Buying a Used Boat: Five Overlooked Things to Check

Buying a used boat is a busy time. You’ve been scouring the ads to be able to pounce on the model you want as soon as it becomes available. There’s a lot to consider and even more things to inspect, and that’s where the trouble can start. Buyers place a lot of emphasis on a sea trial, as well they should, but there are a few checks that should be done before you do any driving. It’s easy to forget these items because of everything you’ve got going on. To keep that from happening, here are a few checks that I think are critical to getting a good used boat — or at least avoiding one with more than its share of problems.

Sea trials are important -- and fun -- but there are some fundamental checks that should come before you even turn the key. All photos: Doug Logan
Sea trials are important — and fun — but there are some fundamental checks that should come before you even turn the key. All photos: Doug Logan

Cold Start

One thing to insist upon is that the boat you’re looking at be stone cold when you get there. When you fire it up, it should be the first time it’s been started that day, and it gets more critical the older the boat is and the more hours there are on the engine. What does that do, you ask? When an engine sits for a long period, or even just overnight, the oil pressure between all the metal surfaces bleeds off. If there are excess clearances in, say, the connecting rods or main bearings, or even too much clearance between the pistons and cylinder wall, it will often present itself as a telltale metallic knocking, ticking, or slapping on cold start-up. If the boat has been started too soon before you arrive to look at it, you will have lost the opportunity to listen for noises on cold startup.

Snap a photo of the engine hours before heading out on your sea trial, and check the number again when you come back. Doug Logan photo.
Snap a photo of the engine hours before heading out on your sea trial, and check the number again when you come back.

Engine Hours

We all love boats with low hours on them, right? Of course, because it means there’s more boat left for us to use once we buy it. Here’s a trick. Check the hour meter when you first get aboard, before start-up, but also check it again after you come back from your sea trial. If the hour meter hasn’t moved, now you know why the engine has such “low hours” on it, and it might be best to move along to another prospect.

Engine Oil

Having a look at the dipstick seems like a basic inspection, but you’d be surprised how often it gets overlooked. Pull the dipstick and study the oil. It shouldn’t be inky black (unless you’re looking at a diesel engine) and if it has just been changed, it should still look close to the way it does when you pour it from the bottle into the engine. There should be no evidence of water in the oil. If there is, you might be looking at head gasket problems. Also smell the oil. It should smell like oil, not like gas. If there’s a strong gas smell, it might indicate problems. Also, while you’re at it, unscrew the oil cap and look underneath it. It should have dark brown residue on it, but anything milky or resembling chocolate milk might also indicate problems with head gaskets.

Drive Oil

On MerCruiser products, whether it’s an Alpha or Bravo drive, the engine compartment has a remote drive oil reservoir. Because the reservoir is translucent plastic, it’s easy to see if the oil is up to the full line, but you’ll want to pull the cap off and check inside for signs of moisture. Water in the drive oil will tell you there’s a leak somewhere in the drive that’s allowing water to seep into the gear case. If this has been going on for a long time, the gears in the drive might be subject to corrosion and pitting, which generates excess heat while in use. It’s quick and easy to check, and there’s usually nothing wrong in a maintained boat — but you don’t want to overlook it.

Check all the main elements of the trailer  you're buying with the boat. This one is sporting a new coupling assembly. Doug Logan photo.
Check all the main elements of the trailer you’re buying with the boat. This one is sporting a new coupling assembly.

Trailer Health

Most of us are buying boats we can tow behind our trucks to get to the water. That means your purchase is twofold, and the trailer is an important part of it. Before you back the boat into the water, take a moment to do a walkaround inspection of the trailer. You don’t need to break out a magnifying glass, but you do need to have a look at the important parts. Check the condition of the bunk carpeting or the bunk rollers if so equipped. Look at the backs of the wheels to see if there are any indications of brake fluid or bearing grease leaking. Look at the center of the hubs, too. I also like to check the condition where the leaf springs attach to the bogeys — if dual axle — and to the frame. A little rust is to be expected. A lot of rust can leave you stranded when the spring mount fails. Checking the lights is always a plus, as is checking the condition and working order of the coupler, surge brakes, and tongue jack.


A previous version of this article appeared on Boat Trader in May 2015.

Used Boat Buying Quiz: Are You Ready for This?

It’s probably safe to say not everyone is cut out for the rigors of used-boat ownership. Before you let your boat-buying fever get ahead of you and your wallet, it might be helpful to take the quiz below to see if you have the right stuff.

You may locate a used boat you've been dreaming about, but take a deep breath and consider whether you're ready for the project list after you've made the purchase. Doug Logan photo.
You may locate a used boat you’ve been dreaming about, but take a deep breath and consider whether you’re ready for the project list after you’ve made the purchase. Doug Logan photo.

This not to talk you out of chasing your boat dreams — it’s just to suggest pausing to make some realistic assessments of what you may be facing when that boat is yours to keep and maintain.

Are you comfortable with risk?

Face it, buying a used boat involves some degree of risk. Yes, there’s less risk involved than there used to be, but still, it’s not as safe as buying a brand-new boat. Or a brand-new anything. That creampuff you bought might have a cracked exhaust manifold that didn’t present itself because the engine was already warm. Or it might be that a manifold bolt has broken off in the cylinder head, and naturally it’s in the hardest place to get to. That means you have put in some bilge time or pay someone else.

Yes, the quality of boats and marine propulsion systems have risen greatly over the last decade, so even used boats are better than they ever have been. But they’re not without risk. You need to ask yourself how comfortable you are with that.

Are you handy?

This is the sequel to risk. If something breaks on your new-to-you boat, are you handy enough to fix it? Can you put a bellows boot on a stern drive? They have a given service interval and they often get overlooked, then split with age and exposure — and they will sink a boat.

Most repairs won’t involve the risk of a sinking, but boats aren’t cars. The environment where they’re used is much harsher. They get bounced around on the water, and things do break.  As a friend of mine once said, “Drive your car over six-foot speed bumps and see how long it lasts.”

If you are handy and have an awesome set of tools, you’re good to go, and you’ll find that working on your boat will give you a real sense of satisfaction. If you’re not handy with tools, you have to ask yourself the next question.

Do you mind paying for repairs on a boat you just bought?

The hourly labor rate for a marine technician hovers between $75 and $90 an hour, and that’s not cheap. But if you can’t make the repairs yourself, that’s what you’re looking at, plus parts.

It’s one thing if you’re aware of problems when you agree to buy the boat. You can negotiate against them and get enough of a reduction in price to compensate for the repairs you’ll have to make later. It’ll be the unknowns that get you. Just ask Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, it’s a good idea to budget for unforeseen repairs. That way, if something comes up, you’re not caught with an empty wallet early in the boating season.

Do you have the finances to buy new?

If you have enough financial wherewithal to buy new, that might be the way to go, and every boat manufacturer on the planet agrees with that statement. Just ask them. If you’re not new to boating or you have a lot of money to put down on the boat, or can pay cash, new boats have their obvious benefits. However, if this is your first boat, and you’re just trying to get your feet wet, “gently used” might be the best way to go.

Does everything on your boat need to be ship-shape?

If you’re as fastidious as I am about the condition of your boat, everything needs to be ship-shape. The running joke in our household is that I would like to buy a boat from me. But meticulous owners are hard to find, and so are used boats that have been meticulously cared for. If you have looked at enough used boats over the years, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But you want to keep looking until you find that one boat that strikes the balance between the right price and the right state of repair. I believe there’s one in every price range. They’re just not easy to find. So the next question is especially critical.

Are you patient?

Finding a good used boat takes time. Sites like BoatTrader.com make it easier, but they don’t make it easy. Even if you miss out on a boat, one you know you should have bought, but for whatever reason did not, keep looking. There are more out there. You just have to be patient and stay vigilant. When the next one comes along, you won’t hesitate. And that will be one of the two best days in your life.


A previous version of this article appeared on Boat Trader in March, 2014.


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.

 

Plan Your Annual Boat Budget, Plus Money-Saving Tips

There is no doubt that the boating lifestyle can be expensive.  Just how expensive depends on the size of the boat, where you keep it, and what you do with it.  Buying the most expensive boat you can afford and underestimating operating expenses is something that normally results in either under-utilizing your boat because you can’t afford it, or the repo man taking your hard-won toy away.  So, here’s my outline for estimating your annual operating costs and some tips on how to save money in a few areas.  Hopefully, this will lead you to buying the right boat for your overall budget and intended use, and leave you enough money to enjoy it.

Boats idling at a dock because you didn’t anticipate operating costs are in a sad state. Don’t be boat poor, use the guidelines in this article to control and plan your annual operating expenses.
Boats idling at a dock because you didn’t anticipate operating costs are in a sad state. Don’t be boat poor, use the guidelines in this article to control and plan your annual operating expenses.

You do have choices about what spending level you end up with.  These revolve where you keep your boat and its resultant ease-of-use, and there are basically three levels. The first is trailering your boat; the boat resides on its trailer between trips to the water. The second level is for boats that stay in the water all season, requiring moorings and tender access, but are maintained by on a do-it-yourself basis.  And the third level is for boats that not only stay in the water, but are docked, maintained, and stored at a professional boatyard.

A rule of thumb is to estimate 15 to 20 percent of the value of your boat for operating expenses.  However, since many costs involve the size of your boat at a $/ft rate, the bigger and more expensive boats will cost more to operate.  Be aware that boats over 40 feet in length are generally not trailerable and may not be practical DIY boats, i.e. you can’t store them at home and they need special equipment to haul and move them.  The bigger the boat, the more yard-dependent you will be.  To get specific, I suggest researching fees and expenses in your area, then using a spreadsheet to calculate the following expenses, with your intended spending / ease-of-use level in mind.

When I created a hypothetical 30-foot powerboat and plugged in anticipated operating expenses based on whether I was going to trailer, DIY, or keep the boat at a boatyard, I came up with some pretty significant cost differences.  For example, the same boat would cost $3,472 to trailer, $6,432 to keep on a mooring, or over $20,142 to keep at a dock and have the yard store and maintain it.  This is based on my experience of local expenses found in the northeast U.S.  Below is a list of potential expenses that you can use to manage your budget:

  • Dockage or mooring fees
  • Launch/hauling
  • Storage (outside, includes blocking and stands)
  • Transportation
  • Winterizing/lay-up
  • Cover
  • Maintenance
  • Commissioning
  • Marina fees and/or yacht club membership
  • Dinghy storage
  • Insurance
  • Excise tax
  • State boat registration/documentation
  • Trailer registration
  • Fuel
  • Safety equipment (charts, PFDs, flares, etc)
  • Other equipment and miscellaneous

Download our free Boat Budget Spreadsheet to use for your annual boat budget.

Some expenses, like fuel costs and insurance remain fixed across all categories, but the other expenses can vary significantly.  I purposely left out purchasing costs such as broker fees, taxes, surveying costs, monthly mortgage fees or fishing and skiing equipment you might like to add to your purchase—this is intended to show annual operating costs only.  Please note, there may be some additional one-time charges that the trailering and DIY owners should be prepared for that customers of boatyards probably won’t see, such as purchasing a trailer or permanent cover or acquiring specialty tools, ground tackle, and boat stands.

How to Save Some Money

Obviously, the more you do yourself saves money, but also look to eliminate fees like the annual state boat registration fee by federally documenting your vessel. Also, investigate the frequent fuel programs offered by many marinas for regular fuel customers. If you are a yard customer, sit down with your yard’s service rep and come up with a long term multi-year maintenance program. Joining a yacht club may seem an extravagance, but clubs often provide launch service and have reciprocity when you’re visiting clubs in other harbors where you can use visitor moorings and facilities at no charge. With regard to insurance, you may be tempted to forgo this expense, but be aware that insurance is usually required by boatyards. Premiums are based on agreed value, age of vessel, owner’s claim history and experience, and a survey of the vessel. A cost-effective alternative between trailering and keeping your boat in the water, is rack storage—a launch on demand marina.

I hope you find my guidelines useful in estimating your own costs and that this leads to more enjoyment because you can feel comfortable accurately estimating and living within your boat budget. I’d love to hear comments from anyone who has suggestions on reducing operating costs.

A previous version of this article appeared on Boat Trader in January 2014.


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.

 

Boat-Buying Strategy: Plan of Attack

So you’ve decided to make the most of your family leisure time and you think a used boat is the way to go. Congratulations. Boating is a great way for the whole family to enjoy spending quality time together, something only a few leisure activities can really provide. Now the hard part begins: finding a good used boat for your budget and needs.

Develop an organized plan of attack when shopping for a used boat. When the right one comes along, you’ll be better prepared to pounce on it before anyone else.
Develop an organized plan of attack when shopping for a used boat. When the right one comes along, you’ll be better prepared to pounce on it before anyone else.

Your kids are going to want a tow boat. It’s that simple, so just give up the fight now. Otherwise, you’ll end up buying a runabout, selling it, then buying a tow boat. So, for the sake of the example, let’s say you’ve settled on a tow boat.

Before you start shopping for a used model, visit each boatbuilder’s website to get a feel for the way each one does things.  Once you’ve done that, you can narrow your search a bit more, and then you can hit the pages of BoatTrader.com. (See the Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Used-Boat Classifieds for ideas on how to coordinate your plan of attack.)

I like to start out with a broad search area for a specific boat. For example, I’ll do a nationwide search for the one model I’m focused on. Of course, I’m not going to drive across the country to get a model that I can find a few hours from home, but the nationwide search does give me a broad sample of pricing on that particular model. Knowing what models are commonly sold for is powerful knowledge, and can often be a good negotiating tool.

Once you’ve got a good grasp on prevalent pricing, narrow your search to what you’re realistically willing to go and get. If nothing shows up, you can either wait for one to become available or broaden your search radius. BoatTrader.com’s “located” button lets you choose the size of your radius from nationwide and 1,000 miles away down to 10 and 25 miles away.

So, it’s a choice between patience in waiting for one to come along and “are we there yet?” You’ll need patience regardless, because shopping used is more difficult than buying new. The comfort comes in knowing you aren’t taking the big hit in depreciation. The first owner shouldered that load for you.

The time of year also is a factor in your success. Typically, boats go up for sale after the boating season is over, so fall and spring are your best bets. There are still plenty of boats for sale all year long, but those two seasons coincide with the majority of the country’s boat shows. Many people who are buying new are also selling their old boats, and that’s when the market is the most ripe.


 

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.

 

Best Boat Deals: Expert’s Choice, Vol. 1

 

2006 Formula 330SS
2006 Formula 330SS

2006 Formula 330SS

View this listing on Boat Trader

Formula’s designs don’t change radically from year to year. They evolve, and that’s good for a couple of reasons. First, you can spot a Formula pretty easily. A 2015 Formula has a lot of similarities with, say, a 2006 Formula. Second, it’s good for buyers on the secondary market because they can get a boat that’s a few years old, but still looks a lot like the new models coming out of the Formula factory.


This story will be available in the future as part of Boat Trader’s Best Boat Deals series,  but the boat listings below may not be. If you click through to an expired link it means that someone nabbed the bargain — or the owner had second thoughts about selling.

– Boat Trader editors


 

Take this 2006 Formula 330 SS, for example. Formula doesn’t make the 330 anymore, but it’s similar to the 310 and 350 the company is currently offering. It’s nearly 10 years old, and according to the rule of thumb of 50 hours per boating season, it should have nearly 500 hours on it —  but it only has 288. This boat has twin 496 MerCruisers, which push it to a top speed of 58 mph, and that’s fantastic for a cruiser of this type. It’s got freshwater cooling and a full canvas package, and it’s just big enough for overnighting comfortably.

It also is available about a third of what it cost new. I’m not sure if Formula is aware, but its biggest competitor in the small cruiser market might not be Sea Ray or Rinker or Cobalt, but the boats it made just a decade ago. This Formula 330SS still looks current, is well kept, and it does everything a new boat can.

2005 Performance 40 Center-Console
2005 Performance 40 Center-Console

2005 Performance 40 Center-Console

View this listing on Boat Trader

You’d be hard-pressed to find a 40-foot center-console for less than 30 grand, but there’s one available in Miami Beach for $29,900, a steal of a price if the boat checks out. And you’d be wise to have it checked out. Why?

Well, for starters, I couldn’t find any information on the brand, Performance, which is a little odd — but this is a huge center-console for the money. Pay a marine surveyor to check it out and you could get into a big-water boat for the kind of money that usually gets you no farther than the mouth of the inlet.

Sure, it’s a bit sparse on amenities, but if you’re looking for a fishing machine that can get you out to the reef and back in relative comfort in 4- to 6-foot seas, this could be the ticket. Just look at all those rod holders! It might be a little underpowered with twin E-tec Evinrudes, but as the ad says, it’s set up for a third engine. Pay cash for the boat, finance a new engine, and enjoy this one for years.

2011 Sea Ray 185 Sport
2011 Sea Ray 185 Sport

2011 Sea Ray 185 Sport

View this listing on Boat Trader

There are a few keywords in boat ads that always perk up my ears: “low hours,” “impeccably maintained,” and “must sell.” They’re like music, really. This Sea Ray 185 Sport looks like a good buy, and here’s why.

First, it’s a freshwater boat from New York, meaning two things: It hasn’t been exposed to the corrosive power of salt, and it hasn’t been used year-round. That’s why a 5-year-old boat only has 60 hours on it. Second, the ad says the owner paid someone else to do all the maintenance, which is a good thing. Owners who do their own maintenance are sometimes wont to cut corners, but this one looks as though it has been maintained the right way.

I also like this runabout because it’s a known brand name, which translates to better resale value for the buyer who picks it up used, then sells again later. The first owner always takes the biggest hit on depreciation. A well-known brand like Sea Ray will be easier to sell down the road and will hold more of its value for the second owner.

Sea Ray doesn’t make the 185 anymore, but it does still build a 190 and 205 Sport, which are close enough to make this boat look pretty current, even though it’s 5 years old. Add in the fact that it’s got a full canvas package and a bimini top, and you can pick up a higher-end boat for the price of a stripped, entry-level new model. And who knows, maybe that “must sell” will translate to an even lower selling price?


 

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.

 

Boat Shopping: Patience is a Virtue

We live in a time when there so many choices available to us every day that we often don’t have the “mental bandwidth” to process it all. The condition could apply to anything, from the choice of Internet service providers to wireless telephone companies, carpet cleaners, financial services — you name it.

No matter how tempting a boat dealer makes thes the view, you owe it to yourself to be patient and look at the deal with a clear perspective. Doug Logan photo.
No matter how tempting a boat dealer makes thes the view, you owe it to yourself to be patient and look at the deal from a clear perspective. Doug Logan photo.

As a result we often take shortcuts because we simply can’t process all the information. The form and pace of modern life is not allowing us to render fully thought-out decisions, even on big-ticket items like a new television, a car, or a even a boat.

Yes, even in passion-driven industries such as boating, people are making decisions without taking into account all the information needed to make the right choice.

For example, say you were looking for a nice new tube for towing the kids behind the boat. This is a simplified example, but stay with me here. If you had a choice among five different tubes, you might be tempted to go with the most expensive one because here in America we’re brought up to believe that you get what you pay for. However, if you had paid closer attention, and read the labels and spent five more minutes shopping, you’d have realized the one that costs $50 less than the most expensive one was made by the same company, was of the same quality, but sold as a privately labeled product for a more value-oriented store brand.

“You get what you pay for” is a form of mental shortcut we make when we’re faced with a decision. These shortcuts have a clinical name: judgmental heuristics. They can be good for us because they save us time in our very busy lives, but they can be detrimental when used to make the certain decisions.

The lesson here, and one I’ve been covering in Waterblogged for the last several months, is that you need to realize all the factors at work when buying a used boat. For example, we’ve talked about the scarcity and authority principles, the “sudden buddy” salesperson, reciprocity, rejection-retreat-revision, social proof and commitment-consistency. Those topics are all tools of influence that have everything to do with getting you to buy a boat, but little to do with whether it’s the right boat for you.

So when you find yourself faced with a salesman you think is a good guy or the notion that there aren’t many of the boat you are considering available, ask yourself if you’re being patient — and wise — enough to consider all the factors involved with this purchase. Realize that the only people you need to make happy are yourself and your family. You are going to own this boat for a long time, most likely, and if you signed on the bottom line for the wrong reason, that boat won’t do you as much good as one bought after patient and careful consideration.


 

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.

 

New to Boating? 10 Tips for Making the Right Buying Decision

The challenge of buying a boat, either new or used, can be one of the most daunting and exciting tasks that you’ll ever face, especially if you’re a newcomer. You may have been on boats with friends, or looked out on the water and admired boats from afar — even a particular make or style of boat. Now you’re thinking of getting into the game yourself. Good! But before you take the plunge, here are some basic questions that will help guide you in your decision-making.

Buying a Boat
Buying a Boat

1. Location – How big is the lake — or is it an ocean? Make sure your new boat suits the local conditions. A pontoon boat that does great on a placid lake might not be suited for rougher coastal conditions.

2. Power or Sail? – What kind of activities on the water interest you?  Cruising? Racing? Fishing? Waterskiing? Wakeboarding? Wine and cheese? Some boats are purpose-built and some are better suited to multiple activities. Study boats that will best fit your on-water lifestyle.

3. Skills Required – Do you want a boat that requires a crew or one you can handle and dock on your own?

4. Mooring or Storage – Where it will be kept?  Will it fit the water depth, and how much will it cost to dock the boat?

5. Maintenance – Do you like to varnish or will you hose-and-go? Are you a do-it-yourselfer or will you rely on services to assist you?

6. Budget – Think beyond paying for the boat. What sort of taxes, interest rates on a boat loan, storage, insurance, and annual maintenance costs might be involved?  Should you consider shared ownership or partnering with a friend who has more boating experience? Plan your boat budget carefully.

7. Boat Valuation – What do other similar boats sell for? How can you determine the value of a used boat? If you’re thinking about a new boat, consider the depreciation. Depreciation on used boats that are kept in good condition should level out with maintenance and equipment improvements.

8. Sea Trial and Survey – Would you buy a car without a test drive? Get to know the boat, and enlist a marine surveyor to inspect its integrity and systems.

9. Boat Reviews – Boating websites and magazines offer a wealth of information and reviews on boats to help you find the right boat.

10. Right blend of style, speed and safety.  Start your search for your ideal boat for sale.

An earlier version of this post was published in 2010.


 

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.

 

Top 10 Signs You Need a New-to-You Boat

When even Asian carp won't jump in for a ride, you know it's time for a change. (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)
When even Asian carp won’t jump in for a ride, you know it’s time for a change. (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)

Before you can fix a problem, you must first recognize you have one. Everyone knows that, but knowing something and doing something about it are two entirely different matters. Take boats, for example.

We love them. We love researching and shopping for them even when we’re not thinking of buying. We love buying them and owning them and we love it when they’re finally paid for. However, there comes a time in the life of a paid-for boat when it has just outlived its usefulness. It’s at that point when some people don’t know when to let go. These people often can be characterized as “careful with money.” Cynics call them cheap, but there really is a point at which a boat becomes more trouble than it’s worth.

You probably know someone like that. He just won’t get a new boat no matter how knackered his old one is. You might even stare at him in the mirror every morning while you’re brushing your teeth. So… maybe it’s time to recognize the problem and do something about it.

Just for fun, and with all due respect to David Letterman, we offer you our Top 10 signs it’s time for a new — to you — boat.

10. You know where every repair shop is on your local river.

Not only do you know where all the shops are, but you make it a point never to be boating too far away from any of them, just in case trouble arises. You even use their boat ramps to put in, just in case your boat won’t start.

9. You can remove your engine cover in seconds.

In the event you do experience engine trouble, you have become an expert on removing the engine cover without falling into the water, and that includes that hard-to-reach latch all the way at the back of the outboard. In fact, sometimes you leave that one undone for the next time the engine acts up.

8. You often leave the engine cover in the truck.

This is the next step after No. 9. Your engine has become so troublesome and unreliable that you don’t even bother to put the engine cover on any more. You’re under the cowl so often that it doesn’t make sense to put it back on, and it takes up too much room in the boat. So you leave it on shore.

7. You bring more tools than water toys.

This is often easy to spot. When you go boating, look into the back of the tow vehicle. What’s in there? Tubes, wakeboards and skis or toolboxes and tow rope? If it’s the latter, it might be time for a new-to-you boat.

6. You can pull-start your 70-horse outboard in a pinch.

You have that length of rope under the bench seat for a reason. Lots of people think it’s for helping swimmers get back on board or some other sort of homemade safety device. But you know what it’s for. It’s for wrapping around the flywheel a couple of times to pull start the engine the next inevitable time the starter goes on the fritz. Seriously, when it gets to that point, you and the boat have issues.

 5. Friends no longer want to come boating with you.

Next time you go boating, look around. Those other boats, the ones loaded with friends and family? That’s how to go boating. Solo “me time” on a boat  can be valuable, but if it’s always encouraged — or insisted on — by everyone else, you might want to rethink your priorities.

 4. Your children know why the expression “swears like a sailor” exists.

Remember that last time you pull-started your outboard and the knot on the rope flung around and whipped you in the back like a recalcitrant mule? You do? Then you probably remember the string of obscenities you let fly in reaction to it. Your kids remember it, too, because it’s the last time they went boating with you.

3. Your anchor is a viable means of propulsion.

You won’t leave shore without your anchor. It’s not because you need it  for your favorite spot for rafting up with other boaters. It’s because it’s often the only way to get your boat back to shore. You know the drill. You throw the anchor as far as you can, then pull yourself and the boat forward. Throw. Pull. Throw. Pull. That’s not boating. That’s torture.

2. Asian carp jump out of your boat.

We’ve all seen the YouTube videos of Asian carp jumping out of a river and into a boat. You wonder how this is possible — because it’s never happened to you, even though you go boating on that same river. That’s because the carp know something you don’t. Your boat’s a jalopy. Upgrade if you want to get in on the fun.

1. You don’t want to go boating any more.

This is the kicker, and a sure sign it’s time for a new boat. If you don’t want to go boating because you can’t be bothered to pack all the tools and face whatever mechanical malaise you know is waiting for you out there, you need to recognize you have a problem and do something about it.


 

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.

 

What Will Boat Buying Be Like In 10 Years?

Who knows, in the future there may be an app that can analyze the condition of fiberglass laminate.
Who knows, in the future there may be an app that can analyze the condition of fiberglass laminate.

I thought it would be a fun exercise to think about the future of boat buying. We’re all  prone to navel-gazing from time to time, so let’s focus on what the future will be like for boat buyers and sellers.

First, I think it will be better, in terms of product. Today’s new boats are better than they have ever been. They’re packed with more features because the ability of the customer to provide feedback is higher than ever, and that feedback does make its way into the final product. So, in five years, boats are going be even better, right? That means in 10 years, the used market is going to be rife with terrific, feature-laden used models.

True, but the same caveats will apply. Has it been cared for? Have the mechanicals been maintained? How was it used? And so forth.

In terms of buying and shopping, technology is going to lead the way. Imagine a marine surveyor being able to walk you through his survey by video conference call. Imagine yourself sitting at home being able to see what the surveyor sees in real time on a boat that’s a thousand miles away. Then, when he’s finished with his inspection, he can send all the information right to your phone. In fact we have the basic capability to do that right now, using just a cell phone and a high-speed connection. In 10 years, who knows? We might be able to get three-dimensional holographic images of the boat, with callouts for problem areas. There might even be an app that lets you inspect for water intrusion in a transom.

Today,  Boat Trader has an app that let’s you browse or search for boats by type, price range, and model year, and that will pinpoint listings on a map according to zip code of the smartphone’s location. And there are a lot of other helpful marine apps out there, for navigation, weather,and  fishing. But there will even more and even better ones down the road.

What do you think the future of boat buying holds? Let’s hear your ideas in the comments section. The future we bring about is better than the one we wait for.


 

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.

 

Beware Boat Buyer Blindness

Fun, fast, affordable, and trailerable, the Nacra 18 has a bit of a blind spot when the spinnaker is up, especially if it's your euphoric first ride and you aren't vigilant.
Fun, fast, affordable, and trailerable, the Nacra 18 has a bit of a blind spot when the spinnaker is up, especially if it’s your euphoric first ride and you aren’t keeping a lookout for other boats.

Taking delivery of a new boat, whether it’s used or off the shelf, can be a heady time — sometimes too heady.

Some years ago when I was managing a yacht repair yard a customer came in looking for service before setting off on the 2004 Newport to Bermuda Race. I was a little stunned to learn that the proud new owner had just purchased his used boat the previous week. He had come up with his grand plans without so much as a sea trial. “That guy has either a lot of brass or no brains,” I remember thinking at the time. Well, a more recent event, getting T-boned by a new Nacra 18 on the very first day the owner launched his new ride, had me re-thinking the whole concept of shaking down a boat that’s new to you, even if it’s a used boat.

I’m sure the excitement and passion, never mind the delayed gratification of buying a new or used boat, sends endorphins flying. I’ve felt that thrill. I even remember doing something dangerous myself, delivering an unfamiliar boat with an amateur crew hundreds of miles in the open ocean to its new home.

What is it that overwhelms the senses and good judgment? Flying a spinnaker in a crowded mooring field in a high-speed catamaran on a windy day—who does that? So absorbed admiring his new ride, the euphoric owner forgets to look out and cuts across a channel busy with two-way traffic.

Sure, I got an apology and a mea culpa (his boat was badly damaged and I just had gelcoat scratches). I just wish we could all control the urges, at least until we gain some familiarity with our new rides. So, here are my sensible 10 steps to new boat ownership. I just hope I can take my own advice next time, too.

  • Purchase insurance on your new ride.
  • Take pictures of your new boat.
  • Read the owner’s and service manuals thoroughly.
  • Review the equipment list, including onboard toolkit and safety gear.
  • Establish a pre-trip checklist — fluids, lights, radio etc.
  • Take someone with experience on your first trip.
  • No drinking before the shakedown cruise.
  • Observe harbor speed/wake restrictions.
  • Wait until you’re clear of the harbor and all traffic before going full throttle.
  • Have fun, but be cautious — your first trips should be about learning your new boat and its capabilities. Make this ride last!

 

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.