Inspecting the Hull and Interior : Buying a Boat on a Budget Part V

What do I need to inspect when buying a used boat

In prior parts we had talked about finding the boat, determining the size, speaking with the owner, the trailer and questions about the motor

Inspecting The Boat

In past chapters we had hashed out some basic pricing agreements and reviewed the condition over the phone but now its time to inspect the boat in person.  

The Hull

The seller had sent you a bunch of pictures before you came out. Now go over the pictures you have on your phone and start checking the hull. Crawl under the boat and check for major gouges like I told you to look out for. Do a careful walk around and check the front especially the keel that s where there is a lot of rash from running up on the beach.

If everything is good then carefully do a walk around and look for any damages. There will be scratches and dock rashes as they call it especially on and older boat for this price range. That is ok as long as it’s not busted through and the fiber glass is damaged underneath. There will also be spider cracks in the gel coat that is also ok. This is caused from sun damage and flexing in the boat and hull impacts.

That is superficial and cosmetic and won’t cause the boat to take on water or sink. We are not concerned with that .Again you are worried about areas that have had a hard impact and busted through the gel coat and cracked and damaged  the fiber glass underneath and went through to the inside of the boat. That’s a deal breaker especially if he did not disclose it.

Interior Check

Next check the seats we already got pictures of the seats but we want to feel the vinyl and do a close check for cracks. If the vinyl is stiff and dirty it is going to need to be recovered. You may be able to clean it and condition it with a good vinyl conditioner depending on the how bad it is.

Check the backing on the seats , the frame move it back and forth if it moves excessively then the wood is more than likely rotten and the you  are going to not only need new vinyl but all new frames for the seats. If you do not know how to do this, you can get into $2500.00 or more very quickly even on a small 17 foot boat.

By the time you recover the back seats and the mid section seats and the front seats and the bow area if you have an open bow boat. It is going to be very expensive. If this is the case point it out to the seller and if he won’t come way down on the price then pack up and go if you are unable to recover the seats yourself.   

Instruments and Engine

Check the instruments and make sure they are not cloudy or sun damaged or rusted if they are rusted inside then water got into the instruments and they are toast. If you do not know how to do electrical this could be into the thousands with new gauges and wiring .

Go in the back and pull up the dog house for the engine some dog houses you can pick up and move out of the way some have pins on the hinges you can pull out and remove the dog house. And some you have to have a Philips screw driver to remove the hinges I would recommend removing the dog house for and engine inspection so you can lay down and really check under the engine for leaks and any cracks in the exhaust manifolds or the side of the engine blocks sometimes I have seen cracks that people have repaired with JB weld.

The best case is when you see JB weld repairs on any of the engine components then back out of the deal. Not worth taking the chance of having to put in a new engine down the road or right away. Like I said before, this is when you check for oil puddles under the engine in the bilge area. Or a thick film of oil.

Inspecting the boat engines

If you find no cracks on the engine block or manifolds then pull the dip stick for the oil if you see any milk shake then you are done. Water is getting into the engine crank case and its time for a new engine the boat is not worth a new engine. While we are on the oil check the color if it’s fairly clean then this owner has taken very good care of it.

If it is pitch black and darker than coal then he has not maintained the boat very well.  This could cause some problems down the road depending on how the engine performs during the lake test will tell a lot. Most of the times if you buy the boat and start changing the oil and filters right away on a regular schedule the dark oil will eventually disappear after the engine gets cleaned out with fresh oil and filters.  But let’s not worry about that right now.

Checking The Drive

If everything passes inspection up to this point we are now going to check out the drive. Ask the seller if it’s ok to drain a very small about of oil out of the drive we are talking a table spoon at most.

You can ask the seller to do this for you. Lift the drive al the way up with the trailer switch check that the drive comes up with no hesitation the hydraulic pump should sound strong and the drive should come right up.

If you hear the pump working hard and the drive is coming up slowly or the pump is spinning faster then usual and the drive is coming up slowly you have some pump or hydraulic issues or it just may be low on hydraulic fluid.

The one thing I forgot to mention is when you did the engine inspection for leaks or cracks on the block or manifolds you should also check around the pump and see if there is a lot of oil around it. If you have a lot of oil around it then you have some leaks.  A very thin film of oil is normal; it’s the huge oil slicks you are concerned with. You may have a bad hydraulic pump or bad hydraulic lines or both. Not cheap.

Ok back to the drive if the drive lifts good grab a small container and have the owner take a big flat blade screw driver and crack the drain plug on the bottom of the drive back it out but hold the plug against the lower gear case all you want is a small sample once you have about a table spoon then turn the plug back in and tighten it. If it is milky, then the drive is going to need to be resealed and more than likely new bearings. 

Most reseals on a Mercruiser Gen one or Gen 2 are going to be close to two grand not including new bearings at the point you need to stop and find another boat unless you can beat him way down on the price it is not cost effective to buy the boat for the agreed price and then have to put out two or three thousand dollars to get the drive rebuilt.

If the oil is black or if it’s fairly clean then you are good. But check for excessive metallic’s in the oil up to the sunlight. Some small particles are considered normal you are looking for a concentrated amount of metallic’s or pieces of  metal then this means you have a problem in the drive and bearings and gears  are going out this is another red flag.

At this point the boat is not worth repairing unless you can do the work yourself and you can beat him way down on the price. If you can’t then it’s time to walk away the value of the boat verses the repair cost just don’t had up.

Ok let’s attach the flush attachment to the drive while it’s up and lower the drive you will see the slots on the lower gear case this is where you put on the rabbit ears just make sure you completely cover the slots with the flush attachment on both sides.

If you are still with me, thanks for hanging in there.  In our next part we will cover drive way fire ups and what to look for.  In the meantime take a look at all the boat care products here at Better Boat.


By Roger Hockemier

Performance Tech



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