Whether you buy new or used, the key to smart boat buying is knowing the quality and condition of the specific boat you want to buy. We’ve got lots of good tips and sites here for you.
Check out boat reviews on the models you like.
The following are just a few of the many websites that offer boat reviews. You can also enter the name of the model you like into your search engine followed by “boat review” to search for reviews of that specific model.
- Boating Magazine — New boat reviews.
- Yachting Magazine — reviews high-end yachts.
- Boat Reviews — By marine surveyor Jack Horner, N.A. on the boatus.com website.
- Boat Reviews — By marine surveyor David Pascoe of Destin, FL. They may be searched by model or date. The introduction sets forth the basis and approach of the reviews; read it before going to specific reviews.
- Practical Sailor — has reviews on sailboats and marine equipment.
Considering a used boat?
Critical Tip! Don’t buy a used boat without talking to the previous owner!
- Who did you buy the boat from?
- Why are you selling the boat?
- Who was your boat mechanic and how do I call that person?
- Did you keep maintenance records, and can I see them?
- Did you ever have any insurance claims on this rig?
- How long has the boat been for sale? (Boat owners are much more likely to negotiate if their boat has been on the market for a long time. This also goes for boat dealers.)
Critical Tip! Don’t buy any boat without taking it for an extensive “test drive.”
Even if you’re not a boater yet and are very uncomfortable at the helm, you must do this. Boats are like cars in many ways: you’ll feel comfortable in some of them and very uncomfortable in others. If you’re really too uncomfortable to take the helm, why not bring along an experienced boater to help you evaluate the boat in the water? A friend or a member of a boating club would do this just to help you. Or, you can retain a mechanic or marine surveyor to be the captain (not a bad idea, particularly if you are spending a lot of money on a boat. More on these people in a second).
What about buying a used boat and installing a new motor?
Remember that many boats themselves have a much longer useful life than the engines on those boats. You might be able to find a great older boat hull for little money, for instance, then put a new engine on the hull.
Give a used boat an initial check yourself.
If you've found a boat (particularly a used boat) that fits your wish list and budget, use the following checklist yourself to see if the boat has enough potential to have it checked-out thoroughly by a marine surveyor or mechanic. If the boat flunks your examination, you'll save time and money by crossing it off your list.
- Tips for a 10-minute inspection of a new or used boat
This article by David Brown reprinted by boats.com can be used even if you are new to boating.
Critical tip: We can’t say this enough—don’t buy used marine engines or hulls without having them checked out by a marine mechanic or surveyor.
- What’s a marine surveyor? A lot like a house appraiser, a marine surveyor looks at all elements of a boat, from engine to hull and in between, and determines its condition and value.
- If you’re buying more than a used rowboat, you would be smart to retain a surveyor. Below are some sites to help you find one. Or, talk with a local boat dealer about the surveyors the dealer regularly uses. A tip: Make sure the surveyor is approved by banks to survey boats for financing institutions.
- What are the key questions to ask any marine mechanic or surveyor? First, tell the mechanic about your conversation with the previous owner. Then ask the mechanic:
- How much will it cost me to put this engine in really good running order?
- How many useful hours does this engine have on it before I need to replace it or have it rebuilt?
- Structurally, how is this hull, and how many years service will it probably give me?
Another big tip: “Safe and Reliable” applies to both engines and hulls.
Is the engine safe and reliable? Is the hull safe and reliable?
- New engines are pretty easy to check out. Use the sites recommended on this guide’s page on marine engines.
- Used engines are literally one-of-a kind. Many engines now have some form of “hour meter” built into the engine. Knowing the total “hours” on an outboard engine, in particular, is important. The length of engine warranties is usually determined by the number of hours on the engine, and the age of the engine. And virtually all engine warranties are transferable.
But there’s only one way to know about the reliability and lifespan of a used engine: have it inspected by that trusty marine mechanic or surveyor we mentioned a minute ago. Don’t buy a used engine without having it checked out by a mechanic familiar with that type of engine! A fifty-dollar inspection may keep you from buying an engine that needs a thousand-dollar repair. Ask for the mechanic’s opinion in writing.
A tip: if you’re buying a used engine from a franchised boat dealer, insist that the dealer—not the engine manufacturer—warranty everything they are selling you—the engine, the boat, the trailer. Some dealers will fight this, but the best dealers will generally provide a meaningful warranty, if you insist.
Checking out the hull and general construction
Generally speaking, in boat hulls, you get what you pay for. Some boats are virtually unsinkable because of expensive construction techniques (Boston Whalers, for instance, are regularly sawed in two to prove their unsinkability). Others can look just as seaworthy, but are flimsy in construction and durability.
At times, the least-known brand makes a boat better than the more expensive brand. Remember that at all times, the seller’s job is to tell you their boat is best! Here are some tips to help you gather relatively unbiased information about construction quality and general reputation concerning specific hulls.
- Always get a written description of hull construction specifications and components for individual boats that interest you. Then compare those components and specifications to those of the top-line manufacturers. For instance, Boston Whalers, Contenders, and Grady White power boats are usually considered high-quality, oceanworthy boats. You can download specifications for these boats from the manufacturers’ websites, and compare them to individual boats you’re looking at.
- Find some boat owners to talk to: Head to a large marina and look for boats made by the same manufacturer as the one you’re thinking about buying. Boat quality generally runs through a boat’s line-up, so an exact match isn’t key.
- Also, search for websites or chat rooms hosted by owners of the type of boat you are considering buying. Boat owners are far and away the best source of information when it comes to boat reliability and durability.
- The Resources section of BoatUS, the Boat Owners Association of the U.S., has Boat Groups, Boat Blogs,and Message Boards where you can find information about various boats from owners and boat experts.
Checking complaints on engine and hulls
BoatUS.com offers a great service which both reviews owners’ problems with specific boats and provides a mediation service when problems develop. You might want to bookmark this site.
The U.S. Coast Guard has a searchable database of safety defects and non-compliance in recreational boats and associated equipment. Other information available in the Recalls and Safety Defects section includes manufacturers identification, consumer safety defect report, product assurance branch, and boating safety circulars.
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