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Buying a Used Boat

Two Good Articles

By: Triton Mike
My first question is does the motor have a warranty? This can be your piece of mind with the motor.   I would take the boat to a independent dealer and have them do the detailed check on the motor for you.  It will be the best $$ you'll ever spend and usually they do the inspection for like $60 or so and they can save you a ton of headaches in the future.
Keep in mind it's tough to find motor mechanics on Sunday! If Sunday is not avoidable some auto mechanics might be able to help you but you should expect to know what are good readings and what are not. 
Things to check....

1. Compression test
2. Pull the lower unit oil and look for milky colored oil, i.e. water in lower unit
3. Spin the prop shaft to be sure it's not bent  i.e. uneven wobbly spin
4. Look at the condition of the prop/skeg (i.e. bent)
5. Take it for a test drive and run it wide open and check the max rpms rated for the motor, ie you don't want excessive overage in rpms rated for the motor and also know what the min water pressure is for your motor/

1. Do not pick the boat up in the rain. You can't make a good evaluation on the condition of a boat in the rain. It makes it very hard to find the gouges/stress cracks, flaws etc.

2. Start from one end of the boat and work your way around it in.  Rub your hands and scan with your eyes all along the side of the boat looking for scratches, stress cracks, etc. especially around the console and splashwell area.

3. Look at the keel very closely especially around the U bolt where you hook it up with the winch and make sure the U bolt is attached firmly.

4. Get on your back and look under the actual hull between the tires and the trailer tongue of the boat between the bunkers. If you hit something with a boat it is going to hit toward the back of the boat ie the Pad area. Be looking for fiberglass exposure ie matting, major gouges etc.

5. Get on your back right under the motor and look at the very back of the pad. Another popular place to hit an object. If the hull shows very little scratches and use chances are pretty good you got a GREAT boat!

6. Take a look at the bilge area and notice if there is any water in there. If so drain the water take the boat for a test drive and recheck the bilge (ie boat leaks). Any water in the bilge after a short short ride can mean a very noticeable leak on a longer trip!

7. Make sure all of the electronics work i.e. bilge pumps, battery charger, fish finders, rpm gauge, water pressure gauge, lights.

8. Look for anything obvious in all the storage compartments.

1. Immediately after meeting I like to feel the hubs of the wheels to make sure they aren't hot but should be warm to cool to touch.

2. Be looking for rust issues especially if the guy you are buying from lives near saltwater. I would again get on my back and look at the trailer from an underside view.

3. Check the trailer over thoroughly after you have launched the boat. Ie cracked running boards, check the channel supports as some of them can be damaged while trailering the boat ie hitting concrete etc.

I can't stress enough of having a boat motor mechanic check over the motor for you. They can tell you a lot more than what meets the eye.

  - TritonMike

By: rico@nicholsmarine.com
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 boat.

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

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 motor.
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.

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 history.

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.

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 repair.  
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.

Rico      Nichols Marine