You've checked your finances and your family have made a
decision. It's time to put an outboard powered boat in your
future. But to get one adequate for your family it looks like a
used boat is in your budget, now the question is how do you know a good
used boat from a bad one. It's a tricky situation. As a boat
dealer, I buy (in the form of trade-ins), more used boats in a year than
your will buy in a lifetime. And let me tell you, from time to
time I still get fooled. My best recommendation is to purchase a
used boat from a qualified reputable dealer whenever possible.
However the greatest number of used boats are sold "driveway to
driveway". So here is a step by step guide to buying a used
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
If you are headed out to examine a used boat, several tools will be
needed to properly carry out your evaluation.
1. Spark plug wrench
2. Large straight blade screwdriver
3. Compression gauge
4. Hydrometer or Load tester
5. A set of ear muffs for the motor
6. A catch tray for lower unit grease
THE OPENING QUESTIONS
OK, you have called a prospective boat owner to inquire about the boat
you saw in the ad; here is a checklist of opening questions:
1. What year is the boat, motor and
trailer? You will check this later, but don't assume
because it's a '94 boat that it has a '94
2. How long have
your owned this boat? Warning..people who sell boats
after less than one season are usually trying to dump a problem.
3. Are you the first owner?
What is valuable here is if you are dealing with the
first owner you can trace the entire mechanical
history of the unit.
4. Does this boat have an hour meter?
If the answer is no, then forget all the assurances of low hours,
without an hour meter you can't ever be sure of this.
5. Why are you selling the boat?
This is a fair question. If the individual is buying
a larger boat why
isn't he trading it in? Very often it's because the owner has an
inflated opinion of the value of the boat and unwilling to trade it for
a fair value.
6. Will we have access to a water source
when I come to look at the boat? You need access to a hose at
least to properly evaluate the motor.
7. Will I have an opportunity to lake
test the boat? If you can't drive it don't buy it.
8. Could you make sure the batteries are
fully charged when I come to see the boat?
Don't assume that batteries in the boat are hot.
9. Has the motor ever had major engine
work, and when? You want to know the history of the
engine. If the answer is yes, find out when and by whom and ask to
see the receipts.
10. Has the boat ever been in a wreck or
had major structure work? Just like cars, a rebuilt wreck has
lower resale value than one with no structural history.
THE ENGINE EVALUATION
I like to start with the engine because it can generate the most
expensive repair costs if not in good condition.
Your eyes can be a valuable tool in assessing your potential future
purchase. First, you want to just assess the general condition of
the engine. Look for indications that the lower unit or powerhead
has been welded (believe it or not, some people actually do weld up
powerheads). Spin the prop and watch the prop shaft for
wobble. Pull the cowl and look over the motor closely.
Powerheads are painted after assembly, look at all the head
gaskets. Powerheads are assemblies and if the gaskets aren't
painted then it's an indication the motor has been apart. This
isn't a bad sign if the owner has been upfront about the service
You need to run a compression test on the engine. I like to do a
compression test after the engine has been run on a hose for a few
minutes. While the engine is running with the cowl off, check for
fuel/water on exhaust leaks. Your compression test should come in
with each cylinder checking with +/- 10% of each other.
LOWER UNIT CHECK
After you have run your lake test, drain a little grease from the lower
unit (a few thimbles full) into your catch tray. If water comes
out with no grease you have a big problem. If grease comes out
looking like coffee double cream, you may have some water in there and
you might need seals. If it was pure water you can expect some
gear damage and shortened gear life.
Again, a visual inspection is where to start. Crawl under the boat
and check it bow to stern for gouges where fiberglass webbing can be
seen. If the glass has turned brown or is soggy you could have
serious lamination damage. Check all of the lids and seats for
tears, cracks and hinge condition.
One tip.....never buy a used boat in the rain. In the rain
many finish problems are hidden when the boat is wet. Walk on the
floors and decks. Soft spots mean big trouble and a very expensive
Now it's time to check the transom. First look for
stress cracks in the transom. If they are there it's not
necessarily more than a cosmetic problem. What you want to do it
trim the motor up and put your weight on it. If those cracks widen
or you get any flex in the transom just walk away. A bad transom
is an expensive repair and you don't want any part of this rig.
Lastly, load test the batteries, at $70-$80 a piece, new batteries can
put a real crimp in your budget. Also, if you're not taking the
boat with you, write down the type of battery in the boats and mark
them. Some people will switch good batteries for weak ones when
they trade. It's sad but true.
Never buy a boat without a lake test.
First back the boat in on the trailer. Fill and test the
livewells. Then pull the boat back out and pull the plug (you're
checking for leaks).
Then relaunch the boat. Check every switch and button, make sure
you drive it and then you can really tell if it's the rig for you.
Remember, that no one can predict the future durability of any used
product. Hopefully this guide will be a good primer for evaluating
a used boat. Remember, without careful consideration, your
"Dream Boat" can turn into a nightmare quickly.