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Boat Inspection Checklist: Buying a Used Boat

Once you’ve narrowed down your search list for your long-awaited used boat, it’s time to get serious and that begins with a thorough visual boat inspection. Viewing a boat is the first step in the buying process and will give you that all-important first impression of the condition of the boat. We highly recommend getting a complete marine survey done on any boat you’re considering buying, as experienced surveyors will know exactly which problems to look for and where to find them.

But before you get to the stage of paying for a marine survey, or buying a used boat, use our checklist and make a thorough visual inspection yourself.


Pre-Inspection Checklist

  • Ask to see servicing and maintenance records. Knowing a boat has had regular servicing and maintenance is a very good first start and shows the boat has been taken care of and any significant issues not ignored. Ideally, it will have been serviced annually. 

  • Find out how the boat has been used. You can find out a lot with this question that will help you get a good insight into how well it has been looked after, how well it has been maintained, where it has been used (saltwater versus freshwater), where it was stored, any damage that might have occurred and so forth. Use it as a conversation opener and ask questions. 

  • Ask about any damage. While minor damage which has been repaired or is not visible might not be declared, it is still worth asking as may raise previous issues which you can mention later to a marine surveyor.

  • Know what is included in the price. Make sure you ask the seller or broker to list exactly what is included in the price. This may include safety gear, electronics, fishing equipment, and so on. You’ll then want to ensure that the equipment is in good working order otherwise you might be paying over the odds for smoke-and-mirrors equipment that you could buy yourself for less cost. 


Visual Boat Inspection Checklist

1. Exterior

Start with a visual inspection of the exterior of the boat and get a feel not only for its condition but its space and layout. Remember you want a sound boat, but you also want the right boat for you, your family, and your specific needs.

Things to look for include:

  • Check for damage or repairs. While cleanliness isn’t necessarily a sign of the poor condition, it can raise flags as to how well cared for a boat is. Check for cracks in the fiberglass, signs of repairs to the bodywork, scratches, or discoloured areas where damage may have been repaired. If the boat is out of the water (which it should be at some point when viewed or inspected), check for bubbles in the fiberglass from osmosis (these are difficult and costly to fix), and that there are no gouges or scraping on the bottom of the hull or keel which could become problematic down the line. 

  • Inspect the transom, decks, bilge, and fuel tank. The transom is where an outboard engine would usually be mounted. You want to be looking for any signs of waterlogged wood which signals a major problem. While this is a less common problem in modern boats, older wooden boats are particularly susceptible to rot. Likewise, check the decks for signs of warping or rotting. You’ll also want to check the bilge area for any signs of oil leaking from the engine, and the fuel tank for signs of corrosion.  

  • Ensure the stringers are well-connected. Stringers should be well connected to the hull, otherwise, the vessel is doomed. While it isn’t always easy to see them, and you may need to venture into the bilge with a torch, it is a must. Any separation or damage should be treated with extreme wariness. 

  • Rigging. On a sailing yacht, you’ll want to check the rigging and sails as these are expensive items to replace. On a regular cruising yacht, these will need to be changed approximately every 10 years, so ask when they were last changed so you have an idea of how much life they still have in them. 


2. Engine and Electrics

The engine is the most important part of any boat, and you’ll want a professional to give it a thorough going-over before committing to a purchase.

Things to look out for include:

  • Check the oil. Ensure the oil doesn’t have a milky residue as this could signal water ingress. You can do this by pulling out the dipstick. 

  • Look for rust. Rust around the engine might indicate that the boat has been significantly submerged in water for a long period of time, and that is something to be wary of. 

  • Inspect the hoses, belts, and electrical connections. Have a close look at the hoses, belts, and electrical connections such as spark plugs to make sure they’re not cracked or worn. 

  • Check the propeller. Cracks in a propeller can be fixed, so aren’t always a red flag, but if you notice cracks or repairs be sure to ask about them. 

  • Listen. Listen to the sound of the engine as it’s turned on and whilst it’s running. You can do this during a sea trial, which is highly recommended, but also on the dock. You want to be listening out for excessive noise or vibrations, or unusual or rough sounds. Remember, boats don’t have odometers like cars do, so it’s not always easy to know how many hours a boat’s engine has done. 

  • Inspect the electrics. Rewiring is an expensive job on a boat, so spend time looking at as much of the electrical systems as you can. Start by switching on and off every single electrical item on board, before looking at the fuse box. A mixture of fuses might imply replacement, which in a newer vessel should raise some questions. Look at the wiring itself and get an idea of the condition. 


3. Interior

The interior of a boat can give you a good idea of how well cared for a boat has been, as well as highlight issues with the hull itself.

Things to check for include:

  • Mould and mildew. Your first sign of interior mould and mildew is a strong, musty smell. Do a visual inspection too, looking for signs of rot on the floors or seating areas. Any warping is also a red flag. 

  • Leaks. Leaks in the hull may have been repaired and well hidden, so may not be instantly visible. A good idea is to spray a hose at the hull, hatches, port holes, and seams and see if any moisture makes its way into the interior cabins. 

  • Check the doors, hatches, and windshield. As part of your visual boat inspection of the interior be sure to open and close doors, portholes, and hatches to make sure they are watertight. The windshield should be secure with no cracks. 

  • Get a feel for the boat. As with the exterior, get familiar with the layout, style, and even the décor. You may want to put your own stamp on the boat and design your own dazzling boat interior, but if not then consider the cost, if the soft furnishings are not up to scratch.


Get a Pre-Purchase Survey

As mentioned, we highly recommend getting a pre-purchase boat survey by a licensed and experienced marine surveyor. They will be able to provide you with the information to make a truly informed decision. You might want to run for the hills, or it might reassure you. You can always use the survey to negotiate the best price for a boat

Rightboat.com lists thousands of used boats all over the world and is the best place to search for the perfect boat for you. We are here to help you every step of the way and have a huge resource centre filled with useful articles on buying a used or new boat. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our sellers, brokers, or the Rightboat.com team for more guidance. 


You May Also Like ...

1. Boat Transport: A Guide to Getting Your Boat from A to B

2. How to Get into Sailing: A Beginner’s Guide?

3. Top Tips for Night Sailing

4. A Buyer’s Guide to Fishing Boats

5. 13 Great Sailing Apps to Download Today


Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

More from: Samantha Wilson

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