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7 Things to Look for When Buying a Used Boat. Blog Feature

By: America's Credit Union on August 18th, 2023

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7 Things to Look for When Buying a Used Boat.

Personal Finance

As a first-time buyer, the idea of owning a brand-new boat may be more exciting than the financial reality. That’s largely because buyers pay a premium to be the only ones to power up the engine or set sail out on the water. Buying a used boat, by contrast, can be more affordable. If the goal is enjoying the boating lifestyle, why not take out a more modest boat loan that fits comfortably into your monthly budget? 


Why Buying a Used Boat is a Good Idea

As a general rule, boats lose between 18 and 22 percent of their value during the first year alone. After that, they typically dip by 23 to 30 percent through year five, and upwards of 36 percent in 10 years. Those figures do not necessarily bode well for beginners purchasing what amounts to a new “starter” boat. Rather than resell your first watercraft and take a depreciation loss, buying a used boat can put you in a better position, financially speaking.

Buying a used boat means investing less, paying lower monthly installments, and reducing forward-projecting depreciation. Should you decide to sell and upgrade later, much of the initial valuation loss will have already passed. Of course, you’ll need to exercise caution and due diligence when buying a used boat.


7 Key Factors When Buying a Used Boat

Because Buying a boat can involve a significant investment, it’s important to make reasonably sure it's right for you. To put that idea in context, think about all the fifth wheels, RVs, and motorhomes parked in front yards with for sale signs. How many owners bought the recreational vehicle impulsively, believing they would explore America’s parks, beaches, and picturesque landscapes? Rather than hastily put down a deposit and make monthly installments on a boat loan, consider the following.


1. Overall Condition

If this is your first time buying a used boat, it may be helpful to think along the lines of a pre-owned automobile. If you were on a car lot, you’d likely eyeball each vehicle before taking any next steps. The same holds true when buying a used boat. Take your time and look at the general condition of the craft. Look for any cracks, excessive scratching, or metal components that appear rusted. Check the interior for overly weathered seating, poorly maintained wood elements, and telltale signs that the previous owner didn’t spend enough time on regular upkeep. A used vessel should only show normal wear and tear.

2. Engine and Mechanical Components

The importance of buying a boat with a durable and well-kept engine cannot be understated. Engines rank among the most expensive aspects of a watercraft, making them costly to replace. Start by checking for corrosion underneath the engine cover before giving it a test run. Then have the owner power it up to full throttle and leave it there for 15-20 seconds.

This process will afford you an opportunity to see and hear any looseness, excessive smoke, or rough-running sounds. After shutting the engine off, check the condition of the belts and hoses.

Although electronics are usually less expensive to fix or replace, examine the radios, navigation system, shifting system, and lights. If something doesn’t function properly or flickers, the boat may have electrical problems.


3. Hull Integrity

Inspecting a boat’s hull can be relatively easy if you know what to look for. Start by examining the transom, which is the vertical cross-section of the stern. It’s where outboard engines are usually mounted. If the transom flexes or doesn’t feel intact, it may have hidden damage or be waterlogged. These are other things that may indicate a loss of hull integrity.

•    Long gelcoat cracks along the bottom of the hull.
•    Evidence of fiberglass repairs.
•    Areas that are soft to hand pressure.

A boat with hull issues may also shudder when you take it out on the water. If the hull isn’t in good condition, take a pass.

4. Boat History 

There are platforms available that can provide a boat history report for a fee. If you are buying a boat on a budget and prefer not to incur additional expenses, you may be able to run a free Coast Guard Documented Vessels search. This involves inputting the vessel’s name, Hull Identification Number (HIN), and other pertinent information. Many reputable dealerships provide a complete boat history report in the spirit of transparency.

5. Sea Trial

A sea trial is akin to test-driving an automobile. Operate the craft in the same fashion you would during any outing. Put it through the paces of turning, opening up the engine, and powering it down. Like a car, truck, or SUV test drive, get a feel for how it handles over an hour or two. Be sure you’re satisfied it’s a seaworthy craft.



6. Title and Documentation

The seller must provide the title and registration when buying a used boat. That includes the trailer as well. Ensure the registration numbers are identical to the vessel’s make and model. It’s also crucial to check the HIN. Reputable marinas always have the title and registration.

7. Extras and Accessories

Along with the basic structure, mechanical elements, and engine, you’ll need some accessories. For example, safety regulations require floatation devices and a fire extinguisher. You’ll also need a sturdy anchor, dock lines, and a few value-added accessories to enhance the boating experience. Make sure safety necessities and little extras are included when buying a used boat.

Make Buying Your Used Boat a Breeze with America’s Credit Union

Once you have decided to take the plunge and start the process of buying a boat, let America’s Credit Union help you finance your new boat! With competitive rates and fast loan approvals, America’s Credit Union can help you start enjoying the water in no time. If you have any questions please contact us today!

For more useful information for anyone buying a used boat as well as the real cost of ownership  make sure to check out our, "Boat Ownership Costs Checklist"


Membership in America’s Credit Union is open to anyone who lives or works in Dallas, Rockwall or Collin Counties, Texas, and their family members. Employees of select employers may also be eligible. See our Membership page for details.

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