Buying a used boat

Buying a used boat is a process that requires knowing what to look for, the best places to buy a boat, and what questions to ask the seller. Start by determining the type and size of boat that will best suit your lifestyle and budget.

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What to look for when buying a used boat

Whether you’re a first-time boat buyer or an experienced boat owner, consider a type of boat that fits your price range, performance expectations, and lifestyle.


When searching for a boat to buy, it's a good idea to choose a type of boat that fits within your budget. The cost of a used boat depends on a few factors, including the size, age, and model of the boat. In addition to those costs, consider typical maintenance and repair costs associated with that type of boat when setting your budget.


There are a couple of types of boat motors to be considered. Outboard motors are mounted on the transom of the boat and used to power and steer the boat. They are commonly found on fishing boats and pontoons. Inboard motors are located inside the body of the boat. An inboard motor powers the boat but does not steer. They are commonly used for watersports because they create sizable wakes.


When browsing for a used boat, consider the features that align with your desired activities. If you're using a boat to entertain, look for boats with plenty of seating and high-quality sound systems for music. If you're an avid fisher, consider boats with outriggers, radar, and display screens. If watersports are your thing, keep an eye out for ballast systems that help create bigger wakes and a tower for board storage, and speakers. Finding a boat with the amenities you need will create the boating experience that you’re after.

Where to buy a used boat

Finding the used boat you're looking for is easier than ever, with a variety of online marketplaces hosting thousands of listings across the country. There are also plenty of options available if you prefer to buy a used boat from a local source. Here are a few popular places to look for a used boat:

  • Boat Trader: an online marketplace with thousands of new and used boats for sale. You can filter your search by boat type, manufacturer, and location.
  • an online marketplace that allows users to search thousands of boat listings by condition, type, make or model, price, and location. This site also offers boat reviews and resources for sellers.
  • Marinas: facilities where boats are docked, stored, and repaired. These local facilities often have quality leads on reliable boats or boats for sale on display.
  • Dealership: a business that offers new and used boats, usually specific to a manufacturer. Boat dealerships offer service, boat financing, and extensive knowledge of the boats they have in stock.
  • Private seller: private listings hosted by online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Many of these listings are legitimate, but these marketplaces haven't been vetted with the same scrutiny as online marketplaces like Boat Trader or

Tips for buying a used boat

Examine the functioning parts of the boat

  • Engine

    The engine and its components propel and steer the boat, making it one of the most important parts of the boat to examine and test. The engine is also one of the most expensive parts of the boat, so ensuring that it's in good condition can limit future maintenance costs or eliminate replacement costs altogether.

    The best way to test an engine is to take the boat on a sea trial. But before getting the boat on the water, look closely at the engine. Consumer insight leader J.D. Power suggests looking for signs of overheating, including discoloration and metallic stains of the engine block. You can also look for corrosion surrounding electrical parts and on the cylinder head.

    Other tests of the engine include testing for compression levels, proper cooling, and the condition of the propeller. If these types of tests are outside of your expertise and experience level, consider hiring a professional to inspect the boat.

  • Hull

    The hull is the main body or frame of the boat and should be inspected for any cracks, dents, or other signs of long-term damage. According to J.D. Power, any cracks or dents to the hull are major red flags and reasons to walk away. Another way to test the hull's structural integrity is to feel the exterior surface of the boat and knock at multiple points. A dull sound when knocking indicates high moisture and potential structural rot. A simple thing to note is the cleanliness of the hull. If a hull is dirty or neglected, it's another red flag to consider.

  • Electrical System

    A boat's electrical system provides power for the engine, navigation systems, radar, lighting, and other features depending on the type of boat you purchase. It's important there to identify any electrical issues before making a purchase. Look for any exposed wiring or amateur solutions, such as exposed wiring sealed with electrical tape. According to Tess Electrical, a marine electrical service business in South Florida, these are warning signs of faulty electrical systems and neglect of proper maintenance.

    Tess Electrical also recommends keeping an eye out for corrosion on the battery or any electrical wiring, which can be warning signs of larger problems in the future. Fixing an electrical problem on your own is dangerous without proper training. Consider hiring a professional electrician if your new boat needs electrical repairs.

Get a marine survey

Get a marine survey, which is a detailed boat inspection. Professional marine surveyors are your best bet for ensuring you don't encounter unexpected problems. According to Off the Hook Yachts, a boat survey can run between $18-25 per foot, typically including an out-of-water check, a sea trial, a system test, and a comprehensive survey report. The surveyor can give useful information about the boat's value and condition and can even perform a sea trial (like a car test drive) to tell you if everything is in working order and what might need repairs soon.

Negotiate on purchase price

With a thorough understanding of the boat's condition, you can begin negotiating the price of the boat. Effective negotiation requires knowledge of comparable boat prices and an understanding of the market. You'll typically have some room to negotiate (more if you buy from a private party than from a dealer). Don't despair if you fall in love with a boat and the marine survey reveals some hidden problems. You can use that knowledge to negotiate a lower price.

What questions should you ask when buying a used boat?

Speaking directly with the boat owner is always preferable to text messaging or email communication. If you're unable to meet in person, speaking with the owner by phone or video is a good way to build trust and get more reliable information on the boat. Here are a few questions to ask when buying a used boat:

  1. Why are you selling the boat? This question allows you to get more background information on the boat owner. The background information can indicate their satisfaction with the boat as well as how urgent they are to sell. This information could help when it's time to negotiate the price of the boat.
  2. How many hours are on the motor? Hours on the motor are the equivalent of miles on a car. The answer to this question drastically changes the price and expectations for a boat's performance. Most boats have an hour meter that automatically records the boat's usage. According to RecNation RV & Boat Storage, 375-750 engine hours is reasonable for a 5-year-old boat.
  3. Is the title and registration valid? The title and registration card should display the correct make, model, and hull identification number (HIN). If the warranty is transferrable, make sure to include it on the bill of sale. All of these documents will ensure a reliable and smooth buying process.

How to insure a used boat

Once you’ve purchased a boat, consider boat insurance, for protection and peace of mind. Boat insurance protects against damage to your boat, and it may also cover you if you're liable for any damages or injuries caused on the water. While boat insurance isn’t legally required in most states, many lenders require boat comprehensive and collision coverage if you finance your boat. Additionally, marinas may mandate boat liability coverage.

Learn more about how boat insurance works and what boat insurance covers.

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