How To Buy A Used Boat

How To Buy A Used Boat? (Insider Secrets For A Safe Purchase)

Buying a used boat is a great alternative to getting one brand new from the manufacturer.

This is because they tend to be significantly more affordable, with thousands of great bargains to be found.

Additionally, used boats are great for those looking for a long-term renovation project, or those who simply love the look and feel of a vintage vessel. 

However, it isn’t always straightforward.

In this article, we’ll guide you through each step you should take before buying a used boat.

Choosing the right boat for you

When shopping around for a used boat, you’ll notice that there are a whole host of models available.

The type of boat you end up buying should reflect your boating style.

This helps to ensure that the layout of the boat is suitable for you specifically.

When buying a brand new boat, it’s easy to make changes and customize it to fit your needs.

However, with a used vessel, you’ll need to be lucky enough to find the right boat, in good condition, for an affordable price. 

You should always start your second-hand boat search by ensuring that the seller actually owns the vessel.

There’s nothing worse than spending thousands from your savings on a used boat, just to find out that there are outstanding encumbrances such as unpaid marine mortgages, boatyard charges, or mooring fees. 

Checking if a used boat is stolen is simple enough, keep an eye out for altered HINs, serial numbers, and registration numbers.

As boats are far easier to steal than cars, criminals take advantage of this and use such techniques to scam potential buyers. 

How To Buy A Used Boat From A Private Seller

Check all of the documentation

Upon viewing the boat (which you should always do before handing over any cash), it’s vital that you ask to see all relevant title documentation.

This will usually include bills of sale, the documents that transfer legal title in a boat.

Boats less than 20 years old should ideally come with all documentation and can usually be traced back to the original owner.

However, the older the vessel, the less likely it is that all of these documents still exist and are intact. 

A wasted trip to look over a boat is frustrating so do your homework first.

Ask the seller or broker to provide as much extra information as possible including the age and condition of the engine and rigging.

Once you have made your own initial checks of the boat, it’s important to arrange for a professional surveyor to examine the boat in fine detail and produce a full boat survey.

While this is something you will have to pay for, it will provide very useful information to negotiate down the sales price, and ensure you buy the boat with peace of mind.

Inspect the boat

If you’ve found a great deal online, it can be tempting to make a down payment to reserve the boat as yours.

However, this should always be avoided.

It’s absolutely vital that you personally view and inspect the vessel yourself.

A good rule of thumb is if it looks too good to be true, it almost always is.

The complexity of the inspection process will depend entirely on the complexity of the boat itself.

For example, an aluminum fishing boat with a tiller-steel outboard is a lot easier to inspect than a 30-foot, multi-engine center console boat.

The bigger and more expensive the boat, the more thoroughly it should be inspected. 

When viewing your boat, take note of the environment around you.

If you’re buying from a private seller, evaluate the location.

For example, if the seller’s home or garage is squeaky clean and organized, then it’s more than likely that the boat has been well-maintained and cared for.

However, if the whole place is a mess, it could be a red flag.

Additionally, check for gear inside the boat, such as life vests.

Often criminals will strip a vessel of all its equipment before selling, whereas trusted sellers are more likely to leave some gear inside the boat. 

While some people have the knowledge and expertise to carry out a full inspection by themselves, many opt to call in a professional surveyor to do this for them.

While this will cost you more money, it could protect you in the long run. 

To fully inspect the boat, you’ll need to know how to do the following:

  • Check that the boat wiring is safe and working correctly.
  • Spot and identify rot, osmosis, and electrolysis. 
  • Climb a mast to look for corrosion at the masthead.
  • Identify a well-maintained engine and differentiate it from an engine that is faulty but cleaned up to appear functional. 
  • Inspect the heads for any nasty surprises. 
  • Knowledge of keel bolts.
  • Knowledge of sails and bulkheads.

Get a professional surveyor

The larger and more expensive the boat, the more worthwhile it is to invest in a professional surveyor to inspect the vessel.

For a couple of hundred dollars, a boat surveyor will carry out a full condition and valuation survey and point out any potential problems with it. 

Unless advised otherwise by a broker, it can be a good idea to notify the surveyor that you intend to be present during at least part of the survey.

This can contribute to accountability, but also it allows the surveyor to show you findings in person.

Additionally, if a surveyor requests that the buyer (or the buyer’s broker) not be present during the survey, it could be a red flag and an indication that you need a different surveyor.

Conduct a sea trial

A sea trial is a great opportunity to ensure that every component of your boat is in full working order.

Many surveyors will carry out a sea trial, and others will require you to do this yourself or pay an additional fee for this service. 

For example, if you’re trialing a regular sailing boat, you’ll be able to check that all of the sail handling systems and components such as the anchor windlass operate just as they should.

Most problems with second-hand boats start with the engine, so pay particular attention to it during the sea trial.

Check that all engines start easily, when both hot and cold, and that it doesn’t produce lots of smoke. 


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igor desperatesailors

Hi, I’m Igor, Skipper of S/Y "The Hooker". A decade ago, I conquered my childhood dream: to be a sailing skipper, own a sailing yacht. Yes, it knocked dullness out of my urban life — Read more →

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