19 Steps To Pricing A Used Boat (Complete Checklist)

To determine how much powerboats are worth, you’ll need to compare the price with other boats of similar size and build.

It’s not only the specific model, age, and condition you need to look at.  For instance, you might value a boat with an autopilot system higher than you’d value a boat without one.

Used boats are more complicated to put a price tag on.

Here are 19 things you must check before you can accurately assess the value of a used boat:

Boat types

Test The Engine Professionally

One of the most expensive and most vital components of a powerboat is its engine.

If you’re experienced with boat engines, this is something you might be able to check yourself.  However, most people will need to hire a mechanic to do this for them.

The mechanic should specialize in boat engines, and he or she should be able to determine whether or not the boat engine is installed optimally or not.  Additionally, the mechanic should check the cylinder compression, the exhaust system, and all of the fluids, such as the oil, the coolant, and the transmission fluid.

For a more thorough test, the mechanic may want to send these fluids out for fluid analysis.

These tests do not cost much money, and they can often save you a lot of money and headaches down the road, so they’re worth doing.

The Bilge Must Be Examined

The bilge collects any excess water that enters your boat, and a pump is used to remove it.

Bilges and pumps are critical as they need to function properly to keep your boat from filling up with water.

A bilge consists of the area that collects the water while the pump pushes the water out of the boat.  The bilge area should be clean and free from any damage so that water can collect properly.

The bilge pump should be operable, and there should be manual pumps in place should the electric bilge pump fail.

Failing to check these areas, you may find yourself out on the water in a sinking boat.  In this case, you’ll be scrambling to manually remove water with buckets and anything else you can find to keep your boat afloat.

Steering & Throttle Issues To Look For

The steering system on a boat will typically have a steering cable.

This cable can wear out over time, so you must look at it during your inspection.

Other issues with the steering cable can include bends in the cable and corrosion on the cable.

If you find either of these, you’ll probably have to replace the cable.

You’ll also want to test the different gears on the throttle system to ensure that the transmission is functioning properly.

The Electrical Components

A boat can often have a wide range of electrical components.

It could have navigation systems like a depth finder, a GPS, and autopilot.  It could have recreation electronics like stereo systems and fish finders.

Built-in ship-to-shore radios might also be a part of the boat’s electronic system.

While you might not think you’ll use all of these items, it’s still important that you check to see that they’re working properly.  The rule is that if it is installed, it should work.

You can easily check to see if the radios, GPS, and autopilots are working, but what about the depth finders and fish finders.

You can bring the boat into shallow water for small boats, and you can compare the depth versus a paddle you put into the water.  You can drop anchor for larger boats and measure how much rope was needed versus the depth the finder reported to you.

Floors & Siding Issues That Impact The Value

The floors and siding should be in good condition.

Soft floors are usually rotten floors.  A rotten deck can be expensive and time-consuming to replace.  Also, it isn’t something that can be neglected.

Boating can become dangerous when you’re on a boat with a rotten floor.

The siding should be in good condition as well.

Check for dents and scrapes on aluminum boats and check for cracks and disrepair on fiberglass boats’ gel coat.

It’s unlikely that you’ll find a wooden boat these days, but you can check a wooden boat’s durability by checking for soft spots.

The Propeller

The propeller is the part of your drivetrain that provides your boat with propulsion in the water.  In other words, the propeller is responsible for moving your boat.

For this reason, you must inspect a boat’s propeller before buying or selling it.

Take the boat out, and you’ll at least know that the propeller is capable of moving the boat.  However, you should also give the boat an inspection while it is out of the water.  Visually inspect the propeller to make sure there isn’t any damage to it.

Then, check the drive shaft for the propeller to check the seals for any damage as well.

This will also be a good indication of whether or not the propeller was being taken care of.  If the seal is full of debris and old fishing lines, then you’ll know that the owner wasn’t cleaning it out regularly.

Deck Hardware and Anchors

Damaged and broken deck hardware will also bring down the value of a boat.

Unfortunately, this is something that many boat buyers fail to inspect.

It might seem trivial to inspect pieces of hardware that can often be purchased for less than $10.00, but these items can add up quickly.  Marine cleats, hatch lifts, deck plates, and any other hardware pieces on the boat should be in good condition.

Also, consider the condition of the anchor and the anchor rope.  Again, the anchor line isn’t going to be the most expensive part of a boat, but it can contribute to a used boat’s value.

Replacing an anchor line on a smaller boat might cost you $100.00 to $200.00, and replacing a thick anchor line or chain on a larger boat could cost thousands.

Changing A Fuel Tanks Can Be Expensive

Replacing an external tank or two of gasoline isn’t that big of a deal.  You can get these tanks all over the place, and they don’t cost much.

However, many larger boats will have built-in tanks that can be hard to get to.

Unfortunately, many of these tanks are made from aluminum, which can corrode over time.  A corroded fuel tank is hazardous, and it can be expensive to replace.

To check the condition of the fuel tank, you’ll have to remove the access panel.  Hopefully, there will be a hatch to get to it, but you may have to unscrew the panel if not.

If the boat does not have an access panel for you to inspect the fuel tank, you should lower the value of the boat to reflect the price of replacing the tank and installing an access panel, as this is something you’ll want to do before your first trip out on the water.

Batteries Should Be Checked

A marine battery loses some of its power the older it gets.

Batteries usually only last between three to five years, so any battery over five years shouldn’t be considered when appraising the boat’s value. 

The reason being, you’ll want to replace it before you start using the boat.

For newer batteries, you’ll want to check for corrosion around the battery terminals.

Batteries with corrosion are usually not being charged enough.  This could be a mistake on the owner’s part, or it could be that the battery isn’t taking a full charge anymore.  Either way, this is a bad sign, and the battery is probably close to death.

Lights Are Important

Many boat buyers forget to check the lights on boats before they buy them.  However, just because you don’t plan to use the boat at night doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check them.

A strong fog could roll in, or you could get stuck out on the water later than you’d thought, and you might end up needing your lights.

Even if you never end up needing the boat’s lights, you’ll still want to check them as non-functioning boat lights will bring the boat’s value down.  If the lights work, that is a good sign that the other electronics have been well maintained.

HVAC Systems Must Work Properly

A larger powerboat might have heating and air conditioning systems built into it.  These systems can often go unused for many years.

This is especially true for trailerable boats with HVAC systems.

The reason for this is that these people may only be using these boats on the water without shore power, so they’d have no reason to use them.

Again, you’ll want to check these systems anyway.  AC units and heating units can be costly to replace, and a non-functioning one will certainly bring down the boat’s value.

To check these systems, you’ll probably need to hook the boat up to shore power or at least run the boat so the engine can power the systems.  If neither of these is available to you, you may consider bringing a generator with you to plug the boat into. 

This way, you’ll be able to check the systems to ensure that they are working properly.

Housing Components To Check

The structural integrity of a hull should be in perfect condition.

If this is not true, the boat will need immediate repairs.  The need for these repairs will certainly bring down the value of the boat.

To inspect a boat’s hull, you’ll want to check the transom for any damage.

Rotten wood, infiltrated fiberglass, and bent or corroded aluminum are sure signs that repairs need to be made in this area.

The joints between the deck and the hull can also become weakened over time.  Water can leak in, which is a problem for obvious reasons.

You’ll even want to check the hull for damage to the paint.  Chips and scratches in the gel coat will eventually lead to hull degradation.  Because of this, the boat will probably need to be repainted.

Paint jobs are expensive, so a boat that needs to be painted should have its value adjusted accordingly.

Bimini Tops Add Value

Bimini tops add value to a boat.

These tops are extremely functional and easy to use.

They make being out on the water on sunny days much safer and more pleasant.  A good bimini top could end up saving you from developing melanoma one day.

The issue with these tops is that they can degrade over time and even develop holes and tears in the canvas.

On top of this, the hardware can become damaged.  Replacing the canvas is expensive, and patches rarely last very long.  Hardware can be replaced, but it can sometimes be hard to find.

Thoroughly examine the top’s condition and make sure it opens and closes smoothly.  Any damage to the top should reduce the value of the boat.

Maintenance History On The Vessel

Guy doing an inspection of a tiny house on wheels

Obtaining the maintenance history of the boat should be a top priority.

In fact, it is often a good idea to ask for it before you go to look at the boat.

If the owner does not have a history of maintenance performed on his or her boat, you might not want to bother looking at the boat at all.  At the least, expect to pay a lower price.

When you look over the owner’s maintenance history, you’ll want to see that, at the very least, the engine is being taken care of.  An owner might not log bimini top treatments or repaints, but he or she will most certainly keep track of any trips to the mechanic.

Compare the owner’s log with the recommended maintenance suggestions of the manufacturer to see how they compare.  If the owner has not been following the manufacturer’s guidance, you may have to invest in some preventative maintenance tasks after buying the boat.

On the other hand, if the owner has been meticulously taking care of their boat, it might be worth spending a little more for it.

Documents On Storage History

The way a boat is stored can often indicate how much value is still left in the boat.

A garage-kept boat that was only used a few times each season might have a pristine paint job and an engine with a lot of life left in it.

A boat stored in the water without proper treatments might have a lot more wear and tear on it.  Even off-site storage should be noted as boats stored someplace far from home may not have their batteries maintained properly.

A poorly maintained marine battery may have its lifespan cut in half versus a battery that is maintained properly.

The Condition Of The Trailer

Boat trailers need more maintenance than the average trailer.  This is especially true of saltwater boats.  Saltwater can cause corrosion, and trailers exposed to it regularly will often live much shorter lives than ones that aren’t.

When you inspect a boat trailer, you’ll want to check the trailer rollers for cracks and missing hardware.

You’ll then want to inspect the bunks, as well as the carpeting, overtop of them.  After this, you can inspect the tires and the axles.

Once you’ve ensured that the boat trailer’s integrity is in good order, you’ll need to check the trailer’s lights.  Bring a buddy or ask the owner to turn on the turn signals and step on the brakes so that you can check to make sure that they are both functioning as they should.

After you’ve completed your inspection, deduct money from the boat’s value for any repairs or replacements that will be needed.

The Boat Cover

Even the boat’s cover has value to it.  Some people just put old tarps over their boats, but these tarps tend to degrade quicker than you might think.

If the boat originally came with a cover that has been replaced with a tarp, you’ll know to take some money from your offer.  Take a look at what it would cost to put a professional cover over the boat, and you’ll quickly see why.

Know The Benchmark Prices

Before you can start deducting money from the boat’s value, you’ll need to find out what the boat is selling for in general.

This can be done by checking places like Nada.

Websites like this will give you an idea of what others are selling similar boats for.

Just keep in mind that these are just guidelines, and at the end of the day, a boat is only worth as much as people are actually willing to pay.

Marine Survey

If you don’t have much experience with inspecting boats, you may want to have a professional marine survey done.

A professional can do a thorough inspection and tell you the exact condition of the boat you’re considering. 

He or she may even be able to give you an idea as to what the boat’s actual value is so that you can make a reasonable offer.

Final Thoughts

A boat’s value should be determined by the market and the condition of the boat.

However, at the end of the day, the boat’s value is really determined by how much you’re willing to pay and how little the owner is willing to take for the boat.

Shop around and keep your emotions in check, and you’re sure to get the most for your money.

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