Practical tips on buying a second hand motor boat

Boatsandoutboards share their top tips for buying a second hand motor boat

Nobody wants to spend hard-earned cash on a powerboat or motor cruiser that isn’t safe and in excellent condition. Beyond checking with your broker or seller that all the paperwork for the boat is in order you’ll want to examine the physical state of the boat itself. Doing so will certainly help you avoid being sold an expensive problem.

It’s recommended that you begin by looking at any service records that might be available – which will immediately flag us past problems with the boat - and then spend plenty of time inspecting the exterior, interior and engine, before asking for a sea trial. Here’s a useful checklist of what to look for:


  • On first impression, does the boat look grimy and scratched, or shiny, clean and well-maintained?
  • Walk around the outside of the boat and inspect for cracked fiberglass and any signs of existing repairs to the bodywork. Is the gel-coat finish faded and in need of restoration?
  • Look carefully along the sides of the hull to see that they are straight. If there are discoloured areas, this could be a ‘touch up’ suggesting previous damage.
  • Check that there is no sign of separation or leakage taking place under the rub rail between the hull and deck. It is almost impossible to fix a separation problem properly.
  • On the bottom of the boat and along the keel, are there signs of scraping or gouges that could lead to future problems?
  • If there are bubbles and blisters in the fiberglass, be aware that these are very difficult to fix.
  • Also inspect the trailer to ask when the lights and wheel bearings were checked? Look out for cracked tyres and low tread.
  • Inspect the transom where the outboard motor is typically mounted, and be alert to waterlogged wood which would suggest the boat will soon be worthless.  
  • The bilge area at the back of the boat should be fairly clean with no indication of oil leaking from the engine.
  • Check that the fuel tank is very securely mounted with no signs of corrosion or loose hoses.


  • Inside the boat does anything smell musty and are there signs on dry rot in the seating or floor? A warped floor where the wood has become soft suggests a major problem.
  • Is the windshield very secure with no signs of looseness or cracks.
  • Do all the doors and hatches open and close properly?
  • Take a seat and make sure the seating arrangement is dry and comfortable, with no rips and staining to cushions.


  • At the back of the boat examine the engine. While a prop repair should not be a big problem, you do not want to find cracks or leaking to any other parts of the lower unit area.
  • Check for rust around the engine and beware that if rust is evident it could mean the boat has suffered extensive submersion in water which is not good news.
  • Does the engine look clean and complete?
  • Look out for cracked belts.
  • Pull out the dip stick to check the condition of the oil which can tell you a lot – remember that milky oil suggests water has got in and this will cause future problems.
  • Look out for cracked and worn hoses.
  • Run your eye over the electrical connections – particularly spark plug wires - to see if they are corroded or cracked and hardened from age

Importance of the boat survey for used boats

Once you have made your own initial checks of the boat, it’s important to arrange for a professional surveyor to examine the boat in fine detail and produce a full boat survey. While this is something you will have to pay for, it will provide very useful information to negotiate down the sales price, and ensure you buy the boat with peace of mind.

Be sure to use a reputable surveyor – ideally one that is listed by the International Institute of Marine and Surveying (IIMS) or The Yacht Designers and Surveyors Association (YDSA).

Tips on negotiating the final price

You should carry out extensive research on the price of the boat, and bearing in mind the condition of the one you’re looking at, there may be scope for negotiation.

These are areas that might help you drive the price down:

  • Faults and rectification work required according to your own boat condition checks and as identified by your boat surveyor.
  • Ancillary equipment that is either missing, or in poor condition, not working, out of date or not included in the sale – items such as boat covers, fire extinguishers and blankets, deck cushions and life-saving equipment.
  • Missing service information for your engine.
  • Lack of documentation such as original sales invoice and evidence of VAT compliance (without this you may not obtain a marine loan and may be liable for a VAT charge).
  • Missing boat manual
  • Missing VHF radio licence (where a VHF radio is fixed on board) hosts thousands of used boats for sale, and facilitates the leading boat brokers.  Find out more at

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