The Boat Detective…

As promised, we will talk about used boat shopping. Not all of us have the luxury of buying a boat brand new with a warranty. Many also want to keep their costs down and may not have a marine surveyor in their budget to check every potential boat. So, you must learn to be your own boat detective in order to ensure you make a wise investment.

When shopping used boats here are things to look for:

  • Does the boat have mismatched paint? This could be a sign that the boat was wrecked and refurbished. This doesn’t automatically mean this boat is a no but if you weren’t informed of this, I’m going to bet it isn’t the only thing they are hiding.
  • Does the keel run in a true straight line?
  • Do you see any water lines in the boat or engine? It will be noticeable because there will be a portion above that is rust-free and a line where below shows rust.
  • Grab the prop & attempt to move it up & down & sideways. You should not be able to move it much. If you can, you have a worn cutlass bearing
  • Take a small rubber hammer and lightly tap around the hull. If you hear voids in the fiberglass, this may be a problem of repairs, blisters, or delamination.
  • Walk around the decks & bow – there should be no soft spots.
  • How’s the steering? Is it free & easy to move?
  • Make sure it is legal with all required equipment.
  • Handrails should be bolted through, not just screwed.
  • When you start the engine do you have good water flow?
  • Check the oil & wipe stick using your fingers, do you feel any grit? What is the color? Does it smell burned? You might want to send a sample of it & the transmission fluid to a lab for testing.
  • Check the transmission fluid with the same process as the oil.
  • Does the transmission shift easily or does it “clunk?”
  • Can you contact the previous owners to inquire about the boat?
  • Just like with a car, check both BUC & NADA books to determine value range for this model & year.
  • If you’re looking at an inboard/outboard make sure the tilt motor works correctly.
  • If you’re looking at an outboard, look under the cover for excessive corrosion.

This will definitely keep you busy & probably irritate the seller but that’s a good thing. You will certainly look like you know what you’re doing & that will be intimidating to someone trying to sell a lemon! Hiring a qualified marine surveyor or anyone in the marine industry would always be your best bet & even though it may cost money initially, it could save you money in the long-run.

Lastly, No matter where you purchase your vessel, remember, you, the skipper, are responsible for having the required safety equipment which is determined by the class of your boat. Assumption is the mother of all ….well screw ups. Do not assume your boat came from the showroom or factory with proper navigation lights, etc. This is your responsibility and the burden will fall on you.

Good luck Skip! Feel free to contact Coastie Marine Services, Cliff Hairston @ 850-896-9147  or email @ or check out our website: Coastie’s website and/or Facebook page:


Author: coastiemarineblog

Marine Electrician, retired from the US Coast Guard. Over 14 years experience as a marine electrician and current owner of Coastie Marine Services.

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