Are you looking for a boat? Sure, the thrill and excitement of visiting the dealership and looking at the models on display are where most people start looking for their first boat. However, it’s not the best choice, especially for first-time owners.
Think of learning to drive a boat like learning to drive a car. Your first car is no Ferrari. It’s a way for you to understand the nuances of driving. As a result, many parents end up purchasing a used vehicle for their kid’s first car.
By buying a pre-owned boat, you’re getting better value for money. You’ll find that you can get a better model for your budget in the secondary market, and there are thousands of great deals available online right now.
So, what do you look for when buying a pre-owned boat? This post unpacks tips for buying a used boat. We’ll give you everything you need to navigate your first purchase.
- Where Do You Find a Pre-Owned Boat for Sale?
- How to Inspect a Boat Before Finalizing the Sale
- Conduct a Sea/Water Trial of the Boat
- Tips for Drafting a Purchase Contract and Agreement of Sale
- The Final Word – Beware of Scammers
Where Do You Find a Pre-Owned Boat for Sale?
There are dozens of ways to find used boats for sale. The first place to start is using online sources. There are plenty of dedicated boat classifieds online, with thousands of boats looking for new owners.
If you have a specific model in mind, call a boat broker and ask if they have anything available. Many boat brokers will source any boat you’re looking for, and they do it for a commission.
You also have the option of taking a walk around the marina and looking for “for sale” signs on the boats. The harbormaster at the marina will usually know which boats are for sale. Check out the local bait shop; many boat owners list their vessels for purchase at these establishments.
When looking for boats for sale, choose options that allow you to view the vessel physically. Never finalize a deal without meeting the owner and viewing the boat, or you’re probably going to end up the victim of a scam.
Some of the qualifying criteria you’re looking for with the deal include the following.
- The boat’s location. Don’t look for boats outside your travel zone or across the country.
- The boat should be ready to launch.
- Are there any mechanical or electrical issues with the boat?
- What is the general condition of the deck and hull?
- Does the owner have the service records for the vessel?
- Why is the owner selling the boat?
We recommend making a shortlist of your top five choices before reaching out to the owner. If you think you have your final five options, pick up the phone and dial the owner to arrange a viewing.
How to Inspect a Boat Before Finalizing the Sale
After arriving at the owner’s storage facility, home, or slip, it’s time to inspect the vessel and take it for a sea test.
Evaluating a 60-foot yacht is a very different experience from assessing a 24-foot center console. So, we recommend you hire a professional to inspect for you.
The National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) and the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) offer professional marine inspections.
New boat buyers often encounter engine problems after the sale. The previous owner might not disclose the issues, leaving you with an expensive repair bill. However, hiring a professional assessor will help you uncover these problems before closing the deal.
The assessor will typically charge anywhere from $15 to $25 per foot of boat for the inspection. The cost depends on the expertise and experience of the assessor and the reputation of their company.
If you’re financing the sale using a bank or lender, they will likely need you to complete a professional assessment before lending you the money for the purchase.
If the assessor uncovers any issues during the inspection, you can use them as pressure points to help you leverage a better deal from the owner.
You’ll know you have a good deal on the table if the owner has already completed this step themselves, and they have the certificates of approval on hand.
Look at the overall condition of the boat. Is it clean or dirty? Did the owner clear it out for sale, or is there junk lying all over it? If the owner didn’t prep the boat, they probably didn’t take very good care of it.
Checking the Registration and Title
After you’re satisfied with the general condition of the boat, it’s time to check the title and registration. When purchasing a boat from a dealer, you don’t have to worry about any underhanded business.
However, it’s a different story when buying the boat from a private seller. Florida is the boat theft capital of the nation, and the police only recover around 40% of stolen boats.
Therefore, these boats often end up on the market for sale. The thieves realize that many people looking for a vessel don’t know what to do when assessing the watercraft.
There’s a good chance they won’t check the title and registration before finalizing the deal, landing them with a stolen boat.
If you purchase a stolen boat, and the police catch you with it, they will treat you like the thief, even if you were unaware it’s a stolen boat.
As a result, you’ll have to go through the justice system, landing you thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Check the boat title to ensure it’s valid, and there are no liens on the vessel and title. Next, check that the Hull Identification Number (HIN) on the boat plate matches the number on the boat’s title. Some thieves will remove the HIN and replace it with a stolen plate from another vessel not reported stolen.
You can find the HIN on the transoms starboard side in the upper corner. Some states may also require a separate title and registration for the trailer. Some states don’t need titles on boats under 16-feet in length.
If the owner doesn’t have the title or registration documents, ask them for the original bill of sale for the vessel.
Start with the Hull
After checking the title documents, it’s time to inspect the boat. The hull is the most concerning feature of the boat. If you have a damaged hull, it will cost thousands of dollars to repair.
Look for dents, gouges, scratches, defects, and holes in the hull. Check for visible signs of repair o the hull, such as fiberglass that looks slightly off-color or out of shape.
Checking below the waterline is crucial to ensure there are no leaks. However, if the owner parks the boat in the marina, you might have to forego this check and trust them, or you’ll have to ask them to remove the vessel from the water to inspect the hull.
The wooden transoms on older boats may start to rot internally, and excessive movement of the transom when lifting the motor out of the water typically means you’re dealing with a damaged or broken transom.
If there are any cracks on the transom or the hull larger than 2-inches, the boat was probably involved in a collision.
After completing your hull review, it’s time to move on to the deck. Take your time looking for cracks, rot, dents, soft spots, or holes on the deck and the side walling of the vessel.
If you press down on the deck and it feels squishy under your hands, the chances are that the wood is rotting.
Check the seating arrangements for signs of mold and excessive wear. If the hull and the boat’s deck are in good shape, it’s a good sign that the vessel is probably a good buy. However, complete the full inspection before finalizing the deal.
The engine is the most expensive component of the boat, and it requires careful inspection. If you’re not mechanically minded, you’ll probably need to take a mechanic along with you that understands marine motors, or you’ll have to hire an inspection team to do it for you.
Start the inspection by looking for signs of corrosion on the motor housing. Ask the owner to connect a hose to the motor and start it.
Check the sound of the motor, and listen for any knocking sound. The engine should idle, then ask the owner to open the throttle to the max setting for ten seconds to check the motor’s performance.
If the engine appears loose, starts to smoke, or sounds rough while running, it’s probably shot and needs repairs. Check the hoses and belts for signs of wear and deterioration, cracks, or fraying.
Lithium-ion deep cell batteries have a service life of between three to five years, depending on their frequency of use.
Check the battery terminals for signs of corrosion and look for leaks or cracks in the housing. Check that the battery anchors to the tray, as loose batteries can start fires or explode.
Check for clanging sounds when starting the motor. If the starter motor is defective, it will affect the normal ignition of the engine.
If you hear a spinning or whizzing noise, it means that saltwater likely entered the component, causing damage.
Check the status of electrical components like radar, GPS, lights, and throttle control. Look for wires with damaged or melted insulation or obvious signs of repairs.
Hardware and Cables
Check all the cables for the throttle and steering. Pull-on hinges and shake the seats, cleats, and rigging to ensure nothing is loose or broken.
The bellows are rubber and resemble accordion pleats. The bellows protect the mechanical systems like the control cables, allowing the components to move freely. Check the bellows for splits, cracks, rust, and loosened clamps.
Most states require the boat owner to put the trailer through an annual safety and roadworthy inspection.
Check the inspection card and ensure it’s up to date. Check the tires and look for signs of corrosion around the trailer that may weaken the structure.
Conduct a Sea/Water Trial of the Boat
If the boat is in the water, take it out for a test drive with the owner. You could bring your partner or friend to see what they think of the deal.
Meet the owner at the launch ramp if they have a smaller boat, and inspect the trailer and the boat for signs of corrosion and damage.
Check the hull and the paint before putting the boat in the water. After you’re satisfied with the condition of the boat, it’s time to launch it and take it for a test drive out on the water.
Listen to the engine as it starts and ensure it’s running smoothly. Check the trimming functions, the instruments, electronics, and the sound system.
Pump out the live wells, bait wells, and bilge tanks to ensure everything is in working order.
Tips for Drafting a Purchase Contract and Agreement of Sale
After completing all of the above, it’s time to sit down and do the paperwork. Draft an agreement of sale using a template downloaded from a government website.
If the owner is savvy and wants to sell their boat as fast as possible, they will already have this paperwork waiting for you.
However, if the agreement isn’t ready to go, you can find a sale contract on state government websites, BoatUS, and the US Coast Guard website.
The sale agreement should specify any terms you want in the deal. It should also include all items and accessories included with the boat.
So, if the owner promises you their trailer, fishfinder, and GPS with the boat, make sure you list them in the contract. Include the serial numbers of all electronics in the agreement.
The Final Word – Beware of Scammers
Never conclude a deal unless you complete all of the steps above. Buying a boat without viewing and inspecting the vessel could mean that you’ll end up purchasing a lemon requiring thousands of dollars in repairs.
There are also plenty of scams that will take your money and never deliver the boat. When you try to follow up, you’ll find that you’re the victim of fraud and out several thousand dollars. Don’t let it happen to you.