Used Boat Buying Checklist

Owning a boat can be a lifelong dream or proof of accomplishment and success. Fishing, sailing, or even living on a boat have become increasingly popular as an escape into open water. The tranquil rocking of the ship, the smell of fresh air, and the calming sounds of the sea make the purchase worth every cent.

Buying a used boat is unlike any other purchase you have made. Some parallels can be drawn with the basic procedures of buying a car. However, in practice, these two vehicles are nothing alike. We are here to help you with the process and show you what to look for to make a successful purchase. 

Hull

Your inspection should begin with the exterior, as even an untrained eye can notice damage and neglect. The hull should be clean, free of barnacles and algae. Unless you are dealing with a smaller bass boat, cracks and dents are clear warning signs to walk away from the purchase. 

The advantage of inspecting the boat on the trailer is the opportunity to see the vessel in its entirety. However, the drawback is that hidden cracks and leaky pins cannot be identified until it is back in the water. 

A stranded or abandoned boat is likely still seaworthy, provided there are no leaks. The downside is that the green marina water hides the state of the hull. Because of the relatively high price, you would want to inspect both on land and off-shore. 

Keel

Every boat has a keel, even if it is not pronounced. The keel runs through the center of the hull and acts as the backbone of the boat. It is typically the first point of contact between the ship and a ridge, sand, or the docks. 

Sailboats have a massive keel extending into the water like a shark fin. Its primary role is to counter the wind and waves that would otherwise capsize the boat. Inspecting a sailboat keel is vital, as its pronounced shape makes it highly susceptible to damage in shallow water.

Deck

The deck, just like the keel and hull, plays an integral part in keeping the boat waterproof. Every aspect of the deck should be checked for indentations, soft spots, cracks, and fading paint. Delamination and signs of water damage are concerning, as repairing the exterior of a boat is a costly endeavor. 

Helm

Depending on the type of boat, the helm can be as simple as a seat with a steering wheel or an enclosed area with seating for passengers and a complex operating system. At this point, you can turn on the engine and test out the navigation equipment. 

Check the seats for cracks and discoloration. Looks matter, especially once you are on the boat, and that should be reflected inside the helm. Dials have to be fog-free and functional, as should the rest of the controls. Radio is an expensive piece of equipment, so make sure it functions correctly.

Interior

The cabin is where you will sleep, relax and spend time while the weather is bad. It’s comparable to a tiny apartment or an RV, or in smaller vessels, the interior of a passenger car. Once you step below the deck, pay attention to the smell. 

Mold, moisture, and leaks are the main cabin problems that can be mitigated by diligent cleaning and regular maintenance. However, once the mold has taken over, residing in the cabin would be intolerable and pose a health risk. 

Aside from performing a detailed check for leaks, you should review the interior as if it was a regular home. Worn furniture, a broken stove, or doorknobs are much easier to replace than mechanical or structural parts, but replacement costs are still relatively high. 

Engine

If you have considerable experience with car or bike engines, you may spot more problematic things with the engine, but the average person can rely on the following tips. 

-The engine should be relatively clean, without signs of external corrosion or oil leaks. Check the oil level and see if it is muddy. If possible, look for signs of rust inside the gas tank, or at the very least check if the fuel is clear. 

-Problems with the transmission and engine are best observed during a test sail. The transmission should shift into gear without jerking or making a cracking noise. The engine should deliver power at all levels of the throttle. Choking or loss of power means there are likely mechanical issues.

Propeller

Despite its importance, the propeller is often overlooked. Just like the keel, it is a primary target for damage. Fins have to be symmetrical and bend-free, much like the shaft. A propeller that is not balanced can send excessive vibrations back to the transmission and cause further damage.

Mast And Sails 

Sailboats have a few extra things to be examined, mainly the mast, mainsail, jib, and boom. Located at the center or near the front of the boat, the mast endures a lot of stress from wind blowing into the sails. Look for signs of wear on the mast, boom, and connecting joint. These components are rarely damaged, but the high cost of repairs makes them an essential part of the checklist. 

Raise the sails in full and look for signs of tearing and severe deterioration. A set of new sails will set you back as much as $2,500 for a 24’ sloop or upwards of $5,000 for a mid-sized boat. 

Hire A Professional

This checklist should be a solid guide for estimating the condition of a boat. However, in reality, unless you are looking at an inexpensive bass boat, you should always hire a professional appraiser. 

You can perform the initial inspection by yourself and find red flags that may deter you from purchasing. Once you have found an appealing offer, bring a professional to give a final verdict. Comparative to the cost of the boat, the appraiser will charge you a fraction of the price.

However, their expertise and knowledge will pay their fee several times over, as they can find problems you may have missed, provide an accurate estimate on the actual value of the boat, and determine the cost of future repairs.