What to Look for When Buying a Boat

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Buying a boat is a big expense, so to make a smart decision, you have to do a little research. First, ask yourself these questions: What kind of boat do you want? What’s your budget? Are you buying a new one or a used one?

What Kind of Boat Do You Want?

The answer might depend on what you plan on doing when you hit the water. Will you mainly be using it for fishing, or will taking your family water skiing, tubing or swimming? For fishing, you might want a jon boat or a bass boat. For tubing or skiing, a ski boat might be best. For swimming and family outings, a houseboat or a pontoon might be your best bet.

Next, you’ll need to know the size you need, which will depend on the maximum number of passengers you think you’ll want to accommodate onboard at any given time. Keep in mind that smaller boats might limit this and your activities. However, you won't be able to haul it on a trailer if it's longer than 26 feet.

Next, decide on the size of the motor. The size of motor you need depends on what you are using your boat for as well as the size of the boat itself. Larger boats require more horsepower, therefore a bigger motor.

New or Used?

Similar to buying a new or used car, there are pros and cons to buying a new or used boat. Just like cars, used boats are typically cheaper than new ones, but unlike a new car, a new boat won't lose as much value as quickly after you buy it. New or used, you want to make sure you don't overpay for your vessel. After all, you don't want to be under water on the loan if you need to sell it.

Whatever you decide, you should price new boats first. That way, if you decide to buy used, you'll know if the seller is asking a fair price for the model you want. And don't be in a hurry—take your time, do research and shop around.

What to Look for in a Used Boat

When you think you've found a used boat you're interested in, check to see how well it was maintained. Ripped seats, torn flooring, mold and other exterior damage that’s not fixed could also mean the engine hasn’t been well cared for. The following are indications that the boat has either been in an accident or that it needs repairs:

  • Cracked or blistered fiberglass or signs of repair
  • Scrapes or damage to the bottom of the boat
  • Cracks in the hull
  • Musty odors inside the boat
  • An uneven floor

Also, if the boat is in saltwater, ask if the saltwater was washed off after each use.

If the exterior and interior look good, inspect the trailer. Check to see if…

  • …the lights all work correctly.
  • …the tires are in good condition.
  • …it’s rusting anywhere.

Perform the following visual checks of the motor, battery and gas tank:

  • The propeller should be in good condition with no nicks.
  • The bilge pump should be clean with no signs of oil leakage.
  • The belts and wires should be in good condition and the hoses all connected tightly.
  • The oil should be clean and not look like a chocolate milkshake, whichis an indication there might be water in the oil).

If you are satisfied with the boat at this point, ask to take it for a test drive so you can get a true picture of how it will run in the water.

Whether you buy new or used, it’s a good idea to take a boat safety course and keep the appropriate safety equipment onboard. When you've done all that, you can confidently buy that boat and enjoy a great summer on the water!

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