How to Buy a Used Boat

Buying a used Boat. Boats the bottomless pits of money. But you want to catch more and larger fish than you can form the bank or access areas that you could never fish without a boat. So now you want a boat…

Buying a used boat

Boats the bottomless pits of money. But you want to catch more and larger fish than you can form the bank or access areas that you could never fish without a boat. So now you want a boat, or you have a boat already but you’re ready for something different, bigger, or smaller.

There are so many options when buying a used boat. Bass boats from the 60’s thru the 70’s are readily available and usually dirt cheap, less than $500 in some cases. Most have crude live wells, are very heavy, but well built. These boats usually need lots of work to be safe, or functional by today’s standards; however just because they are old and weary don’t count them out.

We have many thanks to give to Ray Scott and Forrest Wood, for they were the most well known pioneers of the modern bass boats.

Then you get into the 80-90s boats and again still many available. This was the hey day for the bass boat. Everyone was getting a metal flake wedge of speed, economy was good, and manufactures where slinging out boats left and right. But with metal or glass boats manufactures got into a big hurry and slopped the boats together with no real thought beyond the warranty period.

Then came the year 2000, boats where being made better and better, more thought went into what anglers really needed and wanted. We owe a lot of the development to the guys who Bass fish for a living. Boats started becoming wood free, all composite, no more rot to deal with. These first generations had their issues though, sure there were no rot issues, but now came the dreaded DE LAMINATION! This is when the fiberglass separates from the composite materials and things start cracking and breaking.

Ok so now you have a brief history of how, what and where. So you’re asking your self what all this tells me about buying a used bass boat.

Well I shall start with the early boats, as I said, very heavy, but very strong boats. However they usually need lots of work. Gel Coats are faded and chalky, some cracking in the gel coat top layers from many years in the sun. Although even today you will still find a boat that was used 5 or 6 times, from say 1973 that has been garaged and looks like it did the day it came off the line.

The biggest issue with most boats in the pre composite days is rot; squishy floors, transoms are cracked, and have been reinforced with some sort of metal plate to make them last a few more years.

Then you have the motors, if they are they original motors. Motors before the late 70s even into the 80s in some cases are getting hard to find new parts for.

Here are a list of items to bring when looking at a potential boat, be it your first or tenth.

1. Halogen flashlight the brighter the better.
2. Small wooden or plastic mallet.
3. An ice pick.
4. Compression test gauge.
5. Socket Wrench 3/8 and an assortment of 3/8 spark plug sockets.
6. Flat Screw driver large, medium, and small.
7. Phillips Screw drivers large, medium, and small.
8. A helper, 2 heads always better than one.
9. Camera.
10. Notebook and paper.

A lot of first time boat owners only see the price tag, and know nothing about the potential safety hazards of getting an old potentially rotted out boat. Very few will even know that the boat is a rotted mess. With a motor that won’t make it back to the dock, and in some case even leave the dock. Then they hand over their hard earned cash, blinded by dreams of netting the new world record bass, or winning big bucks in a tournament in that new to them Bass Boat. The issue of rot affects all boats prior to the current boats of all composites, highly engineered, high priced rigs of today.

Never buy the first boat you see, more so if its really shined up, trailer all painted, new tires, the owner says the boat is totally restored, or “I just put in new floors and carpet, and the boat ran last summer and never had a problem”.

Here are the potential problems. Motor may no longer run at all or has issues, yes it will start in the drive way, but does the forward and reverse work? Most motors that are borderline will run in the drive with water ears attached to keep motor cool, but once on the water they fail miserably. So always insist for a test drive if you’re serious about buying this boat, don’t waste the seller’s gas and time to joy ride.

Take out your note book; jot down owners name, phone number and asking price. Make notes as to all issues you find, bad or good. Take pictures of the boat while inspecting, inside hatches, fish finders, any thing you may forget later when trying to decide between boats. This will help you with negation if you decide to purchase boat.

Look for any cracks or metal plates in the splash well or across the transom under the motor. These will be bolted in, this is a sign of a rotten transom, even if there are no visible signs of damage or repairs, danger may still lurk in the dark recesses of the back hatch. Open all the rear compartment hatches; pull out the flash light and ice pick. Look closely for any signs of rot, any where. Pull on battery tie downs with a slight tug, lift out the batteries, and look for signs of wetness or wet rotten wood. Push on the floor under battery it should be solid and not give, or sound hollow when you tap on it.

If you find a suspicious area poke a little with the pick it should be rock hard, nothing soft and squishy. Pull and tug on motor, while your assistant watches the transom area. It should not flex or give at all, take the mallet and lightly tap the transom. Start at the bottom and work your way up, do that up and down in several locations, there should be no variation in the transom sounds, it should all sound solid.

Next if that passes, check all the compartments. If they have carpet and it’s not glued well, pull up the edge a tad to see if you can see any rot under the fiberglass. if it’s not painted it will look black under the fiberglass.

If it’s a 60s thru mid 80s check the bottoms and backs of seats if they are wood examine closely, current boats have plastic seat bottoms and backs.

Carefully check all floors and deck areas, go all over them to make sure there are no soft spots.

Ok now where ready to check the outside of the boat. Look under the boat there should be no deep gouges, or any signs of cracking.

Now back to the inside of boat. Check all gauges with key on, check all lights, or other accessories like fish finders, radios etc.

Tires, are they cracked, dry rotted, have good tread?

Basically you’re looking for any wiggle room in the price and to make sure you not buying what you think is a bargain that will cost thousands potentially to fix.

Ok now on to the engine. If your not handy with tools, and don’t want to get greasy, you will need to get the owner to let you take it to a outboard repair shop. Tell them you are looking to buy this boat, have them check compression, and do a leak down test, have them check to lower unit oil, should not be milky or burnt smell, and oil should not feel gritty. Your probably looking at $100 -$200 for them to do a good check out. But if you are serious about the boat it could potentially save you major mechanical failure in the near future.

If you’re handy with tools, then you can do all this yourself at the seller’s house. It’s best to find out what motor and year it is then go online and look up specs for compression, and location of oil plugs in lower unit.

Ok you’ve checked it all out and you now have 2 or 3 boats you’ve narrowed it down to. Ask the owner for water test. If this is your first boat tell the owner. If you have never driven a boat, remember boats have no brakes, the only way to stop is pull throttle back, and let boat drift to stop.

Let the owner drive first, away from ramp and out to less busy area. Ask him to turn on live wells, fish finders, etc. Make sure all are functional while the boat is idling. Then slowly increase throttle, get on plain, turning slightly left and right to check for slop in steering. Now increase speed to full throttle, ride on full throttle for a mile or so then back down to cruising speed. Listen for any buzzers or alarms, don’t have the radio on, or anything to distract you on, any buzzer mean engine is over heating.

Ok this is for the bargain hunters; the “I can fix that no problem” folks. If you can great, but if it’s a fiberglass boat and it has rot, be prepared for what your about to get into. Count on it taking 4 – 6 months to replace rotten transom and stringers which are usually bad also if the transom is. You’re looking at between $800 to $3000 to fix completely rotted out boat, including fixing the oxidation and other issues that comes with old abused boats. And that’s if you do it your self properly.

Rotten transom are nothing to take lightly, your life depends on it. At the very least your motor does. I’ve seen too many boats that lost motors in lake after transoms failed. However, if you have more time than money and an older boat that needs repairs, is just an ugly duckling looking to become that shiny bass boat that it once was.

Now you’ve narrowed it down, good luck with your boat, and see you on the water

Thank you for your time,
Sean McDonald
aka Da Fish, NRG, northrivergeek, or fishalishious

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