Purchasing a boat is an exciting experience. But before you make an offer, there are several questions to ask when buying a used boat to get vital information and avoid surprises. Asking the right questions upfront will help you determine if the boat is a good value and meets your intended use.
- Reason for Sale
- Engine Hours and Maintenance
- Accident and Damage History
- Equipment and Features
- Sea Trial
- Title, Registration, and Insurance
- Safety Equipment
- Should I hire a marine surveyor to inspect a used boat before buying it?
- Is financing available for buying a used boat?
- How do I know if the trailer included is the right one for the boat?
- What questions should I ask the seller when sea trialing a used boat?
Reason for Sale
Knowing why the owner is selling gives insight into any potential issues or problems. Listen closely to the answer for any concerning reasons like frequent breakdowns, excessive damage history, or a desperate need for quick cash.
Some specific questions to ask:
- Why are you selling the boat?
- How long have you owned it?
- How many hours per year did you use it?
- Did any issues prompt you to sell?
Engine Hours and Maintenance
The hour meter indicates the amount of wear and tear on the engine. For inboard engines over 500 hours, perform compression checks. Outboard engines under 300 hours may still be under warranty.
Ask about maintenance logs and records. Annual maintenance is crucial, especially for boats operated in saltwater which accelerates corrosion. Long gaps in service can signal future problems.
Specific maintenance questions:
- How many engine hours are shown on the gauge?
- Has regular maintenance been performed per the manufacturer’s schedule?
- Were any major repairs or engine overhauls done?
- Do you have maintenance logs or receipts?
Here is a table of the typical recommended maintenance schedule for different components of a boat. you should ask a seller if they kept up with any or all of these:
|Engine||Oil Change||Every 100 hours or annually|
|Engine||Spark Plugs||As recommended by manufacturer|
|Engine||Fuel Filter||Every 100 hours or annually|
|Engine||Cooling System Flush||Every 100 hours or annually|
|Drive Unit||Lower Unit Oil Change||Every 100 hours or annually|
|Drive Unit||Water Pump Impeller||Every 100 hours or annually|
|Steering||Fluid Check||Every 100 hours or annually|
Accident and Damage History
Accidents, even minor ones, can cause underlying issues that are hard to detect. Ask specifically if any insurance claims were filed and if repairs were completed by certified mechanics. Improper repairs may be unsafe.
Questions to uncover damage history:
- Has the boat ever been in an accident?
- Were any insurance claims filed?
- Did a certified marine mechanic make repairs?
- Does all equipment operate properly?
You might also be interested in reading: The Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Boat
Equipment and Features
Verify that all equipment, electronics, canvas, safety gear, and the trailer are included in the asking price. Don’t assume anything is included.
Make a list of gear and features that are important to you and confirm each one is present and operational.
- Electronics – GPS, fishfinder, VHF radio
- Canvas – Bimini top, boat cover
- Safety – PFDs, fire extinguisher, flares
- Trailer – Tires, bearings, lights
A sea trial is an absolute must before purchase! Take the boat through its paces to personally assess overall performance and handling. Have a mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection to identify any issues that may have been overlooked.
Sea trial checklist:
- Top speed runs
- Controls and steering
- Engine temperature and performance
- Excessive vibration or noise
Title, Registration, and Insurance
- Confirm the title is free and clear of any liens.
- Review the HIN number and registration validity
- Verify required registration and titling fees for your state
- Ensure the boat has the proper insurance required
This protects you from inheriting obligations still tied to the boat.
Closely inspect life jackets, fire extinguishers, flares and other safety gear. Make sure all equipment is in good shape and meets USCG regulations. Check that nothing is expired – this can result in fines if stopped by authorities.
Safety gear checklist:
- Life jackets – proper type and size
- Fire extinguishers – charged and current inspection
- Flares – not expired
- Throwable PFDs – present and in good shape
- First aid kit
Asking the right used boat questions upfront helps uncover any issues and ensures you get honest answers before purchasing. Take your time, get all the facts, go for a thorough sea trial, and have a mechanic inspect the engine. Being an informed buyer will give you the confidence to make a sound boat buying decision.
Should I hire a marine surveyor to inspect a used boat before buying it?
Yes, a survey by a qualified marine surveyor can identify issues not visible to the eye. This is recommended for boats 10 years or older.
Is financing available for buying a used boat?
Yes, you can qualify for a used boat loan from a bank, credit union or specialized lender. Interest rates are based on credit, loan amount and boat value.
How do I know if the trailer included is the right one for the boat?
Confirm the trailer’s weight capacity, tongue weight rating, tire size, and hitch size are appropriate for the size/weight of the boat.
What questions should I ask the seller when sea trialing a used boat?
Cover performance, handling, engine temperature, electronics, noise/vibration, steering, speed, etc. Refer to the sea trial checklist.