Buying a used Boat? 9 Things to look for (A must read)

When you are thinking of buying a boat, you have to do it right. One key decision you’ll have to make is whether to buy a used or a new boat. If done right purchasing a second-hand boat will be a decision you will never regret while also being financially rewarding.

Second hand boats

Many people may find it off-putting to save money for years and end up buying second-hand goods, however if you do it right, buying second hand is one of the best ways to save money. Depending on the year and condition, it’s not uncommon to find used boats in excess of 50% cheaper than when buying new ones.

If you’re hunting for the best second-hand boat, don’t just pick the first one you come across or work with any second hand boat dealer. Take your time and research, consult experts, and seek recommendations on the best boat that’s suited to your needs. Gather robust information to guide you in finding that perfect vessel! 

To help you on your way, we’ve pulled together a list of things to look for when buying a second hand boat.

Video summary of the article: Watch instead of reading

1. Does the boat have servicing and maintenance records?

Paper records for boat maintenance

When viewing your dream second-hand water vessel, the servicing and maintenance records must be taken into consideration. Remember, boat maintenance is akin to automobile maintenance and service records can tell a lot about how well the boat has been looked after. 

When viewing the boat go ahead and ask the owner about the services and maintenance records. Using these statements, you will ascertain whether the owner has been taking good care of the boat as required.

The provided records will identify the electrical and mechanical issues the boat frequently experienced and if they are still a major concern. 

With this information, you will decide whether the boat is worth the amount being asked for. If the boat seller doesn’t have the necessary records, consider other available used boats.

2. How many hours has the boat engine done?

It’s wise to know how many hours the boat has been on the water and in use before you consider the seller’s asking price. When searching for a used boat, a term like “low hours” will crop up. Don’t fret asking, how many hours does the boat engine have? 

15hp small boat engine

Hours of operation or use of the boat are the key indicators of the boat life and engine. A boat engine will run for several hours before you need a significant service or repair. Note hours that a boat has done will vary. You can find a boat that has been used without any complications for more than 400 hours.

On the other hand, you can compare it against a similar boat that has been used for only 300 hours but in a harsh environment by a fierce driver. The boat with many hours of use may be in a far better condition than the one with few hours and will require less maintenance.

Hence, although you want a motor with low hours, also take into consideration the servicing records and how often the boat is used as you want to avoid an engine that isn’t run regularly.

3. Does the boat come with the correct safety gear and is it in date?

Before you buy your second hand boat, make sure it has all the necessary safety gear. This safety gear should also be up-to-date, remembering that flares come with an expiry date that you have to honor. 

Ocean flares with expiry date
Example of where the expiry date can be found on a flare

Whether using the boat for scuba diving, day cruising, fishing, skiing or wake surfing, you will need all the necessary accessories. 

You should inspect the gear and make sure it’s all working correctly and is in order. This gear will not only keep you, your family and friends safe though it will keep you on the safe side of the law if you’re inspected by fisheries. 

Before you pick your boat, check out whether it has the following gear and is working properly. 

Boat safety gear
Example of some boat safety gear to check for

Have a look for:

  • Life jackets and wearable PFDs (personal flotation devices) 
  • Visual signalling devices
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Throwable flotation devices
  • Sound signalling devices 
  • Distress flare- either red hand-held or orange hand-held
  • Waterproof flashing lights touch 
  • Medical kits 
  • Anchor 

4. What to look for when buying an Aluminum Boat?

You won’t lament investing your money in an aluminum second hand boat. Aluminum boats are the number one choice for many people in the world, particularly in Western Australia. These boats are strong and remarkable for use in any water. The boat hulls are sturdy enough to allow movement both in and on top of the water.

Cleveland aluminium boat coral bay

Aluminum is also a lightweight material and an excellent choice for making boats. The aluminum boat hulls weigh up to 50% less than steel hulls will weigh. They perform better on the water offering a shallow draft while using less fuel.

Aluminum boats are also a popular choice among many boating enthusiasts because they don’t rust. An aluminium boat is high-resistant to corrosion, and you can use it for many years with little maintenance required. These boats are also considered very safe and cannot corrode or catch fire. 

However, saying this when you’re buying an aluminum boat there are still a number of things you need to look for.  Things to check when buying an aluminium boat include:

  • Cracks in the aluminium welds around the hull (inner and outer) and main supports
  • Quality of welds
  • Galvanic Corrosion
  • Thickness of aluminium sheeting

Check out our specific alley guide for Things to look for when buying an aluminium boat >

5. What to look for when buying a Fiberglass Boat?

fibreglass boat

Fibreglass boats are also a popular choice for boaties across australia. These well-built composite boats are known for their better weight distribution and diverse hull shapes to easily break through waves. 

They also come with strakes that tend to break up the water flow below the hull to reduce some of the surface tension between the water at the top and bottom. Unlike Aluminium, fiberglass boats are also resistant to known aluminium corrosion, however there are other things to look at when considering a fibreglass boat.  A few things to check for include:

  • Stress fractures in the hull
  • Rotted out transoms (structural part where the motor connects to the boat). A weak transom can be identified if you slightly rock the motor back and forth to see if there is any movement in the transform area.
  • Rotted out floors (check for softness when walking over the floor)

6. What Buoyancy does the boat have?

Does the boat have enough buoyancy? What I mean by this is if you were unfortunate and the boat was to take on water and begin to sink, or flip in rough conditions, would it stay a float? 

polystyrene foam boat floatation

Boats with a sealed deck are much more buoyant as open floor boats as the sealed deck creates an air pocket that keeps the boat afloat.  If it’s an open floor deck then you need to ensure there is buoyancy built elsewhere within the boat. 

For example, if it’s an aluminium tinny you will find buoyancy foam within the seats or sometimes foam under the false floors.

7. What other areas of the boat should I check?

Other area to look for when buying a used boat include:

Rust forming on boat trailer axle
An example of rust starting to appear on the axle of a boat trailer.
  • Damaged electrical wires – check all the wires around the dash, electrical instruments and around the battery box;
  • Damaged steering system – ensure the steering can rotate a full circle from left to right;
  • Worn-out props and skeg – always check the prop for damages.
  • Boat trailer – if you’re buying a boat on trailer, be sure to check the trailer for rust of damage.

8. Does the boat have money owing on it?

Check for debt on a used boat

Before you complete a second hand boat purchase, see if there is any money owing on the boat. It’s wise to do a boat search and make sure it doesn’t come with any risk. Feel free to visit https://www.ppsr.gov.au/searching/do-boat-search and do a PPSR boat search. 

The search will help you ascertain whether the boat you want to invest in has a security interest registered against it. You don’t want to end up paying extra money or incur hidden costs or have the boat re-claimed by a bank or person who is owed the debt. You will also get a search certificate to show you meet all requirements before buying your boat. 

To do your PPRS search, use your credit card or debit card and the boat’s serial number. Most boats come with a hull identification number (HIN) or Boatcode attached on the back or hull.  This HIN number can also be found on the rego papers.

9. Organise a sea trial: Always try before you buy

Take your boat for a sea trial

Once you’ve checked over the boat and if you’re serious about getting it ask the owner or boat dealer for a sea trial.  A seal trail is a boat buying process whereby you have to take your water vessel on a test run on the body of water you wish or plan to use it on. You can take your watercraft to the freshwater lake or ocean for a test run. 

During a sea trial, you get a chance to use your vessel the same way you will be using it once you complete the purchase. You will take note or know how the boat performs in specific settings. It is best to undertake a sea trial when you are sure this is the kind of boat you have or are looking for. 

While on the water, act as both a driver and the passenger to ascertain more about the boating experience. Take note whether there is an obstructing glare by passengers or from the windscreen. 

Go on and pay attention to the engine as it starts up and ensure it runs smoothly. Test the steering, feel how the boat moves or turns left and right. Examine the manoeuvrability when sitting as a passenger and check whether the storage room of the vessel is good enough. It should take you at least an hour or so to properly water test a used boat.

Check out our boat ramps and marinas page to identify a suitable ramp where you can meet to launch and test the boat.

Looking for more info?

Check out this awesome video from the Marina and Safety board of Tasmania which demonstrates what issues to look for when buying a used boat.

Final thoughts…

We hope you found this article helpful and we wish the best for finding that dream boat of yours. If you have any other tips to add to this page please let us know and we’ll be sure to add it!

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