How to Buy an old Boat

10 Reasons to buy a used boat

How to buy/sell a used boat

Save Money on Accessories

Taking Photos of your Boat

Making an Offer to Purchase

Buying/selling a used boat is easier than you think

You can save thousands by buying a boat someone else used to love

It’s hardly a boast to say the Great Lakes offer some of the best and most extensive cruising locations in the world. Add to the fact that millions of North Americans live within an hour of a destination, it is no wonder many boaters spend their summers exploring the marvellous coastlines of the Great Lakes.

Buying an old boat

The boat I wanted to buy was a cruiser. Something my mate and I could take away on vacation but also something I could sail single handed. We wanted it to be big enough that me, (a 6 footer) could stand in the main cabin but something small enough to take an outboard motor. I also made a list of features and accessories I wanted on the boat. It's cheaper to buy everything used than it is to buy a bare boat and have to equip it at retail.

I put a jib furling device on the top of the list. I remember not having one on my previous boat and the difficulties I had when single-handing. Next was the outboard. I want to take the motor to the mechanic not have to have a mechanic come to my boat. Also the smell and safety concerns with inboards about everything bilge fans to more through-hulls that can sink your ship.

After you have a list of the features you need, find the boat make and model that most closely fits your specs. Research is really the key to finding the right boat for you.

The Internet is a great resource, keeping in mind that not everything on the Internet is true, so check your sources carefully. Owners groups are also a great source of information but keep in mind they've already bought their boat and may need to justify their purchase.

The best time to buy a boat is in late autumn. It will be out of the water, so you can see the hull and the owner has probably paid for winter storage and spring launch and you can include that in your offer to purchase.

Since you will have the entire winter to prepare, you can take a boating course and get all the required licenses. In Canada, you will have to transfer the boat ownership with the Canadian government and get a Pleasure Craft Operators card.

If your boat came without some of the gear you want, the winter is a great time to buy. I'll tell you later about a few tricks for saving oodles of money when buying things for your boat.

Before inspecting a boat, ask the owner if they have a recent marine survey. A marine survey is a document prepared by a professional surveyor that lists all the major equipment on the vessel and the overall condition of the boat. If the boat does not comply with safety regulations and any work that is required. It also provides an evaluation of the approximate resale value of the vessel. Be aware that no one will actually pay that price.

f there is no survey or it is very old, consider having a professional survey done. They seem expensive but can save you thousands of dollars and untold grief.

Having a recent marine survey that is less than five years old will mean you most likely won't have to pay for a survey for insurance purposes saving you additional 500 or more dollars.

Beg, buy, borrow or rent a moisture meter and learn how to use it. Moisture meters will read the amount of moisture that remains in the hull and deck. This may indicate some problems the boat may have.

Learn to recognize what osmosis is. Osmosis is when moisture gets trapped in the core of the boat. It is the fibreglass equivalent of wood rot.

Don't fall in love with a boat. I've done it and it almost cost me $5,000. I saw the boat I wanted. It was in great shape with new sails, a redone cabin and it sat on a tandem trailer. They wanted $14,000 but I offered all the money I'd put aside for a boat because it was just so beautiful.  Then I realized that most marinas near me don't store trailers, they want folding steel cradles because of space limitations. The offer was still on the table when I saw another boat with a cradle that I could have for $5,000 less than I had offered for the other and it came with winter storage and launch already paid.

If after carefully looking over the boat and having it surveyed consider this: It is a buyer's market. You can get a lot of boat for a little money and if you have cash, offer to buy it for cash. I actually once put $8,000 in a suitcase to buy a boat. Recently the price dropped from $8,500 to $5200 when I offered cash. "It's my money and I want it now!" seems to be the call. This time the buyer took a certified cheque instead of cash in a suitcase.

There are yacht  brokers as well as private sellers. In Canada you will pay HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) if you buy from a broker. Brokers are knowledgeable, but you do tend to spend more money.

Buying a boat directly from an owner can be a risky business. They may know the boat is about to fall apart or the engine is about to blow and they don't have to tell you. A good marine surveyor can save you a lot of money if you choose to buy directly from an owner.

Are you joining a club or going to a marina? Clubs require joining fees, annual membership fees and often minimum charges from the dining room or bar. Many marinas don't have much more that washrooms showers, pumpouts, gas and a crane, so they are often cheaper than a club. Ask around.

So follow these steps:

Write down a list of features your boat must have

In a separate list, write down things you would like it to have in order of importance

Start researching boats. Ask everybody, check the internet and hang around marinas and boat clubs

Are you planning on joining a club or using a marina?

Set a maximum you will spend

Make up a budget

Choose certain makes and models you like

Start looking for a boat

Keep looking

Looks some more

When you find a boat, be prepared to negotiate



Negotiating with a broker is a simple business matter. Negotiating directly with an owner is more difficult. I call it the ' ugly baby conundrum'. Imagine going up to a parent with a baby in a shopping mall and saying "Your baby is ugly". When negotiating directly with an owner you must avoid saying negative things about his/her baby, the boat. Negotiations have ended abruptly and good deals and boats lost because of what is said.

Put any serious offer in the form of an Offer to Purchase (OTP). I have enclosed a sample. The offer to purchase should list the name and number of the boat, the serial number, and a full list of what comes with the boat (often called an inventory). If the owner doesn't have an inventory, make one up with the items you want left on the boat. Don't just say you want “everything", be specific. This is very important, even if there are items you don't want and I'll explain why later.

If you are attempting to ' low ball' with a cash offer be very careful. Send the Offer to Purchase with a note that goes like this:

“Hi Joe, thank you for showing me Brilliantine. She is a great boat and you must be very sorry that you must sell her.  Attached is an Offer to Purchase. Before you open it please keep in mind that the offer represents what I can afford to spend at this time. I am offering cash because I feel that it might spend better than offering a down payment with the balance due at launch. Please tell me what you think."

If they don't like your offer, they can come back with a counter-offer. You can counter again by offering to take parts of the inventory off the table (now you see why a complete inventory is important) or some other arrangement. If you are within several hundred dollars of a deal offer to split the difference.

If you are doing this electronically, be careful to have only one copy of the OTP. I once made a copy when I shortened the closing date and almost lost the cheaper boat I really wanted because I sent the wrong older copy and the offer was still open on the more expensive boat. A week or so should be enough time for the vendor to decide.

Here is how my deal went down. The boat was advertised on Craigslist for $8500. I met the owner and viewed the boat. It was a little rough (and she knew it) but it really was a diamond and it had all my ' must haves' and many of my ' would likes'.

She had a 4 year old survey that showed that there was nothing serious wrong with the boat (at least nothing wrong 4 years ago). That was important because I could get it insured without a new survey.

I had a friend come with his moisture meter and we checked the through hulls, the through decks and the cockpit. No serious moisture problems. My friend had been buying and selling boats for years and saw nothing that would warrant a new survey.

She had a partial survey but I noticed she had things on the boat that weren't on the inventory so I made my own inventory for the OTP that included those items and more. It came with a brand new propane stove as well as an electric stove I didn't want, and other items that I later sold on craigslist. That saved me another couple of hundred dollars by having an inventory that included items I could sell later.

I offered $5200 cash. $5200 is more than $5000, but a whole lot less than $6000. I was willing to go higher but I wanted to see the counter-offer. There was none . She wanted the cash. That was the deal maker because she'd bought another boat and she wanted the money now. $5,200 now spends a lot better than $2600 now and $2600 later.

Also it was a private sale so I thought I saved almost $700 in HST, but almost a year after the government caught up with me and I made several payments to pay off the balance.

The deal came with winter storage fees and launch fees paid in full. The club even gave me a card to get into the boatyard to spring clean and let me keep it there free for a week after launch.


This is the opinion of the author at the time of writing and the information included may not be valid in your situation or location. The author cannot be held responsible for any losses incurred by following advice in this book. If you are unsure, always hire a reputable marine surveyor.