How To Buy A Used Boat

Boats, like cars, start to depreciate the moment you drive them — or trailer them — off the dealer’s lot. In the first year alone, a boat can lose over 25% of its value. Of course, this is terrible news if you are the owner. But if you want to save money on the boat of your dreams, buying a used boat is an excellent option.

That said, the used boat market can be tricky to navigate. There are no guarantees and no warranties, so you will need to be a hundred percent sure that you are getting a good deal.

Here’s how to buy a used boat with confidence.

Decide What Type Of Boat You Want

Before you start shopping for individual boats, you first need to know what type of boat you want. If you are an experienced boater, you probably already got this covered.

But if you are new to boating, now is the time to ask yourself what you want out of your boating experience. Are you into fishing? Water skiing? Are you cruising for more than one day? The answers to these questions will dictate the type of boat you need.

Another important consideration is size. A larger boat has some obvious benefits. For example, you can entertain more guests, and you can usually cruise for more extended periods without making a pit stop.

That said, larger boats also have their downsides. Besides costing more, they also weigh more, which means they require heavier-duty towing vehicles. Larger vessels also cost more to maintain because there’s simply more of everything.

Go Shopping!

Once you have a good idea of what you are looking for, it is time to peruse the used boat market. There are plenty of online marketplaces, but don’t limit yourself to the virtual world. Peruse your local marina, and ask around their clubhouse. Often, the best deals come from a referral.

If you are dealing with an unknown seller, try to get them on the phone as soon as possible. Scammers tend to prefer email, which is both easier to fake and more challenging to track.

To save yourself some time, it helps to ask a few basic questions to find out if the boat is even worth buying. These include:

  • Where is the boat’s current location? (in a garage, in the water?)
  • Is the boat seaworthy?
  • Does the seller have a clean title?
  • Does the boat have any significant damage?

If the answers to these questions are satisfactory, it is time to set up an ocular visit. Never consider buying a boat sight unseen. If you are purchasing a boat from out of state, check if a local friend is willing to do an ocular inspection on your behalf or hire a local inspector. But whatever you do, don’t take the seller’s word regarding the boat’s condition.

Inspect The Boat

When you are viewing the boat, give it a thorough once-over. How involved and time-consuming this task can be will depend entirely on the boat. Anyone can inspect an aluminum jon boat in about five minutes. On the other hand, a 32-foot pontoon boat with a party deck is going to take some serious scrutiny. At this level, it’s comparable to inspecting a house rather than inspecting a car.

Above all else, inspect the hull thoroughly. Look for any dents, dings, or pits that could indicate damage. On aluminum boats, look for any wear in the paint, as this could indicate the beginnings of corrosion. On fiberglass boats, any low spots are a serious concern since filling them can be expensive.

Another crucial area to inspect is the motor, propeller, and rudder. If there are numerous dings on these components, you can practically guarantee the boat has been used extensively.

If you view a boat at the seller’s home or place of business, take a glance at their car, garage, or office. If these are neat and well-maintained, the same is likely true of the boat’s condition. On the other hand, if they don’t take care of their car, they probably don’t take care of their boat.

Perform A Sea Trial

Performing a sea trial is about more than ensuring the boat is seaworthy. It is also an opportunity to examine all the boat’s systems in action. For example, if you buy a boat with a trailer, it is also an excellent chance to make sure it launches and reloads properly.

Let the seller walk you through the starting process, then take it for a short spin. You don’t have to drive it for a long time, just long enough to ensure it accelerates, slows, and trims properly. Check the pumps, bilges, and other essential functions as well.

Just as important as making sure the boat drives smoothly is verifying all the amenities are working. If there is a wine cooler, turn it on. If there is a stereo system, fire it up. Check the galley stove, and make sure the toilet in the head flushes properly. This is your only chance to make sure you are receiving fair value for what you paid.

Hire A Surveyor

Sometimes, it makes sense to hire an expert to inspect your new boat. A marine surveyor will typically charge between $15 and $25 per foot. So, a 20-foot boat could cost from $300 to $500 to inspect, while a 32-foot boat could cost between $480 and $800 for the same inspection.

This might sound like a lot. But if you are spending $30,000 on a boat, it is worth $800 to know you are getting that boat in the condition you expect. This is particularly true for first-time buyers, who might not even know what to look for.

A surveyor is also an invaluable consultant if you are buying a boat you cannot inspect for yourself. They can even perform a sea trial for you. Since they work for you and not the seller, you can trust that they are giving you an honest evaluation.

Complete The Paperwork

In most states, boats 16 feet and longer require a title, just like an automobile. Also, check your state’s laws to be sure.

Assuming a title is required for the boat you are buying, request to see it and ensure there are no liens on it. As with cars, boats with liens cannot be sold or transferred. If the boat does not require a title, request for a receipt or bill of sale. Again, this lets you know the seller is the legitimate owner and that you are not accidentally receiving stolen property.

Once the buyer’s paperwork is in order, write up a bill of sale on your own. This should include not just the boat but also any accessories, such as a trailer. There are many standard bills of sale available for your review, including from state governments.

Fill out two copies of the bill of sale: one for you and one for the seller. Sign both documents, along with the title if applicable, and hand over your money. Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a used boat.