Buying a Used Boat

What’s the saying “The 2nd Best Day Of a Boat Owners Life is the day he buys a boat and the 1st Best Day of a Boat Owners life is the Day he sells his Boat” By learning how to properly inspect a used Boat before you buy it, will ensure that buying a used boat will make it the Best Day of your life. There are dozens of things to check and listen for before purchasing a used boat. How do you  buy a used boat from a private seller:

  • Use a Marine Surveyor
  • Do a quick Walkaround Inspection 
  • Check Trailor condition
  • Check Hull Condition & Anodes
  • Upholstery damage
  • Check for the Color of Smoke from the motor’s exhaust
  • Check for H2O in the Fuel & Oil
  • Check wiring
  • Check Handling during (Sea Trial)
  • Check registration & title.
  • Check for liens & Recalls.


A Boat and the Motor give signals that will indicate to anyone with a little amount of mechanical knowledge what they may need to buy a Used or a New Boat and why sometimes new is not always the best way to go. If you know what you are listening to or seeing you could get a lot of bang for your buck going used instead of a new boat.


Is It Better To Buy A New or Old Boat


The advantage of buying a used Boat is the obvious reason for money. Just because the Boats are not new doesn’t mean it is a lemon. It may have some sun damage or cracks in the fiberglass or there might be something wrong with the motor. Much of the value from depreciation is gone and there could be a host of problems waiting for you to discover after you have it out on Bay. Just like a good used car where someone’s grandmother drove it once a week to church, you really don’t know. The person that owned it could have beat it to death “but it looked good”

With a used Boat there is no warranty. There are no conditions of sale at least not normally. You take a real good look, then take it out and get it wet and see how she runs. So you need to know a little about Boats if you want to negotiate the sale of one.

You don’t have to be an expert just know enough that you will see things that will tell you what you need to know without asking. Follow these directions instead of buying blindly. You’ll rarely have engine troubles with a new boat the same can’t be said for a used one.

For reliability and quality, many people choose new boats. Then again, you can get a lot of Bang for your Buck! buying used if you know what to look for.

Also, if anything goes wrong with a new boat, you usually have the backing of a manufacturer’s warranty, which helps reduce or eliminate the overall cost of repair. You won’t get top dollar for your boat if it doesn’t have a high resale value as boats are notoriously depreciative.

The average marine gasoline engine will run for 1,500 hours before needing a major overhaul. The average Diesel engine will run for up to 3x that or around 5,000 hours, of course, these hours are done under a regular maintenance plan. The Gas engine will start to signs of use after about a thousand hours. If these small types of problems aren’t addressed then these smaller types of problems get bigger. Boat motors take a beating even in the calmest waters and compared to a car that has much less wear and tear and running in a more favorable environment.

Diesel engines are built to finer tolerances than are gasoline engines. Diesel will accept much more abuse and often deliver, if well maintained, 8,000 hours of hard work before ever needing a major overhaul. Theoretically, a well-maintained diesel Boat Motor may last the life of your boat.

Since the average recreational boater logs only about 200 hours per year, the 8,000-hour diesel would last 40 years. Look for Diesel Motors over  Gasoline Motors. They usually add value to the whole Boat. They are more durable and tougher.

Diesel fuel is more expensive but has a much higher flash point than gasoline and does not present the same threat of explosion that gasoline fumes carry. So it’s safer!  A very important setting for a Boat Engine compartment blower on a gasoline engine is that they should always be set to exhaust, not to blow air in, and they should be run for a minimum of 5 minutes before starting the engine.


When you are considering buying a used Boat inspect the Smoke coming from the Engine:

  • Black smoke is the direct result of engine overload, a restricted air supply, or a malfunctioning fuel injector in the case of a diesel engine. Improperly burned particles of excess fuel are blown out of the exhaust.
  • Blue smoke is created by the combustion of the engine’s own lubricating oil. This colored smoke can be the result of worn piston rings, valve guides, or oil seals. The oil can come from an overfilled air filter in the case of a diesel engine or excess oil in the crankcase.
  • White smoke indicates either water vapor from dirty fuel, a water leak into the cylinder, or atomized, but completely unburned, fuel. The air in the fuel can also cause white smoke.

Ask the Owner about how often he/she checks the oil and how they do it. You should be able to ask questions and the person who is selling the Boat should be happy to answer them for you.


Cruise Ship Lifeboats

What to Look for When Buying a Used Boat


  1. Check the Hull– take a walk around the whole Boat giving attention to the stem, chines, and strakes. These will suffer the brunt of any kind of collision and show cracks best. Any unusual stress-crack patterns? All open cracks need to be repaired before the boat will float again.  walk around it and thump the sides of the boat with the bottom of your fist. The hull should ring with a solid whump and it should feel firm under your fist. This is particularly important in the transom area, where water intrusion and delamination typically appear first.
  2. Check the Cowling (motor covering) Shift and throttle linkages should be greased and show no corrosion, and no leaks-
  3.  Shake the I/O or Sterndrive back and forth and check for bearing damage turn the wheel and check for the trim/tilt and ensure free movement
  4. Check Dipstick– feel for the viscosity, water or milky color, burnt smell
  5. Look at the wiring. Shrink-sealed butt connectors are all good and properly worked on. Bare wire and terminations that are twisted together or “sealed” with electrical tape are bad. Check for corrosion around the motor and under the dash.


  1. Test the fuel and oil- check for water in the oil that may signal a Cracked Block
  2. Check for leaks. If the previous owner let the Boat sit for two or three months, the boat will have had gas in the tank for a while. Ethanol is also corrosive, especially fiberglass. The fuel lines and the tank could have leaked from rot
  3. Upholstery damage– Algae stains on the seating and the cushions
  4. Check for missing screws, bolts, or trim that should be there or empty holes where there is missing hardware
  5. Check the condition of the skegg or skag- is a sternward extension of the keel of boats and ships which have a rudder mounted on the centerline. The term also applies to the lowest point on an outboard motor or the outdrive of an inboard/outboard. Is it banged up? How Banged Up?


Keeping a Boat In Saltwater

Don’t buy a boat sight unseen

FREE 10+ Sample Boat Purchase Agreement Templates in PDF | MS Word | Google Docs | Pages
Seller Buyer Agreement

Go and see the boat in person and inspect it from bow to stern. If you absolutely can’t get there yourself, find a friend or even hire someone who can in the area who will inspect it and send you more pictures.

Protect yourself with a contract.

Once you’ve decided that this is the boat you want to buy, have agreed on terms with the seller, and checked that the title and registration are in the seller’s name, fill out a purchase agreement form. An old legal adage says, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” A “purchase and sales agreement” is the best method to protect you.

Too often a private-party boat purchase includes an exchange of money and a handshake to consummate the sale. A purchase agreement spells out the details of the sale, including contingencies (such as an unacceptable survey or sea trial, or inability to obtain financing and/or insurance) that allow you to renegotiate or even back out of the deal completely.

Make sure you spell out exactly how and when your deposit is to be refunded.


     Photograph the boat’s HIN.

Hull Serial Number (HIN)


Don’t sign the check yet! Find the HIN on the upper part of the starboard side of the transom and make sure it matches both the registration and title. If it doesn’t match exactly, at the very least there could be issues retitling the boat. Check for liens and Recalls. Not all states assign titles to boats. In states that don’t require titling, ask to see the seller’s bill of sale from his seller. Insurance policies and boat registration cards are also good ways to help confirm ownership.



What is a Sea Trial


A Sea Trial is a Test Drive. Surveyors use sea trials as an opportunity to test speed and maneuverability, as well as check for vibrations and observe other systems that can only be tested in the water. If a recommended Marine Surveyor can’t be used because of the cost, you may have to be relied on to do the job yourself. A refundable agreement between the Seller and Buyer might even be used dependent on the Surveyor and whether the Boat is found to be in good shape.

While on land grab anything that is attached to the boat inside and out and check to see that there are no loose screws and bolts. Check hinges on doors ladders and compartments Then smell and search for any hint of gasoline paying attention under the engine Hatch. You can expect some but what you are looking for is an overpowering smell.

On The Sea

Fire up the Boat Motor Cold if the engine is going to make funny noises this is the time that will happen:

  1. Open the hatch so you can hear everything better.
  2. Does the starter engage smoothly and quietly?
  3. Does the engine rattle or knock when you start it? It should run with little more than a thrum of vibration and the hiss from the flame arrestor atop the engine
  4. Does the Shifter move without binding or are the Cables sticking
  5. How long and smooth does the Boat take to get up to plane
  6. Take the Boat up to top speed and hold it with little difficulty
  7. Bring the Boat bac down to cruising speed which is about 3,500 rpm
  8. Take the boat into right and left turns. Do slalom maneuvers then full circle turns.
  9. If you’re satisfied with the test, cruise it back to the dock the way you normally would. Once you get back to an idle zone, open the engine hatch and do another full sensory check.
  10. Now Visually check the engine now that it’s hot and look for any differences.



What Kind of Anchor Do I Need


JimGalloway Author/Editor





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