Used Boat Buyers Checklist

In the market for a used sailboat?

This article provides you with all the information you need including a checklist to help ensure you make a wise and safe purchase.

There are many different parts of the checklist you need to asses before paying for your boat. These are considered best practices and will ensure you don't end up being scammed or buying a terrible used boat.

Some of the guide will including boating terms. If you're confused about the meaning of anything, you can look at our nautical terminology for help.

Either way, once you find the right used sailboat, it can be very exciting times. I know how that feels as I've been there before.

Boats are like an extension to your family. And obviously, you want to make sure everything is above board (pun intended) when making such a large cash outlay.

We'll provide you with a simple, free downloadable checklist to follow along with and also provide information on available services to have a boat surveyed by a professional.

Obviously, having it surveyed isn't for everyone but still worth mentioning for those that want an extra peace of mind. (although you should spend the money to have it surveyed by a professional especially if this is your first used boat purchase)

However, keep in mind that this checklist isn't a substitute for a professional surveyor and it's always best to get professional help when making a larger purchase.

Right, let's dig into it. You can see what's going to be covered in the bullet points below.  The free downloadable checklist is also below.


  • Buying A Used Sailboat [Video Guide]
  • Boat Engine Checks
  • Electrical Checks
  • Exterior Checks
  • Interior Checks
  • Safety Equipment Checks
  • Download FREE USED Boat Buyers Checklist PDF
  • How To Choose A Sailboat
  • How Much Does A Used Sailboat Cost
  • How To Buy A Used Boat From A Private Seller
  • How To Hire Professional Boat Surveyor

Buying A Used Boat (Checklist)

We'll divide the checklist up into different parts. These are very important and you will want to make sure a used boat passes each step of the checklist.

You don't want to end up with some nasty surprises down the line so do your due diligence and be extremely detailed in your analysis.

The checklist will be divided up into:

  • Engine
  • Electrical
  • Exterior
  • Interior
  • Safety Equipment Check
  • General Cosmetic Conditions
  • Legal Documents & Owners Manual

We'll dig into each below but you should also take a look at this video as it is a very helpful guide on what to look out for.



BOAT ENGINE

used sailboat checklist

Image courtesy of sailingtoday.co.uk

This is a very important step. You don't want to find any nasty surprises.

Have a good look at the engine compartment. Obviously engines make noise. You'll want to make sure that the insulation is really good so the noise is kept to a minimum.

You'll also want to make sure it's operational with no damage to the parts (you'll be able to assess this by taking it for a test sail)

It's best to check the engine compartment AFTER you take it out for a test sail as this will help show if there are any problems.

Doing it after a test sail means anything you would've missed by not having it started will rear it's ugly head. (in most cases, but not all)

This is crucial as everything can seem fine before starting the motor but once it's been up and running for some time, you'll get an idea of how the engine is running.

Also, while the engine is running, you can get an idea as to how good the insulation is (for noise control)

One final thing to note is to make sure there aren't any vibrations onboard once you have the motor started and that the throttle is responding to your commands.

Any issues here could be a big red flag so really take some time to analyze this in detail.

To summarize on the engine checks you should:

  • Make sure there are no leaks
  • Ensure there is proper insulation
  • Make sure the transmission is working fine
  • There isn't any smoke
  • No Unusual Noises
  • No Fuel Issues
  • Take It for a test sail to make sure everything is fine.

That is a quick summary of some of the engine checks mentioned above. It's so very important an engine is in working order.

It can be one of the most expenive parts of a boat

ELECTRICAL CHECKS

used sailboat electronics

Image courtesy of maineyacht.com

Check the owners manual (you should be given one) or you can download one for your boat specifications online. Go through all the electronics on the boat to make sure they're in full working order.

Things like plugs, lights, air con, showers (navigational equipment (GPS etc.) need to be in full working order. A simple test of all the electronics to ensure there aren't any underlying issues is very important.

Every boat has unique electronic devices and integrated devices onboard and it's important to go through them all.

You should also check the electrical system box (like image above) of the boat to ensure the wires aren't fried or in poor condition.

Doing this will save you big headaches or nasty surprises down the line. Another option is to check the spec sheet brochure from the advertisement of the boat and go through all the electronic items individually.

It can take some time but it's better to be safe than sorry.

EXTERIOR CHECKS

I could say this is an important step but to be quite honest, they're all very important to ensure your used boat is in working order.

So what should you look out for?

Well, right as you arrive, you want to check the overall condition of the exterior of the boat. Look for cracks and scratches throughout the exterior.

If it's a steel boat, this can be a simple fix. However, if it's a polyester boat, you'll want to look around for small cracks around fittings as these can be harder to fix.

Spots of rust is another big thing to look out for. This might be an indication of bigger problems with the boat.

TEAK DECK

You want to have a look at the general condition of the teak. Here's a beautiful teak deck.

checklist for buying a boat

Image courtesy of pbo.co.uk

Now, a used boat won't look like that but you'll want to make sure the condition is up to standard. Look for cracks or holes as this can indicate it needs to be repaired and can be quite expensive to do so.

Small amounts of wear is normal but cracks/holes in a teak deck will obviously be a red flag. Another major issue is a spongy deck.

This can end up being a large hole so you'll want to make sure there isn't a spongy feeling.

HULL OF THE BOAT

If you're inspecting a boat without a surveyor, it's very important the boat is lifted from the water. You want to check the hull for any damage. There might be nasty surprises under the waterline.

The hull can be hiding some really bad damage so it's something you should insist on with the current owner.

If they aren't willing to lift the boat out of the water, simply move onto the next sailboat or just hire a surveyor.

Is there Osmosis? Check for bubbles in the hull. This can mean there is osmosis and that is a very expensive repair job.

Here's an example of what this would look like on a hull.

used boat buyers guide

image courtest of Pbo.co.uk

Are the zinc anodes in good shape? You'll want to examine the zinc anodes on the hull to make sure they are in good condition.

These small things can add up to very big problems so it's a necessary step in the exterior checks.Here's a look at a zinc anode that is in terrible condition.

zinc anode hull

Image courtesy of europeanmarinesurveys

CHECK THE RUDDER

Give the rudder a good shake to check if the bearings are in working order. (now obviously you don't want to violently shake the rudder and damage it yourself) but use enough force to check for any issues.

Just watch the video above. That is a simple yet effective rudder test. Also check for damage like erosion.

The rudder is obviously a very big part of any boat so making sure it's in working order is important.

HOIST AND FURL THE JIB

When you take the boat for a test sail, you'll want to hoist and furl the jib. You can see how it is operating, if there is any damage, tears, scratches, etc.

Another important part of the checklist to consider.

CHECK THE HELM STATION

helm station checklist

You'll want to make sure the helm station is functioning properly. See how the boat steers, how the steering wheel (helm) condition is and other basic checks (cosmetics, visible damage, cracks, scratches etc.)

They might seem like small things but you want to make sure there isn't any major problems. (a simple "steering column" can set you back $300 - $1000)

UPHOLSTERY CONDITION

This can be a quick look to see how the upholstery is looking. Are there any stains, rips, damage, cracks etc. Replacing upholstery is very expensive.

Take a look at the image below. If you go to view a used sailboat and the upholstery looks like that, RUN, don't walk.

boat upholstery

If they can keep their upholstery in that condition, there's more than likely more important items on the boat being kept in poor condition.

USED BOAT INTERIOR CHECKS

used sailboat interior

Once inside the boat, you'll want to get a general impression of the interior.  Here are some questions to ask yourself about the inside:

  • Is the lockers, wooden trim etc in good condition?
  • Is there any noticeable damage to the interior doors?
  • How is the water from the sink?
  • How do the lightswitches work/look?

CHECK THE PLUMBING ONBOARD

Turn on the tap in the sink and let it run for some time. If the water changes color or there is a bad odor, there might be plumbing issues.

You'll also be able so see if the sink is blocked. If there's a toilet onboard, go and flush the toilet to see if there's an issues there too.

Finally, turn on the shower (if there is one) and look at the water. Is it hot when you set it to hot? What is the pressure like ?

Asking yourself this will show if there's any issues with thew overall plumbing in the sailboat.

HOW IS THE REFRIGERATOR/FREEZER ON THE BOAT?

You'll want to check the fridge to see how the cooling is. You'll also want to check to see is there any odor, mold or water leaks?

Replacing a fridge/freezer is expensive on a used boat.

CHECK THE BILGE PUMPS

bilge pump on used sailboat

You'll want to have a look and ensure the bilge pumps are in working order. (Look athe video above 1:56 to see how to do this)

CHECK THE KEEL BOLTS

Check and ensure the keel bolts aren't eroding or full of rust/cracks. This can be a sign of bigger problems. You can simply ask the current boat owner where this is on the boat and have a look yourself.

SAFETY EQUIPMENT ON BOAT CHECK

Check to make sure fire extinguishers and other safety equipment are in working order or haven't been used.

Obviously, you don't want to start spraying a fire extinguisher but you can always check to see has it been used.

Here's a breakdown of the safety systems that should be on your boat:

safety equipment on a boat

Image courtesy of mas.tas.gov.au

When it comes to safety, there shouldn't be an expense spared. Make sure the list of items above are all in check and full working order.

This is very very important because it can be the difference between life and death.

BOAT OWNERS MANUAL/LEGAL DOCUMENTS

used boat buyers checklist

Print out the boat owner manual and bring it with you when checking the used boat you want to buy. If the seller doesn't have this, you can simply google the make and model and look for the owners manual.

This will give you the exact specifications of that particular boat. Then you'll be able to see what specs are missing/damaged easier as the specifications are specific to your unique boat.

When buying a boat as a private person, it's also important to know whether the Value Add Tax (VAT) has been paid on the boat.

(This is mainly required in a number of European countries) but make sure you don't have to pay it in your own country.

If you are in a region with Vat, ask the seller for proof of payment. Ideally, you can ask for the last bill of sale or a copy of it.

Buying A Used Boat Checklist PDF

used boat buyers checklist

Here's a look at one of the pages on the PDF so you've an idea what you're getting.

You can download a simple checklist and bring it with you when viewing the used boat. Please keep in mind that this isn't an all inclusive checklist and that there are many other things to consider.

However. this checklist should guide you in the right direction. You can go through each item and simply rank it between 1 - 10.

If you find lots of fails, then it might not be worth buying that particular used boat as you'll incur lots of additional costs in repairing it.

Simply enter your email above and you'll get access to it straight away. We'll also send you some other useful tips over the coming days on steps to take when owning your first boat.

OTHER RELATED QUESTIONS

What should I Look For In A Used Sailboat? This is one of the most common questions we get asked. The list above should be your main focus. They are not, however, the only things to check out Ideally, the more details you inspect, the better.

And there is nothing wrong with checking every single inch of the boat. These details outlined above are by far some of the most important things to look out for in a used sailboat.

HOW DO YOU INSPECT A SAILBOAT?

So how do you inspect a sailboat? Follow the checklist above and watch the buying a used boat tips video. That way you'll be on the right path with what to look out for in an inspection.

Ideally, you should hire a professional surveyor to do the work for you. It will probably be the best money you spend as they will spot things that you might not.

And you don't have to spend a lot of money on hiring these either. Typically, you'll spend on average $20 a foot for a surveyor.

A boat of around 30 feet will usually cost you $600, this is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.

While this could add up to $1 -$2k (on bigger boats) it will save you a big headache when forking out larger amounts of cash and ensure you don't get scammed or buy a very poor used sailboat.

HOW DO I CHOOSE A SAILBOAT

choosing a used sailboat

There are thousands of used sailboats and all things boating available online. One major thing to consider is the boats location (as it can be very expensive to have the boat towed or to get it to your nearest marina etc.)

Choosing a sailboat for you is like finding the right car. Well, it was for me. There are a number of factors you'll want to consider.

  • Price Of The Sailboat
  • The Condition (follow the checklist above to assess it's condition)
  • The Size
  • The Year

These are the four main things to keep in mind when choosing the right sailboat for you. There are many different variations of boats around the world so it's best to buy a smaller one if it's your first boat.

Start out small and work up (only if you're a beginner) You'll still obviously need a boat that can fit your family/friends so don't go too small if you want to fit more than 2 people onboard.

Most used sailboats can be found with a quick google search. Also, as I repeat over and over again, you should hire a professional surveyor when purchasing your first used boat.

This is similar to bringing a mechanic along when you're buying a car.


HOW MUCH DOES A USED SAILBOAT COST?


Another popular question is how much does a used sailboat cost? A used sailboat costs anywhere from as little as $2,500 to expensive ones over $1 million.

These prices obviously vary from boat to boat and the condition of the used boat as well as size.

Owning your own sailboat doesn't have to be a super expensive thing either. Gone are the days of having to fork out huge amounts of cash to become a boat owner.

Here's an example of what you can get for under $5000

how much does a used sailboat cost


HOW TO BUY A USED BOAT FROM A PRIVATE SELLER

There are tons of websites selling used sailboats all over the world. You can simply google search for used sailboat + your location and see whats on offer.

Then reach out to the advertiser as you would if you were buying a car and arrange to view it. You'll obviously need to bring the checklist above with you and be prepared for a thorough inspection.

If a private seller isn't comfortable letting you inspect it fully and taking the boat out of the water to look at the hull etc. then you are better off without the sailboat.

You'll also want to take the boat for a spin (some sellers hate this) but it's important you insist on this to make sure everything is in working order.

Like I said, it's much better to be safe than sorry. If a private seller can't do a simple task like that, then it's not worth it.

Also, don't waste their time. If a used boat is in the water, please be serious about buying it. Inspect the boat while it's on the water.

If it passes that test, then ask to have it taken out of the water to look at the hull, rudder etc. Another major thing to ask from a private seller is the bill of sale or documentation that shows purchase.

This is really important as you want to make sure there is no outstanding financing/money owed on the boat.

HOW TO HIRE A PROFESSIONAL BOAT SURVEYOR

If you want to hire a boat surveyor, there are different ways to do so. You can simply do the following:

  • Google search for boat surveyors in your area
  • Contact Your Local Marina
  • Ask A Boat Broker to provide one (if buying through a broker)

These are three simple ways to hire a boat surveyor today. Most local marinas will have information on the local boat surveyors.

It is recommended that when you hire a professional, you go along with them. That way you'll have peace of mind knowing the work they did is good.

(Most good surveyors will offer you come along)

CONCLUSION

As mentioned, buying a used sailboat can be exciting and like adding an extension to your family. But you'll want to make sure you are buying a quality used boat.

Failure to do so can result in being scammed, losing your money and buying a damaged boat that cost's thousands to fix.

Follow the checklist mentioned above and also watch the video again to refresh yourself on what to look out for if you plan on checking it out alone.

Honestly, I think the best bet (especially if you are new and this is your first sailboat) is to hire a professional surveyor.

No one will know the ins and outs of a boat better than a surveyor and it's much better to lose $600 - $2 k hiring them to thoroughly go through it then spending thousands on a boat to realize it's a complete disaster.

However, if you still prefer to do it along, download the checklist above (if you haven't already) and use it as a general guide.

This is not a professional checklist and there may be other things to check out on a boat by boat basis so please keep this in mind too.

Finally, I wish you the best of luck in buying your used sailboat and hope you have main happy and sailing experiences in your boat.

If you'd like, you can email us with images and pictures/experiences as we'd love to share them here on the site.

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