Top 5 Used Boat Caveats

Shopping for a new-to-you boat is an exciting time, one filled with emotion. The excitement is good. The emotion, not so much. Emotion can get in the way of good decision-making, so before you go out half-cocked, check out some sage advice we’ve accumulated over the years. Keep these in mind when you think you’ve found a deal. If that boat you’re considering can leap all these hurdles, great. If not, keep looking.

Before getting overexcited about a boat deal, review these words of wisdom.

Before getting overexcited about a boat deal, review these words of wisdom.

1. Be Careful of Unknown Brands

When shopping for a used boat, it’s usually a good idea to stick with known brands. Here’s why:  They’re known for a reason. Well-established boat companies can’t afford to sully their reputations with poor quality workmanship in their new-boat offerings. That translates to better used products through the years, and basic good quality continues to shine through, even in a market full of people who are ready to trash a product on some online forum. The product needs to be good when new, as well as a few years down the road. Small, unknown builders don’t have as much riding on the quality of their used products.

Of course that priciple doesn’t always apply. For example, Bryant Boats has been a lesser known boatbuilder on a smaller scale than a Cobalt or a Sea Ray, but its products have been solid for years. So, I guess the takeaway is to stay on the beaten path when shopping for a used boat, but if you do decide to stray into unknown waters, do a lot of research on the quality of the boat you’re considering.

2. Beware Home-Built Engines

“Yesirreee, runs great. I rebuilt it myself.” Don’t walk away. Run from these boats. There are too many good used boats on the market to bother taking a chance on a claim like that about a part of the boat that important. You want a used boat with low hours if you can afford one. Barring that, you want an engine remanufactured by a known entity. If you haven’t found either one in your price range, keep shopping.

The best thing anyone could do with that home-built engine is to remove it from the boat and reinstall it in the Camaro it came out of.

3. Recognize Signs of Neglect

Neglect is often universal, all encompassing. If a boat looks as though it has never been polished or waxed, you want to stop and think what else hasn’t been done to it. If the engine oil is black and sooty, or if the drive oil reservoir registers a low reading, you wonder what kind of owner or owners the boat has had. Yes, we all like a low price, but sometimes boats are priced low for a reason. Find a boat that looks as though it has been cared for. They’re easy to spot, worth the time and effort it takes to find them, and usually worth the extra money it takes to buy them.

4. With Age Comes Risk

The older a boat is, the more likely it is to need extensive repairs. I’m talking about replacing rotted floors or transoms or stringers. The older a boat is, even if it’s been sitting on a trailer rather than in the water, the more likely it will need something major. If you relish taking on a project, fine, but if you’re looking for something you and your family can enjoy, then try to find something as new as you can afford.

5. Someone Else’s Misfortune Can Be a Good Thing (For You)

Death, divorce, illness. These are things that make for must-sell-now prices on used boats. As long as you’re not causing any of the aforementioned conditions, there’s no reason to feel guilty for jumping on the buying opportunity. In fact, you’re probably helping them out. If they need to sell it fast, and price it accordingly, you’ll actually be doing them a favor by buying it fast.

These kinds of deals, however, are a rarity. You can’t seek them in good conscience, but if you come across such an opportunity, and the boat is in appropriate condition — see caveat No. 3 — snap it up before someone else does. Once it’s gone, it’s game-over, and these deals are few and far between.


Boat Trader has plenty of  Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.