Buying a boat: How To shortlist like a pro

Posted September 13 2016

So, you’ve been searching through listings on for a few days when a new listing pops up- and it fits your criteria perfectly. But what do you look for when reading the adverts? Or when you inspect in person? A pre-purchase inspection covers the hidden dangers, but what can you do to improve the chances of choosing the pick of the litter?

For a start, when looking at listings always make sure it’s on a computer, opposed to a mobile device. The pictures will be much clearer, and you will be able to notice little imperfections- meaning you’ll quickly narrow down your shortlist of boats. There is always the option to do a quick search on Deckee for a review of the particular model you’re interested in, and you can cross-reference over to Google for common problems other owners have experienced.

From here, go through the description and look for as much factual information as possible. Words such as “great condition” “as new” “great boat” or “soft ride” are examples of things that are subjective to the owners opinion, and don’t describe the boat accurately. The boat has a soft ride compared to what?

More objective or useful information can include things such as engine hours, model/horsepower, accessories, dates for service work/prior work completed. Commonly owners claim their boat has been serviced, but when you dig deeper, it’s two or more years ago. I repeatedly hear “But I’ve barely used it!” from sellers in defense of the lack of servicing. Often lack of use can be worse for wear, as components get a chance to seize up and fail. Almost every boat motor manufacturer (there are exceptions to the rule) requires a yearly service. A service is due regardless of how much use it gets, and is a chance for the mechanic to visually inspect the boat and engine, and make preventative maintenance recommendations to ensure you do not have trouble on the water.

Speaking to the seller is the next step- to ascertain as much useful information as possible. Dealing with the owner direct is best, but it is not always possible- occasionally you’ll deal with brokers instead, and they might not have all the answers. I like to throw in a question about the reason for selling, as they sometimes spill out little details about trouble they have had in the past. Write everything down and pass it on to the professional doing the survey/inspection!

Now to inspecting the boat in person- does the boat look as good as it did in the photos? How does the engine bay look? Has the logbook been stamped? Whilst these are things you can check yourself, there are going to be things an un-trained eye will miss. Trying out as many features of the boat as possible can uncover little gremlins- flick all the switches, start the engine, and ask as many questions as possible. Does the owner provide the same answer to a question asked the second time? Often the owner will frame himself or herself as an expert, which needs to be taken into context. Can they accurately provide you with the proper maintenance requirements? Have they been maintaining the boat correctly? Majority of owners mean well, but have possibly been misled in the past. Then you’ve got brokers who work for the seller, and whose sole interest is selling the boat, not necessarily giving you the best deal.

What if you find problems with the boat? Buying a used boat isn’t the same as buying brand new, and you’re likely to find something wrong. Be it out of the service period, or a problem with the engine- it’s usually not the end of the world. These problems all need to be taken into consideration compared to what else is available on the market. The aim of buying used, is to get the best value for your money, relative to the market. The entire deal needs to be evaluated as a whole. If you find a boat that has some minor issues, but is local, it can be better than finding the perfect boat interstate. Looking at more than one boat is recommended, and looking at a third or fourth boat can put perspective in to the deal, helping you recognise a gem. Take along extra people when you inspect a listing if possible, as they might pickup on things you miss. When you see a boat for the first time it is going to be foreign, and the more accustomed you become to it, the more you will notice its flaws.

Buying your first boat can be daunting, and being rushed, or pushed into a sale is a recipe for disaster. Make sure you take your time, and speak to other boat owners and experts to find out what is going to work for you. Rest-assured- the first purchase will be the hardest. The more boats you have owned, and the more on-water experience you have will make it easier when you decide to upgrade.

Aaron O'Donaghue – BoatBuy Founder

2 people found this helpful. Do you?Thank Aaron


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