Tips for Buying a Used Boat for Water Sports

What to Know Before You Buy a Used Boat

Matt/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Buying a boat is a big financial decision, much like purchasing a car. You want to ensure that you know what you need, where to buy and how to get the best deal. While there is plenty to learn about when it comes to buying a boat, which is where our boat buying guide, which covers everything from cost to warranty issues, can come in handy. But when it comes to buying a used boat, however, there are some special considerations.

Here is your used boat purchase checklist.

1. Take a Test Drive

You wouldn't buy a car without test driving it first, would you? Same holds true with a boat, even more so than a car. Boats are finicky animals. They tend to require more attention and maintenance than cars. When you test drive the boat, pay close attention to the following things while underway. It's a good idea to take along several people on the test drive. Added weight in a boat can affect its performance and quickness.

  • Vibration - If it vibrates it could mean a variety of things, like a bent propeller. A vibrating boat makes a noisy boat.
  • Functioning Trim - If you're looking at an inboard/outboard boat, check to make sure the trim works, which allows the motor to move from the down position to the angled position.
  • Response - Rapidly, but carefully, test the steering from one direction to another to see how long it takes the boat to respond.
  • Planing - Check to see how long it takes the boat to plane after takeoff.
  • Shifting - Does the boat slip smoothly into gear, or does it jump?
  • Reverse - Make sure the boat works in reverse. You never know how important this is until you have to dock.
  • Gauges and Instruments - Check the temperature, RPM, and speedometer for proper function.
  • Bilge - Make sure it's doing its job. If your test ride isn't long enough to tell when you get back to the dock, run some water in the engine hole with a water hose until the bilge kicks in.

2. Check How Many Hours Are on the Boat

You measure a car's use by miles and a boat's use by hours. If a boat has more than 500 hours you can expect to pay some money for upgrades and maintenance.

3. Check for Floor Rot

Wood and water don't mix, especially in the floor of a boat. Carefully inspect the floor for soft spots, which indicate rot. Don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees and smell the floor for mildew.

4. Ask for a Maintenance History on the Boat

Find out what major repairs have been made to the boat. If a lot of work has been done to the boat, chances are there will be lots to come, which translates into dollars. Ask if the boat is still under warranty. Also, ask who the boat owner used for repairs and make sure to talk to them.

5. Have a Marine Surveyor Take a Look

It's a good idea to have a qualified marine mechanic thoroughly inspect the boat before purchasing it. To find a marine surveyor call either the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors - SAMS. If you're going to do it yourself, check the spark arrestors and plugs, alternator, belts, hoses, strainer, blower, shift cables, engine alignment, etc.

Analyze the oil and make sure it isn't cloudy or gritty Cloudy oil can mean the engine block is cracked. 

6. Inspect the Hull Condition

Take a walk around the boat and inspect the hull and make sure it's in good condition. Feel free to tap on the hull all the way around and make sure the hull is consistently solid. Mismatched paint is a sign the boat has been in an accident. Also, check for gel coat blisters and dry rot.

7. Check the Propeller for Warping, Cracks, or Nicks

Check the prop for warping, cracks, or nicks. Any of these things can throw off the performance of the boat.

8. Find Out How the Boat Has Been Stored

How has the boat been stored while not in use? Was it stored outside and exposed to the sun and weather? Or was it kept in protected dry storage?

9. How Is the Upholstery Holding Up?

How the boat was stored can affect how the upholstery has held up over the years.

Check for ripped seams and color fading. Also, check the boat cover if there is one.

10. What Are the Extras?

It's nice if the owner will sell the boat with a few extras which are probably already on the boat. In my opinion, a depth finder is crucial. You don't want the boat to run aground, much less let your skier run aground. In most states, a marine radio is required by law. A stereo is a nice thing to have so you can listen to tunes. Also, see if the boat owner will throw in some life jackets and an anchor. And if you're a lucky slalom skier, they may throw in a speed control device.

11. Don't Forget About the Trailer

If a trailer comes with the boat you want to buy check the trailer thoroughly. They are not cheap to replace.

12. Check the N.A.D.A. Boat Appraisal Guide

Locate the boat in the N.A.D.A. Guide to find out the price value range for the model and year. Remember, if the boat is priced at the low end or lower than the low end, it's likely the boat's had a history of problems and there is a reason the owner wants to get rid of it.