7 Mistakes to Avoid When You Buy a Used Boat for Sale by Boat Dealer, Yacht Broker or Private Seller

If you’re searching for a used boat for sale… maybe a used pontoon, used center console, used bowrider or used deck boat, you came to the right place.

You’ve likely already been to Boat Trader, Yacht World, maybe a used boat dealer near you and start searching for the perfect used boat for you and your family.  Maybe you even looked at some new boats for sale at the new boat dealers in your area.

You’re getting excited… maybe a little nervous….and likely a somewhat overwhelmed with all the options, the terminology and the range of prices from cheap used boats to newer used boats that are almost the same price as a brand new boat. 

Well, then you should be glad you found this article as you’re searching for used boats for sale.

I’m going to go into detail to help you avoid the 7 biggest mistakes smart people make when buying a used boat for sale.  

Now, these tips will apply for used bow riders, used deck boats, used center consoles, used fishing boats and used pontoons…however, you’ll want to check out the specific insider information for each of these boat types as the end of this article.

7 Biggest Mistakes Smart Boaters Make When Buying a Used Boat

Used Boat Buying Mistake #1:  Buying the wrong type of used boat

One of the biggest mistakes boat buyers make is making a quick decision on the first boat that catches their eye or the one that seems like a ‘GREAT DEAL”… this has led others to costly mistakes.

Often times, buying the wrong type of boat or even a cheap boat that seems like the boat deal of a century, can turn into a huge money pit.  Whether it’s costly boat repairs that are unexpected or in some cases the boat does not suit the way you want to use it and money is lost when selling it quickly or keeping a boat that never gets used as storage fees, boat insurance costs continue to rack up.

So, what do you do about it?

Well, the best way to avoid making this mistake is to determine exactly what you will be doing on your boat and who you’ll be doing it with.  You can check out this video “Advice for First Time Boat Buyers” that goes into more depth on the topic.  It’s a great resource for the novice considering their first boat.

Determine how you’ll be using your boat most of the time.  Will you be doing mostly fishing or will fishing be something that you do only now and again.  That will help you decide if a used fishing boat is right for you.

Will you be doing wake boarding and wake surfing a majority of the time or will that only be a small portion of your boating lifestyle.  That will help you decide if a used wake boat is right for you.

Insider Tip: Use the 80% Rule discussed in this video for First Time Boat Buyers.  Get the boat that will do the 80% of your boating lifestyle very well and can do the other 20% when needed.

Captain Matt
The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.
The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.

Then, consider where you will be doing most of your boating.  What’s the water like?

Is it a busy inland lake that will get very rough?  Will you be on rivers, gong off-shore or will you just be taking your boat out on quiet water where the only thing that matters is the peace and quiet.

Understanding those questions will help you zero in on the size and style of boat that is best for you.  Also, be aware of any horsepower (HP) restrictions which can be placed on smaller lakes.

Lastly determine the right size for your new boat.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • How many people will be going out with us on most of our boating trips?
  • Where will we be storing our new boat?

If you’ll be trailer boating, what type of vehicle will you be towing your boat with?  (make sure the total weight of your boat fully loaded is appropriate for the vehicle you have or will be buying)

Each of these questions should be answered before buying your boat because not considering one or all of these questions could lead to a boat being a poor fit or much more expensive than you expected.

And of course, never buy a used boat before completing a full used boat inspection and on-water test drive.  We’ll get to these in a few.

Free Boat Buyers Toolkit

Used Boat Buying Mistake #2:   Too many hours or too few hours on the boat’s engine

One of the oddities of the boating world is that boats tend to last longer and work better when they are used on a regular basis.

So, when I see a used boat that is 5 or 10 years old that only has 27 hours on it, my red flags go up.

On the other hand, if I see a 5 or 10 year old boat with 1,200 hours on it that also raises a red flag.

So, what are the right number of engine hours for a used boat that you may be considering.

Insider Tip: The average inland boater will put 50 to 100 hours on their boat engines in a year.

Captain Matt

This may seem very low to some people but consider the average pleasure boater on a lake.  They will cruise out to their favorite spot and sit at anchor or beached for most of the afternoon. 

Maybe pull a tuber or do some watersports, then head back in for the day.  So, a 5 hour day on the water only turns into 1 ½ hours of actual engine running time for the hour meter.

These numbers need a little more context because certain types of boaters will exceed these general numbers.

Here are a few Used boat types that I’d expect to have higher engine hours.

Center Console boats that are fishing off-shore will tend to have higher hours.

Wake board and wake surfing boats tend to go most of the time they are on the water and may put 100 to 200 hours on a year.

Pontoons or boats that have been rentals or in boat clubs will typically have higher hours for their age.  Depending on the business that maintains them, they could be a reasonable option to consider… but be sure to follow all the advice in this article because they will likely have more issues to consider.

The key is to ask more questions if the hours seem to be high or low.

So, how long should an outboard engine, diesel or gas engine last?

Outboards like Yamaha, Mercury, Suzuki, Honda, Evinrude and others have a good long life span when taken care of properly.  With regular fluid changes and impeller changes, they can run  1,000 to 1,500 hours with no problem.  Some are even running into 2,000 hours when taken very good care of and not over worked, like running at high/max RPM for extended periods of time

You can expect similar types of life-spans from your typical gas stern drive or inboard/outboard and inboard boat engines.  Engines like MerCruiser, Volvo, PCM and Indmar.   These engines tend to need a little more maintenance so the lifespan can be shortened by lack of proper care over the years.  But, 1,000 to 1,500 hours is a fairly good useful life.

Now, when talking diesel boat engines, the hours go up dramatically (as does the cost).  With proper care, a diesel engine like a Caterpillar or YanMar can have a lifespan closer to 10,000 to 20,000 hours.  And, it is more common to re-build these diesel engines for another 10,000 – 20,000 hours of use.

So, at this point, you know what you’ll be doing on your boat most of the time.  You know your budget, have found a handful of boats that fit your needs and are ready to take the most important step to avoid a costly mistake… that’s the boat inspection phase.

The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.
The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.

Used Boat Buying Mistake #3:  Didn’t inspect properly and bought someone else’s problem

So, you’ve found a boat that may be the one!

You may be getting excited which is great… just don’t get in too big of a hurry and skip this step of making sure there are no hidden bug-a-boos that will turn an exciting day into a dreadful day.

To help with this phase, we’ve created a Boat Buyer’s Secret Weapon Used Boat Buyer Toolkit that is your for free.

Inspect the boat inside and out, underneath and in every nook and cranny you can inspect.  Then ask the seller even more questions.  You may want to check out this video, How to Inspect a Used Boat for Sale.

If the boat is in the water, DO NOT BUY IT until you have pulled the boat and inspected the bottom and the drives of the boat.   As the investment amount gets higher and higher, you should also consider a good quality surveyor.

Insider Tip: You can find a quality surveyor at https://www.marinesurvey.org/.

Captain Matt

But, before hiring the surveyor, do a complete inspection yourself.  Even if you’re not a boating expert.  Even if you’re buying from a boat dealer.

Bring a good flashlight, a clean rag and your  Used Boat Buyer’s Inspection Checklist

The goal of the inspection is to find any and all defects in the boat.  Not that they will exclude you from  buying it but it will give you leverage when negotiating the price and help you decide if you even want to buy the boat.

A rule to live by is, there is always another used boat for sale somewhere that will suit your needs. 

There will be less regret if you pass up a boat that seemed like a good deal but had some issues… than getting a great deal on a used boat that turns into a money pit, nightmare and spoils you on boat ownership for the rest of your life.

Insider Tip: There will always be another boat that will suit your needs and wants.

Captain Matt

One of the ways to avoid a bad decision is to get the equivalent of a Car Fax report on a used boat for sale.  It’s a boat history report and may want to get a copy at www.BoatHistoryReport.com available here.  Just enter the boat Hull Id Number (HIN) and get instant access to the history of any used boat for sale.

Free Boat Buyers Toolkit

Used Boat Buying Mistake #4:   Didn’t do a complete test drive

Ok, so the boat passed the inspection process. Now it’s time to run this boat to avoid any costly issues that may come up after we write that check.  Remember, our goal is to know any and all issues with the boat before we buy so we can make an educated decision on if we want this pre-owned boat, how much we should pay or if we should keep searching.

The Boat Buyer’s Secret Weapon Buyer’s Toolkit has a Demo Checklist that you’ll want to use.  Get your free copy now.

The key to demoing a boat is to make sure the engine(s) and all systems are functional.  And, if not, you can determine how much it will be to fix it or if you can live without it.

If possible, start the boat cold.  Preferably the first start of that boat that day.

Then, run it through a series of maneuvers.  If you are not competent to run these maneuvers safely, you may want to have someone assist in the step.  This is one area that buying from a used boat dealer can be an advantage.  Or hiring a surveyor.

The other goal of the sea-trial, demo or test drive is to see how your potential new boat will handle the water conditions you are likely to encounter. 

  • How does it handle rough water? 
  • How does it accelerate from a stand still? 
  • How does it turn under power? 

If you’ll be fishing, doing water sports or other specific activities, see if you can do that activity to see how it performs and feels.

For more details, watch this How to Demo a Boat the Right Way Before Buying video and grab a copy of the Boat Buyer’s Secret Weapon Buyer’s Toolkit for free.

Free Boat Buyers Toolkit

Used Boat Buying Mistake #5:  Didn’t have the engine inspected completely

Now that you’ve inspected everything, completed a through test drive of the boat, I recommend you take one more step.

That is to have the engine and drive inspected.  This is especially important for boats 5-10 years old or older.

The first inspection is to do a compression check.  This will confirm how strong or weak each cylinder of the engine is firing compared to what the specs say it was brand new.  In some cases, a boat will run fine with a light load during the test drive but will have a weak cylinder which is very costly to fix.

This may cost around $100 for a mechanic to test.  By the way, a surveyor typically does not inspect for mechanical soundness of an engine.  They check the systems, and structure of the boat but it is not a mechanical inspection.

Next, you’ll want to check the engine oil, gear lube and impeller condition.  If they have not been changed within the last year, I suggest getting this general maintenance completed to avoid any issues on the water.  The price for this will depend on where you’re located and they type of engines your boat has.

A ball park to have these service completed is between $300 and $500 per engine.

The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.
The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.

Used Boat Buying Mistake #6:  Didn’t inspect the boat trailer properly

Ok, we’ve talked a lot about the boat itself, but if you are buying a trailer boat, you’ll want to check that out as well.

Did you know a boat trailer can run $2,700 for a dual axel trailer for a 20’ boat to $7K and $15K for heavier boats that require larger trailers.  And, buying a used boat trailer to fit your boat is much harder than you’d expect because the trailer has to not only be the right size and weight, it must also ‘fit’ the bottom of the boat.

Insider Tip:  If you are searching for a used trailer to fit a boat, start by contacting the closest boat dealer in your area that offers that boat manufacturer.  They may have some insights for you and there is a long shot chance that they’ll have a trailer  that will fit.

Captain Matt

So, how do you inspect a trailer?

You can watch the video; How to Inspect a Boat Trailer here and download the Boat Buyer’s Secret Weapon Toolkit that has a trailer inspection checklist.

Here are the areas that must be inspected:

  • Trailer winch stand
  • Trailer Axle(s)
  • Trailer tires
  • Trailer brakes (if equipped)
  • Trail lights
  • Trailer bunks or rollers

And, the fit of the boat on the trailer safely and securely

Do you have tie down straps or do you need to buy them.

It is best to inspect the trailer while the boat is off of it, so a great time to do this is during the test drive.  Tie the boat up at the dock and head over with your Trailer Inspect Checklist and start inspecting.

Free Boat Buyers Toolkit

Used Boat Buying Mistake #7:  Paid too much for your boat or boat loan

Ok, you are now certain that this is the right boat.  You are aware of any issues and ok with them… as long as the price is right.

So, its time to negotiate with the used boat dealer, private seller or boat broker.

First step is to confirm the value of the boat.  The Boat Buyer’s Secret Weapon Buyer’s Toolkit has a few resources that will be very helpful.  You can download it here.

Research NADA and other valuation websites and resources.  Some are free and others require a $20-50 fee.

You can also check on Boat Trader and YachtWorld to determine what other boats are listed around the country.  Remember, these are asking prices and not what the boats will sell for.

If you are using a boat loan, the lender may be able to provide a general idea of the value they are attributing to the boat.

You can apply for a Boat Loan Quote here for free.

Now, its time to make the offer.  Boat Buyer’s Secret Weapon offers a special negotiations technique that will save you hundreds, likely thousands and maybe even ten’s of thousands of dollarsIf you want to save on your used boat, click here now for special discount.

Don’t be emotional at this point.  If you know this the right boat and it fits your budget, do what you can to get a great deal and staying even keel and unemotional will ensure you don’t over pay.

If you will be getting a boat loan to buy your used boat, you’ll want to watch this Insider Secrets to Boat Loans video by clicking here.

The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.
The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.

Other resources for used boat buyers to consider:

Advice when shopping used bow riders for sale

Everything above applies to bow riders for sale and a few extra items to consider.

If the boat is older, you’ll want to ensure you inspect the flooring is solid.  Jump up and down on the floor to ensure its solid in the bow area, around the seats and  near any lockers or compartments on the floor.

In the 1990’s to early 2000’s, some manufactures used plywood in the construction of the floors that was not protected with fiberglass.  And, I can assure you having a hole in the floor of your new boat is an expensive fix you’ll want to avoid (unless you are planning a project boat and know exactly what you are getting into)

Advice when shopping used deck boats for sale

Everything above applies to used deck boats for sale and a few extra items to consider.

If the boat is older, you’ll want to ensure you inspect the flooring is solid.  Jump up and down on the floor to ensure its solid in the bow area, around the seats and near any lockers or compartments on the floor.

In the 1990’s to early 2000’s, some deck boat manufactures used plywood in the construction of the floors that was not protected with fiberglass.  And, I can assure you having a hole in the floor of your new boat is an expensive fix you’ll want to avoid (unless you are planning a project boat and know exactly what you are getting into)

Insider Tip:  Be cautious of the Bayliner Rendezvous if it does not have a quality trailer.  This boat is requires a custom trailer that will be more than the boat itself.

Captain Matt

Advice when shopping used center consoles for sale

Everything above applies to used center consoles for sale and a few extra items to consider.

Most center consoles have been run in salt-water, so you’ll want to be extra cautious and inspect for excessive corrosion on the wiring, batteries and fittings of the boat.

Ask a few additional questions of the center console boat dealer or private seller about the history of the boat and maintenance history as well.

In addition to the other inspection points listed above, you’ll want to run all bait and live wells to ensure proper operation.  Also look for valve shut-offs to ensure they are working properly.

Advice when shopping used aluminum fishing boats for sale

Everything above applies to used fishing boats for sale and a few extra items to consider.

You’ll want to run all the live well and bait pumps to ensure proper working condition.  It also helps you to know how the boat operates when you do buy it.

Advice when shopping used pontoons or tri-toons for sale

Everything above applies to used pontoon triple tube pontoon boats for sale and a few extra items to consider.

Because these boats are so different, I’ve created a separate article for used pontoon and used tri-toon boat buyers.  Click here to check it out.

Advice when shopping used jet skis for sale

Almost everything above applies to used jet ski boats for sale and a few extra items to consider.  Because jet skis are just different enough, and I’m not the expert, here is a website you’ll want to research before buying a used jet ski for sale.

Advice when shopping used wake board and wake surf boats for sale

Everything above applies to used wake board of wake surf boats for sale and a few extra items to consider.

I highly encourage you to bring your board and ride the wave, jump the wake to make sure this boat will do what you need it to do.  Learning the surf systems, ballast systems and electronics will be a huge advantage when you are out on your new boat the first few times.

During the test drive, pay attention to vibration when accelerating.  The drive systems of these boats can have damage that is difficult to see with the naked eye but even a slight bend in the shaft will result in a noticeable vibration and expensive repair.

Free Boat Buyers Toolkit

Used boats for sale in Florida

When buying a used boat in Florida, be especially aware of hurricane damaged boats.  With the recent hurricanes that have come through, you never know if someone is being less than honest with you.  

You may even want to invest in a Boat History Report to verify any insurance claims on a specific boat.

Used boats for sale in North Carolina

When buying a used boat in North Carolina, be especially aware of hurricane damaged boats.  In the mid-Atlantic, we’ve experienced some hurricanes over the past few years and you want to avoid certain boats that may have been damaged during the storms. 

You may even want to invest in a Boat History Report to verify any insurance claims on a specific boat.

Used boats for sale in Texas

When buying a used boat in Texas, be especially aware of hurricane damaged boats.  Flooding and hurricane damage to a boat could turn into a total disaster for you down the line.  Avoiding these boats is the best way to avoid huge and expensive potential repairs. 

You may even want to invest in a Boat History Report to verify any insurance claims on a specific boat.

Used boats for sale in Washington

When buying a used boat in Washington, be especially aware of damaged boats that have been repaired and being sold as a good solid used boat.  You may even want to invest in a Boat History Report to verify any insurance claims on a specific boat.

Used boats for sale in New York

When buying a used boat in New York, be especially aware of hurricane damaged boats.  Some major storms and hurricanes have hit in the New York, New Jersey and Atlantic Coast in the past years.  Some damaged boats have made it to the used boat market place and some unsuspecting boat buyers could be caught off-guard.

 You may even want to invest in a Boat History Report to verify any insurance claims on a specific boat.

The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.
The best way to save big money when shopping boats for sale.

Used Craigslist Boats for Sale

When buying a used boat on Craigslist be aware of potential scams and salvaged boats.  Don’t mistake me, boats for sale on Craigslist can be perfect and even great deals however there is a large percentage of scammers on this platform.

If you follow the advice in this article and on other articles and videos on Boat Buyer’s Secret Weapon, you’ll avoid a majority of the most common ones.

The final piece of advice we haven’t touched on is to confirm the identification of the boat owner and boat seller to ensure proper transfer of title of your boat, motor and trailer.

Where to search for used boats for sale on the internet and in your local area

If you are looking for cheaper used boats, you can go to Craigslist boats for sale.  They typically have a nice selection of boats listed from project boats to cheaper boats and boats for sale from used boat dealers, private sellers and sometimes used boat brokers.

Go to Google or your favorite search engine and Search “Used boats for sale near me”.  Or, if you are searching for a specific brand of boat, searching “Used Sea Ray Boats for Sale” could yield a few hidden gems that others in your local area won’t find.

For some, they prefer to buy from a private seller instead of a used boat dealer.  In that case, searching “Used boats for sale by owner” will sort out the boats you are looking for.

Regardless of how you find the pre-owned boats that are most likely to be a fit, what you do from this point on is most important.

Of course you have Boat Trader, Boats.com and Yacht World for a variety of boat types.  OnlyInboards.com, CenterConsolesOnly.com and other niche listing sites.

Other options to consider are going to a used boat dealer near you.  They may have some boats available (or know of some nice clean used boats coming soon) that would be a perfect fit for you. 

If you’ll be attending a boat show, I encourage you to read this article first. How to Win at this Year’s Boat Show.

Insider Insights:  I always suggest shopping a new boat dealer as well to get local insights to your boating area, see what similar new boats cost and start building your knowledge base as you begin your boat buying journey.

Captain Matt

Just keep your eyes open and follow the steps below to avoid the 7 biggest mistakes used boat buyer’s make that can cost them a fortune, huge headaches and even worse.

Free Boat Buyers Toolkit
About the Author:

Captain Matt is an industry veteran that has been involved in hundreds of boat sales on both sides of the table, buying and selling.  His relationships with boat dealers, boat brokers, manufacturers and boating industry power players gives him the insider information that every boat buyer would find helpful when buying a new boat or used boat.

That’s why he’s created the website and offering the free Boat Buyer’s Secret Weapon Buyer’s Toolkit to help ensure you make a great decision when buying your first or next boat.  Grab your free toolkit by clicking right here.

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