3 Savvy Steps for Buying a Used Pontoon Boat

3 Savvy Steps for Buying a Used Pontoon Boat

Are you thinking about buying a used pontoon to save some money? Many buyers shudder at the prospect. Isn't "used" just a euphemism for "dinosaur" or "barely held together by patches?"  

With the right tips, you can buy a high-quality used pontoon that isn't straight out of a 1960s boating catalog (unless that's your thing, and you're actively looking for a vintage fixer-upper).

I know it can be a very intimidating process, especially when you don’t know every detail about the boat's past. Where has that boat been? What has it been through? What problems might you expect from it in the future? What investments need to be made?

All these are great questions to steer away from a lemon. Don't worry. If you’re willing to spend the time and do a thorough look into your potential boat, then you'll be fine.

I’ve gone down the used boat road before, while buying a pontoon with my family, and it turned out much better than we anticipated. Of course, as with any boat, unexpected situations may arise with your used pontoon. 

For this reason, it's wise to go out prepared and avoid ending up stranded. Just check off every box on our handy list of essential items you need to be prepared boating and our safety equipment list.

Honestly, I'd recommend those for anyone out on the water - new boat or old boat. And if you're aware that your insanely affordable used boat has some elements that need to be repaired, you can take the extra money you saved by purchasing used and invest it in those repairs.

In the end, you'll still come out a winner with a cheaper boat. Now, that I’ve reassured you on the idea, I'll show you how to get through the process of buying a used pontoon in one piece.

1. Inspect the Pontoon’s Condition

What's the condition of the hull?

You can’t take a quick look at the hull and outside and assume everything is fine. You need to take a really good look and consider whether there are any spots that may be an issue.
  • Are there any lumps or dents where the hull and deck meet?
These can be signs of accidents, the boat being driven into or against something or a whole host of other potential incidents. The important thing to note is how serious the issue appears to be. 
  • How large is the crack, patch, lump or dent?
  • Has it been patched?
  • How well has it been patched?

If there's just one damaged spot, but it has an excellent patch, that's not a bad thing. That's a lot different than seeing numerous patches slapped on here and there with no care and attention. That alone can give you a good enough idea of what condition it's in, based on how well it was taken care of.

The next thing many buyers notice is the shine. You can't help noticing shine or lack of shine! A lack of shine is primarily a cosmetic issue that appears when the boat has been a bit scratched or has gotten worn out with use.

Of course, this superficial detail can be remedied. If you're not totally satisfied with the shine of the hull, there are some ways you can polish it to improve the look.

But don't worry, shine or lack thereof won't affect much besides the cosmetics of the boat.

                                      Marine Polish protects against saltwater, sunlight, rust, algae and more. Use on boats, cars and RVs for protection and shine.

Check Price on Amazon - Better Boat's marine polish  Use with a microfiber sponge or cloth to get a protective and shiny finish. It leaves a long-lasting shine that resists grime and revives color. It's safe to use on gelcoat, fiberglass, plastic and painted surfaces.  

How's the furniture and flooring?

Most used boats are going to have some wear and tear, but you need to keep an eye out for excessive wear or areas that could potentially cause bigger problems.

Furniture and flooring are usually the first parts of the boat to get worn out or ripped up. When it comes to the furniture you want to check for tears or rips. Anything minor is okay, but if you get into large rips or tears, it’s only going to be a matter of time before you have to replace it. Same goes for mold and mildew.

Another very important area to be extremely aware of is the floor. You need to check for a floor that’s rotting out. Go over the entire floor and look for spots that appear to be soft.

If there's carpeting, look underneath when possible. If you can't look, step everywhere and feel for soft spots, uneven areas and sagging. Unfortunately, soft spots in a boat floor mean rot and that equals an expensive fix.

How does the motor perform?

The key to a boat being reliable is all in how well its motor runs. You'll need to look carefully to ensure it doesn’t end up leaving you stranded out in the water.

So, you'll want to have a good look at the motor, just like you would before buying a car. What exactly are you looking for? Well, for starters, you'll want to see how clean or dirty it is.

That can be a sign in itself of how well taken care of this boat and motor truly are. Something else to look for is whether or not any fluids are leaking. If there are any leaks, you'll want to discuss having these repaired before you purchase, or you could explore local repair options yourself and price them out.

While you’re looking around, take a look at the various interior parts and consider the condition they’re in. Are they in good shape or cracked and worn? The more wear and tear or cracking you see, the more likely it is that you'll need to do some maintenance or replace parts soon.

2. Test Drive the Pontoon

I would highly recommend you try to test drive the rig before purchasing. It can be difficult, and a lot of sellers will find this annoying. But who cares, this is your investment. If you're serious about the purchase, and everything else looks good so far, make it clear to the seller that it's make-or-break for you and they may oblige.

If they’re nowhere near a body of water, you may be out of luck. If you’re lucky enough to do a test run, you'll need to pay close attention to the entire process. This includes things like:

  • When you first start it up, how does the motor sound?
  • Once you get going, watch the gauges. Are they working at all?
  • If the gauges are working, do they appear to be working accurately?

While you’re out on the water, drive how you would when out on the lake or ocean. Make sure you get up to higher speeds and do sharp turns. Stop and take off again. Try to simulate a real experience as much as possible. If you just drive in a straight line you’ll miss out on a lot of situations that could show you signs of a problem with the boat.

Keep in mind that it's not a new pontoon, so regardless of the motor's original horsepower, it likely won't be quite as fast as you want. If it's pretty good on speed but could use just a touch more power, there are ways to speed it up.

You can get some ideas from our article on how to speed up a slow pontoon.

3. Find the Right Listings

There are a number of different places you can look to find used boats. The options may seem endless when you run an online search, but there are some big, reputable places that'll give you the greatest options and the most success.

One place online you can look is Boat Trader. The advantage of looking here is that it's extremely easy to navigate and narrow down your search options based on all of your desired criteria and your location.

You also may find local dealer listings on those sites to give you a better idea of their inventory, which will help you when hunting in your region.

You can also go local boat dealers directly. They sometimes have used models on sale. Depending on your comfort level and knowledge of boats, this could be the best option for you. Instead of being faced to figure everything out on your own, you'll have the help of a salesperson.

While a business wants to sell, they also generally ensure everything is in good shape prior to putting something out on the lot.  

One last thing when it comes to buying used. If you're unsure about the price of a used pontoon should objectively be, you can check what it's worth using an online guide

People can price them all over the place, making it difficult to know what a fair price really is. Protect yourself and your wallet by checking into this prior to negotiation and purchase. 

Take the Plunge!

As you can see, there are a number of different things you need to think about before you decide to buy a used pontoon. The physical boat isn't the only thing that you need to think about.

Make sure you protect yourself with insurance too! We've got a great article to help you figure out how much insurance will cost. You can find a fantastic boat at a great price by looking at used options.

Use these tips, take your time and be prepared, and you'll walk away with an envy-inspiring bargain on your next boat.