When And Where To Buy Used Boat


The question we often ask ourselves is – what to look for when buying a used boat? The decision to purchase a boat is one of the biggest you’ll ever make, so it is a good idea to do it right to avoid any unnecessary headache. It may sound simple, but in reality, there are many questions you’ll have to answer properly if you want to have straightforward fun.

The option is to go and get the boat straight from the shop, but the new models are most often really expensive, so many sailing enthusiasts turn to buy the used one. In this article we’ll go through the steps you’ll have to take to make sure you’ve purchased the right boat that will serve you well.

Also, getting a used boat is something you should definitely think about if you’re a sailing newbie and just learning the most basic maneuvers, rules, and other important things.

Where To Start

The first step in how to buy a used boat guide is to learn what kind of boat you want. What is the right boat size for you? To be more precise, there is a big difference between boats used for fishing and those made solely for chilling on the water.

Think About Your Activity

  • If you’re an angler who loves to fish in freshwater rivers, lakes, or channels, then think about getting a flat boat, because they’ll allow you to move more freely and easily through the water.
  • If you’d love to use your boat as a chilling place, the pontoon is the one to check out. It can hold up to 12 people, and it is just the perfect choice to spend your days simply relaxing on the water.
  • Ocean cruising means you’ll need a cabin cruiser. Smaller versions can be used for large river or lake cruising, and if you want to move quickly, there are options like speedboats or sport boats.
  • Choosing a bowrider or a towboat is recommended if your time on the water will include some water sports. This means your vessel will have an option to tow someone behind. Their downside is the fact they are not suitable for a longer stay and it may not be such a good idea to spend the night on it.

Budget Setting

Although cheaper than the new ones, users can also be quite expensive and take a big chunk of your budget. That’s why you should, before setting up the budget, check out the price of visiting at least three or more places. This way you’ll get the idea of how much the used boat will cost.

Reviews Are Helpful

Gathering information about some product is important in finding out whether it is the right one for you or not. Unlike in the older times, when the main review came with mouth to mouth way, nowadays it is quite easy to check out the review by simply typing the boat’s brand name and model. This way you’ll be able to gather as much information as you’ll need, so you know what to go after, and what to avoid buying.

The more reviews you read at different places, the better insight you’ll get, so once you finish up you’ll exactly know what you want and what you’d want to avoid at any cost.

When And Where To Buy Used Boat

The best place to buy a new boat is the one you most likely already spend a big part of your day on – the internet. There are many websites you could check out that is made for this purpose. The places like Boat Trader or Boats.com will help you customize your search by the boat condition, type, manufacturer, length…

Another option is some of the biggest trading websites, like Craigslist, but when checking out any of these places, be extra careful to avoid possible scams. You’ll do it by looking for seller feedback and rating. Of course, many new or one-time sellers are completely legitimate, but if you see anything weird or any kind of a red flag in the advert, skip it.


The boat location is also equally important, because you may find the most perfect vessel in the world, but the cost of the transport can skyrocket if it is located on the other side of the planet.  Not to mention all the papyrology you’ll have to fill up if importing it from abroad. The nearer the seller, the less costly the transport will be.

That’s why it is a good idea to check out your local marina and a few near you to check whether there are boats to buy. You could also visit your local shop and ask around for information about where and who to contact.

Boating License

If you’ve previously owned a boat, you already know this, but if you’re looking for the first one check out your local boating rules. Laws and licenses could differ from state to state, but almost all of them require the possession of a boating license before you buy your vessel. Getting a boating license shouldn’t be a problem as there are many websites where you could get it, but for your first one, it is recommended calling Coast Guard or any other water authority to ask for information and then follow it.

It’s Inspection Time!


OK, you’ve found your desired vessel, the price is right, so the only thing that separates you from your dream coming through is the vessel inspection. Remember, there is a reason someone is selling their vessel, especially if it is cheaper than the others, so a thorough inspection is required to check if everything is alright. You should inspect the vessel even if the price is high because many cheaters will try to sell something broken. If you don’t have enough experience, feel free to take someone with you to your inspection, but if you’ve decided to go on your own, these are some guidelines to help you with it, so you know how to find the value and what to avoid.

Questions To Ask

Start your inspection by asking these questions:

  1. The age of the boat and its maintenance history. This part is easy, as it is basically the same as when buying a car. The boat should be regularly maintained, and the newer the boat is, the slimmer the chances are that there is something wrong with it.
  2. The boat’s mileage. This is also the same as with cars – fewer miles traveled means better engine condition.
  3. Learn whether the vessel has been in the saltwater, the way it was stored during the offseason or when out of the water, the last time it was used, and about any previous fixes and changes on it, no matter how major or minor they are. If there is something to be fixed at the moment of the purchase, ask about it.
  4. The next topic should be the boat’s origins. By its origin – or provenance, in marine terminology, it is meant to learn about the previous owners and the vessel locations. The best option will most likely be a boat with up to 2 previous owners. If there were multiple owners or the current owner can’t provide you with the previous owner’s names, it is better to avoid it. This most often means the vessel is in a poor condition, or worse, it has been stolen (we’ll get back to this a bit later).
  5. Transferring the warranty can be done in the case it hasn’t expired. For instance, if you buy a 3-year-old boat with a 5-year warranty, there should be an option to transfer it to yourself.

Make Sure The Boat Isn’t Stolen

Stolen boats are being sold all around the world, so it is not unusual to run into one of those. To avoid it, here are some steps to take to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Recommended Boat Broker

The bigger the boat, the better the chances are there will be a boat broker included. Most boat brokers will follow the codes of conduct, which means you won’t have to worry about the legal aspect. You should be careful, though, because most of the time they will try to get the best deal for the seller.


There are some documents you should as for when buying a vessel, and these are:

  • Previous Bills of Sale
  • Certificate of Registration
  • Original receipted VAT invoice (a good copy will also do)
  • Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) compliance

Hull Identification Number – HIN

This number is used as the vessel’s identification number and it usually contains a unique combination of fourteen letters and numbers. It can be found on the starboard side, just above the waterline on most boats.

You could use HIN to check out the stolen boat database. Learn where the registration number can be found in our guide.

Physical Inspection

After thorough questioning, it is time to go through the physical inspection.


The hull should be your starting point. Check it for any kind of cracks or damage, especially on the fiberglass hull, above and below the waterline. It is normal for the small cracks to appear, but anything larger than 2 inches is a red flag and points to bigger problems.

The Rest Of The Boat

Once you’re done with the hull, it is time to check the rest of the vessel. Look for any parts that look new, while also paying special attention to any signs of neglect. If you see the neglected area, there is a great chance it will not be the only one.

  • Check the generator and electronics
  • Check the seats, they should swivel nicely
  • Check if the hatches open properly
  • Check if there is water anywhere

The other red flags are the mildew existence and any rotten area. While the mildew is easy to see, the areas that started to rot can be identified by squeaky floorboards, loose seats, consoles… Focus on structural damage instead of the parts themselves.

Call For Assistance

Your local marine most likely offers a qualified marine surveyor assistance to investigate the vessel for yourself and give you his recommendation. Most often, these services are free of charge. There is also the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors.

The Final Test – Sea Trial

The last step recommended is taking your vessel out for a “test drive”, or better called “a sea trial”. This will also show you how honest the seller is because this way you’ll easily see how the vessel behaves on the water and its real condition and value.

  • The engine should work fine and not overheat
  • Make sure the speed changes well
  • Test the steering wheel
  • Check the electronics and other navigational instruments
  • Check the hull for any leaks

The Purchase

By now you most likely know everything about your wanted model, from its characteristics to price. Before you head back to finalize the deal, check the prices again, compare the condition of your vessel to another boat of the same price, ideally inspect a few of them.

This will give you leverage to, when you meet the seller, start to negotiate the price. Don’t worry, the owner most likely expect it since we’re talking about the used vessel. To avoid any misunderstandings, ask the seller whether the engine, radios, life jackets, and other parts of the safety equipment are included in the price, or they are sold separately.

The Deal Is Done, Now What?

Again, before you meet the seller to finalize the deal, contact both your and the seller’s water authority to learn how to transfer the legal ownership of the boat. Once you receive the boat’s title and all the other legal documents, you’ll be sure the boat wasn’t stolen, and the deal will be complete.

Boat Registration

Right after the purchase, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles or Department of Natural Resources, to register the boat to your name. Even if the previous owner had it registered, you’ll have to re-register it.

Check The Boat Requirements

Coast Guard has different requirements for the different boat sizes:

Globo Surf Overview

Now that you know what to look for when buying a used boat, you’ll not only buy the best vessel for you, but you’ll also have a lot of fun along the way. Now all you have to do is to launch it and enjoy your time on it until the time comes to repeat the process. And, of course, to name it, if you don’t like the current one – here’s how to do it!

More Sail Reviews:

Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!