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  • Staff Writer

How to Buy a Used Boat

Updated: Mar 19, 2023


A couple looking at used boats

Attention, boat-seekers. Are you looking for a new home away from home on top of a beautiful lake, on a river, or the ocean?


Do you yearn to take the helm and cast off to explore new shores and hidden coves? Then perhaps buying a used boat is the first step for you. But if you’re like many, navigating the waters of getting the right boat for your needs and budget can seem daunting.


Don’t despair. In this blog post, we’ll provide an easy-to-follow guide on how to buy a used boat — from the first step of finding the right boat to closing the deal. So cast off your concerns, raise your sails, and let’s get started.


Quick Summary


Researching the market is a great place to start when buying a used boat. Inspect any potential boats in person before making a purchase, and have a qualified technician complete an inspection and sea trial if possible.


Budgeting for a Used Boat Purchase


Budgeting for a used boat purchase is essential to the buying process. It's important to take time to review your financial limitations and come up with realistic numbers that fit your budget.


Don’t forget to factor in additional costs associated with insuring, registering, and maintaining the boat. Having a contingency fund ready for unexpected repairs or problems arising during ownership is also worth it. When it comes to budgeting, it can vary significantly depending on the size and type of boat you plan to buy. Smaller boats, such as inflatables or kayaks, may seem cheaper but don't discount the potential costs of maintenance and repairs associated with more complex vessels over time.


On the other hand, while costing more up-front, larger boats could be more economical in the long run since they tend to require less frequent maintenance and repairs due to their durability. Ultimately, the right approach depends on the buyer's needs since each situation has different financial resources and goals.


That being said, being mindful of what you can afford can help avoid delays or emotionally driven decisions later on, which could lead to overspending or an unwise investment.


Now that we have looked at budgeting considerations when looking for a used boat, it’s time to focus on how you can determine what your budget should be when buying a used vessel.

  • The National Marine Manufacturers Association said first-time buyers accounted for 34% of boat sales in 2021.

  • According to Bankrate.com, the average cost of a used boat is about 75% less than that of a new boat.

What is Your Budget?


Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to consider your budget. Some people might think the cheapest boat they find is the best value. But cheap boats often cost more in the long run than pricier boats if they require frequent maintenance. It’s important to realize there may be trade-offs when you buy a boat on a budget. Some would argue that, depending on your needs, buying a used boat can save you money. For example, older fishing boats may need repairs but may also offer deals that are hard to beat.


On the other hand, some may argue that a newer model could save in the long run due to its longer lifespan and fewer repair needs. Ultimately, it depends on individual needs and preferences. If you’re looking for a reliable boat at an affordable price and don't mind sacrificing modern amenities and bells and whistles, then shopping for a used boat is likely the right choice for you.


Before making any decisions, though, it pays to research all your options since even pre-owned boats can still be relatively expensive, and costs add up quickly. When researching used boats, buyers should also consider their budget for repairs, parts replacement, or upgrades. The exact cost will depend on many factors, such as the age and condition of the boat and any additional features or services you plan to add. The next step in purchasing a used boat is doing your own diligence by researching and asking the right questions about the vessel you’re interested in.


Doing so will help you make an informed decision based on technical criteria and personal preferences.


Wakeboard Boat on Lake Tahoe

Research and Ask the Right Questions


Now that you have a budget, it is time to search for your ideal used boat actively. Before you get too attached to any one vessel, it is essential to research and ask the right questions to make the best-informed decision. What should you look for when researching used boats? Use the internet to research a specific make, model, and year of a boat.


Look for ratings from previous owners about their experience and resources, such as safety information. Researching ratings will also help you determine if a vessel is worth your investment - some may appear attractive from the outside but may not be rated highly by other users.


Check for any recalls or unresolved issues related to that particular boat model. Don’t forget to ask questions about insurance policies and other potential costs for repair or maintenance. On the other hand, remember that even after doing all your research, you will never know everything about a used boat. Trusting your instincts and relying on expertise while researching can help mitigate the risk of buying a pre-owned vessel, although no purchase can ever be entirely risk-free. When researching and asking questions, remember to keep an open mind yet stay focused on what is important to you, and do not let yourself get distracted by miscellaneous items that don’t meet your needs.


Once you have completed your research and asked the right questions, it’s time to move on to inspecting potential vessels before committing to a purchase and signing the paperwork.


Research Inspections and Ratings


Researching inspections and ratings will give buyers a truckload of background information regarding a used boat. It is essential to research safety and quality ratings from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) or an independent inspector.


This helps determine if the boat is structurally sound and functioning well. Additionally, read reviews online or from consumer magazines — these can attest to a boat's reputation for being reliable or unreliable and its condition."

Consider whether past inspections are available such as surveys and mechanic reports. If not, one may have to be arranged before purchasing the boat. Speak with the seller to inquire about their level of transparency around inspections; it is crucial to make sure they are up to date. Finally, investigate prices in different locations and ask owners of similar boats about their purchase experience. There are sometimes differences in pricing depending on location — so be sure you are familiar with the local market.


Making wise decisions upfront will help avoid unnecessary stress since replacing parts might wait until later when more money is available. Still, you want to ensure your boat's foundation is solid before investing in additional areas. With all this research, it's time to consider some of the final pieces necessary for boating safely and enjoyably: knowing what items should be inspected for potential hazards and trouble spots on your selected vessel.


As such, we turn our attention now to the defense mechanisms required for a safe journey out onto the waters: forming a safety checklist and learning tips for identifying structural weaknesses that may impair standard operations.


Safety Checklist and Tips


Safety is paramount when buying a used boat. To ensure that you are getting the most out of your purchase and that the vessel is safe, there are several things to consider before committing to a purchase. A checklist and some tips can help guide your inspection: - Have a marine surveyor or a qualified professional inspect the boat before purchasing. Make sure to discuss the details of their assessment with them and address any issues they note concerning safety. - Inspect the hull and other components for visible signs of damage or wear and tear. Ensure all necessary safety equipment is onboard and operational, including life jackets, fire extinguishers, and flares. Confirm that navigation lights and gauges function correctly. - Check engine(s) for strong output, no excessive smoke or oil leakage, clean filters and spark plugs, and fluid levels within an acceptable range. Ask questions if you don’t understand how something works or needs attention. - Investigate repair records to understand recent maintenance history and any problems encountered in the past with the boat's operation or structural integrity. By completing these steps, buyers will be more confident in their choice of boat and can happily start boating with peace of mind. Once enjoying your new boat safely on the water, it's time to consider financing options such as secured loans, lease payments, or credit cards which may have different advantages depending on individual circumstances.


Financing Options


As with any large purchase, you may want to consider financing options when buying a used boat. This will help spread the cost over time and make it more manageable. While financing can often be beneficial and easier on the pocketbook, there are some potential pitfalls. For starters, most banks or lenders who provide financing for a used boat loan require that the boat is under 10 years old. In addition, a financial institution may turn down an application if they have misgivings about the boat’s condition or age. This means you must do your due diligence during the safety checks to ensure the boat meets these criteria before applying for a loan. Another thing to remember is that banks charge higher interest rates on boat loans than on other large purchases like vehicles.


Generally speaking, boat loan interest rates run around 8% - 10% compared to 4% - 5% for car loans – so this could be something to bear in mind when deciding. Finally, one of the most important factors when considering financing options is how much it will add to the total cost at the end of the repayment period. This should be calculated along with other associated costs, such as insurance, before you commit fully and sign any contracts. It can be helpful to seek guidance from a professional financial advisor to make the best-informed choice for your circumstances. Now that you have considered all your financing options, it's time to move on to the next stage – the purchase process.


The Purchase Process


After selecting the best financing option for your lifestyle and budget, it is time to commit to purchasing a used boat. This process is typically more straightforward than negotiating loan terms, as it involves completing paperwork to transfer ownership from the seller to the buyer. The purchase process is typically divided into two stages: an agreement phase and a completion phase. During the agreement phase, the buyer and seller will review details about the sale and establish necessary conditions like the cost, any itemized repairs the seller agrees to before delivery, delivery date, title transfer details, etc.


Documenting all arrangements in writing ensures both sides are satisfied with their agreement. During the completion phase, the buyer arranges payment and receives documentation that allows them to register and insure their boat. The buyer also assumes responsibility for its upkeep and any applicable taxes related to boat usage or ownership in their region. Notwithstanding, both parties may debate when agreeing on exchanging money and goods - especially regarding the condition of goods.


The seller may agree to make certain repairs before handing over ownership but might not agree on how much they are willing to contribute financially towards these repairs.


To ensure both parties have an understanding before finalizing the deal, buyers should request documented proof, such as photos and receipts, from sellers showing the current condition of the boat being sold.


Additionally, buyers should take out a mechanical survey that thoroughly examines every aspect of a boat’s functionality (if this was not done prior); this helps ensure that the agreed-upon price is fair for everyone involved.

Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any certifications or inspections I should have done before buying a used boat?


Yes, there are several certifications and inspections you should have done before buying a used boat. You should start by researching the boat's history to see if it has been registered or had any mechanical or environmental issues.


It's also essential to have a qualified marine surveyor inspect the vessel for age, condition, and signs of damage. Additionally, if the vessel is powered by an engine and outdrive unit, a marine mechanic should be called upon to assess the condition of these systems.


Finally, having a local marina or boatyard representative perform an inspection and water test of the vessel can provide essential information about its performance and usability on open water.


Taking the time to vet a used boat purchase properly will help ensure that you don't end up with a lemon – and can give you peace of mind over your investment.


What should I look for to ensure a used boat is in good condition?


When buying a used boat, it is essential to evaluate the condition of the hull, engine, deck, and interior. Look for signs of damage or repair that indicate past leaks and inspect the condition of all fittings.


An experienced eye can help you identify areas needing attention or repairs. The engine should be inspected for wear, noise, oil stains, and corrosion on the outside and whether it starts easily and runs smoothly.


Additionally, check the electrical system, fuel tanks and lines, steering wheel, and propulsion, along with all safety equipment such as life jackets, fire extinguishers, and flares. Overall, if there is any doubt or concern about the vessel's condition, then it is best to have the boat surveyed by a professional.


What options do I have when it comes to financing a used boat?


When financing a used boat, you have two main options. The first is taking out a traditional loan from a bank or credit union. This option may require a good credit score, and the amount of money you can borrow will depend on your financial situation and the boat's value. The second option is to look for alternative lending sources, such as online lenders, who are more flexible and may offer better interest rates. Researching these lenders is key to getting a better deal and avoiding potentially high-interest rates. Additionally, many dealerships have financing departments to help you find the lowest rates. Whatever option you choose, do your homework and compare different financing offers before deciding.


When budgeting for your purchase, you should also consider the cost of maintenance and supplies to know exactly how much money you need to have upfront.


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