Buying a Used Power Boat

If you are using the winter to search for a new-to-you power boat, I have some advice to share as a fellow boater which I hope may help you have a better experience. I can’t tell you what boat is right for you but I can offer a few important tips and recommendations you may want to consider before submitting your offer to purchase.

Who’s kidding – buying a boat can be scary as hell, especially when it’s your first time but even again when it’s your second! All that hard earned money going towards something that’s only going to be used 5 or 6 months of the year and for most of us, only on weekends 😫 But once that boating bug bites, it’s in your system and it becomes impossible to think of anything else! But that’s not to say there aren’t a few challenges along the way.

Our first trip with our first boat was a nightmare!

A Carver Santego, 40’ LOA, 20 years old with just 600 hours, she had twin 454 Crusader gas engines, Kohler generator, surveyed reasonably well, sea trial was good and we had just completed our power squadron boating classes so were excited to get behind the helm. Our maiden voyage was Sarnia to our home port in Penetang and there was no “smooth sailing” for us!

We were on Lake Huron, half way between Kincardine and Tobermory, when suddenly the port engine went crazy. The RPM gauge shot up as the engine revved hard and we had no clue what had happened. We hadn’t hit or were dragging anything, the temperature gauges were all good, a visual inspection of the engine compartment showed no smoke or other indicator of the issue. So we shut down that engine and continued into Tobermory where the local marine mechanic came out to have a look, only to tell us our port shaft had snapped in half – yup, it does happen – and luckily for us, it didn’t slide out the bottom of the boat leaving a gaping hole and sinking us – rather the rudder caught and held it. And so we ended up spending 5 nights on the boat on dry dock at Little Tub harbor during a very cold rainy May waiting for the new shaft and repairs to be done.

After that experience, we always carried a very large carrot-shaped plug on board should the other shaft break…LOL

Out of the Blue at South Benjamin Harbour

So be prepared – sh*t can happen anytime during boating. And for us, after that initial bad experience, we went on to keep that boat for 12 glorious years. She took us all over Georgian Bay and the North channel effortlessly and we sold her 2 years ago for more than we paid. So although you must always plan for set backs, don’t get discouraged!

Once you have decided on the particular type and size of vessel, your search begins. And you will find in the boating world, not too many of the same boats are alike. Meaning that an internet search for a particular brand, model and year of boat will give you a list of boats that visually look similar but outfitting may be drastically different between them. Be careful with this as different options – such as gas engine vs diesel – can mean a totally different ride and handling experience. Also fresh water vs salt water boats can make a big difference to your future maintenance costs. These are the areas where you definitely want to do your homework!

Some prefer to ask a broker to find them a boat but my experience has been that if you are comfortable doing your own search, you will tend to get more from the broker who has listed the vessel if they don’t have to share commissions. They will be more motivated to move the sale process along and trust me, for the most part they want that boat sold and out of their marina! And for the buyer, one point of contact is much easier to arrange follow up visits, manage contract changes if needed, and get the deal closed.

Be sure to retain and start discussions with a good surveyor early on in the process as they have a lot of knowledge and can save you $$$$ big time! Captain Barry Goodyear, owner of Ra Kon Marine Surveyors and Appraisers, has been surveying vessels for over 40 years and adds this important advice: “With pre-purchase surveys, your offer to purchase should stipulate that it is subject to a satisfactory out of water marine survey to purchaser and to acquire insurance. In your offer, allow enough time for the survey to be completed. You may also want your offer to purchase to be subject to a satisfactory mechanical inspection on the engines, generators, sterndrives etc. This will make you aware of any problems there are with the boat before you finalize the deal.”

Ra Kon and a few others also offer Captain and yacht delivery services, both national and international, so if you have purchased a boat that needs transporting to your home port and don’t have the time nor inclination to do it on your own, they offer the full package. And remember – many insurance companies will not insure without a survey so be sure to involve your insurance broker once you have narrowed down your vessel selection.

John Patterson – boat broker and owner of St Clair Boat Sales in Port Lambton, Ontario – also has these critical tips to add: “It’s important when purchasing a vessel over the winter time to have a holdback for the water test in the spring. Typically, we suggest 10% of the purchase price. The funds are held in trust. The purpose of the funds can cover the mechanical and electrical components that may need repaired when the vessel is put in the water for the first time after winter storage. Another recommendation is to make sure the boat does not have any loans or liens against it before you pay the seller. If a loan or lien is on the boat, have the seller provide a statement of payout prior to closing.”

One of John’s current listings – a beautiful fresh water 2018 Regal 330 Express

My final tip for contract conditions – if the vessel is located far from your home port and you are planning to captain her home, it may be a good idea to also include a request for a few days free dockage in your offer, including water and power. That way you will not have to leave should the weather turn bad and this also gives you some time to learn about the boat while you prepare for the journey ahead. Plus it’s free – you need something thrown in after spending all your hard earned bucks! But remember, if you get that good weather window, it’s always best to head for home cause those days are far and few between. And I would highly suggest before departure that captain and crew run through a few safety drills so everyone knows their role should an emergency occur.

Once your offer is accepted, be sure to take thorough pics of the boat, including all important equipment as I’ve seen items “disappear” from brokerage boats or owners simply forget what was in the listing and unintentionally remove an item that should be yours.

And whenever possible, have a chat with the mechanic who has been servicing the vessel so you are clear on when impellers and oil were last changed and get up to date on other maintenance needs.

The Toronto International Boat Show presented an online Boat Buying Basics seminar which is still accessible and worth watching – a few industry experts offer great advice and details for first time boat buyers. But above all else, always remember – that vision you have of sitting on the bow of your new-to-you boat enjoying a cocktail on Georgian Bay can be a reality! The process will go smoothly if you are careful, ask lots of questions, and ensure you take the time to do your research.

At anchor in Massasauga Park

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