Questions to ask when buying a used boat

Questions to ask when buying a used boat 1

If you’re looking to buy a used boat, there’s a lot to consider. We know you want to make sure you’re getting a good deal but also that the boat you’re buying is in good shape and up to your standards.

To help you out, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the top questions that you should ask the seller when buying a used boat. These questions will give you a better idea of the boats:

  • History
  • Features
  • Performance
  • Legal Status

Whether you’re experienced in boat ownership or a first-time boat buyer, asking these questions will give you the information you need to make an informed and confident purchase.

Why is the Boat Being Sold?

Question: Ask the seller why they are selling the boat.

Why: This is one of those questions where we are more focused on how the seller is answering us than what they say. Are they moving? Are they getting a new boat? Whatever the answer is, ask a few follow-up questions and see how much detail you get.

Tip: A dishonest seller will not have thought in depth about explaining why they are selling the boat, so the more questions you ask, the more apparent it will be if they are hiding something or telling the truth.

Sea Trial your used boat

Sea Trial (Test Drive)

Question: Ask the seller if you will be allowed to take the boat out and inspect it on a sea trial.

Why: If you are not allowed to Sea Trial a boat, don’t buy it. The only exception to this is at auctions where sea trials are not permitted.

Questions to Ask About the Boat’s History

Previous Owners:

Question: Ask the seller about the previous owners, and try to get a sense of their boating experience and why they sold the boat.

Why: When you’re buying a used boat, it’s important to know about the previous owner, especially if there is more than one. This information can give you valuable insights into the boat’s history and potential issues.

Maintenance and Repair History:

Question: Ask the seller for maintenance records of any work (especially major repairs) that have been done on the boat and try to get a sense of how well the boat has been cared for over the years.

Why: Keeping a boat in good condition takes time, effort, and money, so it’s important to know about any maintenance the boat owner has performed or paid for and if they used a licensed mechanic

Accidents and Damage History:

Question: Ask the seller about any accidents or damage the boat has sustained and if the boat was repaired properly.

Why: Accidents and damage can impact the boat’s value and safety, so it’s important to know about any incidents that have occurred.

Saltwater or Freshwater Boat:

Question: Ask the seller if the boat was used in Saltwater, Freshwater, or both.

Why: If you are dealing with a saltwater boat, then you will need to focus a lot more on how it was maintained day to day due to the potential for corrosion.

Storage of the Boat:

Question: Ask the seller how they stored the boat when it wasn’t being used.

  • Did they use a cover?
  • Was the boat kept mostly on a trailer or in the water?
  • How did they store it in the winter (For Northern Regions)

Why: We know the worst thing for a boat is to sit idle, so finding out how the owner stored the boat goes towards how they cared for it over all

Upgrades and Modifications:

Question: Ask the seller about any improvements that have been made to the boat and what effect (if any) they have had on its performance.

Why: It’s important to know about upgrades and modifications because boats are designed with very precise specifications. If someone doesn’t know what they are doing, they could alter the structural integrity of the boat and cause permanent damage.

Tip: Modifications to a boat can also affect a manufacturer’s warranty a used boat might have. This is something you should always check on BEFORE buying a used boat.

Previous Usage:

Question: Ask the seller how they used the boat.

Why: Was the previous owner an avid fisherman or just someone who cruised the intercoastal with his family? Knowing how hard a boat was used gives you insight into how long it will last before any potential major repairs.

Questions to Ask About the Boat’s Equipment and Features

What equipment is included:

Question: Ask the owner what exactly is being included with the sale of the boat

Why: You never want to agree to a price without knowing what’s included

Engine and Drive System:

Question: Ask the seller about the age and maintenance of the engine (Inboard or outboard engines):

  • How many hours does the engine have? (See: How many hours is too many)
  • Has the engine always had annual maintenance, or were there large gaps between maintenance?
  • Did the seller perform the maintenance themselves or use a certified mechanic?
  • Has the engine (or engines) ever broken down?
  • Have you ever had any repairs done to the engine (Major or Minor)

Question 2: Make sure to also ask about the fuel efficiency of the engine(s).

Why: If you are going to spend only a little time examining a used boat, the motor is the one part that requires a thorough inspection and a definitive series of questions.

Tip: Boat engine warranties are commonly tossed out by manufacturers if the annual service was not done properly by a certified mechanic with proper record keeping. If you are buying a boat with a motor that has a warranty, you must verify with the engines manufacturer what the service requirements are and if the current and original owner followed those requirements.

Electronics and Navigation Equipment:

Question: Ask the seller about the type and condition of the equipment on the boat and whether it’s in good working order.

Question 2: Make sure to also ask about any upgrades or additional equipment that may have been installed.

Why: Modern boats are equipped with a variety of highly technical electronic and navigation equipment, such as GPS, sonar, and radar. Some of this equipment you can get by with if it breaks, but certain electronics are absolutely essential for proper navigation and safe boating.

Safety Equipment:

Question: Ask the seller about the type and condition of any safety equipment on board, such as:

  • Life jackets
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Emergency flotation devices
  • Flares

Why: Safety equipment is often thought of by boat owners as the stuff you only need on board if you are inspected the the Coast Guard or Police. For this reason, most safety equipment is neglected and in poor condition.

Comfort and Convenience Features:

Question: Ask the seller about the type and condition of features such as:

  • Seating
  • Shade
  • Storage

Make sure to also ask about any upgrades or additional features that may have been added.

Why: Comfort and convenience features can make a big difference in your boating experience, especially if you’re married (wink wink)

Trailer and Towing Equipment:

Questions: Ask the seller about the age, maintenance, and registration status of the trailer, as well as any issues or repairs it may have had.

Make sure to also ask about the weight capacity of the trailer and whether it’s suitable for the size and weight of the boat you’re interested in purchasing.

Why: You don’t want your boat falling off the trailer on the road!

Additionally, you want to make sure you will be able to register your trailer. Check with your state’s requirements to see what documents you will need so you can get these from the buyer before you get tripped up at the DMV.

Tip: A fair amount of Private Party sellers will have trailers that are not meant for the boat sitting on them. Be sure you make sure the trailer that comes with the boat is built to carry the length and weight of that specific boat.

Questions to Ask About the Boat’s Legal Status:

Before buying a used boat, it’s important to make sure you have all of the information you need to ensure that you can legally operate and maintain the boat. To do this, you’ll want to ask the following questions:

Documentation and Registration:

  • Does the boat have proper documentation, such as a certificate of title or a Coast Guard Federal Documentation?
  • Is the boat registered with the appropriate state and local governments, and is it up-to-date with all fees and taxes?

Insurance and Liability:

  • Does the boat you are buying require any sort of special boat insurance?

Taxes and Fees (Questions for the buyer):

  • Are any taxes or fees associated with owning and operating the boat in your area?
  • What are the current fees for registering and renewing the boat’s registration, and how often are they due?


In conclusion, buying a used boat is a major purchase, especially if it’s your first boat.

With so many different types of used boats available, it’s important to do your research and ask the right questions before making any purchase.

We hope that the questions we outlined in this article help ensure that you make an informed decision when buying your used boat.

Whether you’re looking for an older boat or a newer model, never forget to check the boat’s history, equipment, performance, and legal status before making any boat purchase.

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Steve Momot

Steve Momot

Steve is an accomplished professional photographer and marketer who specializes in the Fishing, Yacht, and Boating industry. With a strong presence as an influencer and marketing expert in the Marine Industry, he has made a significant impact in the field. Additionally, Steve is the original creator and co-founder of Sportfishtrader. Prior to his career as a marine photographer, he gained extensive experience as a licensed boat and car dealer in South Florida.