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In the Market for a Used Boat? Here's What to Do

Heed this advice when considering choices to avoid a costly mistake.

In the Market for a Used Boat? Here's What to Do

All used boats, depending on age, will show signs of normal wear and tear. Signs that indicate potential abuse are cause for concern. (Shutterstock image)

The COVID pandemic stressed the supply chain in almost every industry, with the bass-boat market being no exception. Add to the fact that during the pandemic lockdown, demand for new and used boats soared from participants new to the sport, as well as existing anglers with added time on their hands wanting to upgrade their bass rigs. The lack of new boat inventory caused consumers to try to fill the demand from the used-boat market, driving up the prices for used boats as well.

Brian Hughes is a senior sales associate for Fun-N-Sun Boats, with two locations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The Hurst, Texas, location is the largest bass-boat dealership in the country for boats 20-feet and longer, and is the largest Skeeter dealer in the U.S. He explains the current state of the bass boat market.

"We are starting to see some relief in new boat inventory becoming available again," Hughes said in October. "About 18 months ago every boat that came off the delivery truck was already pre-sold. Now when I get a delivery truck, two of those boats may be pre-sold and I can place the other two on the showroom floor."

Hughes notes that prior to negotiating a final price and handing over the check, a prospective buyer of a used bass boat would be wise to make sure the investment is sound by having a list of pre-checks to inspect. Hughes has the following advice for prospective buyers of a used boat.

Professional Checkup

Hughes' advice for inspecting a used boat begins with the following: "If you're buying a used boat and have identified a strong candidate for purchase, my best advice is to take it to a nearby boat dealership, pay them the required fee [likely $250 to $500] and have them check it out as if they're trading for it. They can perform checks the average consumer cannot, such as opening the lower unit and checking cylinder compression in the engine."

From the mechanic's inspection, Hughes notes that the compression on all the engine cylinders should be within about 10 pounds of each other. "If you get too many variances, that’s an indicator that the entire power head may be ready to give way, which can cost as much as $16,000 on a 4-stroke Yamaha outboard," he says.

Before seeking expert advice regarding the internal condition of the outboard, Hughes says a prospective buyer can avoid costly repairs later by making some visual checks as he or she inspects the boat, beginning with the prop shaft.

"Just look straight down the shaft, give the prop a spin to see if you detect any wobble," he says. "If it doesn’t wobble at all, you’re probably good. If you detect a little wobble, there's a slight bend to the shaft. But here’s the thing, a small bend can often be more destructive to a lower unit than a significant bend in the shaft–those are easy to detect because it disrupts operation of the motor. The minor shaft bend may not be noticeable to the driver, but it’s causing stress to the lower unit gears and likely damaging the seals to the lower unit."

Hughes notes that a new prop shaft runs about $1,500, and a new lower unit can run $3,500, so you could possibly be looking at a $5,000 repair with that slight wobble in the prop shaft.




Look for Cracks

Further boat inspection should focus on the condition of the fiberglass, looking for cracks and gouges.

"Superficial cracks actually don’t worry me all that much, depending upon the age of the boat," Hughes says. "If you have cracks on a relatively new boat, then that's a problem; but cracks on a 15-year-old boat are probably not that big of a deal. It really depends upon where those cracks are located. If you see deep stress cracks around the transom, that’s worth exploring further. Stress cracks around the console on an older boat really aren’t going to hurt anything. If you see gouges in the gel coat that reveal the fiberglass mat, then that needs to be addressed as well; either the seller needs to fix it before you buy, or you need to be prepared to fix it once you take ownership."

Hughes points out that there's always going to be normal wear and tear on any used boat, but you really want to look for cracks and gouges that indicate abuse.

Recommended


Transom damage was a common issue in the past when manufacturers used fiberglass-encased wood; however, today's bass-boat transoms are composed of composites that are much stronger and not prone to water damage should the transom have a crack in the fiberglass. Nevertheless, significant cracking around the transom could indicate abuse or significant impact damage to the motor.

Buying a Used Fishing Boat
Buyers looking for a used boat can make several visual checks before seeking an inspection 
from a mechanic at a boat dealership. (Shutterstock image)

Accessories and Trailer

Hughes points out that accessory items like graphs, trolling motors, bilge pumps, etc. should be checked by simply turning them on to see if they power up.

"It really is buyer beware because if any of these items fail after purchase, there's nothing you can do about it because it’s a used boat, and equipment eventually fails," he says.

The final point of emphasis from Hughes is to thoroughly inspect the boat trailer.

"Check every connection point on a trailer, meaning you need to visually inspect each weld seam to make sure there’s no cracking," he says. "Also look at the axles to ensure they aren't twisted or bent. Check to see if the bearings have been greased–even hook the boat to your truck and pull the boat for a few hundred yards and listen for any grinding noise in the bearings. Also make sure to check that the trailer coupling and brakes are working properly, as these are critical safety items when towing a boat."

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