Buying a new (or used) boat is one of the biggest financial transactions in your life.
It’s important to carry out a thorough inspection before putting money on the table.
In this article, we cover the essential things to remember when inspecting a new boat.
This checklist will help you determine the state of the vessel so you can get the best value for your money.
Important Areas to Cover in a Boat Inspection Checklist
Before buying a boat, it helps to take a frank look at every aspect of the vessel to ensure that everything is in perfect condition. This helps you avoid costly pitfalls.
It also allows the seller to identify things which can affect the salability of their boat.
A marine surveyor can help you identify defects in a new boat. However, it is important for you to know what to check when making such a huge deal.
The following are the main things to inspect before buying a boat.
- Operating Gear
Exterior Inspection Checklist
The exterior of a boat is the most important part of the vessel as it is in direct contact with the water. Any exterior faults that you didn’t catch prior to buying can cost you thousands in repairs.
It can also reduce the excitement of owning a boat. Use this checklist to make sure all is well.
You want to start your inspection with a quick walk around the boat for a general look. Check out the appearance of important parts of the hull such as the strakes, chines, and stem. Are there any cracks, peeling paint, and depressions?
Tap the entire hull with the plastic handle of a large screwdriver or mallet. If you hear a solid “thunk” sound, that’s a good sign.
A high-pitched or dull sound is a sign of a void. Open cracks, stress patterns, and any obvious deformity is a telltale sign of accidents.
Examine the hull for blisters. A new boat shouldn’t have blisters, but minor ones are still tolerable. However, severe blisters suggest serious issues that need further investigation.
Not every hull problem is serious enough to rule out a boat.
However, any stress marks or cracks on the hull can compromise the boat’s ability to withstand a collision.
A weakened hull can hasten the effect of the harsh marine environment on the vessel. Mismatched paint on the hull indicates they have repaired the boat after completion. If you have any doubts, ask for professional advice.
The keel must run true in a straight line from fore to aft. It should be straight horizontally and show no signs of damage or wear. Your surveyor may need to get under the boat to have a good look at the keel.
Like the hull, the deck must be watertight and have no void in the laminate.
Examine the deck for moisture penetration, voids, and delamination.
Using the tools stated above, give the whole deck a good wrap and keep an ear out for any odd sound. You want the deck to be sturdy and with no physical blemish.
Cracks, dents, depressions, soft spots, and fading paint indicate serious flaws that need thorough investigation.
If you hear a hollow sound after hitting the deck with a mallet, investigate the fiberglass and wooden panels for damage. Also, it’s important for the deck fittings such as cleats and chainplates to be watertight and free of damage.
4) Helm Station
Check that the steering is free and easy to move. The dials should be fog and mist-free and the controls should have no signs of moisture. Test navigational equipment to make sure they are in perfect condition.
The transmission should shift easily with no noise. If it makes a clunky sound, something is wrong.
5) Hull-to-Deck Joint
You want your boat to come with glued, bolted or glassed hull-to-deck joints.
These are sturdier and longer-lasting than riveted or screwed joints.
Joint gaps should not be in the anchor locker, cabin furniture, and engine room as these are potential entry points for moisture.
6) Molding Trim
A new boat should have a fit and well-finished molding trim. Check inside the cabinets and berths for any structural issues.
Fiberglass should bond the bulkheads to the hull for improved water tightness.
Putty or foam filets prevent the buildup of pressure between the hull and the bulkhead to prevent fiberglass cracks.
Check that deck hardware such as outriggers, tops, windlasses, and towers are bolted firmly.
It’s best to use metal bolts but wood backing will also do the job.
It’s important for deck hardware to have some bedding compound for waterproofing. If there are bulges at the bases of the fasteners, that shows they are leakproof.
Check the quality of the upholstery.
Are there stains or watermarks on the cushions? If you notice any deterioration because of water damage or wear, the seller may need to change them.
Hatches and transoms should be watertight.
Check that hatches have latches, gaskets, and gutters for 100 percent waterproofing to prevent flooding.
Look for corrosion, excess caulking, and signs of damage. Check if the hatches open freely.
Also, look out for water and any odd smell in the compartments you access through each hatch.
Any gas odor or water may indicate a failed hatch.
The windshield, top and side curtains must be secured properly to the deck.
Check for gaps that could allow rain and spray to reach the controls. If the windshield cannot keep out water, your trips will be wet regardless of the weather.
You want all deck lights to be visible without obstructions.
Equipment, deck structures and the position of the lights must not overlap to ensure maximum visibility all around the boat.
12) Life Rail
Inspect the rails and pulpit for fit and finish. You want the life rail to be securely bolted to the deck.
Stainless steel rails are stronger and offer better corrosion resistance, but are expensive.
Zinc aluminum railings may be more affordable and aesthetically pleasing at first, but they have poor corrosion resistance. Check for rust signs at the point where the rails and the deck meet as that can lead to leakages.
Interior On The Boat To Check
The interior inspection involves checking the sole (cabin floor), layout, finish, galley, and sleeping accommodations.
13) Water Tightness
When below decks, you want to be warm, dry and comfortable. Check every space for traces of water.
If there are signs of corrosion or watermarks, or peeling paint, ask questions.
Examine the cabinet spaces and stowage to see if the installation is solid. Check the fiberglass work for shoddy gluing or screwing as the fastening are potential water entry points.
Does the upholstery provide the level of comfort you desire in a boat? Examine the material used for cushions, tables, and chairs?
In the marine environment, wood and aluminum are excellent upholstery materials.
15) Cabin Security
The cabin should provide adequate levels of security. Cabin hardware should be secured properly.
Ensure that the exhaust fume from the engine does not seep into the cabin.
There should also be a cutoff switch for the burner. Check that the sink drain has a P-trap to prevent it from flooding the cabin.
On rough waters, poorly secured china, dishwashers, and other appliances can become projectiles. Galley equipment should be bolted and back-mounted so they don’t move freely when you hit stormy waters.
Freezer and refrigerator doors should not have hinges on the stern side to prevent them from opening when the boat is on a plane.
The stove, propane storage, sink, faucet, and other appliance should be installed, working and well secured.
Also, inspect the sleeping accommodations, doors, furnishing, latches, and drawers. Examine the air conditioning and entertainment systems for proper installation and operation.
17) Locker Space
Does the boat have enough locker space? Are the lockers easily accessible and waterproof?
Are the lockers secure enough to keep their store from spilling on rough waters? You want your lockers to be roomy, stable and secure for every circumstance.
Operating Gear You Should Check
The engine, electrical systems and propulsion systems of the boat should be in top shape. Here are things to cover in the operating gear inspection.
Carry out extensive tests on the engine to certify it OK.
Do a thorough inspection and evaluation of the engine, engine room, beds, and mounts. Check that the engine hatch opens easily and vent hoses should be free. The engine numbers must match those on the contract.
A good way to know the engine’s state of health is to run it at full throttle underway.
If the engine overshoots or does not reach the manufacturer’s maximum rpm range, something may be wrong with it or the propeller. You also need to inspect the drive train and every other accessible component.
Check that the height of the exhaust risers is above the waterline to prevent back flooding. It should also be fastened securely with proper support.
Examine the exhaust for holes as this can allow water into the engine cylinders and piston.
Also, check that the engine coolers are working properly and the raw-water intakes are clamped on each end.
19) Engine Oil
Test the engine oil for water, grit, color, and odor.
If it smells burned or has water, there might be a crack in the engine block. Milky or black oil indicates serious engine problems.
The fuel lines and fuel filter must be free of debris and condensation. Otherwise, the engine will lose power and sputter periodically.
The propeller shafts should be straight and true. It should be sound, sturdy and have strong support.
Check that the shaft’s flange and that of the transmission have no gaps or offset at the point where they meet. If the boat has an inboard prop, check that the distance between the hull and each tip is the same.
Check that the rudder’s motion is smooth and easy. Inspect for water seepage in the rudder and check the hinges for wear and looseness.
A good way to check for low fluid or leaks in the steering wheel is to turn it from lock to lock.
Above seven turns suggests loose steering.
You want the rudders to turn fully to their stops. The hydraulic steering pump should be the ideal size specified by the manufacturer. The autopilot and tiller should be in excellent condition.
Check that no systems are wired directly to the battery. All DC gear should come online and offline when you turn the main battery switch on and off. The automatic bilge pumps are the only gear that should stay on.
A battery that has been idle for over two months would have lost over 35 percent of its charge.
Also, check that the alternator is delivering adequate power to the battery. And test the battery charger to make sure it delivers the proper charging voltage.
23) Wiring Connection
Check to make sure that all electrical installations comply with sound practices and safety requirements. Make sure there are no loose and bare wires, including connections sealed with electrical tapes.
Also, test to see that the electrical equipment function properly.
Test for stray current leakages on the boat.
Inspect the bilge and bilge pumps to make sure they work properly.
The automatic bilge pump should work when the DC power is turned off and come with a manual override control.
Inspect the fuel, pressure, and oil gauges for proper installation and operation. Test every control system that provides vital information about the vessel for improved situational awareness.
Make sure every component of the plumbing system works perfectly. Test seacocks to see whether they open and close easily.
Inspect and test the toilet, shower, pump, faucet and every part of the head.
Check strainers, screens, and hoses for cracks, brittleness and leaks. Damp or moldy smell and water stains or puddles may indicate a leak somewhere in the plumbing system.
Is the head accessible, or you needed to unscrew parts of the boat to empty it?
You want it to have a Y-valve so you can disable it in port. Whatever you do, make sure the head or holding tank is easy to clean and large enough for the number of people who will spend time on the boat.
27) Fuel System
Inspect the tank, fuel filter, tank and mounts, shutoff, and fuel lines.
Make sure there are no leaks and the compartment is watertight.
28) Mast and Rigging
For sailboats, you also need to inspect the mast and dragging for the following.
- Check that the mast, boom, and poles are in great shape.
- Examine all moving parts including the mast pulleys, winches, and welds.
- Inspect the rigging wire for chafing and broken strands and other connections.
- Look out for cracks, corrosion, and deformities in the eye terminals.
- The mast should be even, straight and sound without damage, corrosion or surface defects.
- Examine canvas attachments, fittings, and spreaders for chafing, wear, and corrosion.
29) Safety Equipment
Inspect and test to make sure the automatic fire suppression system is installed and working properly.
Find out the quantity, size, and type of fixed fire extinguisher on the boat. Make sure they comply with Coast Guard and local requirements.
The boat should have visual distress signals, navigation lights, and audible signals.
Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, personal floatation devices, and first aid kits should also be available. And there should be adequate ventilation for the engine room and the exhaust pipe.
You want to inspect the cables for chafing, wear, and corrosion. Check the anchor and throttle cable for effects of corrosion because they are more exposed.
31) Check for Missing Parts
Is anything out of place? Look out for stray bolts and screws around the boat. If you see a hole that seemed to hold something or exposed wires, somebody may have removed something from the vessel.
Who Should Carry Out a New Boat Inspection?
For best results, hire a qualified marine surveyor for a detailed boat inspection before signing any deal. Avoid people who only work in the docks but parade themselves as a marine surveyor.
Ask for referrals or contact the marine surveyors’ associations for a professional near you.
It may surprise you that new boats require such extensive checks and inspections. However, many people have learned the hard way after splurging on their dream boat and getting a huge disappointment.
You don’t want to be that person.
How Long Does a Boat Inspection Take?
The actual duration of a boat inspection depends on several factors. It takes about a day to complete inspections on most small boats. Bigger vessels such as yachts and large catamarans may need more than a day.
The surveyor may inspect a boat in the water during the summer in a day.
However, bad weather, the yard’s schedule, time of the year and the location of the boat can all delay or expedite the inspection process.
The scope of the inspection is also an important factor. While some inspections are limited to the examination of the slip, bottom cleaning, and a short-haul, some are more detailed.
If you want a comprehensive inspection and testing of the engine and other vital systems of the boat, the marine surveyor may require more than a day to complete the job.
On sailboats, you may also want to check the masts and rigging.
After the inspection, the surveyor needs time to draw up a report appraising the health of the boat, findings, and recommendations.
The time you need to complete a boat inspection depends on the state of the watercraft and the complexity of its systems.
If the boat is in top shape, there won’t be much to investigate. However, serious flaws in the construction and noncompliance with regulations and standards mean further investigations.
Sometimes, you may need a professional to check things out before you can complete the inspection.
What Is the Cost of a Professional Boat Inspection?
The marine surveyor may charge a flat rate or an hourly rate. If he/she uses a flat rate, it will be based on the length of the boat.
Rates go for around $20 per foot on smaller boats. The price increases with the size and complexity of the vessel, especially if you are inspecting an old boat.
For a rough estimate, calculate the surface area of the boat and divide by $20.
Meanwhile, other factors can increase the pricing of the inspection. An engine survey can set you back by $500. If the hull is dirty and needs a pressure wash, it costs around $15 per foot and the bill is on you.
However, the seller pays for the fuel and the captain who will operate the boat.
How to Reduce Boat Inspection Costs
You can reduce the inspection cost by assisting the surveyor.
Don’t leave things that you can inspect yourself to the professional. Help him/her to open hatches, pull gear, test appliances, and remove items that could disrupt the workflow.
If you notice a flaw that changes your mind about buying the boat, tell the surveyor to inspect it immediately.
If the issue is serious enough to disqualify the boat, stop the inspection right there. That way, you don’t waste the surveyor’s time and save money.
Marine Diesel Engine Checklist
If a diesel engine takes a huge chunk of a boat’s value, it’s important to perform a detailed survey of the machine before and during the sea trial.
During the inspection, check for visual flaws and keep your ears open. Here is a simple guide professionals use during diesel engine inspections.
Inspect the Engine Installation
Examine the following parts for wear and damage:
- Engine beds:
Check for cracks, water/oil mixture, and puddles of water or moisture.
- Engine motor mounts:
Examine the mounts for cracks, misalignment, and distortions.
- Engine coupling shaft:
Are these properly aligned? Check that they are bolted properly and the fasteners are in good condition.
These should be soft and free of wear and cracks. Any cracks here can cause water to seep into the engine block. Also, make sure the two ends of the hoses are clamped. The hose clamps should be free of corrosion, wear, and not too tight.
Electrical connections at the engine and batteries should be insulated. Look out for electrical tapes and naked wires.
- Engine Belts:
Depress each engine belt gently with your thumb. If the depression is over 1/4″, there is a problem.
Gaskets and Seals
Inspect the block, manifold and oil pan for leaks and heat spots as they indicate overheating. Examine seals on the injectors, fuel lines and lift pumps. Check for leaks around the fuel tanks and fuel filters. What does the place smell like? Diesel, damp or oil?
Check the Dipsticks
Read the dipsticks of the oil sump and transmission gearbox.
Don’t clean the dipstick with a cloth; use your hand.
If the oil feels gritty or has particles, it is a sign of serious engine wear. Check the color and reading in the second sounding. If the lubricant smells burned or appears milky or bubbly, the engine block might be cracked.
Check the Impeller Housing
Examine the impeller vanes for wear and distortion. If you find chips, the engine is compromised.
Inspect for Zinc
Inspect the zinc in the engine heat exchange for corrosion. Rusty shaft zinc can’t perform its cooling function properly, causing frequent engine overheating.
Test the Engine Live
Run the engine at full throttle to identify hidden flaws. Power the engine to the maximum and check for the fluctuations of the RPM, oil pressure, and water temperature.
Also, examine the stuffing box for leaks, check shaft alignment and hose-to-fitting seals for leaks.
A lot of things can go wrong with a new boat, but a comprehensive inspection can help you avoid buying a money guzzling vessel.
The best you can do is to get a qualified marine surveyor to help with the inspections.
But if you can’t hire a surveyor, it helps to know what to look out for.
And that is why we researched and created this extensive inspection checklist for when you want to buy a new boat. We hope this article helps steer you in the right direction as you go boat shopping!
I’ve filmed and interviewed people in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. I’ve always lived on the coast and have loved boating since my dad took me sailing as a toddler. I’ve also completely rebuilt two RVs with my wife in which we travel for months at the time. Read our personal story here.