Used Boat Deals: Moderate Fixes, Big Savings

One way to get a deal on a used boat stems from someone else’s misfortune: divorce, death, job loss, and so on.  All of those those things can lead to someone needing to sell a boat quickly. As I’ve said elsewhere,  as long as you’re not the cause of the misfortune, you might get a good deal on the boat and help out the seller at the same time.

Replacing a drive coupler is an expensive repair -- the part alone is upwards of $500. But the repair can be used as a bargaining chip worth much more. MerCruiser Marine Photo.

Replacing a drive coupler is an expensive repair — the part alone is upwards of $500. But the repair can be used as a bargaining chip worth much more. MerCruiser Marine Photo.

Another source of a great deal is someone else’s ignorance. We’ve all heard the urban legend about the widow who sells her late husband’s 1953 “Chevrolet” for a few thousand dollars. As the legend goes, the buyer shows up to discover it’s a Corvette, which he snaps up and flips for huge profit.

In the marine market, there’s no shortage of ignorance, which you can use to your advantage. Say you find a sterndrive boat that’s been sitting because the owner put it in the water one day and it exhibited a vibration, or went into gear but wouldn’t move. He’s baffled, and he’s so terrified of what it might cost, he wants out.

That’s where you come in. Odds are good the engine has fallen out of alignment with the drive, which is normal and happens over time. All boats should have their drives pulled and alignment checked annually to make sure that something is not moving. It’s also a good time to check and lube the universal joints, inspect the bellows, inspect the gimbal bearing, check the splines, and lube the drive coupler. If a previous owner never did that maintenance, that could lead to misalignment.

The alignment tool goes through the gimbal bearing to the drive coupler to test alignment.  Sterndrives.com photo.

The alignment tool goes through the gimbal bearing to the drive coupler to test alignment.
Sterndrives.com photo

In the case of vibration, the engine alignment probably just needs to be adjusted, which is simple enough if you have the factory drive alignment tool, which is little more than a metal dowel that acts as a go/no-go gauge. Any good shop has this tool, and the labor rate should be around $300. When the engine is properly aligned, you should be able to slide the alignment tool fully into the coupler easily and remove it with two fingers.

This video, courtesy of BoostPower Marine, shows the alignment tool and how it’s used.

In an instance where the boat goes into gear but the boat doesn’t move, a likely cause is the drive coupler, which is basically what connects the engine power with the input shaft to the drive itself. Bolted to the flywheel, the coupler is made of steel and compressed rubber, which can tear loose from the steel. That’s why the drive will go into gear, but the boat won’t move. The engine isn’t spinning the input shaft. Another sign it needs replacement is when you rotate the engine by hand and the alignment tool goes in easily with the engine in one position, but not in another. That indicates the drive coupler is not running true and probably needs replacement.

Replacing the coupler is a more expensive repair because the engine has to come out. But there’s a huge bargaining chip on the price of the prospective boat. If you know what’s wrong and the other guy doesn’t, you can use that do your advantage.

It’s not as good a story as bringing home a 1953 Corvette for a few grand, but then again, you weren’t shopping for a ‘vette, were you?

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