Press "Enter" to skip to content

Buying the Right Boat

A boat holds more than our lunch, pillows, blankets, towels and a few lifejackets. The boat will keep us safe on the water. It reflects our style and represents the way we live. As such an important part of our recreational lives, buying the right boat at the right time in our lives is an undertaking that demands that it be done right.
To get the right boat you need to know before you start shopping what will be its principal use, what will fill your needs and be satisfying to own. Will it be the boat that can safely go so far offshore that the land mass you left disappears? For boaters who would like to hear the sound of water moving along the hull and waking up in a comfortable bunk at different locations as you cruise around the area or make bigger trips on weekends and vacations there will be a lot of cabin cruisers to choose from.
Do you have a pretty good idea what the boat you are looking for will cost to buy, to insure and to maintain? You need to think about where you will keep the boat. If it’s a smaller boat you might keep it on a trailer at your house. If you go for a larger boat or heavier with inboard power, having the boat ready to go in a boat slip might give you more time on the water. You need to estimate costs for slip fees, mechanical work unless you can do it, gas, insurance and hauling out at the end of the season.
Think about the selection process – should your wife or girlfriend or brother or male friend come along to make helpful comments or suggestions? Maybe another person coming along would see something you hadn’t noticed.

If you are buying what you consider an expensive boat, do you have a surveyor who can give you some insights that would help you decide if this is your boat or if you think the price should be lower because of the condition of the boat? He can save you money or save you from buying future problems.
Listen when the seller speaks. If a seller says he has invested over $60,000 in the boat and will sell it for $25,000 because he is moving, getting a divorce or is taking up a new hobby, this could be a red flag issue or further along in your negotiating if you’re still interested, it may help you arrive at a lower price.
My husband and I looked at a 28-foot Hatteras Sport fish model from the mid-sixties in Greenport before seeing the 28-foot Bertram in Freeport. The broker in Greenport for the Hatteras wasn’t sure about the reliability of the engines but said we could have someone look at them when we had it surveyed. We came first to check out the Hatteras because the cruiser model was nice looking, better looking than the Sport fish model in Greenport. The news about the engines freed us up to see the 28 Bertram the Freeport broker had. He called and said, “I think I have your boat.” We had bought a boat from him before and found it to be a good experience so when he said his seller downsized from a 60 foot boat with a captain to something he could run, it seemed it was past the time when the Bertram owner could have easily gone back to running boats himself and he was anxious to find a buyer and be done with his “mistake.” Listening to the broker helped us negotiate the price to what was affordable to us at the time.
If you buy from a dealer ask about a warranty. What if an engine fails a week after you buy the boat? Find out what if anything is covered. See if this is something you can take home and read if there is a warranty. If you buy a boat that is local and you have a problem, being close to home makes fixing the problem so much easier and takes less time. If you are looking for a specific brand of boat you can look up on the Coast Guard website to see if there were any recalls by checking with them. You can also call the boat and the engine manufacturers to see if they have records they could show you.
You can find out if the boat’s former owner has any financial connection to the boat. Check the boat’s title and registration. If a bank or other financial institution has a lien on the boat they will find it and take it so you need to know if it has a clean financial history.
Once you have decided on a specific boat you’ll want to have it surveyed. A dealer once told us our $5,000 deposit was his to keep after our surveyor saw too many problems with the boat and we had to start an action in our local small claims court to get our deposit back. His lawyer told him he couldn’t keep the deposit but he waited until just before the court date to return it.
The surveyor will inspect the boat in and out of the water. He will be an experienced professional listed with other accredited marine surveyors. You hire him and he bills you for his services. Having the surveyor along on the sea trial is added insurance for you if he sees something you don’t notice.
Unless you are a mechanic yourself you should also have a marine mechanic inspect the boat’s engine(s). Every year fewer people learn to be marine mechanics so it’s now harder to find one and costs more but you need to know what you’re buying is in good condition.
Once you have committed to buying and have a deposit on a boat you will want to see the current insurance policy and the previous bill of sale from the former owner to the current owner and the title or state registration. Be sure the numbers on the boat and on the paperwork are the same. It seems like a no-brainer that they would match, but so many boats are stolen today you need to be careful that you spend your money on something you can keep.
If you are pretty sure the deal is going through, you will want to have given all the information he needs to your insurance broker so you can start with a phone call when you give your check to the seller.
How will your boat travel from its current location to where you will keep it? When you think the purchase is almost a done deal you need to provide a trip to your slip or dock if the boat is not on a trailer.
In 2010 we had sold the Bertram and went on a trip to New England one weekend to see two 33-foot Egg Harbors. At the last minute I also took the information I had on three other 33-foot Egg Harbors even though we were convinced the first and newest we would see in Rhode Island would be the one. We didn’t spend too much time looking at the first one after the salesman, looking at our address on Long Island, asked who would bring the boat to Long Island. When we said we thought we would but we would have to wait a while because our jobs used up weekend time. He seemed to like us and confided that he hoped we’d have a mechanic look at the power because he wasn’t sure it was as reliable as he would want for a long trip. We thanked him profusely and that plus a few other things that disappointed sent us off looking at the others on our list.
By Sunday afternoon we spent a half hour looking at the last one. It was not the layout we wanted, but a ship’s carpenter was able to work that out and we had a wonderful sales person who was also a C.G. licensed captain who within a week, delivered the boat from Massachusetts to Blue Point where we would keep it.
For anyone about to get into the process of buying a boat it would be helpful to read through the detailed path BoatUS has created online – Buying the Right Used Boat.