Buying a new boat is definitely not the same as buying a new car. Unlike a shiny new vehicle, shiny new boats often have quite a few bugs that need to be worked out before they settle in. Sometimes the electrics aren’t installed properly. Or the boat leaks. The engine may need tweaking.
Surprisingly, this happens with even the most reputable manufacturers. A new boat comes with a warrantee that takes care all the problems, unlike a used boat. But you won’t be doing much boating or living if the vessel is in the shop. And financing a new boat over ten or more years doesn’t make sense when the average period of boat ownership is about five years. Imagine writing a check to the bank when you sell the boat because you owe more than the boat is worth. With a used boat, somebody else has already gone to trouble of working these bugs out, which can save you a lot of headache. The single best thing about new boats is that they smell a lot better than old boats.
A Note on Depreciation
If you think a car loses value after driving off the lot, a boat is even worse. All new boats suffer a very steep initial depreciation, especially during the first year. Some are worse than others. It’s a very rare boat that appreciates or remains stable in value. Most drop like a rock and keep on dropping all the way to the scrap yard. After just a few cruises, a new boat is no longer worth what you owe on it. Some drop fast and then level off and retain their value for awhile. Many first time boat owners mistakenly don’t include depreciation as part of the cost of boating. But depreciation can work in your favour when you buy a used boat. And if the boat has been well maintained, you get more value for your money with a used boat. If you buy a boat a couple years after manufacture, you start realizing even bigger savings. Let someone else swallow the first year’s depreciation.
Used boats come with their own set of problems, but depending on how thorough you are during the buying process, the problems can be relatively simple fixes. And if you buy a boat from someone who was living aboard under the same conditions and in the same location you intend, you can reduce your start up costs substantially. The last owner has probably already invested in costs like batteries, updated electrics, plumbing, cable and/or internet jacks. Any used boat should be surveyed by an accredited and qualified marine surveyor before purchasing. That said, before you find a boat you’re interested in having surveyed, you should know what to look for in a used boat. You should consult a used boat buying checklist (like below) while you’re out there kicking hulls. This can help you identify potential problems before you call in the surveyor.
Used Boat Buying Checklist (from Ebay):
Test Drive: You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first, would you? Same holds true with a boat, even more so than a car. Boats are finicky creatures. They tend to require more attention and maintenance than cars. When you test drive the boat pay close attention to the following things while underway:
Vibration: If it vibrates it could mean a variety of things like a bent propeller. A vibrating boat makes a noisy boat.
Functioning Trim: If you’re looking at an inboard/outboard boat check to make sure the trim works, which allows the motor to move from the down position to the angled position.
Response: Rapidly, but carefully, test the steering from one direction to another to see how long it takes the boat to respond.
Planing: Check to see how long it takes the boat to plane after take off.
Shifting: Does the boat slip smoothly into gear, or does it jump?
Reverse: Make sure the boat works in reverse. You never know how important this is until you have to dock.
Gauges/Instruments: Check the temperature, RPM, and speedometer for proper function.
Bilge: Make sure the bilge is working. If your test ride is not long enough to tell, when you get back to the dock run some water in the engine hole with a water hose until the bilge kicks in. It’s a good idea to take along several people on the test drive. Added weight in a boat can affect its performance.
Hours: Check to see how many hours are on a boat. You measure a car’s use by miles and a boat’s use by hours. If a boat has more than 500 hours you can expect to pay some money in upgrades and maintenance.
Floor Rot: Wood and water don’t mix, especially in the floor of a boat. Carefully inspect the floor for soft spots, which indicate rot. Don’t be afraid to get on your hands and knees and smell the floor for mildew.
Maintenance: Ask for a maintenance history on the boat. Find out what major repairs have been made to the boat. If a lot of work has been done to the boat, chances are there will be lots to come, which translates into dollars. Ask if the boat is still under warranty. Also, ask who the boat owner used for repairs and make a point to talk to them.
Marine Survey: If you aren’t going to have a marine survey done, do it yourself and check the spark arrestors and plugs, alternator, belts, hoses, strainer, blower, shift cables, engine alignment, etc. Analyze the oil and make sure it is not cloudy or gritty. Cloudy oil can mean the engine block is cracked.
Hull Condition: Take a walk around the boat and inspect the hull and make sure it is in good condition. Feel free to tap on the hull all the way around and make sure the hull is consistently solid. Mismatched paint is a sign the boat has been in an accident. Also check for gelcoat blisters and dry rot.
Propeller: Check the propeller for warping, cracks, or nicks. Any of these things can throw off the performance of the boat.
Storage: How has the boat been stored while not in use? Was is stored outside and exposed to the sun and weather? Or was it kept in protected dry storage?
Upholstery: Depending on how the boat was stored can affect how the upholstery has held up over the years. Check for ripped seams and color fading. Also check the boat cover if there is one.
Extras: It’s nice if the owner will sell the boat with a few extras which are probably already on the boat. A depth finder is crucial. You don’t want the boat to run aground. A marine radio is usually required by law. A stereo is a nice thing to have so you can listen to music. Also see if the boat owner will throw in some life jackets and an anchor.
Trailer: If a trailer comes with the boat, check the trailer thoroughly. They are not cheap to replace.