does it shift smoothly and handle easily? If the boat has a trim and tilt, are they operating properly? Is the engine making any strange sounds like knocking, pinging or tapping? Did everybody have a good time and stay dry—then it passes the test!

After loading the boat on the trailer ask to check the lower unit lubricant which is in the gear case by the propeller. Be sure it is clean and golden or dark brown. A chocolate milkshake color indicates water in the oil and it will need to be fixed. Hopefully by now, you are very familiar with the boat. A complete visual inspection, a thorough test ride, a fair price and the family’s approval—what more could you want? Pay for the boat, call your insurance man and go out and have fun!

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