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When buying a used boat, you’ll want to make sure to go over every part and feature thoroughly before you sign the deal. As obvious as this may sound, unfortunately it isn’t as straightforward as you might hope. Like anything that you buy pre-owned, a used boat will have issues. And since boats are quite complex, the issues tend to be complex as well. You’ll be aware of some of these issues early on, and inevitably you will discover some later. But when buying a pre-owned boat, it is crucial to identify at least those critical issues that will determine whether or not you want to buy the boat, so you don’t eventually find skeletons in the closet that make you regret having spent your hard-earned money on it.

There are a few basic things that you can research and assess yourself, even if you have no prior boat-ownership experience. To begin with, the first few things you want to consider are:

  1.    Why is the current owner selling the boat?
  2.    Is the boat’s full past-ownership history and documentation, such as a maintenance log, insurance policies, warranty records, etc. available?
  3.    Are there any transferable warranties left on the boat’s service contract?
  4.    Is the boat fitted with a valid hull ID number (HIN)? If it is tampered with, it could likely be a stolen boat.
  5.    How many past owners has the boat had? Ideally, you’d want a boat with a single owner over its lifetime.

Now things get more technical. After answering these questions, a savvy buyer will delve deeper into the boat’s onboard systems, which can be much more complicated. To do this effectively, you’ll need the help of an expert. Whether you have years of boating experience or you’re a first-time buyer, hiring a surveyor to perform a thorough pre-purchase survey of the boat is highly recommended. A professional survey can help guide your buying decision and potentially save you from closing a sour deal.

If you can, visit the boat along with the surveyor. At the end of the survey, you can even ask for a quick verbal rundown from the surveyor, but don’t expect him to extensively discuss his findings right away—wait for the final, detailed report. The surveyor’s findings will likely expose many critical issues that you couldn’t have spotted on your own. Carefully review the surveyor’s report before making your final decision.

Ultimately, the red flags you’re looking for are major systems faults and irreparable or substantial damage to electrical, mechanical and structural parts caused by neglect, abuse or the boat’s age in general. You’ll rarely find a used boat that won’t have any general faults, and that’s okay. But what you want to avoid, at all costs, are hidden issues so severe that fixing them will cost you more than you’d pay for the boat itself.

Do your background research, hire a professional surveyor to inspect the boat and take her out on a sea trial. If all is well after you’ve followed these key steps, you have found the right boat. Call the insurance company, get the financials and legalese done, and hit the open water!

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