Buying a used boat

Adventure 3 min read

I was excited for my friend who called to report that the 1973 Seacraft was his. The 23-foot hull is a classic because it offers one of the best rides for the kind of inshore and offshore fishing that he does. It’s also an efficient, seaworthy hull that doesn’t require an enormous outboard, and they’re drop-dead gorgeous to boot. My buddy always wanted that exact boat, as it was similar to the one his father owned when he was a kid.

Needless to say that after receiving his call I drove immediately to his house. He was grinning from ear-to-ear, and that was great. But what I saw was a boat that needed a tremendous amount of work. The transom was as soft as a post-Halloween pumpkin. The deck was ripped up so much so that it exposed the two center stringers. The outboard was new in 1973, but it hadn’t been properly maintained, and the trailer, being about 8 feet too long for the boat, needed an overhaul.

But my friend was beaming, and I knew why. He planned for this exercise by pre-selling the hull of his former boat. He kept his outboard, which was four years old and perfectly suited to the Seacraft. He kept the trailer as well as it’d fit the 23-feet like a glove. All he needed to do was to rehab the hull and he had the skills and the tools for that job. For a fraction of the cost of a new boat and some time and effort, he’d have the classic boat of his dreams. He was so excited that I had no doubt he’d splash for a shakedown cruise well before the striped bass arrived in the spring.

Buying a used boat usually falls into one of two categories: they’re either a blessing or a curse. It’s easy for more to be blessings, and all you’ll need to do is to consider a few points before you sign the purchase and sale agreement.

1. Honestly assess your abilities

Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true,” and those words are important when buying a used boat. If the boat requires major restoration work then be sure you have the skills, tools, and time to devote to the overhaul. If you’re lacking in one of those three elements, then the odds are your boat will sit in your side yard and never again hit the water. Price out materials required to complete the job as best you can so you don’t need to take out a second mortgage.

2. Buy at the right time of year

Not all used boats need complete overhauls. In fact, many boaters upgrade every year or two which means that the boats they sell are in like-new condition. The best time of year to look for a used boat in great condition is in the fall. Some boaters prefer to walk away from their current models and don’t want to incur the winterizing or storage expense. Odds are they’ll attend a fall or winter boat show and select a new model. All of that is short-handle for the fact that you can get a great deal on a boat that needs little work besides winterizing and/or a tune-up. Have a mechanic run a diagnostic test on your motor to be sure its in good repair.

3. The hull truth

The three basic parts of buying a used boat include the hull, the power source, and the trailer. Power and trailers typically are the ones that are in the roughest of conditions. If you find a hull that is in good-to-excellent condition, then repowering and outfitting with a new trailer can be easy. Used outboards in good or overhauled condition cost a fraction of the price of new units, as do rebuilt trailers.


For many boaters, buying a used boat is a great way to begin boating or to upgrade to a better model. A little upfront research is all it takes to find a vessel that is in, well, ship-shape.


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