Buyers beware of Katrina, Rita boats

The one-two punch of Katrina and Rita claimed upwards of 50,000 boats, many of which have been totaled by the insurance companies. Once a boat is totaled, the insurance company then has a salvage company pick up the boat, and it is frequently sold for parts. If this were an automobile instead of a boat, the title of the car would be stamped “flood-damaged,” and it could not be sold without disclosing this to the purchaser.

But since boats are registered with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, they are not titled. There is no documentation that will tell you if a boat was flood-damaged. It is up to you to thoroughly investigate any used boat you may be considering for purchase to determine if it was flood-damaged.

I have been monitoring several salvage companies’ web sites, and it appears that many of these hurricane-damaged boats are being sold at auction to anyone and everyone who wishes to bid on them.

I am afraid that this is an opening for con artists and others to try to take advantage of the unsuspecting boater. It would be very simple to purchase several of these damaged boats, clean them up with a pressure washer, make some minor repairs and then sell them.

Of course the sale would be made “as is” and payable in cash. By the time the proud new owner realizes he has been taken advantage of, it will be too late.

Until recently, most boat manufacturers used wood reinforcing in the construction of their boats. Wood has been the lightest yet strongest method of reinforcement available at a reasonable cost. Boat manufacturers used wood to build stringers, floors and transoms.

In an attempt to protect the wood that is used, the boat builder will usually seal everything in fiberglass, but no matter how they try they cannot completely seal everything.

When floors are installed, they are secured to the stringers with nails or staples, which penetrate the fiberglass protection over the stringer. When seats, ice chest, battery boxes and other accessories are added to a boat, they too are secured with screws or other fasteners that penetrate the fiberglass seal on the floor or other surface of the boat.

If a boat sinks, water invades everywhere throughout the boat. The longer the boat stays submerged, the more time water has to invade the wood. Once the water gets in, it begins a process of rotting the wood. This process will not reverse itself after the boat is salvaged and cleaned. It will continue to slowly rot away until the boat is no longer safe to use.

Water will also attack the boat’s wiring, controls, control cables, steering, instrumentation and all other accessories. Many of these items may seem to be unaffected at first, but with time they will eventually begin to fail.

There is an old adage that says, “A boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into.” The hurricane-damaged boats, especially ones that were sunk, will definitely reveal the truth of that saying.

There are several precautions you can take to avoid becoming a victim of a flood-damaged boat. If you know and trust the seller, you may take his word that the boat was stored in an area that was not affected by flood waters.

If you do not know the seller, then it is up to you to make a thorough inspection of the boat before purchasing. Start by closely inspecting all compartments and hatches in the boat.

You should pay special attention to any areas that are below floor level. Areas below floor level are very difficult to thoroughly clean. Beware if you see tell tale signs of mud, sand or silt in this area; it could be an indication that the boat was flooded.

Look closely for any indication of a water-line stain in the boat. This could be up under the gunwale, in the back on the transom, or maybe in a rod box or similar compartment.

Inspect all electrical wires and connections, paying particular attention to the positive wires. When a boat goes under water, almost all of the positive wires will develop a green corrosion around the terminals and ends of the wires. Many times the terminal will actually completely corrode off the wire.

Another tip is to check the year model of the boat and motor. Most rigs are purchased as a package, which means that the boat and motor are of the same year model. If you are looking at boat that has a motor that is several years different from the boat, this might be cause for concern. At the very least, you should investigate why they are so different.

Probably one of the best ways to assure that you are getting a good boat would be to hire an expert to check the boat for you. Most boat dealers and repair shops offer this service, or you might hire a marine surveyor.

One last caution: Before purchasing any used boat, make sure the owner has the title for the trailer and the DWF registration card for the boat. If he claims that the documents were lost in the flood, tell him to get duplicate copies from the state before you purchase the boat.

If you have any problems with your boat, motor, or trailer you can e-mail me at: I will try to help you iron out those troubles.