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Pointers For Buying A Used Boat

We know that feeling when you’re all excited - you’re getting a new boat! But whether it’s your first boat or you’re more seasoned to the process, it’s always handy to know what to look for when viewing used boats.

We’ve been selling new and used boats here at Windermere Boat Sales for over 30 years, but instead of waiting until you get here to view our boats, we thought it would help you to feel more confident about your purchase if you’d already done a little homework. So, eyes forward class here’s the lowdown on used boats...

First things first, it’s best to have a very clear idea of what type of adventures you are planning to use your boat for. In the same way you know whether you’d like a 4x4 or a mini, WAY before you go and view any cars, it’s the same with boats. This will help to keep you grounded if the first boat you set eyes on looks an absolute beauty but isn’t fit for purpose.

As cool as buying a boat may seem to some, this isn’t a time to be acting cool as there's a lot to it, so have a checklist drawn up of what to thoroughly check. Breaking it all down, these are the main areas you’ll want to inspect:

  • The Hull - whilst the boat is out of water
  • Below Deck
  • Electrics
  • Engine
  • Sails and Rigging

Inspecting The Hull And Overall Condition

Check the boat hull

As soon as you set eyes on the boat, you’ll get a general impression of its condition but don’t be fooled as you’ll be amazed at what a lick of paint can do. If you think that your safety is on the line here, you’re almost playing detective.

Does the boat look like it may have had bumps or knocks or been patched up at all? A few chips or knocks are easy to repair yourself, but if the bottom of the hull has gouges or bad scrapes along with it, you’ll need to investigate a little more.

There are two biggies to look for here too - the separation between the superstructure of the hull and deck as this is nigh on impossible to remedy and the second is blisters as they indicate osmosis. This is when the water has penetrated the gel coat and reacted over time with chemicals in the laminate and can be extremely expensive and time-consuming to correct.

Below Deck

When they say follow your nose, this is where that comes into play as the smell of damp or bad odours can be signs of problems. If it feels damp or smells musty, check floorboards to make sure they are not rotten or warped, check woodwork for any blackened patches and any upholstery will probably have stains if there is a damp problem. Check the head for trapped algae or seaweed as this won't smell good plus leaking hoses or connections too.

Check The Electrics

Pay particularly close attention here as the electrics are where many boats get tinkered with but the main cause of onboard fires is faulty electrics. A full rewire done professionally can be expensive hence owners trying to service the electrics themselves.

If you suspect that the electrics have been tampered with, are overloaded with too much kit or if there are loose connections which can cause corrosion, we'd highly recommend you get a professional opinion. Believe us - you may be tempted to skip the cost but this is one thing well worth paying for peace of mind for.


Check The Boat Engine

If you're totally new to boats, think of this like buying a car. You'd ask for the service history and do a few higher-level checks. Checking service records is a good indicator of how well maintained the engine is and reveals any previous issues but you can also do a few engine checks yourself too. Check out its general state of repair - look for signs of rust, any hardened or corroded electrical connections, cracked or worn hoses or cracked belts. Check the dipstick for milky looking oil as this will show whether water has got into it at any point too.

Sails and Rigging

Again you'll need to know the age of the boat here, as insurers tend to suggest replacing rigging every 10 years as you never know when the rigging may fail. If you decide not to fully replace the rigging, you'll need a proper inspection carried out or you risk invalidating your insurance.

Back to checking it yourself though, rigging often goes at the swaged ends because of chafing against the fitting, so inspect these closely when the mast is down. Look out for broken strands particularly near the swages, and check how straight the stays are running. If not washed with fresh water and looked after, headsail furlers can seize, so check these as you're looking at £2,000 to £4,000 to replace them.

As it takes the bulk of the compression load of the rig, check the mast foot too for any movement or signs of corrosion. Finally, check the mast for cracks or potential problems around the fittings, as well as the gooseneck, shackles and U-bolts for signs of wear. Always try to take the boat out for a test sail, asking to see all the sails in use. This way you can open them out fully to check them as well as gauge the condition of her lines.

As kit is so expensive, just replacing one or two pieces can really mount up so try to check the full inventory from the anchor and fenders to the tender. What appears to be a full kit could cost you heavily if most of it needs replacing.


Ensure you check the boat trailer condition to make sure the boat fits correctly and is safe to transport.

The main things to bear in mind here are whether the trailer is road legal and whether launching into saltwater has caused any damage. Besides the obvious road legal requirements such as tyres and lights, if the boat doesn't fit the trailer properly it won't be road legal so check the boat is well supported when on the trailer.

The exposure to water, especially salt water is where the fun begins so check for any rusty or corroded areas and bang them with a hammer. If they have the metallic clang you'd expect, you're likely to be okay. Check the bearings by holding the wheel on either side and rocking it as any movement will need further investigation. Make sure the brakes haven't seized too and that the coupling bolts are tight as well as all cables being in order. Don't forget to check the winch mechanism too, giving the cables a really good once over.

So there you go folks - class dismissed!

Whilst you may not be a qualified expert now, you'll have far more of an idea what to look for when buying used boats. You'll feel more confident about what you're looking for and you'll also have a better idea of the value of the boat you're viewing which could help when negotiating your price.

We always have a great selection of new and used boats for sale, so why not come and take a look? You can put your new lessons into practice! As always though, if you have any questions or need any help, simply get in touch and we'll be happy to help.

The company accepts no liability for the content of this email, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided unless that information is subsequently confirmed in writing. If you are not the intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited.

Windermere Boat Sales is a trading name of Bowness Bay Marina Limited. 
Registered in England 514559. Directors A.J Rothwell, R.A Rothwell, S.M Carradice

Contact Us

Windermere Boat Sales
Bowness Bay Marina
Winander House
Glebe Road
Cumbria LA23 3HE

Office 015394 22695



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