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Tips on Buying a Used Boat for Water Sports

Boat Buying Guide - Part II


Tips on Buying a Used Boat for Water Sports
Matt/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
For general boat buying tips see Boat Buying Guide - Part I. There you'll find tips on deciding on the purpose of your boat and the body of water you'll be using, costs, maintenance and warranty issues, dealer reputation, word of mouth, boat shows, NMMA certification, propeller type, time of year to buy a boat, and more.

Use the following checklist when purchasing a used boat.


    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:

      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.

      Rapidly, but carefully, test the steering from one direction to another to see how long it takes the boat to respond.

      Check to see how long it takes the boat to plane after take off.

      Does the boat slip smoothly into gear, or does it jump?

      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.

      Make sure it is doing it's job. If your test ride is not 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.

      It's a good idea to take along several people on the test drive. Added weight in a boat can affect it's performance and quickness.


    Check to see how many hours are on a 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 in upgrades and maintenance.


    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 for floor for mildew.


    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 a point to talk to them.


    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 are 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 is not cloudy or gritty Cloudy oil can mean the engine block is cracked.


    Take a walk around the boat and inspect the hull and make sure it is 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.


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


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


    Depending on 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.


    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 are a lucky slalom skier they may throw in a speed control device.


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


    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 the boat.

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