Used Boat Buying Tips

Buying Used

When buying used, you can end up with more boat for the same dollars or an older boat for fewer dollars. If you are handy and have extra time, or prefer a larger boat than you can afford new, then a used boat with a few projects is for you. However, there is a lot to learn before jumping into a used boat.


The cost per foot of a used boat is always less than the cost per foot of a new boat. Most importantly, you have avoided the huge depreciation of the first few years.

More accessories and gear are included, so you don’t have to pay extra for them. You end up with a more comprehensive inventory of optional equipment and “stuff” for far less. In many cases, it comes with expensive equipment. Some even come with an outboard powered dinghy and full electronics and safety gear.

Most times used boats come as a “Package“. This makes boat buying so much easier, because you do not have to select the right motor for the boat. You don’t have to go somewhere else to purchase a trailer. You don’t have to go shopping for safety gear and electronics. It is often all there as a package. Just sign and go.

A used boat comes debugged. The previous owner has already fixed the shake down or teething problems that come with a new boat and endured all the hassles that are sometimes associated with warranty work.

When you decide to trade your used boat, you will find it’s easier to trade a used boat on a new one, rather than an almost new boat on a new one. When you trade with an almost new boat, you are going to take a severe beating on the depreciation; whereas, with an older used boat, the depreciation is far less and suffered by the previous owner.

Many boat dealers offer a warranty package with their “recent” used boats. This often covers the major more expensive repairs, but not the insignificant things like light bulbs. Each dealer’s warranty varies, so you should read the fine print. Sometimes the manufacturer’s original warranties cover boats for several years, so certain items may still be covered for a second or third buyer. Find out if any manufacturer’s warranties are transferable to you as the second or third purchaser.

The average life of a boat is now probably pushing 50 years and there are some excellent deals in boats out there that are 5 – 20 years old, where the owner has looked after the boat really well.

Unlike cars, boats depreciate considerably the first few years, then their value usually stabilizes —almost flat depreciation after 10 years. This phenomenon is caused by the ever increasing price of new boats, so the depreciation on used gets reduced.

Better built boats hold their value better, because they’re built to last longer than poorly built boats. Higher quality boats change hands more quickly. This can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on whether you are selling or buying.

Used boats usually come with a few scratches and stains, so when you inevitably personalize it with a few dock encounters, you won’t feel so bad.

Even if the older boat comes with equipment that is tired and worn out and, in some cases in need of replacement, the fact that it comes with a truckload of other gear negates this disadvantage.

Something that is obvious after you think about it, is that both insurance premiums and interest on a boat loan are less on a used boat, because they are both closely tied to the value of the boat.

When you work on a used boat doing repairs and maintenance, you understand the boat and boating in general much better.

Disadvantages of Buying Used

Usually there is no warranty on a used boat and you purchase in “As is” condition. I recommend you have a survey done to independently check the condition of the boat.

Some banks require a marine survey as do some insurance companies, so it makes sense to pay for it once and make it serve three purposes. Also, all surveyors are not created equal. Choose carefully.

In most cases, used boats are sold “As-Is, Where-Is” with no warranty that anything is going to work. It may have been involved in an accident or weather damaged etc. So, this is where you need to be knowledgeable with an educated eye and a good surveyor to keep you out of most troubles.

On used boats, you’ll find that the boat and equipment come at varying levels of wear and tear, so some things will need to be replaced or repaired sooner than others. On a used boat, maintenance is more repair and upgrade, where a new boat is buff and scrub.

Perhaps the history is unknown by the marina or broker. Ask for maintenance logs.

Determine how much work needs to be done on the used boat, before it will meet your standards. Determine the cost and time this work will take and whether you are prepared for that cost and time.

Go Prepared

When you set out to buy a used boat, be prepared. Do your research. Go in with your eyes wide open to avoid the extra unexpected costs and frustration many boaters experience.

Get out there in a boat that you can afford now and enjoy.

What really counts is being out there on the water enjoying your chosen activities. Don’t wait until you can afford the “ultimate” one, get out there in a boat that you can afford now and enjoy. You’ll likely trade-up later anyway.

Once you have bought your boat you will end up having more boating fun and the last laugh over somebody who overbought or under bought the wrong boat. It is more important to have enough money left over, after the boat purchase to put fuel in the tank and food in the frig. Observe the number of boats on the water, versus the number of boats that are always tied to the dock and you will have the evidence to justify properly budgeting and purchasing the way you did.

As with most things in life, that you have already discovered, you will also find that whatever boat you pick, will be a compromise. As you buy your second boat, it will be less of a compromise than the first, but still a compromise. Just pick the best you can with what you’ve got and enjoy—after all, boating is supposed to be fun and really is.

To quote Mark Twain “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things, you didn’t do than by the ones you did”.

So Buy a Boat with Confidence and Save Money,

then get out on the water and enjoy boating.

Doug Dawson

2 thoughts on “Used Boat Buying Tips”

  1. Johnny McCarron

    Thank you for your tips on buying a used boat. I’d like to take my daughters fishing on the water. We’re thinking of talking to a boat dealer service.

  2. What caught my attention was when you said that you will avoid a huge depreciation when you consider buying a used boat. This is something that I will share with a close friend of mine who is interested in finding an aluminum boat dealer later this week. She has a restricted budget to consider, so it will make sense for her to consider the pros and cons of her choices before speaking with a reliable aluminum boat dealer.

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