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Buying a boat: 10 problems with used boats


When buying used goods, the following applies: Less money, but higher risk than buying new. This is especially true for motorized vehicles such as cars, motorcycles and of course boats, the latter being particularly affected because there are many hidden compartments and complex systems and an often endless list of accessories. Most of it is absolutely necessary for operation, but much remains invisible or difficult to access. And this is exactly where the hammer hangs: The invisible can often cause serious problems if it has not been regularly maintained or renewed.

It’s just one of the many good reasons for a thorough inspection before signing a sales contract. This job is usually done by sworn appraisers, but if the size and price of the boat are out of proportion to the costs of a professional service provider, the buyer has to do it himself. Buying a used boat wants to be a thoughtful thing, not a science. That’s why we’re going to show you the 10 most important problems to look for when purchasing a motorboat that will be offered on the used boat market.


The machine must be at the top of the list, because buying a boat with a defective drive unit is a recipe for disaster. First act: pull out the dipstick and check whether the lubricant is OK. If the color is milky, this is a sign of water in the oil. Second step: check the spark plugs to make sure they are not sooty. Start the engine and listen for a smooth operating noise. A clever trick: show up for the test drive 15 minutes before the agreed time so that the owner does not warm up the engine beforehand and without your knowledge. If you are not very familiar with engines, bring a friend who has a clue, or better yet, a trusted boat mechanic.


There are few jobs that are more strenuous than replacing the cabling of a boat, which runs almost exclusively below deck and leads into the darkest hiding places. Take the time and effort to turn on each electrically operated device and light on board first one at a time and then all at once. Don’t forget to take a look at the fuse box. If you discover a lot of fuses from different manufacturers, this is a sign that some things had to be replaced. This is perfectly legitimate, but ask which problems led to the change of fuse and whether these were also resolved. Also get an idea of ​​the general condition of the wiring. Are the cable runs straight? Is everything properly labeled? Are the plug connections tight? Are the strands secured with cable ties? Have the plug-in connections been neatly welded into heat-shrink tubing to prevent corrosion from moisture? If so, this is a good sign. However, when faced with a rat nest from a tangle of cables, it becomes difficult to locate and solve electrical problems.


If there is only one pump working on board, it should be the bilge pump. So flip the switch and hear whether the thing is running, although that does not guarantee that the float switch is OK. Ask the owner for access to the bilge and, if necessary, help manually to see whether the pump activates itself in an emergency. Then you should of course also have a look at the pumps for the toilet, wash basin, on-board shower (s) and bait tanks, etc.

Moist foam core

Even if you can’t see it, it’s pretty easy to tell if the foam core of the hull or top laminate is soaked with water. Ask the owner to remove heavy equipment from the ship if possible and make sure that the boat is floating on the waterline with the bow slightly raised and without heeling to one side or the other when unladen. The Lenzer should be well above the water level. in other words: does the vehicle float as the designer intended? If not, ask yourself why. If you have a moisture meter with you, all the better. Use a rubber mallet to tap areas of the laminate where you suspect moisture is in the foam core, such as the foam core. B. around jumps in the gelcoat, near deck fittings, around stanchions, in the cabin companionway area or around windows and hatches. Listen to the sound, which is different in “wetlands” than when the laminate is intact and dry.


In reality, this is no longer such a tragic problem since the use of untreated wood has practically disappeared from modern series boat construction. You can find rotten wood, but mostly only on very old ships. Usually a rotten balsa core shows up with many larger cracks on the edges of the stern (smaller ones can be harmless), which indicate structural problems. On deck, a spongy feeling when stepping on is a sure sign of a rotten core.


Stringers are the backbone of the boat, which means that if they break or have detached themselves from the hull, big problems are inevitable. To test this, one often has to squeeze through hatches and crawl into the musty bilge, but the subject is too important to be neglected. Do what you can to get an accurate picture of the condition of the stringers with a powerful headlamp or flashlight. Any visible damage here is serious business.

Water in the cabin

It is easier to identify leaks in the cabin area than defective stringers, which are usually noticeable by watermarks, unless the seller has cleaned it properly. to make sure everything is tight, close windows and hatches and hold on from the outside with a high pressure water hose. Then go below deck and check with your finger or a dry paper towel in the area of ​​the seals whether water has smuggled inside.

Hull-deck connection

As important as the seam between hull and deck is, it is difficult to check because it is difficult or impossible to see. The easiest way to draw conclusions about existing or imminent difficulties is through irregularities on the rub rail. Pay particular attention to any bent or warped rub strips, which indicate that a collision may have occurred at the point that damaged the connection. Alternatively, you could go to work with the water hose, as with hatches and windows, and spray the entire rubbing strip with great pressure and then look for leaks on the inside and take a look into the bilge, where water that has entered collects when the hull Deck connection is compromised somewhere.

Leakage in the transmission

Transmission problems are quite difficult to detect with outboards or sterndrives because they are usually caused by water ingress caused by a damaged seal or hairline cracks in the housing. The only way to check for leaks is to start the boat and check afterwards if the oil is milky or not, and if the seller agrees, loosen the drain plug half a turn and leave a little oil on your fingers drip to visually inspect it. You could also offer the seller to change the gear oil himself so that he or she does not incur any costs.

The rest

There are so many parts and particles on a boat that it is almost impossible to check each one individually before you sign the sales contract. For this reason, the test drive is the be all and end all because you never know what you will learn about the object of purchase when it drives. Maybe the controls have a little more slack than you’d like. It is also possible that the throttle is a little harder than it should. So the most important piece of advice at the end: Never sign a contract or even transfer money before you have had the opportunity to take a test drive. If this ritual seems too complicated to you, there is only one effective way out: buy a new boat with a guarantee.

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