Red Flags on Used Boats: What to Look for Before You Buy
What to Look For When Buying a Used Boat
Assuming you have narrowed down your search to a couple of boats that you think will work for you here are some tips on where to look for “red flags” when buying a used boat
As a Yacht Broker I have been through many surveys and sea trials and probably learn something new from every one of them. Each boat is different and there are trade-offs with every deal and every buyer is going to look for different features so some things will obviously be more important to you.
The primary rule I use is, “when buying a used boat, you are buying the current owner’s and previous owner’s maintenance and updating”. In general, if previous owners of the boat have kept it sparkling clean, serviced the engine(s) regularly, and have periodically added newer equipment to keep the boat equipped with good quality electronics and other gear, that boat should continue to be a good boat for you as long as you continue the maintain it to the same standard.
So, now the trick is how to spot the red flags when you have a chance to look at the boat. Here are key things to look for:
1) General overall appearance
a. Is the boat Clean
b. Is there a place for everything and everything in its place
c. What’s the general condition of the topsides, deck, and cabin top
d. What’s the condition of dock lines, lift, and how it is kept when not in use
e. In the head or around the holding tank, is there any head odor or any other offensive odor anywhere on the boat
2) Exterior items
a. Age and condition of canvas
b. If there is exterior wood, how is that maintained
c. If it’s a sailboat how are the sails stored and condition of rig and running rigging
d. How are the windows/ports sealed and is there any crazing?
e. Are there bent stanchions, pulpits, or rub rails indicating serious contact
f. Check the deck and hull for cracks or crazing
3) Interior Items
a. Check the bilge for cleanliness and excess water
b. Check the engine room for access to all vital parts of the engine, minor leaks of oil, coolant, and water, fan belt dust, and the condition of the hoses, do the filters look like they have been changed recently
c. Check around windows, ports, and hatches for moisture penetration
d. Look at the condition of the floor boards
e. Check the Nav station and the electronics that come with the boat (do they need to be replaced or updated?)
f. Check the general condition of the electric wiring 12 volt and shore power (and generator if there is one) A Ground Fault Interrupt (GFI) is now required; does it work?
Importance of a Survey
If you feel comfortable with the boat at this stage, (the boat fits your budget and suits your intended purpose) and there are no serious “red flags” at this point the next step is to make an offer and negotiate an agreeable price. With a contract signed the next step is to hire a surveyor. A good surveyor will go through the boat from bow to stern and more than likely something will need to be noted in the final report.
Although I seriously recommend you look over everything the surveyor checks on the boat during the survey and sea trial, there are two things I believe buyers should definitely pay attention to during the survey.
1) The Moisture Meter and Phenolic Hammer are surveyor’s tools to check for Moisture and for structural integrity.
2) Run the engine at Wide Open Throttle (WOT)
Surveyors use a moisture meter to find where water may have penetrated the inner layer of the hull, deck, or cabin top. At this point you need to understand the construction of the hull, deck or cabin top to determine the problems associated with a high moisture reading.
The surveyor will use a phenolic hammer to “sound out” the integrity of the hull, deck and cabin top. It’s amazing how clearly and simply you can detect a “soft spot” with the right tool.
If the survey comes up with a Moisture Problem or Structural Problem, as a potential buyer, you need to have a serious conversation with the surveyor and your broker about the cause, repairs, and consequences of the problem. Often the fix can be simple and easy, but that’s why you do the survey; to find out.
Running the engine at Wide Open Throttle (WOT) I believe is a very important part of any boat survey. The engine is designed to run at WOT at a specific rpm and handle specific loads. If the engine at WOT is running in excess of the maximum rated rpm, there could be a couple of reasons and maybe easily fixed. Most likely, the size or pitch of the propeller is not right. On the other hand, if the engine does not reach the specified rpm, it could be the size or pitch or the propeller, but it also could be another problem that needs a mechanic to evaluate and repair.
Another thing the surveyor should look at when the engine is running at WOT is the temperatures in the hoses and through the cooling system of the engine. If an overheat condition appears, it could simply be a bad impeller in the water pump or it could be more complicated. Again, there is probable cause for a serious discussion with the surveyor and your broker to determine what your next steps should be.
I hope this list helps. Let me know if you have any comments.
By David Cox