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Best Guide To Buying A Used Boat

Best Guide To Buying A Used Boat

The How-To

You’ve probably heard the phrase “the two best days of being a boat owner are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.” Perhaps that boat owner bought the wrapping but failed to look under the hood. Truth is, knowing how to buy a used boat can help you find a good deal that will provide years of family fun and enjoyment. So, if you’re considering a preowned boat here are some tips for you to use while buying that used boat. 

Where to start your search: Private Seller or Boat Dealer?


A boat dealer or marina usually has good used boats in stock that have been inspected, certified and ready for delivery. Be sure to look for a boat dealer that has a good reputation for quality boat sales and service. A good salesperson will be the knowledgeable advisor who will ask you the right questions to help you start your search. Here are some of the questions you can expect to hear from a good salesperson:  What kind of boat are you looking for? How will you use your boat? Where will you be boating? Have you thought about the hull type? What features are important to have on your boat? A good advisor can help you determine the style of boat that best fits your needs and meets your expectations. By using a reputable boat dealer or marina, you’ll have confidence knowing that a happy customer is key to the success of their business.

Unless you’re buying a boat from a person you know, trust and who’s boat has been well cared for; buying a used boat from a stranger can be like playing Russian roulette. While the price might be right,  you’re probably getting exactly what you’ve paid for, somebody else’s problem. Will the seller be around if you have a problem? Do you have any recourse if it turns out to be a bad deal? Are there any warranties or guarantees? Be sure to do your research and do the thorough inspection you would expect a reputable dealer to do. Also keep in mind, you are responsible for the necessary paperwork for registration and to complete the change of ownership. 

Whether you find your ideal used boat through a private seller or a boat dealer, here are some tips for buying a preowned boat, including what questions to ask when buying a “new-to-you” boat and what to check for when purchasing a preowned boat. 


  • – What is the year and make of the hull and the motor?
  • – How many hours does the boat have on it?
  • – When and where were the boat and motor last serviced? 
  • – Are the service records available?
  • – Have there been major repairs to the motor or the hull?
  • – Are the boat or motor still under factory warranty?
  • – When was the last time the boat was used?
  • – How is the boat stored in the winter?
  • – How long has the seller owned the boat and motor? 
  • – Are they the original owner?
  • – Why is the seller, selling this boat?



Walk around the outside of the boat. Trust your first impression, if a boat looks bad it’s likely not been maintained properly and likely not a good purchase.

  • – Check for stress cracks along the hull and gunnels. Note any discoloration in the gel-coat, it could signal a repair was made and a professional inspection may be necessary.
  • – Is the gel-coat dull and does it give off a chalkiness if you rub your fingertip over the finish.  Is it beyond restoration? 
  • – Are there small bubbles or blisters in the fiberglass? 
  • – Check the rub rail for any dents or gouges and for any separation or leakage under the railing.  
  • – Check the back of the boat were the engine is. Look for cracks or signs of stress particularly the transom area around the motor.  
  • – Tilt the motor up and shake the lower unit to check for movement in the transom or in any existing cracks. 
  • – Step on board. Do the smell test, does it smell clean or musty and moldy?  
  • – When checking the inside pay particular attention to the floor, perhaps the most important single item to inspect on any boat. Feel for soft spots on the deck.  Be sure the floor is flat and not wavy. Walk over all parts, especially the corners, to determine whether there is any softness. Any softness could indicate rotting which usually means expensive repairs or total replacement. 
  • – Look in all compartments and lift objects on the boat, check for leaks, standing water, mold or mildew, missing bolts or screws and discoloration or corrosion.   
  • – Check the windows, doors and hatches to see if they are operating correctly.
  • – Check the upholstery for mildew, ripped seams and color fading. Also check the boat cover if there is one.
  • – Check the propeller for warping, cracks, or nicks.
  • – Does it have all the necessary safety equipment? 


Look at the overall condition of the engine.  Is it clean?  If the engine is rusted, there may be problems with the cooling system.

  • – Check the oil. It should be clear with a tinted gold coloring.  If it’s milky it means water is getting in. Test the oil, by rubbing it between your fingers, does it feel gritty? This could indicate serious engine wear.
  • – Check the wires for insulation peeling or melting a sign of engine overheating. Also check for corrosion or loose connections. 
  • – Check the condition of all of the battery, if the water is low, you will need to replace it. 
  • – Check any belts, cables and hoses for wear, cracking or looseness. 
  • – It’s recommended that you have a mechanic to inspect the engine, check compression, do an oil analysis, and generally making sure all is in good working order.


Unless you’re planning to keep the boat in a marina, you’ll need a reliable trailer. So don’t overlook inspecting the boat trailer. Make sure that it is ready for the road and that it fits the boat. If the boat and trailer are not properly matched, trailering a boat to and from the water, launching and retrieving can be the most stressful part of boating. 

  • – Inspect the trailer carefully. Things to look for are rust or corrosion, cracks in the frame or evidence of major frame damage or repair. 
  • – Check for excessive or uneven tread wear on the tires. 
  • – Make sure all lights are operational.
  • – Check the condition of the bunk carpeting or the bunk rollers
  • – Check the condition and working order of the coupler, surge brakes, and tongue jack.
  • – Check the winch operation and strap condition. 
  • – Are there brakes on the trailer and are they functional?
  • – State laws on weights, brakes and legal width vary by state, make sure the trailer meets your state’s legal requirements. 


If the boat has passed the checklist, now it’s time for a test drive. Any used boat buying guide will tell you, never buy a boat without a full-on test drive. Schedule a time that you can bring the usual crew that will be normally boating with you, the added weight in a boat can affect the performance and quickness. Your crew can assess the comfort and ride and also catch any potential concerns you may have missed.

  • – Does it start up easily and handle well? How does the engine run? Is the steering smooth and turn easily at all speeds?
  • – Make sure all of the electronics work.  The bilge pumps, battery charger, fish finders, rpm gauge, water pressure gauge, GPS, lights, radio, etc.
  • – Does it vibrate? Could mean a bent propeller and make for a noisy boat.
  • – Make sure the boat works in reverse.  Can you change direction when powering in reverse?
  • – Check the tracking, does the boat stay straight when you take your hands off the wheel?
  • – If the boat is trailered to your test drive, check the hub temperatures they should be warm to the touch, but not hot.

While this is not an exhaustive list of things to check when buying a preowned boat, it does provide you with a good guide for buying a boat. The bottom line is; decide what you want out of your boat, and whether you’re new to boating or a seasoned boat owner, do your homework and make an educated and satisfying purchase.   

Happy Boating!

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