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Buying a Second Hand Boat

In our opinion, boating is the greatest hobby there is! There is nothing better than loading the boat with food, drink, family, and friends and heading out for a day on the water. The memories you make will last a lifetime.

To make sure those memories are ones you want to remember, let’s go back to the start and take a look at the things you can do when buying your boat to ensure you start out on the right foot.

Our Story

The first step to buying a boat is figuring out what sort of boat you want, how many people does it need to hold and what features should it have to ensure you are comfortable?

The first boat we owned was a 17.5-foot Bayliner. It was an impulse buy, but it got us out on the water and we loved it… for a while. After a few outings, we started to realise what features we really needed in a boat to ensure our family of 4 with two young daughters (6yrs and 3yrs) were comfortable.

Fast forward 6 months, we were having a nice breakfast at a restaurant in a marina and perused the windows of a boat broker before leaving. In the window was a 27.5 foot Sea Ray Sundancer which is a great entry level sports cruiser with all of the creature comforts we were looking for. A bed for the kids to relax (with a TV), toilet, shower, plenty of shade and even a fridge to keep the drinks cold.

Fast forward another couple of months and we were the proud owners of a 27.5-foot Sea Ray Sundancer!

This boat was amazing! Everything we could have ever wanted in a boat at that stage of our lives but after 2 outings, it broke down, and we were towed back to the marina with our tails between our legs facing costly repairs.

Let’s take a look at what we have learned from our boating experiences and share with you some wisdom before you buy your boat!


Here are just a few things to consider before taking the leap and buying your new boat:

- What features do you think you will need to be comfortable on your boat? - How much money do you have available to spend? - Will you buy a trailer boat or store it in a marina? - Do you have room to park a boat and trailer at home? - How much weight can your current car tow? - How much will a marina berth cost in your area? - How much will it cost to register your boat? - How much will it cost to insure your boat? - How much will annual servicing cost? - What are the ongoing costs of owning a boat? - What checks should you do before buying a new boat?


People buy and use boats for many different reasons. For us, it was to get out on the water, pull up to a beach that no car could get to, and make memories that would last a lifetime. The question is, what do you need on-board to make that happen in the most comfortable way?

For us, we wanted a toilet, shade from the sun, a shower to wash the kids off after a long day of swimming, somewhere for the kids to rest on the way home and a fridge to keep the drinks cold.

Not everyone wants or needs the same things, so consider what you need in a boat. This will help you refine your search and eliminate those boats that may not be suitable for you and your situation.

If you have no idea what you want, try hiring a boat for a day or going out with some friends who have a boat. Spending a day out on the water will help you get a feel for what is important to you.

How much money do you have available to spend?

This is by far the most important. Your budget may prevent you from being able to have some of the features you want so make sure you prioritise your list and aim for a boat that provides you with the ones that are most important to you.

Another option to consider is whether you will be paying for the boat outright or taking out a loan / finance. If you are looking at a loan or finance, do plenty of research and understand your borrowing capacity and monthly repayments to ensure it is all feasible and won't introduce any financial hardship.

When pondering your budget, there are several factors to consider other than the purchase price of the boat.

A lot of these were mentioned earlier however let’s expand on these points:

1. Will your boat be on a trailer or in a marina?

If you are considering a trailer boat and you have enough space at home to store it, then you will be saving a fairly significant chunk of the ongoing costs associated with boat ownership.

If you don't have space at home for your trailer boat, look into the costs associated for dry storage at a marina or at a boat storage facility.

Dry storage at a marina can be a very convenient way to go boating. Simply call the facility a few hours before you arrive and they will get your boat into the water ready for your arrival. Once the day is done, simply return to the dock and step off. The staff will lift your boat out, flush the engine, rinse it off and put it back on the rack ready for your next outing.

A wet berth at a marina is also a great way to go boating as you can simply walk on, turn the key and go. With that said, annual maintenance costs will increase and marine growth on your hull and running gear (propeller etc) will need to be managed.

Another consideration with a wet berth is the potential for electrolysis and / or galvanic corrosion below the waterline as well as your boat being exposed to the elements 24/7. Continual preventative maintenance is key to ensuring an enjoyable day out on the water.

Result of galvanic corrosion on sterndrives

2. How much weight can your current car tow?

The towing capacity of your car is a major factor if you are considering a trailer boat. Be sure to confirm your towing capacity and what conditions are associated with that rating i.e. the requirements for trailer brakes etc.

Your safety and the safety of your family is of the upmost importance! A quick google of “boat ramp fails” will help you understand why this is such a critical consideration and should not be overlooked.

What NOT to do!

3. How much will a marina berth cost in your area?

Many marinas today have the option of either dry storing or wet berthing your boat. Generally, dry storing is more expensive annually by a few thousand dollars compared to a wet berth however there are pros and cons to each option.

For our 27.5 foot Sea Ray, we pay approximately $5,000 annually for a 10-metre wet berth compared to $6,000 - $8,000 annually for dry storage.

Let's look at the pros and cons of each:

Dry Storage PROS - Generally undercover and out of the elements. - Reduced maintenance i.e. polishing, waxing, anodes, antifoul - Reduced wear and tear on items such as covers, seating, carpets, clears etc.

CONS - Generally more expensive than a wet berth. - Must call in advance to get your boat ready (especially on busy days such as public holidays and long weekends). - Unsure if your boat has been rinsed and engine flushed after each outing.

Typical dry storage facility

Wet Berth PROS - Easily accessible to you at all times. - More cost-effective than dry storage. - You know you have rinsed your boat and flushed your engine after each outing. - Shore power available for battery charging.

CONS - Exposed to the elements 24/7. - Increased maintenance above and below the waterline i.e. polishing, waxing, anodes and antifoul.

4. How much will it cost to register your boat?

Boat registration costs will vary based on the size of your boat (much like a car). A smaller trailer boat (Honda Jazz) will be cheaper to register than a 40-foot yacht (a bus).

Our 17.5-foot Bayliner cost approximately $134 annually whilst our 27.5 foot Sea Ray cost approximately $347 annually.

5. How much will it cost to insure your boat?

Boat insurance will vary based on the size, age and intended use of the boat. A 40-foot boat heading out to sea or a catamaran cruising the world will cost considerably more to insure than a trailer boat.

Our 17.5-foot Bayliner cost approximately $366 annually whilst our 27.5- foot Sea Ray cost approximately $1,083 annually.

6. How much will annual servicing cost?

Service fees will differ significantly based on the type and size of boat as well as how it is stored. The most obvious requirement is the engine service. All boats will need their engine serviced annually (at a minimum).

An oil change, new oil filter, new fuel filter, drive lubricant change and engine diagnostics are all part of a standard annual service. Servicing will vary based on the boats age. For example, certain items may need to be replaced after 2 or 3 years inline with manufacturers recommendations which will take place during the annual service.

Boats wet berthed at a marina will need more attention than their dry stored or trailered counterparts. Additional items undertaken on an annual basis, other than the engine service are things such as antifouling to the hull and running gear, replacement of sacrificial anodes and a visual inspection below the water line to ensure electrolysis or galvanic corrosion have not been wreaking havoc since the last service.

Larger boats that are not on a trailer will also need to be lifted out of the water and placed on the hard stand for the duration of the annual service.

Based on our 27.5-foot boat and a basic annual service with no surprises you could estimate the following costs:

- Haulout (lift out of the water + return on completion) $250. - Pressure wash the hull and running gear to remove marine growth $110. - Standard uncovered hardstand per day $65.

- Antifoul and anodes $1,000 - $1,500. - Engine service $1,000 - $2,000.

Approximate annual service total $2,500 - $4,500.

For wet berthed boats, the annual service is also a great time to have the hull polished and protected.

Annual service, Antifoul, Propspeed and Andodes
Annual service, Antifoul, Propspeed and Andodes

7. What are the ongoing costs of owning a boat?

Apart from the initial purchase cost of the boat, there are several ongoing costs to consider. A lot have already been mentioned however to recap, they are listed below:

- Fuel costs. - Marina / storage fees. - Trailer and / or Boat registration. - Trailer and / or Boat insurance. - General Maintenance i.e. washing, polishing, waxing etc. - Annual Maintenance i.e. engine servicing, antifouling, anodes, general systems check etc.

8. What checks should you do before buying a new boat?

Pre-purchase inspections by a marine surveyor and mechanic can be the difference between buying a “lemon” and a boat that you and your family can enjoy for years to come (with the proper maintenance of course). 1. Marine Surveyor A Marine Surveyor looks at several aspects of the boat and will provide a report that you may need to pass onto your insurer depending on the age of the boat you are buying. During the surveyors' non-invasive inspection, they will look at the following:

- The structure of the boat both above and below the waterline to look for stress cracks, moisture in the core and blisters in the hull below the waterline etc. - Switches, sockets and lighting throughout the boat to ensure they are all operational. - All electronics i.e. chart plotters and VHF radios etc to ensure they are operational. - Windows and doors to ensure they are all operational. - Safety gear to ensure it is in date and sufficient for the type of boat. - All other systems i.e. Batteries, water pumps, toilets, taps, carbon monoxide alarms and smoke alarms etc to ensure they are operational.

Whilst surveyors are as thorough as possible, they can only base their report on what they found on the day they look at the boat. For example, you won't know if a window or hatch leaks if it is not raining on the day.

The cost of this services will again vary greatly based on the size of the boat however based on our 27.5-foot boat, we paid $230 to lift the boat out of the water whilst the surveyor inspected the hull and $625 for the survey itself.

All up, the cost of the Survey was $855.

2. Marine Mechanic When a Marine Mechanic undertakes a pre-purchase inspection, they are looking at anything engine related. Whether it is the boat engine itself or a generator, their aim is to ensure that the engines are in good working order.

Both of our previous boats have been stern drive Mercruisers. One of the most critical components on these type of engines are the exhaust manifolds and risers. These have a combination of water and hot exhaust gas running through separate chambers while the engine is running.

The most common problem is that salt water is used to cool the engine. If the manifolds and risers are not properly maintained on a raw water cooled engine, the salt corrodes the cast iron manifolds and risers causing water to leak into the exhaust section. This water ultimately ends up inside parts of the engine it shouldn’t be in and can cause catastrophic engine failure known as “hydro lock”.

The mechanic may also check compression ratios and connect the engine to diagnostic software in order to diagnose any problems that may not be apparent upon visual inspection.

Ideally, your mechanic should accompany you on a sea trial of the boat to ensure the engine runs at the correct RPM, operating temperature and that there are no abnormal noises etc.

If you are investing in a reasonable size boat that will be wet berthed. We strongly recommend an inspection of the electrical system and a corrosion survey.

Exhaust manifold and riser on a Mercruiser Engine

9. What can I look at myself before buying a boat?

Whilst your own inspections should never substitute professional pre-purchase inspections, there are several items you can look at yourself to give you piece of mind. Let's look at some basics:

1. Engine Oil Check the oil level by removing the oil dipstick. The oil level should be within the marked ranges on the end of the dipstick. Whilst you have the dipstick out, look at the colour of the oil on the end of the dipstick. If the oil is milky like the colour of your morning cappuccino, there is water in the oil and this is an indication of a serious problem.

Milky oil sitting in a cylinder head
Milky oil sitting in a cylinder head

2. Drive Lubricant If you are looking at a trailer boat, view a sample of the drive lubricant from the bottom of the stern drive or outboard by loosening the lubricant retaining screw slightly. Good drive oil should generally be a deep blue colour (navy blue). If the lubricant is milky like the colour of your morning cappuccino, there is water in the lubricant and this is an indication of a problem.

how to change drive lube on a boat
Drive lubricant drain screw

3. Spark Plugs If you are able to take out a spark plug or two, this can give a good indication as to the condition of the engine. Check out this article to learn more

4. Temperature Engines use thermostats to regulate the temperature of the engine. thermostats are generally produced to keep an engine at a certain temperature. For example, the thermostat in our boat is a 71-degree thermostat, therefore, the engine temperature should not rise too far above this temperature.

Once you have seen the engine, do a quick google search for the ideal engine temperature so you know what to look for. This is simple for boats with a digital readout. For those with older gauges, the rule of thumb is that the temperature gauge should not go past the halfway mark. Keep an eye on engine temperatures when on your sea trial.

If the engine is getting hotter than it should then it indicates a blockage in the cooling passages throughout the engine or exhaust system.

5. Cleanliness Look at the overall cleanliness of the boat, bilges and the engine area. A clean boat is a good indication that the previous owner has looked after it. Signs of rust or corrosion on the engine and stainless rails, fixtures and fittings may mean that the boat hasn't been well maintained throughout its life.

6. Hull If the boat is on a trailer or out of the water, look at the hull and around the back of the boat (transom) to look for any impact damage or wearing of the hull due to the boat being beached at the local hangout spot each weekend. I’m not against beaching your boat and spending the day with friends however over time, it can take a toll on the hull so have a good look around.

Damage to boat hull due to excessive beaching
Damage to hull due to excessive beaching

7. Fixings Pay particular attention to fixtures and fittings attached to the deck and transom of a fibreglass boat. If there are signs of corrosion between the fitting and the boat, this may be due to a damp core as the screws holding the fittings are corroding.

damp boat transom core
Rust under a transom fitting may indicate a damp core

8. Battery Look for the date the battery was manufactured. A lead acid marine battery should be replaced every 3 – 4 years.

9. Trailer Don't forget to look over the trailer. It has to be registered and have a safety certificate provided by the seller. Make sure all lights work and that there is no significant rust on the frame, wheel hub or wheel rims.

Make sure the trailer rolls. Wheel bearings can often go un-greased for long periods which can cause the trailer wheels to lock up.

Rusted wheel hub and brake pads
Rusted wheel hub and brake pads. Very dangerous!

At the end of the day, don't feel bad about doing your own investigations. It is a big investment. If you aren't confident around boats, take a friend who may have more knowledge about boats or engines.

Should problems be identified, your best option is to get repair quotes and use those numbers during your negotiation with the seller. Keep in mind that you are buying a boat and there will ALWAYS be things to fix up however you shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s lack of maintenance.

If the seller doesn't agree to you looking over the boat in detail prior to handing over any money, it may be a warning sign to look for another boat.


Disclaimer: The information contained in these blogs is for general purposes only. Boat owners should do their own research and obtain professional advice specific to their requirements. Under no circumstances will Gold Coast Boat Detailing be liable for any damage.



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