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What to Look for During a Pre-Purchase Boat Inspection

What to look for During Inspection

There’s a lot to take into account when inspecting a boat for purchase. You need to make sure that the boat is not only mechanically sound and able to meet your performance expectations, but to make sure it is safe to use on the water, so you don’t place yourself or those you love in harm’s way by purchasing a sinking ship! This guide will help you learn to properly inspect a boat so that you can make an informed buying decision about whether a specific boat is the right choice for you.

General Visual Inspection

Before you look under the hood, so to speak, the first thing you want to do is to visually inspect the external areas of the boat. You’re looking for a variety of things when you do this, including the quality of care the boat owners have invested in the boat, as well as obvious signs of problems that will need to be addressed. These are a few of the things you’ll want to note when conducting a visual inspection of the boat:

  • Deck condition. You’re looking for things like cracks, holes, scratches, and discolorations in the fiberglass, signs of neglect in the wood, and problems with canvas or vinyl seating and accents on the boat.
  • Rigging. If you’re purchasing any sort of sailboat, it’s essential you check the rigging and sails, as they are costly items to replace and only have an expected shelf-life of about 10 years. With this in mind, you should not only inspect them visually, you should also ask when they were purchased so you have an idea of how soon you’ll need to replace them after buying the boat.
  • Condition of Electronics. Some electronics on a boat are absolutely essential. You want to make sure they’re in good repair and operating at maximum efficiency. 
  • Signs of leaks. While everyone is concerned about leaks below the waterline, those aren’t the only leaks you need to worry about. If the boat in question has an interior area, you’ll want to make sure there is no water coming into the living area from the top, either. This includes checking things like hatches, doors, windshields, and portholes. Essentially, anywhere that water could come in is an area that is important to check.
  • Mold and mildew. You may not even need to look for these signs of problems on a prospective boat. If you smell mold or mildew, it’s a concern that you want to address before making any buying decisions.


Of course, this is only the beginning. If you’re seriously considering buying a specific boat, you may want to hire someone to conduct an in-depth mechanical inspection so you’re not hit with any unpleasant surprises once the ink has dried on the bill of sale. 

Mechanical Inspection

It’s absolutely important to inspect the mechanical operations of the boat. If you have an engine that is failing, the costs of repairs can be extensive. Additionally, you should check that there are no holes in the exhaust that may blow gas or water into the boat’s interior or bilge. Also, check the engine oil for signs of discoloration, grit, water, or other indicators that there may be serious problems with the boat. Check the fuel lines for signs of condensation or debris and the propeller shafts to make sure there is sufficient support. Additionally, check the rudder to ensure there are no signs of loose hinges or other weaknesses that could impair your ability to steer the boat.

When you bring someone in to inspect the boat and its systems, don’t neglect key systems like wiring, plumbing, bilge systems, and the many gauges the boat has. You need them to all work in perfect operational order so you’ll know when there are problems with the boat.

Test the Boat in the Water

When buying a boat, the most important thing you can do is to make sure your boat is sound and watertight. You should never purchase a boat that hasn’t been in the water for a long period of time or one that you haven’t personally taken into the water. You need to know that the boat floats and doesn’t take on water when in use. Taking the boat out should be expected by boat owners hoping to sell the boat, especially if you’re offering to spring for fuel for the outing. If the owner is unwilling to put the boat in water or allow you to see the boat in action, it’s a red flag and it’s likely time to walk away from the deal.

Safety Equipment Inspection

One of the final things you want to inspect on the boat is perhaps the most important. You need to know, without any doubt in your mind, that all on-board safety equipment is in proper working order so that it can be put to immediate use if it is ever needed. You don’t want to risk your life or the lives of your passengers by having safety equipment that is missing, broken, or nearly impossible to access in critical moments. 

Conclusion: Owning a boat is a great gift you can give yourself, as long as you make every effort to ensure that your boat is safe, sound, and operational. However, you don’t want to end up with a watercraft that ends up being more of a money pit than anything else. Follow this guide to ensure your pre-purchase boat inspection identifies all the things you need to know. Take a look at the listings we have on Boatline to get started!


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