Thinking about buying a used boat? If so, don’t make the same mistake that I made before purchasing my first boat and that is that I really didn’t ask any questions about the boat other than “how much are you wanting for it?”
Long story short, I made the purchase and everything was great for about six months or so until one day the motor quit on me out in the middle of the Intracoastal Waterway of the Indian River Lagoon.
After about $3,000 dollars later, the boat was finally running again. Could this have been prevented if I had asked the seller if the engine had ever had any issues or if I could see the service records of the boat?
Who knows, but one thing is for sure…depending on what his answer was, I might have given it a second thought before buying the boat. Needless to say, I learned my lesson!
Eventually, I sold that boat and bought another one, but this time I did a little research and found 11 questions that I should have asked before buying my first boat.
1. What Kind of Little Quirks Does The Boat Have?
Out of all the questions to ask a seller before buying their boat, I would have to say that this one is the most important! That’s because it’s been my experience that all boats have some type of quirk to them!
This could be something as simple as the navigational lights having a short in the wiring to something a little more serious like the engine tending to run a little hot when running for long stretches at a time.
If the owner says that the boat runs perfect and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, take your money and run!
If they are not willing, to tell the truth about this, you can bet they won’t let you know if something more serious is wrong with the boat.
2. Why Are You Selling The Boat?
It’s always a good idea to ask the seller why they’re selling the boat. If they claim that they’re just wanting to upgrade to a larger boat or even downgrade to a smaller one, then go a little deeper and ask them what brand/model/size of boat they are wanting to buy.
It’s not really their answer that you care about but rather how they answer! If they hesitate and say something like “I’m not really sure yet”, this could be a red flag. While not always, it could mean that something is up with the boat and they are looking to dump it off to an unsuspecting buyer before it breaks down.
I don’t know about you, but when I bought my second boat, I had done hours of research and knew exactly what I wanted and how much I was willing to spend. I literally could tell you every detail about the boat. My wife can vouch for this!
Keep in mind though that just because they are unsure of what they want to buy doesn’t necessarily mean that they are trying to hide something! It could be that they need the money to use for something else such as bills and are just too embarrassed to say so.
However, if they can tell you everything that you never wanted to hear about their new boat, or better yet, have already bought the boat, that’s a pretty good indication that they are not trying to hide something and really did just want to upgrade/downgrade.
Either way, it’s always a good idea to ask this question!
3. Has the Boat/Motor Had Any Major Repairs?
A boat’s engine is the most expensive part of most boats, and also the most expensive to repair or replace when it breaks.
This is why it is imperative to ask the seller if they have had any issues with it. You’ll also want to make sure and ask for any and all service records along with the place that it was serviced.
By providing these records, it makes it a whole lot easier to verify what they are telling you, thereby giving you more confidence in your buying decision.
If they can’t provide actual records, then make sure that they can provide you with the name of the business where the boat was serviced. This way you can call the business and verify what the seller is telling you. If the business doesn’t have any record of servicing the boat, then take keep shopping!
Depending on how old the motor is, it is possible, and normal for it to have had some work done to it, even possibly having been rebuilt.
If this is the case, you need to consider the risks and decide if it’s worth buying or not.
Keep in mind that some repairs are perfectly normal, including carburetor rebuilds, and yearly servicing of the motor.
In any case, if you are not that familiar with the workings of an outboard engine, it’s always a good idea to hire a certified marine mechanic for an hour to do a complete inspection of the motor.
While this could cost you anywhere between $80 and $150 per hour, it could potentially save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
4. Does it Have any Warranty Left
Warranties are awesome! Especially if the warranty can be transferred to another owner.
A used boat that comes with a transferrable warranty can be a game changer, in my opinion. Knowing that you are covered if something happens to the boat can really give you peace of mind.
The only problem with this is that transferable warranties can be a little tricky to navigate.
For instance, while most warranties are transferable, they can only be transferred to the second owner. In some cases, a lifetime hull warranty will not transfer at all.
Outboard motors that have time left on the manufacturer’s warranty can also be transferred to the new owner if you go to a certified dealer. They have to verify the condition of the motor as well as the serial number before transferring the warranty to your name.
In any case, it’s always a good idea to find out if there is some life left to the warranty.
5. How Many Hours Does The Motor Have on It?
The hours on a boat’s motor is sort of like the mileage on a car in that lower is usually better.
With that being said, just like with a car’s mileage, the number of hours on the motor will not always tell the whole story.
For instance, a 2009 model that has 800 hours on it is not the same as a 2018 boat with the same amount of hours.
The newer motor obviously has been run harder than the older boat, which could be a cause for concern.
These days, outboard engines are meant to run a long time!
If the owner took good care of the engine (had it routinely serviced), and the engine was primarily used in freshwater, anything under 1000 hours should be just fine.
I would say that you could even go a little higher and be okay, but since there are so many used boats on the market, why settle for a motor with more hours when you could more than likely get the same setup, but with fewer hours.
Keep in mind though that you will probably get a better deal on a boat/motor that has more hours on the engine.
If for some reason the owner can’t verify how many hours the motor has on it, I would walk away.
As I stated before, there are plenty of boats/motors on the market, so finding one that can show proof of how many hours it has on it will not be a problem.
6. How Often and Where Was The Motor Last Serviced?
Knowing how often the boat’s motor was serviced is probably one of the most important questions that you can ask the seller when buying a used boat.
If it was serviced regularly and they have proof to back it up, you know that the boat and motor were likely taken very good care of and are probably in good condition.
If they don’t have any paper records of service, then ask them for the name of the business where it had been taken to. Get the VIN number from the boat and motor and call the business to verify this information.
If none of this can be verified, or if there are gaps in the service records, then you might want to think twice about buying this boat.
I understand that just like with their cars, a lot of people do the routine maintenance stuff themselves to save a little money.
For the most part, you don’t have to be a certified marine mechanic to perform an engine’s annual service.
However, you also don’t want to take “Joe Schmoes” word for it either!
Keep this in mind, because at some point you may want to sell your boat and if you have verifiable proof that you took good care of it, you will make the selling process that much easier.
7. Was The Boat Used in Saltwater?
One of the most destructive things to an outboard engine is saltwater! This is especially true if you don’t flush the engine thoroughly after each and every use in the ocean.
I do 99% of my fishing in saltwater and religiously flush my engine with fresh water as soon as I get back to the house and I can still see small deposits of salt built up around the head of the motor.
If the boat was used in saltwater on a regular basis, this is to be expected!
Knowing how often it was used and if it was routinely flushed is what counts.
If you plan on fishing mostly in saltwater, then I wouldn’t worry too much about a little salt on the motor. However, if you know that you are going to be doing most or even all of your fishing in fresh water, then look for a boat with a motor that has been used in fresh water exclusively.
The easiest way to determine if a motor has been used in saltwater is to take the cover off the motor and look for small deposits of salt around the seals of the powerhead.
8. How Has The Boat Been Stored?
A boat that’s been kept inside a garage or under a canopy is much better protected from the elements than a boat that has been stored on a lift by the owner’s dock, or even parked outside in their driveway.
Since most people don’t have room in their garage for a boat, you can assume that they kept it outside. Hopefully, they at least had a boat cover to protect it!
I would be a little cautious of buying a boat that has either been kept on a lift by the water or even worse, a boat that has been primarily kept in the water, especially if it’s saltwater.
Unless the seller has cleaned the boat, you should be able to tell if it has been kept in the water because there will be a water line on the boat’s hull.
I personally wouldn’t buy a boat that has been stored on or in the water!
Not only can the water (especially salt water) cause harm to the engine, it can cause rust to accumulate on some metal pieces, as well as destroy your boat’s fabrics.
Water and moisture can get into places that you would never think of!
This is true even if you store your boat in your backyard, but it’s especially true if you keep your boat on or in the water.
9. Is All The Boat’s Equipment Included?
Don’t assume that everything is included in the sale of the boat! If you found the boat for sale on a site such as Craigslist, make sure to read the entire description and what is actually included in the sale price.
Some people will list a boat at a good price, but neglect to include in their description that everything is not included.
The last thing that you want to have to do is spend another $3000 on electronics, a trolling motor, or maybe a Power-Pole.
Heck, I’ve even seen listings that “forgot” to mention that the trailer or sometimes even the motor was not included. What?
Once you’ve confirmed that everything is included, always make sure that you test it out, preferably while in the water.
10. Are You The Original Owner of The Boat?
Knowing whether or not the seller is the original owner of the boat can give you some insight into how well the boat was taken care of.
It can also let you know whether or not you will be able to transfer any warranties that the boat may have.
Most warranties, such as lifetime hull warranties will only transfer to a second owner and not a third.
When you buy a boat from a second or even third owner, it’s very hard in verifying how well the boat was taken care of.
Sure the current owner may have all the paperwork showing that the boat has been well maintained, but how well did the previous owner take care of it.
I personally wouldn’t mess with a boat that has had more than one owner. Again, there are too many fish in the sea to settle for something that is less than acceptable.
11. Are You Willing to Do a Sea Trial?
If the owner is not willing to do a sea trial, don’t waste your time! If they are willing to let you take it out, be prepared to put forth some type of deposit in order to do so.
This is perfectly fine, as if they didn’t require this, they would have every Joe Schmoe wasting their time.
Never, ever let them talk you out of a test drive! Even if the engine cranks right up on land, and all the extras work just fine, make them take you out on the water.
I learned the hard way that just because an outboard cranks up right away on land, doesn’t mean that it will run smoothly on the water.
Most used boat sales have an “all sales final” clause when being sold, so the last thing that you want is to get out on the water, only to find out that something just isn’t quite right.
Buying a used boat is a big investment for most of us! If you’re going to be spending thousands of dollars on something, you owe it to yourself to ask a few questions!
While the questions themselves are not going to ensure that you don’t get misled into buying something less than perfect, they can sure weed out most of the garbage, ensuring that you get the best boat for your money.