Boat Buying Tips You Should Know

Boat Buying Tips You Should Know

You've reached that beloved moment of buying a boat. Now what?

Being a boat owner is one of life’s wonderful freedoms. You have saved your pennies and dimes for a cash purchase or at least a possible down payment, maybe financing has been approved and it’s time to begin hunting for that crown jewel in your budget range!

I have had many boats throughout the years and the purchase of my next boat never ceases to excite me, despite some past regrets of boat purchases. But hey, lesson learned, right? Right.  Today I want to discuss a positive approach (based off my past experiences) to boat buying so that your purchase is one you can pat yourself on the back about. Everyone wants a good deal. But what constitutes a good deal? The idea that you have just made the “deal of the year” on a new boat or at least a new to you boat, and are standing around listening to all your friends and family bid you a job well done on your purchase is what most boat buyers day dream about.  That being said, let’s move forward with a list of things you should consider for yourself, as well as the boat(s) you have your eye on as prospects for your purchase.

Your style of boating will determine most of your needs
What type of lake or lakes will you be spending your time on? Are they shallow, deep, narrow, wide or a combination? Why is this important you ask? Well, here are many reasons. Do you need a boat that has depth to the hull to take on large waves on a windy day, or a shallower hull that drafts less water in order to access certain shallow/flat areas of your lake?

What type of equipment will you need to get? Do you really have that many shallow places in which you could benefit from shallow water anchors? Is it a large deep lake in which larger and higher powered electronics are more appropriate? Do you normally fish alone or with a partner or multiple people? Proper boat choice can accomplish many things such as having plenty of room to move about and store your gear. If you commonly fish with one or more people in the boat, make sure you can accommodate them all and their gear. Even more important to fishing with others in your boat is having ample room to cast for all parties involved. You don't want to kill your time on the water due to a trip to the emergency to get a set of treble hooks buried in the back of your neck removed. Ouch!

Where will you be storing the boat? If you plan to store the boat at home, will it fit in your garage to begin with? Your about to make a substantial investment, is a break away trailer tongue a necessity? If your going to rent a storage unit to keep the boat, consider the additional cost for that as well. Don’t overlook general maintenance in this area either. Keeping your boat in a well-covered place can save costly repairs as well as preserve re-sale. If you’re not storing the boat in a covered area, consider a custom fit cover for the boat. Does it come with one? If not, adding a cover should definitley be a consideration.

Is your current tow vehicle capable of pulling the boat efficiently? There’s no need for replacing brakes and paying for driveline repairs if you don’t consider such things. It’s definitely preventable.

What are your needs for horsepower and fuel capacity? Everyone knows to be “first to the fish”, but there’s other things to consider here. What types of lakes are you facing? Do you make long runs from your usual boat ramp? What is the traffic like on a typical basis? All of these things factor into horsepower and fuel capacity.

Now then, let’s move into the boat itself and discuss a list of things every buyer should consider, as well as offer a grading scale to use when buying a boat, especially concerning used boats. Purchase price alone shouldn’t be the final say so. We’ll discuss the list and then paint a real life scenario as to how all this adds up to you as the owner.  For all the items listed below, use a grading scale of 1-10. 1- Being “not good at all” and 10- “pretty much flawless”.

Looking for the Right Boat

Exterior cosmetic condition
Is the boat riddled with scratches and gouges and rough spots? Are you willing to accept that or put some elbow grease into the boat? Is the rub rail chewed to pieces from spending too much time in a dock? What does the bottom of the boat and running surface look like? Is it full of gouges and scratches from being pulled up on the bank rather than tied off to a dock or run over tree tops or rocks? Are there any cracks in the gelcoat any place from stress or some sort of minor collision.  Also, pay attention to things like the box lid latches and if they open, close and lock if it is a locking style.

Interior Cosmetic Condition
What kind of shape are the carpet and seats in? Does it appear as if the seats have been used as an additional place to hang lure when not in use and are therefore riddled with holes or maybe faded and cracked beyond recognition from being in the sun? Or do they appear as though they have at least had some attempt to be taken care of? What about the dash and trim panels in the boat?

Equipment and Electrical
Basically, does everything work like it’s supposed to? When you flip the switch for the bilge pump, live wells, navigation and interior lights, lights in the toggle switches on the dash, accessory switches that may be located bow or stern. When tried, does everything turn on, run, light up, and function the way it should or do you have some immediate repairs following your purchase? This is also a good time to check the age of the batteries

The Motor
Let’s discuss briefly some of the things you should look for and consider about the motor. Cosmetic appearance is obvious, but does it start and run like it is supposed to? I personally suggest that any engine on a prospective boat should be well tested at an authorized dealer, but plan ahead to pay for this service with your own dollars, not the current owner. If you’re traveling a ways to get your new boat, it’s always good to have the engine tested and checked out by an authorized dealer ahead of time. Let’s go through a list of things an engine should be tested for, shall we?

Run time hours
If the engine is new enough, find out how many hours of run time it has overall. Some engine hour tests will not only tell you how many hours are on the engine, but the results are sometimes broken down by rpm’s.  Let’s say an engine has 400hrs of run time. If the bulk of those hours are from 3500 rpm’s or less, obviously the engine has been operated a fair amount but hasn’t been abused. Likewise, if an engine has say, 250 hours but 200 of those hours are at 5000+ rpms... well, you get the picture here.

Does the engine have warranty and is it fully transferable to you as the new owner? Is it a factory warranty or an aftermarket warranty?

Compression Test
Many of us feel this is mandatory. Do some research or contact the engine manufacturer and find out what proper compression numbers should be for that engine. Past that, making sure those compression numbers are within a certain percentage of each other an important thing to watch.

Pressure Test The Lower Unit
What we’re looking for here is to test the seals in the lower unit housing to see if they are leaking or allowing water to mix with the gear oil. This test is cheap insurance on a huge problem. When this test is performed, the lower unit fluid has to be drained and then replaced. So if the seals are good the worst that has happened here is that you’re out a few bucks and your engines lower unit has been serviced ahead of time.

Prop Shaft Straightness
A slightly bent prop shaft can absolutely be the cause for worn lower unit seals. Having it checked is quick, easy, and in some cases, free.

Water Pump
Ask the seller when the water pump was last replaced. If they seem unsure, definitely replace it ASAP.

The Trailer
As for the trailer, it’s is pretty cut and dry.

Tire Wear
What kind of shape are the tires in? If you have traveled a ways to get your new boat, confirm tire wear with pictures of the tires from the current owner before you sqaure a deal and leave town. If you know ahead of time that the trailer is in need of new shoes, you can factor this into your price negotiations or at least plan extra cash for tires into your travel fund incase the tires need immediate replacment.  

Lights and Electrical
Are the lights working properly and the wiring in good shape?

Bunks and Trailer Carpet
You haven’t had a bad day with your boat until one of these breaks.

Here’s the bottom line to help put all this together.
Let’s say you find a boat that has a value of $30,000 dollars and the agreed upon price is $25,000. Heck of a deal right? Yes and no. If the boat is in great shape and doesn’t need anything then yes, that’s a good deal. If the purchase price is $25,000, followed by another $4,000 in repairs or electronics, there just went your killer deal!


Good Fishing!
~ Jon



Comments (2)

January 15, 2016, 6:11 pm

This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that the style of boating you do will determine what kind of boat you need. My wife and I have been considering buying a boat for a while now, and we've finally decided to do it. There are a few lakes nearby, and they're pretty deep, so we'll look for a vessel that will work well with that. Thanks for the great post!


July 31, 2016, 9:54 pm


Thank you so much for your kind comments. It is our goal to aid the general public in making quality educated decisions with their boating needs. Please feel free to contact us anytime if you have any questions.


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