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How to Buy A Used Boat

Aug 18, 2007
We've all heard it a million times: Buyer Beware! That may never be truer than when buying a used boat. Most experts agree, first time boat buyers may be able to find a great deal from a private seller, but your best bet is heading to a reputable dealer to find a good quality used boat at a fair price. Experienced boat owners may opt to forgo the dealership in lieu of finding a great deal elsewhere.

Whether you decide to risk buying your first (or next) boat from another boat owner, or from a dealer, there are a few things to watch out for when purchasing any used watercraft:

Maintenance:
Ask for a detailed maintenance history so you can see firsthand what kind of major repairs have been made in recent months. Also, find out who handled the repairs, so you can ask them what type of work maintenance may be need in the future.

Marine Survey:
It's a good idea to have a qualified marine mechanic thoroughly inspect any boat before purchasing it. To find a marine surveyor call either the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors - SAMS. This can be pricey however, and some boat buyers decide to go it alone. At the minimum, do-it-yourself inspectors should always check the following: spark arrestors and plugs; the alternator; belts; hoses; strainer; blower; shift cables; and engine alignment.

Hull Condition:
Make sure the hull is in good condition. Tap on it all the way around to make sure it is consistently solid. Check carefully for mismatched paint (this could be a sign of a previous accident), and also gel-coat blisters and dry rot - more signs of potential trouble.

Propeller:
Check for warping, cracks, or nicks - they can hinder performance.

Storage:
How has the boat been stored while not in use? Dry storage is best, but a well-kept outdoor stored boat shouldn't be discounted.

Upholstery:
Check for ripped seams and color fading. Of course how much of this you can tolerate is solely up to you.

Extras:
Always ask if there are any extras that come with the purchase. You may be surprised at what the owner may throw in to seal the deal: a depth finder; a stereo; a radio; life jackets; or even an anchor. Either way, it can't hurt to ask.

N.A.D.A. Boat Appraisal Guide:
Find the boat you are looking at in the N.A.D.A. Guide to see what its current market value is. Remember, if it is priced too low, it may have unseen problems. And if you trust the owner, ask why he's selling it for so much less than book value. If his answer makes sense, count yourself lucky. You just found a great deal!

Buying a used boat is much like buying a used car: you have to take your time, not let your emotions rule the sale; and be clear as to what you want and how much you're willing to pay for it.
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