The Hull Truth About Buying a Used Boat

How To Buy A Used Boat

Are you thinking about taking the plunge and buying a boat? There were over 970,000 used models sold in 2018 alone. You’ll have plenty of company too, with almost 12 million registered vessels in the United States.

If you’ve looked at new boat prices, you probably had some sticker shock. Unfortunately, this market has the same issue with declining values once they leave the showroom as other vehicles have. That’s why it pays to do your homework before you shop.

Determine What You Want and Expect From Boating

The first thing you should do is figure out what you want to get out of boating. That can help steer you in the right direction and narrow your choices.

Often, it boils to your style. Some people prefer to cruise around at a leisurely pace. Perhaps, you might enjoy fishing or swimming. Others might opt for speed for tubing, waterskiing, or wakeboarding. Maybe you’d like to entertain and host parties on the water. You’ll find models geared toward specific uses and others for general use.

Also, think about where you will keep it and if you will transport it. Trailering a boat is an affordable alternative to renting dock space at a marina. However, you will also need a vehicle capable of towing it and you’ll have to get a hitch installed if your car doesn’t have one.

Getting one is only the start. There are other expenses too, such as insurance, maintenance-repair, and fuel. It’s essential to think about the entire picture to stay on budget. Owning a boat costs money. It also involves work whether you trailer it or have it docked on the shore.

Things to Consider When Buying Used

Caution is prudent when purchasing a boat, new or used. After all, it’s a significant purchase that isn’t without its risks. Some factors to keep in mind in addition to price include:

  • Brand
  • History
  • Performance
  • Appearance

Boat models change year-to-year like cars. You can start by looking at some online on sites like Sailboat Trader or Boat Trader, or even use our site to dicsover sailboat prices. It will give you a feel for the market and the prices that they command. You can also visit a boat show for a firsthand experience.


Some boats fall into the entry-level category. They are more affordable but may lack some features of higher-end vessels. Reading reviews is invaluable.

Brands go through their ups and downs. Pay attention to the year and models of the ones you see for sale. Be leery of lots of listings for one kind. It could indicate a design flaw that is prompting owners to sell.


Viewing the history of a boat can reveal past claims for accidents, recalls, or other strikes. You will need the hull ID number. It’s the VIN for a watercraft. You can find it on the upper right of the stern or back of the boat. It’s also present on any documentation associated with the vessel. You can get the details of its past online for a nominal fee.


How the boat runs is the most critical aspect of choosing one. That’s why taking it on a sea trial is imperative. It’ll allow you to learn its quirks and determine if it’s worth the cost.

Don’t dismiss suggestions that it only needs a minor repair to run. Better yet, have a marine surveyor look it over before you settle on a price.

Exterior Inspection

You should also look at the outside of the boat. Focus on the hull, inspecting it for damage. Repairing fiberglass is expensive. Inspect the surface carefully.

Examine the motor along with the prop. It’ll give you some valuable clues about how the seller has used it, especially if the latter has a lot of dings.

Ask where the owner has taken the boat. Some waterways have problems with invasions by zebra mussels, an invasive mollusk from Eurasia. That spells trouble for a vessel’s engine cooling system or other metal components. They can clog intakes and cause irreversible damage. You may not see any visible harm. That’s why the pre-sale inspection is necessary.

Other Features to Look for in a Used Boat

The initial points scratch the surface about other things you need to consider when getting down to your short list. They include:

  • Type of motor
  • Trailer
  • Accessories

You can drill down to the specifics to help you get to the right boat for an even more focused decision. Many relate to the amount of time you want to put into your purchase before and after you take it off the water.

Make sure to give each one at least a glance. Owning a boat is so rewarding. Failing to consider other aspects that could affect your experience is a mistake for new or seasoned boaters.

Type of Motor

Your choices are an outboard or inboard. The prefix applies to the position.  Either it hangs off the end of the boat, or it is within it.

An outboard motor requires less maintenance. Winterizing is more of a chore to winterize an inboard if necessary where you live. And it isn’t an option if you live someplace where it gets below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It is an essential task to safeguard the engine.

There are also practical reasons to consider one type over another. If you don’t have a place to work on your boat, it’s a viable option to consider. If you have to run antifreeze through a motor, you’ll need an outdoor source of water and a place to park your trailer. This type is also a given with certain kinds like pontoons or fishing vessels.


Look at the trailer as part of your initial inspection, particularly the tires. Repairing or replacing one on the road is a pain not to mention expensive. Examine them for wear and use their state as a negotiating point.

The same precaution applies to the line you hook up to the bow to pull it out of the water and the jack that lifts the front.

Cover and Bimini

Make it a point to inspect the cover and bimini of a boat for tears, wear, and other issues. You have to protect the interior even though it is a watercraft. These items aren’t cheap if you have to repair or replace them.

Check all the snaps to see that they are secure. Make sure that the fit is tight so that water can roll off the sides and not pool where it can get into the gas tank.


If you’re buying used, you’ll likely find that you’ll get more than what you paid for—like it or not. A seller may throw in extra PFDs, water skis, throw cushions, or other things they’ll no longer need if getting out of boating or upgrading.

They may use it as a selling point to justify a higher price. But if you won’t use them, it’s not a dealmaker. That’s where determining your use of a boat comes in handy. If you don’t plan on boating with kids, child-sized life vests are useless. You’ll have a better handle on the value they bring to the sale if you know what you want from the start.

What Else You Need to Know About Boat Ownership

If you’re new to the boating community, you’re in for a treat. Boaters are usually a loyal group. They take care of each other on the water, offering a tow if needed or helping you out if you get stranded. The same applies to selling boats to others.

They get it. Boaters want others to experience their joy. Be leery if you encounter a seller who doesn’t show this same enthusiasm. After all, boaters take care of boaters