THUNDER BAY – You’re ready to move up to a bigger boat, downsize to a smaller boat, or maybe Ol’ Faithful isn’t as faithful as she used to be – it’s time for another boat. That’s great, because there has never been a better time to get a boat. It a buyer’s market.
Don’t let new boat sticker shock nix your dreams; there are thousands of pre-owned (sales speak for “used”) boats yearning for a home where someone will love and take care of them.
Make certain the numbers on the paperwork and the starboard transom match.
Buying a boat isn’t that much different from buying a used car. Before you get too far into the process ask the owner if the boat has a clear title or has a lien against it, and would he mind if you looked at the title or paperwork. Make sure the Hull Registration Number (HIN) matches the number stamped on the starboard transom. If the owner balks at showing you the title or the numbers don’t jibe, get back in the car and keep shopping.
Pay attention to the details. The gelcoat, rubrail and metal components won’t have excessive nicks or dings, although minor scuffs on the rubrail and worn pinstripes where the bow rides on the trailer’s bow roller are usually acceptable.
Deep chips in the fiberglass warrant closer inspection; if you can see the strands of fiberglass in the injury, it’s possible that the water has entered the laminate- a potentially expensive repair, depending on location.
Check the outboard well for cracks, especially near the clamp bracket (where the outboard bolts on the transom), as well as in the corners of the outboard well. Corner cracks are common and can often be repaired without a lot of hassle, depending on the severity of the fissure; however, cracks near the clamp bracket could be indicators of serious transom problems and require a professional evaluation.
Not all cracks are fatal. It’s not unusual to find crazing- fine cracks in gelcoat that look like pencil marks- in high stress areas. Other than being aesthetically annoying, gelcoat crazing doesn’t often generate immediate concern.
Be wary of sloppy repairs; they can be indicators of the condition of the entire vessel.
The upholstery, carpet and canvas should be clean and undamaged. Repairs to carpet, headliners and upholstery can cost a small fortune, so take note of discrepancies.
The outboard should be in good shape cosmetically, with no divots in the skeg or propeller. Bent propeller blades, a skeg missing its bottom third or a skeg with all the paint worn off could be clues of super-shallow water operation, which could mean a bent prop shaft, a worn out water pump, and possibly a powerhead full of swamp gunk.
When you remove the cowling, the engine should be clean, without obvious corrosion at the electrical connections or homemade wiring splices. Steering cables (if so equipped) shouldn’t be rusty or frayed, and the wheel should turn from lock to lock without binding or sloppiness.
Don’t forget to thoroughly inspect the trailer you’re buying with the boat to make sure everything is in working order.
Run the engine on muffs and a garden hose, if possible, to ensure the outboard actually starts, and listen for strange noises coming from the powerhead. Also, hop in the boat to verify the instruments, lights and other systems function properly.
Don’t forget the trailer. All the lights should work, the coupler lubed, the safety chains in good shape, and the brake lines isolated from chafing and not rusted. The tires out to be rated for a boat trailer, with good tread, and no weather cracks in the sidewalls. The hubs must be greased properly, and take a minute to check out the springs/axle hardware for missing pieces or impromptu repairs.
The bunks should have good carpet on them, with no worn-through places on the aft rollers, or duct tape holding carpet in place. On roller trailers, the rollers should spin freely, and roller carriages pivot easily. The rollers mustn’t be cracked or dry rotted.
On bunk and roller trailers, the winch strap/cable must be free from fraying, tears or other signs of wear (and impending failure). The bow stop should be serviceable, free from cracks, splits or dry rot.
If you like what you see at this point, it’s time to bring in the professionals. If the boat is powered by a stern drive, jet or outboard, you can take it to a technician certified for that make of engine, or hire a reputable marine surveyor to conduct a Pre-Purchase Survey. A surveyor is a professional who’ll give you an in-depth report of the condition of the vessel-the good, the bad, and the ugly. The surveyor will also, on request, accompany you on a sea trial to evaluate the systems while underway.
Financing is a common option; the bank (and probably the insurance company) will require a Pre-Purchase Survey to assess their collateral and liabilities.
If you bought your current boat from a local dealer, or have the dealer perform routine maintenance on the boat, you already have a relationship with that dealer. That’s the first place to start looking for a used boat. Sometimes boat salespeople get requests for used boats they don’t have, and maybe your boat is what another customer wants.
Perhaps the dealer has a nice used boat on the lot that meets your requirements. Most dealerships do all the paperwork to ensure the vessel is free and clear from legal encumbrances, conduct-in house pre-purchase surveys, and often offer some sort of warranty. Who knows, you could go home with your latest pride and joy.
The dealer might not have the boat you’re looking for, but may be willing to sell your boat on consignment, an attractive alternative to selling the boat yourself – running ads, answering calls, dealing with low ball offers and tire-kickers.
Buying a boat from a private seller can be a crapshoot; you might win big or lose the farm. Ensure the boat has a clear title or no liens against it. Go over the entire boat with the evil eye, looking for clues of abuse or neglect. Hire a respected local marine surveyor to check everything about the boat. Give it a test run- preferably with the surveyor on board, to double-check things are ship-shape. if everything is OK, haggle a bit, and take your newest boat home.
A final word of caution: you know how excited you get when you see your fantasy boat, even if it does have a few minor flaws, you’re in love and must take it home.
The excitement during the buying process can be directly proportional to the buyer’s remorse you experience when you see your latest purchase through logical eyes-and realize it’s a classic-but a derelict classic.
When you find your dream boat, check it out, sleep on it, then revisit the boat again to make certain it’s really true love and not infatuation.