Flooded Boats Can Offer Good Value

After each natural disaster that involves huge amounts of water, the airwaves, newspapers and Internet are flush with reports on how to spot flood-damaged cars for sale. And for good reason: You don’t want to own one.

You see, cars are built to keep nasty elements like water and mud and sand on the outside — unless you track it inside on your boots. What’s more, delicate and often porous materials and electronics systems don’t withstand water very well, and the cheap price just isn’t worth the trouble you could face if you were to buy a once-flooded car.

Sandy Damage
Sandy left these boats in a jumble at Somers Point, New Jersey. But once they’re sorted out, much of the damage is likely to be cosmetic. Boats are used to the water. Photo courtesy of BoatUS.

But if there’s one thing I’ve tried to be clear about, on this blog or in any other marine-related story I’ve written, it’s that boats are not cars and cars are not boats. And within that distinction lies an interesting shift in thinking about flood-damaged vehicles.

Whereas flood-damaged cars present myriad potential problems, flood-damaged boats present far fewer, and in many cases could spell opportunity. Here’s why.

Boats are built to get wet. They are far simpler in terms of their primary systems.  If you were to fill up a basic center-console or walkaround with muddy water, then drain it, you could probably get away with washing it with boat soap and a garden hose, letting it dry, and then be good to go. Boat wiring, engines, steering systems, upholstery, and construction materials are built to withstand the harsh marine environment. A Buick is not.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which was — no other way to characterize it — a miserable and unfortunate experience for everyone in the Mid-Atlantic states, you might be seeing some tremendously low prices on used boats. Odds are good that the prices on some of them will be the result of flood damage.

Google Earth shows how boats got lifted off their stands and swept together in a Staten Island boatyard.

Odds are also pretty good that any flood damaged boat can be satisfactorily repaired far more easily than any car. Once those boats are repaired, it’s not difficult to imagine that they’ll be as reliable as any other used model.

So even though you would automatically walk away from a flood-damaged car, a flood-damaged boat is another matter. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that any boat with significant flood damage can be fixed. I am suggesting that if you choose correctly, you could get a deal and not suffer from the same doomed future as people who buy water-damaged cars.

As near as I can tell, boats designed for saltwater environments, especially for fishing, are probably a safer bet than a plush runabout used primarily for day-cruising the Intracoastal. For example, center-consoles, walkarounds, and skiffs, which are designed to be, well, abused, might be good contenders for the used-boat buyer looking for an extraordinarily low price. Outboards are probably a better bet than inboards or stern drives.

I would add that the used-boat buyer in question should be handy with a wrench and somewhat versed in gelcoat repairs. So, as you pore through the ads on BoatTrader.com, remember that there could be some great deals to be had on flood-damaged boats, with few of the consequences you get with a flood-damaged car.

Brett Becker