How to test ride a second hand motor boat

Boatsandoutboards share their top tips on what to look out for when you test ride a second hand motor boat

Boatsandoutboards share their top tips on what to look out for when you test ride a second hand motor boat

A pre-owned motor boat in superb condition will give you and your family many years of fun and excitement on the water. If you’re looking to invest, but aren’t in the ‘money no object’ camp, you’ll find a wide choice of used powerboats, RIBs and sports cruisers at competitive prices in today’s second hand boat market.  

A beautiful Italian-designed 16-year old Cranchi Turchese 24 Sports Cruiser will set you back just £16,000, while a 2004 Bayliner 175 Bowrider sells for around £7,000, and a Sea-doo sportster jet boat built in 2004 sells for around £6,000 including trailer and cover (as listed on June 2016). Thanks to the highly durable nature of fiberglass, and the excellent quality of outboard marine engines today, boats of this age often still look and feel as good as new. It’s likely that a six year old powerboat will be at least half the price the brand new model, yet still performing with zip if its engine and bodywork have been lovingly maintained.  

Remember though that even a flawless looking boat might have hidden problems, so experienced boat brokers recommend taking the boat you have your eye on out for an extensive sea trial. A dry land ‘start-up’ will let you hear the engine run, but not much else. What’s needed is an actual test ride on the water, so that you see how the boat comes off the trailer, what speed it can reach, how it performs at a slow cruise, how it turns, and generally how it handles. This will give you the chance to spot problems with the engine, examine elements of the boat layout you might or might not like, and unearth issues with steering and acceleration.      

For the test ride, it’s worth gathering the whole family or a few friends – to get a sense of how the boat performs with the number of people you’re likely to typically be boating with.   If you’re going to be transporting the boat by trailer, start with being taught by the seller/broker how to back up the trailer, launch the boat from the trailer, and put it back on.    

Once in the water here are a few key things to consider during a used boat test drive:  

  • Are you happy with the position of the seat and the tilt of the wheel so that driving the boat is comfortable?
  • Are you happy with the position of the throttle and the gauges?
  • Does the engine start easily and sound healthy?
  • Are there worrying engine sounds like knocking or tapping?
  • Are there vibrations or rattles anywhere in the boat?
  • When set at idle speed is the engine quiet enough to hold a normal conversation?
  • Does the boat turn easily at all speeds without hopping or sliding?
  • How well does it accelerate from slow to fast? 
  • Does the boat respond well at top speed?
  • If the boat has a trim and tilt, are they operating properly?
  • Are all the instruments are working correctly?      

Elements of the test drive:

  • Ride over waves to check if the boat bumps over them or smoothly cuts through.
  • Lift your hands slightly off the steering wheel and check whether the boat continues straight ahead or pulls in one direction indicating a problem.
  • When you throttle down from fast to idle check that the boat glides forward rather than sinks in its own wake which might mean the hull is insufficient.
  • Run the engine for long enough to see if it will overheat.
  • Practise parking at a jetty and learn to use reverse.    

Having invested this time you will have learnt a lot about the condition and feel of the boat. Where concerns have been flagged up, make sure the broker or seller can look into possible problems, and find out if this will affect the price. Having a full marine survey carried out as well will of course complete your research into the suitability of the boat, and give you peace of mind before the purchase. Then it’s time to launch into fun - without any nasty surprises! hosts thousands of used boats for sale, and facilitates the leading boat brokers