What are the advantages of buying a used boat?
Used boats cost less
Buying a used boat might mean getting a larger vessel or more features for less money, but savings go beyond the boat's ticket price. They can also cost less to insure. What's more, new boats often involve expenses that might not be obvious to first-time buyers. For instance, when you buy a new boat, you'll need to get it from the showroom to the water. That means buying a boat trailer or arranging for someone else to transport it for you.
On the other hand, used boats may already be on the water or include a trailer. Even if they don't, you may be able to negotiate with the seller to include delivery to your marina.
Used boats have a history
Some boaters prefer the latest bells and whistles. Others want a reliable vessel to avoid unpleasant or expensive surprises. When you buy used, you can learn more about what to expect from the boat you're getting. For example, suppose a particular model has known issues after several years. In that case, you can avoid that model or plan for the repair cost. Models with a proven track record can provide you peace of mind that you're making a good investment.
What are the disadvantages of buying a used boat?
Higher maintenance costs
Used boats typically cost less upfront, but they're also more likely to need maintenance or repairs. In extreme cases, a used boat with a low sticker price may not save you much money if it needs major repairs and you can't do them yourself.
Buying a used boat gives you a smaller selection of boats and only provides what's available on the used market. You won't be able to tailor a used boat to your taste the same way. If you aren't flexible, finding a suitable vessel can be harder.
No warranty coverage
When you buy a used boat, you have the confidence of knowing what issues are common to the model you're considering, but if you have problems, used boats usually don't have warranties. If something breaks, you'll be on the hook for repairs, which can be both stressful and expensive.
Tips for buying a used boat
Set a budget
Figure out how much you can spend on a boat before you start looking. You'll also need to consider the cost of boat insurance, necessary repairs, delivery, trailer costs, and slip fees. Additional considerations include registration licenses and incidental equipment such as life jackets. Make sure your budget can cover all those things, or you'll end up with a boat in storage that you can't afford to take on the water.
Decide what kind of boater you are
Will you enjoy doing the maintenance and repair work that a boat requires? Or would you rather pay someone else to do the repairs? If you are hands-on, be realistic about your knowledge and abilities. Knowing what kind of work you're interested in and capable of performing can help you find the right used boat for your budget.
Get a marine survey
Professional surveyors are your best bet for ensuring you don't end up with unexpected problems. A professional boat survey could cost a few hundred dollars. The surveyor can give useful information about the boat's value and condition. The surveyor can even perform a sea trial (similar to a car test drive) to tell you if everything is in working order and what might need repairs soon.
Negotiate on purchase price
Buying a used boat is like buying other used vehicles. 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 vessel and the marine survey reveals some hidden problems. You might be able to use that knowledge to negotiate a lower price. Learn more about negotiating a boat price.
Understand common boat repairs and their cost
Some problems, like mildew growth, are relatively easy to repair for anyone willing to put in the time and effort. Other challenges, such as electrical work or engine repair, require significant technical expertise. If you do not perform this work correctly, you will face serious consequences later. In most cases, labor is the most significant variable in determining cost.
Talk to repair shops in your area to understand their rates. If you're thinking about performing work yourself, consider whether you have the tools for the job.
Be aware of red flags
Before you buy a used boat (and before you even hire the surveyor), some red flags can alert you to serious issues. Keep an eye out for these problems and be cautious about any boat that has them.
- Check the bellows: Inspect the accordion-like rubber component that protects control cables from damage, along with other sensitive parts.
- Look for cracks in the hull: If you find that someone has repaired cracks, it could mean the boat was in a crash. Damage to the hull can quickly compromise the boat's seaworthiness.
- Check the engine and steering: Get the owner to start the engine and run it while listening for unusual noises and looking for smoke. Check that the steering unit responds to the wheel.