What to look out for when buying a used boat

The search is over - you’ve spent ages seeking the perfect boat and you’ve finally found it! However, before you get overexcited, make sure to think logically and complete a thorough check of the craft’s condition.


Ensure you have all of the key factors noted down before you head to the marina. This will guarantee you don’t miss any important checks. These investigations if done well, can save you plenty of time and money in the future - so why would you not want to do them?


There are hands-off options when it comes to the investigation stage. For larger, more expensive boats, we’d recommend getting a professional survey. This will aid you in spotting any defects or problems. Having an experienced eye take a look at the vessel will also help you to get insurance.


If you’re taking a look yourself, there are a number of problem areas to bear in mind. Many of these issues can be easily fixed, however you must take into account how much these fixes will cost you when negotiated a reasonable price. 


The first checks

Initially, you want to circle the boat checking the hull for any damage, including knocks, colour deterioration in the gel coat and dents in the rubbing strake. Discolouration is an important thing to look out for as this could be hiding previous problems that have been patched up. 


A key problem to look out for are blisters. These can suggest osmosis which can take a lot of time and money to fix. These can be harmless, caused by aeration rather than anything too damaging. However, if it is osmosis, it can be a huge expense. It usually occurs in older crafts, as it is caused by water bleeding through the gel coat over time. The water then reacts with the uncured chemicals in the laminate. This leads to blisters and compromises the structure. It is especially important you look for this in boats that have spent time in warmer climates or on fresh water, as this can speed up the process. 


In terms of scrapes or knocks, these can easily be fixed with some DIY repairs. However, keep an eye out for more substantial damage as this can weaken the structure and potentially make the craft unsafe. Big areas of damage require further investigation and if the hull and deck superstructure are separated, this is impossible to fix.  


Look below


When entering the boat, ensure it doesn’t feel damp or musty. These can be signs that water could be getting in. It is then important to look for leaks. Leaks can be spotted by warped floorboards, blackened woodwork or stained cushions. Venture to the head to establish if there are any bad odours. This can be a sign of leaking hoses or trapped seaweed/algae. 




Dodgy electrics are the biggest cause of boat fires. As many boat owners enjoy adapting circuits and installing new gadgets to their boats, all electric connections should be checked thoroughly. All of the tech on a boat can cause systems to overload or electrical connections to come loose. This can corrode the metals through electrolysis. It is vital to ensure all of these connections are safe and working effectively as a professional rewire is likely to be a very expensive job. 


The engine


In advance of visiting the boat, ensure you have informed the seller that you will want to see full service records. This gives them time to collate all of the necessary documents. These records will give you a run through of everything you need to know, but is most important for when inspecting the engine. You’ll be able to see that state of the machine and how well it has been maintained. We also recommend giving it a thorough inspection yourself to check it’s not rusting heavily and looks in good working order. Check the dipstick for a milky looking oil as this will tell you whether any water has got in. Also check the hoses to ensure they’re not cracked or worn. Belts shouldn’t be cracked and electrical connections shouldn’t be corroded or hardened.




If the boat comes with a trailer, this will need to be thoroughly inspected. When they are launched into saltwater it can cause joints to seize and metal to corrode quickly. To check the suitability of the trailer, bang any rusty areas with a hammer. This should produce a metallic clanging sound. You should then test the bearings by holding the wheel on either side and rocking it - any movements will require checking out. Ensure that the coupling bolts are tightened and the brakes aren’t seizing. It’s important brakes are in top condition, test this by nudging the trailer back and forwards or tapping the drum with a hammer to loosen them. Check the cables and winch mechanism are in good condition. It is important you take all trailer checks very seriously: if it doesn’t fit the boat correctly or provide well-spread support, it could not be road legal. 




RIBs can often look in bad condition however most issues are easily fixable. New tubes can leave a RIB looking good as new! A full refit will include hull repairs, rewiring, and fitting new consoles. 


The first thing to look at is the tubes. Check for previous repairs and ensure that these have been applied effectively. Shoddy handiwork will just mean you have to repair the damage in the future. Look out for white spots showing through the colour. This can highlight that the tube is coming to the end of its life. Retubing a 6m RIB can cost up to £5000 so take this into consideration when negotiating a price. 


A terminal issue to be aware of is a ‘broken back’. This is a serious problem and is shown by long cracks across the beam. If these fractures are small and star shape there is no need to worry, however longitudinal splits along the chine can be serious. 


RIBs often come equipped with 10 year warranties. This is something to enquire when buying a boat within this age range as it could carry over to your ownership. 


View all Boatshop24 RIBs for sale here.


Sailing boats


Due to the sheer volume of parts needed for a working sail boat, it is imperative you conduct a thorough investigation when looking to buy. More parts can mean more potential problems. Key areas to check are the standing, running rigging and electrics. These are common areas of neglect so are more likely to have issues. 


It is important to look at this potential purchase with a calculator in hand. Below par condition sailing boats can be extremely costly to get back up to a high standard. A single stainless steel bottle screw could dent your wallet by £35-£75, while new rigging could be a few thousand pounds of work. Insurers suggest rigging should be replaced every 10 years, find out when this was last done as if it is not completed on time, it can void your insurance. You must be realistic with the renovation costs as you don’t want to be spending more on fixing it that it would cost to buy new. 


You can carry out a quick rigging check yourself by looking for broken strands, especially near the swages and ensure the stays are straight. We recommend checking these aspects closely with the mast down. Check the mast foot for movement or corrosion as it holds the weight of the rig. The mast itself must be inspected for cracks or fittings problems. The gooseneck, shackles and U-bolts should be looked at for signs of wear. 


Headsail furlers must be kept in good condition as these can be a very expensive thing to replace, costing between £2000 and £4000. Furlers must be regularly cleaned with fresh water and maintained. 


Ideally, you would take the boat out on a test sail to ensure it is in full working order. This way you can open all of the sails to check their condition. You can then test all other aspects of the boat including the anchor and fenders to ensure quality. 


View all sailing boats for sale here.


Getting the professionals in


Still feeling enthusiastic about your purchase? It’s time to get the professionals in. A surveyor will conduct a thorough check everything is in good working order and that you haven’t missed anything. A professional report is a good way to negotiate a better price as they give you confirmation of any damage or repairs needed so you can offset these against the asking price. 


It is imperative you complete all of these checks, not simply for your peace of mind but also for insurance purposes and a better idea of cost. It may seem time consuming, but any checks you do now will pay dividends in the future. You don’t want to buy a boat to then notice it falling apart on your first adventure. 

Abbie Rogers
Boatshop24 Marketing Team
Published on 2019-07-23