Boating Life

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Pre-Owned Boat

July 26, 2020
Ingman Marine
Helpful Tips
July 26, 2020
Ingman Marine
Helpful Tips

Are you in the market for a new boat, a new-to-you boat or maybe you are just trying to trade-in your older model for a newer model? Florida is one of the largest mecca’s for boat sales. Boaters all over Florida put up 100’s of slightly used models every day.

Making the decision to buy a boat is only the beginning. If you are new to the boating world, there will be many things to consider and research like; new vs used, knowing the hidden costs, fishing vs leisure vs watersports, etc. Take a look at our Guide to Buying A Pre-Owned Boat to learn what you need to consider before laying any money down.

The Struggle - New vs Used?

Almost everyone will admit that the appeal of getting a brand-new shiny boat is very tempting, and given unlimited funds, most would likely choose the new vessel. However, when the desire is strong enough, we often settle for an alternative that turns out to be a far better choice at the end of the day.

Upon beginning the process to buy a boat, it is important to review the pros and cons of buying new vs used. While buying a used boat can afford the opportunity for a large boat with lower price, buying a new boat may promise longer life. The decision to buy a boat begins with choosing if you will buy new or pre-owned.

Buying a Used Boat is Nothing to Turn Your Nose at

Just like buying a new car, as soon as you drive your boat off the lot, your boat depreciates instantly. Buying a used boat allows you to get slightly used models with expensive option packages already installed and avoiding the depreciation element. There are also plenty of older models that are just as well taken care of and even cheaper. We even get some models that are traded-in during the same model year. If you are lucky you could snag up a nearly brand-new model for cheap. You get the benefits of buying a lightly used boat at a much lesser price than a new model.

Buying a used boat can also be compared to giving an old boat a new life and second chance. Thousands of people list their gently used vessels every year across the country. Not purchasing a perfectly good pre-owned boat is almost a shame now-a-day.

Know the Hidden Costs of Boat Ownership

The journey towards owning a boat isn’t always straightforward. There are still expenses that the buyer might not find out about until later into the purchase. If you are buying a boat for the first time, you will need to understand that there are more costs associated with buying a boat than most expect. If you are an experienced boat buyer, you may still learn a little something-something.

Maintenance and Repairs

Maintenance cost refers to those expenses that should be handed regularly. Things like engine tune-ups, hull cleanings, etc. Repairs on the other hand, are costs that often surface suddenly, repair costs are heavily dependent on how well routine maintenance is carried out. If the proper maintenance is completed on a normal schedule, there should be few repairs that creep up on you over the years.

It is important to note that no two boats have the same maintenance and repair costs.

Operating Expenses

The operating expenses of a boat will happen every time you take the boat out. Fuel is the most common of these expenses, and it varies based on the boat and engine size. Some models are okay with a few gallons, while others like the types with triple-engine center consoles can require several gallons of fuel, even up to hundreds of gallons.

Other expenses to consider include:

  • Fuel Additives
  • Bait (if you are fishing)
  • Ice (for the fish boxes)
  • Drinks & Snacks
  • Trailer Parking
  • And more…


While boat insurance is no required in the state of Florida, it is important to consider. Insurance not only protects your boat, if anything were to happen to it, but it also protects yourself, your passengers and may cover the damage to any boat or property you strike with your vessel.

Insurance will be determined based on the size of your boat, equipment, etc. Most insurance policies for recreational boaters and anglers aren’t to expensive. However, there are still ways to help reduce your insurance price point. For example, installing an anti-theft system or enrolling in a course on boat education are easy ways.

If you trailer your boat or plan on motoring out quite a distance, you might want to consider adding towing insurance to your coverage for possible break-down cases.

Mooring and Boat Storage

If you don’t plan to keep your boat on your property or moored to your own dock, you will need to consider mooring and storage fees. The amount required for mooring a boat can vary based on the region and nature of the dock. A good idea is going for long-term leasing because most marinas will charge you less for than a short-term rental.

If you are going to keep your boat on a trailer or moored to your own dock you are still not quite out of the woods. Depending on the location you may still want to consider expenses like a boat cover, engine covers, a drive-in shed, etc.

Replacements and Upgrades

As the years go by, you will need to make some replacements on your boat, unfortunately it is inevitable. Zinc replacements and hull paint are 2 of the most common recurring replacements. Depending on how long you plan to keep the boat, you might need to get an upgrade to some parts of the boat, like the refrigerator and freshwater systems as well.

An excellent practice to make sure you have money for replacement upgrades is to set aside a certain amount of ‘boat emergency’ savings each year. It is important to note that the rate at which a boat will require an upgrade or replacement varies based on the boat type, model, and how you use it.

Do the Research

After deciding to buy a boat, especially a used boat, you need to do some research to help you make the best choice.

Decide the Type of Boat You Want

The same way you would research the purchase of a car, most wouldn’t just walk into any dealership and blindly point to one that ‘looks cool’ and buy it up immediately. First you would ask “What kind of car am I looking for”. Now do the same for your boat. Are you looking for a strictly fishing boat, a family boat, a deep water fishing boat, etc.

There are lots of boat types out there like: bay boats, center consoles, deck boats and many more. Each is ideal for certain purposes. Making your choice on the kind of boat you want to buy helps you narrow down your options. This will help to not overwhelm yourself.

Make a List of the Features that Mean the Most to You

This may be excessive, but write out the features that appeal the most to you. These attributes can include the hull type, the amenities, and the type of motor – inboard or outboard. After making your list, you will have a better idea of the layout and possibly even the manufacturer of the boat you would like.

Research Many Dealers and Online Listings

It is important when looking for a used boat that you look at plenty of models. Not all of the boats will be what you are looking for. If you are the type that likes to see the vessel in-person, check out the various dealers around you. If you are unsatisfied or like browsing online first, now-a-day’s most dealerships offer online listings. After seeing the one you like, contact them, and proceed to inspect the boat in-person.

Ingman Marine has locations in Port Charlotte, Placida, Sarasota and North Fort Myers. Or you can check out our full list of preowned boats online.

What to do When Taking a Look at a Listing

In this section, you will learn the things to look out for while viewing the boat in person.

Conduct a Walk Around

When viewing a listing, the first step is to conduct a walk around. The walk-around is intended to find out the condition of the boat’s physical appearance. If the boat is stored in the water, be sure to ask about the last time the hull has been cleaning and bottom painted.

When conducting a walk around, be sure to check the following places:

  • The Hull and Interior
  • Engine and Drive Oil
  • The health of the Trailer

Checking the Hull and Interior

To inspect fairness of the hull and smoothness of the gel coat, you have to stand at the boat’s stern to look down at either side of the bow. The goal is to use the motion of the light’s reflection to get an idea of the state of the gel coat. An even reflection of the light along the length of the hull indicates a smooth, reliable gel coat. Be on the lookout for jumps in the movement of the reflection, color changes, and dull patches.

After doing the above, examine the underlying fiberglass. The goal here is to be on the lookout for print-through of the fiberglass. Although this is mostly going to be a result of a cosmetic defect, if you find any, make sure it isn’t too severe.

Upon finishing with that, tap the corner where the transom and hull sides meet and the edges of the chines. Using a coin is a popular practice among pro’s; the result should be a sharp rapping sound. If you get a dull thud; instead, there is a problem. To inspect the deck of the boat, use the same method stated for checking the hull.

Remember to check fittings like the cleats to ensure they are through-bolted and backed. Check the railings and lifelines as well. Do not forget to examine the helm station, cabin hatches, and windows.

Check the Engine and Drive Oil

When inspecting the boat’s engine, be sure to look at the inside and outside. The wiring should be in a neat and orderly fashion. If there seems to be a mess in the wire compartment it is likely that the previous owner tried to fix the motor himself and may not be reliable.

Checking the drive oil will also be a tell-tale sign if the previous owner took care of the motor. If the oil has a milky color that will indicate that water has contaminated your oil. If your oil is contaminated it is best to take your boat to a local service yard or dealership for help.

Checking the propeller and remaining running gear for visual dents and decay are vital. Additionally, inspect the motor mounts to be sure they are still holding strong is important.

Check the Health of the Trailer

If you are looking at a boat that comes with a trailer be sure to not omit your duties of checking it. This is what will carry your new investment, you do not want the wrong size, style or a deteriorating trailer holding your expensive new toy. A general rule is to check the trailers rating; the total capacity rate should be at least 25 percent higher than the full load of your boat.

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Ask for a Sea Trial

A sea trial is the same thing as a test drive in the car world; it is only natural that you take the boat on a ride to check its performance. If any seller refuses a sea trial, back away slowly and then run the other way.

While conducting your sea trial, there are certain things to look out for. They include:

Check for Cold Start-Up Knocking

To check for cold start-up knocking, be sure to let the seller know not to start the boat before you get there. Again, the boat should not be started before your arrival; you should be the first to start up the boat on that day. This is because there are sounds you should listen for which will determine if there is too much clearance between the piston and cylinder rods, as well as other possible issues like loose spark plug, problem with the kill switch, etc.

Monitor the Engine Hour Meter

Check the engine hour meter before starting up the boat and after returning from the trial. This check is necessary to be sure that the boat has low hours on it. If the hour meter hasn’t changed after your sea trial changed, then you know the engine hours are likely not realistic numbers and you should walk away from the offer.

Test the Water Lines, and Livewells

During the inspection, be sure to check the water lines and the livewells. Water should flow through without sputtering or spitting. There should also not be any foul smelling or colored water that flows out. When a boat is done being used, proper care includes emptying water lines and livewells to ensure buildup won't happen.

Additionally, aside from standing water, looking for cracks and leaks are important issues to address.

Make Sure You Like the Ride – Paying Attention to the Motor

Apart from checking for all of the above, you should allow yourself to enjoy the ride. Does the hull glide through the water or above the water like it should. Is it too wet of a ride? Does the boat rock too much when walking from side to side?

Before You Buy the Boat

After taking all the steps above, the following are 2 last things to perform and finalize before purchase.

Get the Boat Fully Surveyed; Especially if it is Stored in the Water

To do this, you need the services of a licensed surveyor. However, if you cannot afford one, you should at least bring a buddy along who knows boats well enough to let you know if you are getting ripped off.

Determine What is Included in the Purchase

At this point, you should know everything that comes with the boat for which you are paying—for example, the trailer, life jackets, extra fuel filters, or even a trailer. Be very clear on what is expected upon payment.

Closing the Deal

Buying a boat is a significant move. However, it is never a bad idea to go for a well-maintained used vessel that offers as much as a new one, but at a more affordable price. As long as everything checks out a pre-owned boat can make for your dream vessel. Whether you are looking for a fishing boat, a family boat or a watersports boat; there is always something available for everyone.

If you would like to check out any of our pre-owned boats, contact one of our qualified salespeople. The Ingman family is excited to serve you!

Happy Shopping!

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