Buying a Used Boat

Boating can be a hugely fun hobby or it can be a “hole in the water” that you endlessly throw money into. Buying a used boat can offset some of the costs of a new boat, but you have to make sure you are buying a quality boat and not someone else’s problems. Whether you’re a newcomer to boating or just looking to save a few bucks, here’s a solid guide for buying a used boat.

Decisions, Decisions

Boat on a TrailerFirst, like all big financial decisions, have a plan. Know what kind of boat you want. The easiest way to help you decide is to know how you are going to use it. A fishing boat on your local lake can likely be purchased for much cheaper than a power boat for skiing or anything that can hit the ocean.

Narrow it down by type, then narrow your choices again by brand preference. Visit a local boat show, browse through magazines and websites, figure out what boat you want.

Finally, decide on an age range. A boat that is 30 years old is obviously going to be cheaper than the five year old boat, but it will likely need more work. Consult your budget. Once you have a few choices available, hit the next step.


Finding your boat can be almost as fun as piloting it, if you go about it the right way. Take your time and have a lot of search methods.

  • Consult local sources like traditional classified ads. You will likely find limited offerings, but it’s hard to beat a local seller.
  • Check the big name boat sales magazines and websites too. These offer tons of variety, but you’ll be more than likely traveling out of state.
  • Finally, eBay has really come a long way in the last decade, providing a massive resource for boat enthusiasts. Only bid when you are serious – and only bid on boats from sellers with reputable feedback.


Call the Owner

Don’t tell them you want to buy right away, just ask any questions you have. Ask if there are any problems and if they have been fixed. How was it maintained? How was it stored for winter? Has it ever been in salt water? Check out the owner history and see if the engine and hull are the same year or if the engine has been replaced. Does the owner have service records? There’s a lot to know before you hand over cash, so fire away.

Check It Out

If all the questions are answered satisfactorily, make an appointment to take it out on the water and see how it performs. If this is not a possibility, connecting a water hose will at least let you see how the engine starts up. If the owner is not interested in letting you hear her fire up, it’s probably not a good sign.

Boating on lakeLook for any signs of wear or neglect. This can be anything from torn cushions to growing mold. While neither of these are deal breakers on their own, they often mean wear or neglect in other areas, like the engine.

Look into the engine and check for sludge or carbon buildup. Check the oil, as it should be at the proper level and, ideally, not dark and nasty or with milky fluid mixed in. Start the engine if at all possible, checking for excessive smoke. Check the hull for signs of damage and make sure the bulkheads are good to go.

Finally, take a buddy with you that knows more about boats or have a boat mechanic look everything over. It may cost you a bit, but the knowledge about the boat you are purchasing could be priceless. And remember, boating is all about fun, so be patient and take it easy, and enjoy buying your next boat.

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