Buying A Used Boat

Follow these principles and you can buy your boat with confidence whatever type of boat you are buying.

When buying from a private seller, the boat will usually come with no warranty, so you need to check it carefully to avoid making an expensive mistake. Many brokers and dealers sell used boats as well as new, and may offer a limited warranty. Whilst this may provide some peace of mind, the dealer’s commission is usually reflected in a higher price.

Before inspecting the boat there are some checks you can make so you don’t waste your time and effort:

Check out the builder of your chosen boat. Is it a highly regarded brand? Are they still trading? If not, getting replacement parts may prove difficult.

Why is the boat being sold? This can be an indication of how well the boat has been looked after. If the boat is a repossession, it may indicate that the boat has not been looked after; if the owner didn’t keep up payments to the financer, then he may have shown the same lack of care for the boat’s maintenance.

If the boat is being sold because the owner is upsizing, this might indicate that the owner is a real boating enthusiast, and thus may have taken greater care in the boat’s upkeep. If the reason for selling is that there’s a problem with the boat, then be aware that if you buy that boat, you will be the new owner of that problem!

Does the boat have a full maintenance log? This should list all services, repair, and oil changes. If it’s missing, it can be hard to tell how well the boat has been looked after.

Is all the equipment you need present? For example, navigation, lights, winches etc. If not present, you will have to buy some equipment separately, so build this into your budget.

What was the main use of the boat? The use of the boat can affect its condition. For example, boats used mainly for fishing often run up high engine hours.

Inspecting The Boat

It is recommended that you use a surveyor to carry out a detailed inspection.

At the moment, anyone can call themselves a marine surveyor, so it is important to make sure that yours is accredited by the relevant authority. Some examples are listed below:

The Yacht Designers and Surveyors Association, The International Institute of Marine Surveying, The Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS), The National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS)

Using a surveyor will give you peace of mind, and your finance and insurance companies may insist upon it. You should never rely on an old survey – new problems may have occurred since it was carried out.

If you are experienced and confident enough, you may be able to perform an inspection yourself. Here are some things to look out for:

Has the boat been looked after well? Examine obvious features such as the gel coat, woodwork and upholstery. If these haven’t been maintained then there’s a good chance the rest of the boat has not had much care either.

Check all wooden decking and interior woodwork for any soft spots.

Are any parts of the exterior paintwork poorly matching? This may indicate a previous accident.

Check that all the control cables (for steering, throttle etc.) are in good working order. The steering and transmission should move freely.

Look for water lines inside the boat or on the engine. These indicate that the boat has flooded in the past.

Open and close all the hatches and sea cocks to ensure they’re in good working order. Water marks inside the hatches would indicate that they are no longer water-tight.

You should test all the systems such as, bilge pump, winches, freshwater system, lights, heater and air conditioning, generator, stove etc.

Check that all hardware is attached firmly, and that electrical items and connections are free from rust.

Examine the hull all over, taking note of its general condition and looking for any dents, cracks or chips in the gel coat if applicable. Tapping a fibreglass hull lightly with a rubber hammer, listening for voids, can help reveal any blistering or delamination. Any fittings that go through the hull should be checked to make sure they are tight and won’t leak.

Find the hull registration number, and make sure it is present, doesn’t look like it has been tampered with, and matches the number on the boat’s registration and title documents. Missing or altered hull registration numbers indicate that the boat may be stolen. It is crucial that you ensure that you are not buying a stolen boat; if you do, you risk losing the boat and your money.

Although it may not be practical to do so, viewing your boat out of the water is very useful, allowing you to check the hull below the waterline. Check that the keel runs in a straight line from fore to aft, and that the propeller, shaft and rudder are straight; do they show any signs of a collision? Look for signs of cavitation which manifests itself as an erosion of the surface of the propeller blades – an indication of poor performance. Make sure that the propeller and shaft do not wobble.

On a sailing boat, check that all sails and rigging are in good order.

If possible, contact the previous owner to get any further information; as they no longer have any interest in whether the boat is sold or not, they can give you an impartial viewpoint.

Engine Checks

Unless you’re an engine expert, it would be best to get a mechanic to look over the engine for you.

Look out for the presence of oil in the bilges – a sign of an oil leak.

Inspect the gaskets and hoses for oil leaks.

Inspect the level and condition of the oil. A milky appearance signifies that water may be leaking into the engine. A burned smell or grit in the oil, are indications of mechanical problems, whilst a chalky residue on the engine or drive signals that the engine has been running hot.

Pull out a spark plug and examine it for age. If it’s old, perhaps the engine hasn’t been serviced as often as it should.

Examine all hoses and belts. Are they cracked or degraded? Smell for fuel leaks from hoses, and check that the fuel tanks are sound.

Are the engine mounts sturdy?

Check the sacrificial anodes. Do they need replacing?

Compression check the engine.

Sea Trial

If everything is up to your standards, take the boat for a test drive.

Before starting the engine, check if it is already warm; if the engine has trouble starting or smokes a lot when cold, the seller may have warmed-up the engine prior to your arrival to disguise such problems.

Check the bilges at the start and end of the trial; looking for evidence of an oil leak.

See how the boat manoeuvres. Is the steering responsive? Hit waves from different angles, looking for excessive pitch or roll. Try out these factors whilst above and below deck.

Test that all the instruments are working correctly, and run the engine for long enough to see if it’ll overheat.

If it’s a sailing boat, put the sails up, and see how she manoeuvres under sail. Try out different points of sale. Examine the mast and rigging under load.

If the boat does not pass on any of your tests, you do not necessarily need to rule it out, as long as you are willing to put some time (and money) into putting things right. Any imperfections can be used as bargaining tools to negotiate a lower price.

Get It In Writing

If you decide to purchase the boat, you should get a Sales Agreement. This should state the terms and amount of payment, and detail any pre-sale repairs that have been agreed on – making clear who is responsible for carrying them out and paying for them. It should also list which accessories are included and the delivery and payment dates.

Beware Of Fraud

Does the price seem too good to be true? If so, it probably is. The boat may either be stolen or the seller may take your deposit and never be contactable again. Make sure that you get the real address of the seller; you should be suspicious of anyone who only uses a PO Box.

Verify all the contact details of the seller. If there is an email address, make sure you can get a reply from them. Get a telephone number for them and make sure it works.

If the boat is in a different country to the seller, be extra cautious, and take even more care if either are outside of your own country.

If anything just doesn’t seem right, don’t dismiss those feelings until you’ve checked them out. Often your instincts are correct.