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Buying A Used Boat

Top Things To Look For in a Used Boat

Buying Boat in MissouriSometimes a good deal can be too good to be true.  Use caution when buying a used boat so you spend more time on the water than your boat does in the shop.

Many of these tips apply to many types of boats including bass boats, jon boats, and pontoons.  If you aren’t’t sure how to check some of these things – take along a friend that is or seek qualified professional help.

Who Is Selling The Boat?

If you have a buddy that is selling their boat – chances are you know how it’s been treated.  This can work to your advantage.  Sometimes fishing boats owned by guides could be a great buy because chances are they maintained everything well, and likely kept the speed down while having clients in the water.

Rental fleet boats would scare me.  I do believe they likely kept them maintained, you know the general public drove the living crap out of them.  Most I have seen for sale were pretty beat up.

Seat condition

The condition of boat’s seats can tell allot about how the boat was taken care of.  If the seats are ripped and color faded, the boat has likely been stored outside in the rain and sun, which can lead to many problems over time.   Sun and it’s UV rays can cause more damage than rain.  You will see plastic that is faded or cracked.  Decals that you can’t read – is a sure sign it has sat outside.

Look for tears and wear spots. If the seats are in excellent condition, the boat has likely been stored indoors, which is a major selling point in the used boat market.

Carpet Condition

Buying a boat that needs new carpet is ok – but it will require a lot more work than you think.  It is a way to get a cheaper boat, but I can tell you changing it out of a fishing boat or a pontoon is a long process.  You can do it for a couple hundred bucks but you will have a lot of time invested to do it right.

Beware Of Great Deals

If someone is trying to sell you a 2017 boat for half of what it is worth you can bet there’s something wrong with it. In the most deals, you’re simply not going to buy a boat for several thousand dollars under retail value. Research the boat’s value on NADA or call your bank for more information on value.

Check Steering

Steering issues can be expensive to fix. Turn the steering wheel in both directions and make sure there are no catches or rough spots. Make sure everything is tight and secure.  Older cable-steer systems can be incredibly tough to turn at low speeds, so if it’s stiff on the trailer, it’s only going to get worse on the water with the added torque.

Maintenance logs

The best seller you can ever hope to find is one who has kept extremely detailed maintenance logs throughout the boat’s life. What type of oil was used? When was the maintenance completed? How many times per year was the maintenance performed?  Motors with higher hours can actually be worth more money if they come with detailed logs of proper maintenance.

How often was the lower unit oil been changed?  Hopefully at least twice per year.

Spark Plugs and Four-stroke oil hopefully have been changed once per year and the impeller (water pump) at least checked annually.

Open all compartments

Open every compartment to check carefully for mildew. Any mold or mildew is indicative of a leak that could potentially ruin your fishing gear. If it smells like dead animals, there could be a rodent (once) living somewhere in the boat, in which case the wiring has likely been chewed. This could mean big problems.

Buying a boat in MissouriGauges Working

The speedometer is the least of your worries due to modern electronics. Most fish finders will tell you how fast you’re going.

Tachometer and water pressure gauges are important because you’ll be able to know if your engine is running properly at idle. This can alert you to small problems before they become large, expensive problems.

Trim and motor mounts

Make sure the motor moves up and down smoothly and quickly. The console, bow and motor switches should all work.   Check the engine mount for cracks. This is the part of the engine that attaches to the transom or jack plate. It’s usually made from cast aluminum and if the previous owner hit something hard, they can certainly break.  While you are back there check corners of transom for stress cracks.

The corners of the transom, especially on fiberglass boats, are often the weak spots on a boat’s hull. If there is any damage, you’ll usually find it where the internal gussets sit. There are usually three or four gussets in the back of the boat.

If you find issues here – walk away from the deal.

Engine Hours

Late model boat motors in particular can be checked with a computer and some earlier models (1990 and later) have a plug that allows a mechanic to check the hours.

Anything under 250 hours is considered to be fairly new. 500 to 750 hours can be considered moderate. Anything above 750 hours should be purchased with caution and only if the seller has a detailed annual maintenance log.

Pull the cover from the top of the motor and look for any major oil leaks or wire damage.

Compression test

Have a reputable dealer or mechanically inclined friend check the compression on each cylinder. You should be able to Google that info for a particular boat motor.  . If each cylinder is within 5 pounds, it is likely ok.   But if you’re seeing a 10-pound difference, it can be a red flag or if any of the cylinders a much lower than the mfg specs.  Bad compression could mean expensive motor problems in the future.

Prop and Lower Unit

boat propThe condition of a prop can tell you a lot about the general condition of a lower unit. If there are dings in the prop and gouges in the skeg (bottom part of the lower unit attached to the motor), the seller has likely hit something. This could result in shaft damage or gear damage to the lower unit.

To check the prop shaft, raise the motor and manually turn the prop with your hand. If it wobbles at all, don’t buy the boat. This is as bad as the motor being ready to blow up.  Find a better boat somewhere else.

Look for any oil leaks on the ground or floor under the motor.

Switches that don’t work

If many of the switches or lights don’t work on the boat – chances are the owner didn’t’t keep things maintained very well.  It isn’t’t the end of the world but look further for wiring issues also.  Boats that have been stored where mice have moved in can be riddled with all kinds of electrical issues.

Check the navigation lights and all of your toggles (bilge, fill pump, etc.). All of these things are replaceable and could give you some bargaining power.

Crawl under the boat

Looking under the boat can tell a lot about it’s history.  Look for gouges, scratches or divets that may potentially cause a leak. A flashlight can help with this see certain reflections you may not otherwise see.  On fiberglass bass boats, the hulls can delaminate at high speeds.

Every boat will have surface scratches, but deep scratches can be a deal breaker.

Boat Trailer Issues

While you are looking under the boat, check for any signs of trailer rust or broken springs. Look inside of the tires and wheels for grease, as this could indicate serious bearing issues. Check the bunks for tightness and carpet condition.

Look at the tires for wear, dry rot and grease all over the wheels that could be a failing bearing.  Over the past 30 years buying boats I have lost 2 wheels on different occasions because of this.  I didn’t’t even get them home before I had to make repairs.


Having a great depth finder on a boat is a must.  Technology gets better every year – so a broken fish finder is not a deal killer.  You likely will want a new one anyway.  Ask about and inspect the batteries.  It could cost you several hundred dollars to replace those if they are failing.

A multi-bank on-board battery charger is a plus.  Not only do they make it easy to re-charge batteries but they are designed to keep them maintained and in good condition.

Bonus Stuff

Bonus stuff is what I call items that get thrown in with the boat.  Things like fire extinguishers, life jackets, anchors, and rope are all things you would need to purchase anyway.  These items can be several hundred dollars to buy new.  Often times someone retiring from boating will throw everything in because they will no longer need them.  Folks upgrading to a different boat are likely to keep most of those items.


Let’s face it – you are gonna spend money on any boat you buy – new or used.  The question comes down to just how much.  But when you look at the years of enjoyment, family time and just being outdoors – it’s a great investment.