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Do I Need a Sea Trial?

The easy answer to the often asked question ‘Do I need a sea trial?” is yes. You wouldn’t even buy a bicycle without first giving it a ride, so buying something like a boat requires a thorough test drive. A sea trial test is your way to get a feel for the boat and to find out more about the way it manoeuvres and discover any issues that might arise. While it will be exciting and fun, it’s important to remember that a sea trial isn’t a pleasure cruise, and it’s best to leave the kids and extended family at home so you can be focused on the job at hand. Here we take a thorough look at everything you need to know about boat sea trials. 


What is a Sea Trial?


A sea trial is essentially a test drive of a boat. It gives a prospective buyer the chance to see the boat in action, to try out all the equipment and instruments, to get a feel for the boats’ manoeuvrability, and usually to take along a surveyor. In fact a sea trial is often conducted on the same day as a marine survey for that reason, and the surveyor will include the sea trial as part of their report. Having said that, you don’t have to take along a marine surveyor for a sea trial and there is a lot you can inspect yourself. 


Do I Need a Sea Trial for New Boats or Just Used Boats?


Sea trials are important for both new and used boats, as it’s the only chance you’ll get to feel the boat in the water and how it moves and runs. However, a sea trial for a new boat is a much simpler process as a warranty would cover anything that might go wrong down the line. You won’t be looking for mechanical issues and simply getting a feel for the layout, instruments and ride. A sea trial on a used boat is going to be a much more thorough affair and help you discover any issues that there might be. 


How Much Does a Sea Trial Cost?


A sea trial on a used boat is usually conducted as part of a marine survey and therefore the price will be incorporated into the overall inspection and report. A seller wouldn’t normally charge a prospective buyer for a sea trial, even if a surveyor isn’t taken along, as this is a part of the sales process. 


Sea Trial Checklist


While it’s common to take along an experienced marine surveyor on a sea trial, it’s good to have your own checklist of things to test or try out as driver and passenger. Be prepared and make a list of everything you want to check and take it along with you. The following points are relevant for new and used boats, as even a new boat will have its quirks. 


  • On the water, try out the role of both driver and passenger to get a true feel for the boat. As a driver you’ll want to try out the instruments, see the visibility you have from the captain’s chair, and note your forward vision both at slower speeds but also when planing. 

  • Look at the engine trim. If you’re planning on using your boat for watersports then you’ll need enough horsepower to tow them so give it full throttle and see what it can do. 

  • The boat being sea trialed will likely only have a few people on board. If you’re planning on having lots of people aboard in the future then take into account the power of the engines. If they’re sluggish with a light load then they won’t perform any better with more weight. 

  • Test how the boat carves through the water at 30mph. It should ideally move smoothly and without a loss of power as you crank hard over to each side. 

  • Try and find some rougher water, or cross several wakes from other boats, to see how the boat handles. You’re looking for a smooth ride that doesn’t jolt your passengers. 

  • Listen for any rattles or vibrations and report them to the marine surveyor. While they will be performing their own series of checks, it’s your purchase and so you should mention anything that concerns you.

  • Switch on all of the electronics, navigational equipment, light switches, accessories, windlass, stabilizer system, batteries, generator and bilge pump to ensure they all work correctly. 

  • If you’re conducting a sea trial on a sailboat then you’ll want to also hoist all the sails and get a feel for how the boat moves without the engine running. Check the condition of all the sails as these are expensive items to replace. 


Who Drives During a Sea Trial?


Providing you have the necessary certifications for your country then it’s important that you ask the seller to allow you to drive the boat. You won’t be able to get a good feel for it if you don’t take control of the helm and do your own trials. 


Having said that, you’ll also want to act as passenger for some of the time too and perform a different series of checks. How roomy are the decks? How many people could you comfortably get on board? How comfortable are the cushions and seating areas? If there’s a galley then how well equipped is it? If there are cabins how comfortable are the beds and what is the storage like? Speaking of storage, make sure to open every cupboard and locker and see what’s inside and how much space you may have. If you’ll be using your boat for overnight trips or longer, you’ll need plenty of storage space. 


How Long Does a Sea Trial Last?


This isn’t a pleasure cruise, so be respectful of the broker or owner’s time and fuel and keep it to around an hour maximum. Your marine surveyor may need more or less time depending on the type of the boat and the size of it, but your checks should be easily completed in this time frame. 


Check Safety Equipment First


Check to make sure that there are basic boat safety equipment items aboard before setting off on the sea trial (or on any boat for that matter). Ask the broker or owner to show you where the fire extinguishers and life jackets are, and make sure there is enough fuel on board and the radio works. 


Enjoy the Experience


While the main objective of a sea trial is to check all of a boat’s systems and how it runs, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. Buying a boat is a big undertaking, but it’s also a wonderful step towards a new lifestyle. Imagine how you would use the boat and enjoy it, how you would spend days on the water with family and friends, fishing, swimming, watersports or even sailing around the world. 


Are you ready to embark on a new adventure and buy a boat? Rightboat.com offers hundreds of new and used boats in all corners of the world and can connect you with the best brokers in the business as well as motivated private sellers. We offer a huge library of how-to guides and advice on buying a boat, so check out our blog for more helpful information. 

Written By: Rightboat

The Rightboat team

More from: Rightboat

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