Let the used-boat buyer beware

Having trouble putting bass in the boat? Try this new technique, and you won’t for very long.

In some parts of the country, the boating season doesn’t begin until the ice melts off and the lakes become liquid again.

Here in South Louisiana, we are not limited by such conditions as frozen lakes, but our boating season doesn’t seem to get into full swing until after several events have occurred.

In January, the New Orleans Boat Show was held in the convention center. In February the greatest free show on earth, Mardi Gras was celebrated, and most recently in March, many of you attended the Louisiana Sportsmen’s Show.

Each year, many potential boat owners attend the New Orleans Boat Show and/or The Louisiana Sportsmen’s Show in the hopes of finding a special buy on a new rig, but sometimes a new boat is just not possible.

Provided you investigate and shop smart, the next best thing may be a pre-owned boat. Just remember that the current owner is not going to tell you about all the flaws that your prospective new boat has, but rest assured, he will give you glowing tales of how wonderful this boat has been.

It is up to you to investigate this boat and discover as much information as possible to help you make the decision to buy or not buy.

Before you look at the first boat, you should sit down and decide what type of boating you will be doing. Do you want a fishing boat, a cruiser or maybe a ski boat? Will you be an inland boater, or is the deep blue sea your destination of choice? How many passengers are you likely to have on an average boating trip?

All of these questions will help you to zero in on the boat that will best suit your needs and desires.

Once you have chosen a specific type of boat, you are ready to begin looking. I always like to start with the most obvious — the cosmetic appearance of the boat. Simply put, if it looks like a pile of garbage, it probably is a pile of garbage. Boats that have suffered severe cases of piling rash, the color of the boat is faded, and there are several deep scratches and gouges in the hull have usually been neglected mechanically as well.

If the owner has pride in his boat, he will take great care of that boat both cosmetically and mechanically, and it shows.

There are some simple mechanical checks that should be performed in order to evaluate the condition of the engine.

The first and most important thing to check is engine compression. This test will evaluate the internal condition of the engine. A compression reading that does not come up to manufacturer specifications could indicate the need for major powerhead repairs.

While you have the spark plugs removed, check the ignition system for spark. Be careful not to get shocked while you are doing this.

Once you have verified compression and spark, then check the condition of the lower unit oil. Open the drain screw at the bottom of the lower unit, and take a small sample of the oil. You are checking to see that there is no water or metal contamination in the oil. Either condition could be an indicator of an expensive repair problem.

If possible, hook up the garden hose and motor flusher, and have the owner start the engine. You want to listen very carefully for any abnormal noises from the engine. If you hear anything that does not seem normal, then you may want to consult with a professional before going any further.

Once you have checked the engine, turn your attention to the boat. Aside from the engine, the structural integrity of the boat is the next biggest money pit you could fall into. Get inside the boat, and walk all around the floor. You are looking for any sign of weakness.

Walk heavily; don’t tiptoe. Use your body weight to test the integrity of the floor.

If you find any weak spots, areas that feel like you are walking on a soft cushion or spring, then that floor will probably have to be replaced.

Check the boat transom for weakness. One of the easiest tell tale signs you can look for is the old trick of placing a reinforcing plate, usually aluminum, between the engine and the transom. This is usually done because the transom is beginning to get weak.

Also look in the areas of the engine mounting bolts. If you see stains or streaks going down from these bolts, they were not properly sealed and water has gotten into the transom and caused damage.

I like to tilt the engine about half way up and then try pushing down on the lower unit. If the transom is sound, then there will be little or no movement. If, however, the transom is weak, you will see the top of the transom flex when you push down on the lower unit.

The third, and perhaps most important, part of your prospective new boat is the trailer. This is a little harder, but the best thing to do is get on your back and crawl under the trailer for a complete inspection. You are looking for such tell-tale signs as rusted or flattened springs, cracks in the frame and the condition of the bunk boards and rollers.

Check the lights to verify that they work. Inspect the tires for signs of dry rot or other possible damage. If possible, jack up the trailer one side at a time and feel the wheels for slack in the bearings, and spin the wheel to be sure the bearings are smooth.

Once you have thoroughly checked the rig, it is time to take a shakedown cruise. This is not the time to load up the family and friends to go for a boat ride. The test ride is the most important part of any decision to purchase. If the boat does not perform properly on the water, you will want to know why and how much it will cost to correct that deficiency.

A test ride should not be a simple spin around the block. Plan to spend enough time on the water that you can test high-speed and low-speed operation. Check out acceleration, shifting and maneuvering. Check the steering, and monitor all of the instruments on the dashboard. Now is also a good time to verify that all the boat accessories such as navigation lights, bilge pump and livewell pumps are operational.

If you see anything you are not sure of, you may want to consult a professional before making your final decision. The current owner may make certain promises regarding the condition of the boat. You will want to get those things in writing.

Remember there is no such thing as a gentlemen’s agreement or handshake when it comes to buying a used boat.

If you have any questions or problems with your boat, you can drop me an e-mail at hanktheboatdr@yahoo.com. Have a great summer, and be safe on the water.

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