If you’re shopping for a new boat, you have it pretty easy. There’s a multitude of boat builders out there ready to do your bidding. There are hundreds of boats to choose from right in dealer showrooms, or you can even special-order a boat to get precisely the color and options you want.
Buying used is different. There are no boat dealers who keep a selection of the particular model you’re looking for with different colors and options, much less the ability to equip it exactly how you want it.
Used boat buyers have to have the patience of a deer hunter, the awareness of a snow falcon, and the ability to strike as quickly as a cobra. With those skills you stand a much better chance of finding the perfect boat — or as close to that as you can get — on the used market. Here are five online tools you should be using.
1. BoatTrader.com — You knew that was coming, right? First, BoatTrader.com has more boats listed for sale than just about anywhere, as in more than 125,000 nationwide. It lets you select by brand or type, and because it’s nationwide, it lets you comparison shop the same model from all over the United States. It lets you save your favorites, which is good for seeing if an owner lowers his price after a couple of weeks on the market.
2. Boats.com — If the boat you’re eyeing isn’t very old, odds are good you’ll find a review of it on Boats.com that might help guide you, especially when you’re comparision-shopping among different brands. Boats.com recently published an interactive PDF with links to all 204 boat reviews they published in 2013. It won’t be long before a lot of those boats start showing up on the used market.
5. Value Guides — Did you know that the National Automobile Dealers Association publishes used boat values? It’s true. NADA guides can give you an idea of whether a given boat is priced, well, optimistically or is a good deal. In fact Boats.com offers good step-by-step instructions on how to use NADA Guides in combination with its own listings to zero in on accurate selling prices. BoatTrader.com has a boat price checker, too, and the American Boating Association offers a similar service, too. The more information you have on pricing, the better prepared you’ll be to negotiate.
4. Networking — We used to have actually talk to people face to face to do this, and we still can, but internet forum sites such as thehulltruth.com and boatertalk.com can be a big help. Even BoatUS has a forum incorporated into its site. Talk with people who own the boat you have in mind. If they like it, they’ll say so. If they don’t, they’ll be just as forthcoming and the information could save you a lot of headaches. Also, kick it old school: If you see the boat you’re considering out on the water, flag down the driver and ask him face to face what he thinks. You’ll pick up more nuance than you would on a forum site. And talk to people who have experience on a lot of different boats. A friend of mine was looking at a particular brand of boat because he was impressed with the amount of standard equipment for price of entry. Well, having been on a number of those boats and seen the lack of quality of all that equipment (which is why they were such bargains) I was able to steer him in another direction.
5. Surveyors — It’s a good idea to take a boat you’re close to purchasing to a professional surveyor, but before you even get that far, call one and (without taking up too much time) ask him or her what he or she thinks of the models you are considering. Odds are good they have inspected the model or brand you’re looking at — maybe even more than one — and they can give you an overall opinion of the build quality before you waste your time narrowing your search to something that’s ultimately not the caliber you want.
Boat Trader has plenty of Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.