Boat Buying Advice
Buying a used boat, motor, and trailer requires extensive research and some careful planning. While most sellers are honest, it is important to protect yourself and ensure the transaction goes smoothly.
Boat Buying Tips
Before you rush out to buy a boat for your place at the lake, take the time to sit down with the family and decide what kind of boat you actually need.
Here are some of the criteria you should consider when buying a boat:
How are you going to use the boat?
Fishing, water skiing, or cruising. If you are planning to use the boat primarily for fishing and taking the odd scenic run around the lake, you can probably get by with a smaller boat and lower HP motor. If the gang plans to water ski and wake board every weekend, or you plan to make big trips on open water, then a larger boat and a heavier HP engine is going to be required.
Where are you going to use the boat?
If your cabin is on a river or lake with rocky shorelines and endless submerged reefs and islands go for an aluminum boat. In a deep water lake with sandy bottom and shorelines a fibreglass boat will likely be fine.
How many people and what kinds of supplies do you need to carry in the boat?
A crowded boat makes for an uncomfortable and slow ride. If you plan to have a big group in the boat or will spend a lot of time loading it up with supplies for repairs and maintenance, a larger boat with a bigger motor is a better choice.
How often will you use the boat?
Is the boat only going to be used on weekends for an hour or two, or every weekend for several hours plus a couple of intensive week trips?
If the boat will get limited use, you might be able to get by with an older boat and motor as long as they are in good condition. If the boat will get heavy use, it will be worth spending the extra money for a newer one.
Where will the boat stay during the summer?
If you are going to transport the boat on the trailer back and forth from the house every week, the trailer has to be almost new. If the trailer is going to make two runs a year, then it just has to be road safe to make those trips.
A boat that will stay in the water at the cabin and bounce around off docks and rocks all summer should be aluminum, and ideally have an automatic bilge system to pump out the rain water when you are back in the city.
Where will the boat stay during the winter?
Storing a boat outside will expose it to critters and the elements, and it will deteriorate quickly. If you plan to leave the boat outside for the winter, it is probably not worth buying one that has an interior in mint condition. Mechanically it must be sound, but there is no use buying a pretty boat if you are not going to look after it.
If you plan to take good care of the boat and pay to place it in dry storage for the winter, then it is worth getting a boat with a nice interior – just make sure the mechanical components are in just as good condition.
What’s your budget for the boat?
You have to add up all the costs. The price of the boat, motor, and trailer are just the beginning. Depending on the age and size of the boat, the annual maintenance costs can be as high as 15% of the value of the boat.
Some of the boat costs to factor in include:
Maintenance and Repairs
Should you buy a new boat or a used boat?
New boats are more reliable and require much less maintenance. Used boats are cheaper up front but can soon become money pits. You also have higher fraud risks when buying a used boat. If you plan to own the boat for a long time it may be worth spending the extra money to buy a new one. This way you are the only owner of the boat and you know exactly what to expect each year.
The Used Boat Buying Process
When searching for the ideal used boat it is important to get an idea of the general price range for similar boats for sale. There are a number of websites for selling boats that will give you a fair idea of what it will cost you for the boat you want.
When you find a boat you like, carefully inspect it yourself for obvious problems.
Key things to look for when inspecting a used boat include:
Propeller damage – dents, bent, nicks.
Damaged, rusted cables.
Damaged steering wheel and shift level.
Hull damage – recent painting, different paint tones.
Bubbling or blistering of fibreglass caused by damage or old repairs.
Rotten wood in the deck, flooring, transom.
Loose, broken, or missing rails, snaps, rope guides.
Open the hatches to any storage compartments to look for leaks – check the seals.
Condition of bimini (protective covering for driving in bad weather) – rips, zippers, stripped screw threads.
License number (numbers and letters on the side of the boat that identify it to police) matches owner’s documents.
Broken or missing navigation lights – one at the front and one at the back.
Marine radio, antenna, depth finder, and stereo work.
Mildew, spongy spots.
Upholstery condition – seats ripped, colours faded, stitching loose.
Condition of safety equipment – anchor and line, paddles, life jackets.
Take the boat out for a test run. Ensure the owner is in the boat with you. It is also a good idea to bring at least one friend who knows something about boats.
Major things to check during the boat test run:
Boat sits evenly in the water – doesn’t list to one side.
Starter works properly.
Boat gets up on plane quickly and easily.
The motor trims up and down properly and smoothly.
Boat reacts quickly to sharp turns of the steering wheel to both sides.
Boat doesn’t rattle and shake.
Bilge pump works.
Have a Certified Professional Inspect a Used Boat
This is important whether you are buying the used boat from a private person or from a broker such as a marina that is selling the boat. The certified inspectors are called marine surveyors. Your insurance company will probably be able to provide you with a list of accredited surveyors. Make sure the surveyor is a certified member of an accrediting agency.
The marine surveyor inspection is absolutely worth the money, especially if you have little knowledge about boats. If nothing else, it is critical to make it a condition in your offer. If the owner knows the boat has a major problem, he will likely own-up, or stop the sale process once you make the inspection a condition in your offer. When buying a boat for the cabin or cottage, the motor is usually worth as much or more than the boat itself so it is wise to have it inspected and tested.
If the boat runs well, and the inspection comes up with only minor repair issues, adjust your offer accordingly and go for it!
Closing the Sale for a Used Boat
Verify that the licence number on the boat matches the number on the ownership document provided by the seller. The boat must also be registered in the seller’s name. You don’t want to buy a stolen boat.
Beware of boats that have a lien on them.
We recommend that you avoid these deals, but if you feel you must have the boat, you have to be extra careful. A lien means that the seller possesses the boat but the ownership is held by a third party – usually a bank. When you pay for the boat you normally have to go with the seller to the bank that holds the lien. The bank takes their part of the payment and gives the difference to the seller, and releases ownership papers to you.
Write up a purchase offer for the boat.
Be sure it includes a condition for the test run and the accredited surveyor inspection.
Get a bill of sale for the boat that is signed by the owner.
It is a good idea to get separate bills of sale for the boat, the trailer, and the miscellaneous equipment. Some people also have the motor written up as a separate bill of sale. The reason for splitting it all up is that it makes the process easier for paying the sales taxes when you go to get the boat licence switched into your name.
If you are getting a trailer as part of the deal, remember that it falls under the jurisdiction of the transportation department in your province or state – you need to contact the respective offices to find out what you need to do with regards to licensing and plating the trailer.
Cross-Border Used Boat Deals
If you plan to buy a boat in another country, contact the border authorities and the customs authorities to find out what papers you need and what import taxes you are required to pay when bringing the boat home. The responsibility in these situations lies firmly with the buyer.