Boats by the Side of the Road

roadside boat

If you do buy a roadside boat, make sure you get a title along with a bill of sale so you can register the boat or resell it.

I’m driving along and suddenly a boat appears for sale on the side of the road. I swerve a little as I tap the breaks and strain my neck to see. In less than the blink of an eye I’ve appraised it and decide to turn around. I usually carry my digital camera in the car, so with a quick stop I can do a five minute walk-around, take a few pictures, and get the contact info if it is something really interesting.

I’m always looking for a boat bargain and there are usually some interesting ones found by the side of the road. The appeal for me is the same one that gets people to stop when they see a yard sale—it’s a bit voyeuristic to scan someone else’s junk for a hidden gem.

Taking pictures gives me an opportunity to research the boat and give it some more thought after I get home. And if it is really something of interest, I’ll call the contact number from my cell phone. Sometimes the seller will come right out to discuss the boat and give some background info.

Boats found by the side of the road contrast significantly with listings on since boats listed online are usually more complete, in running condition, and more polished than the ones dragged out to the edge of the road. But that doesn’t stop me from looking. Since the owner couldn’t be bothered to list the boat, my expectations are lower for what I might find.

hull id number

Since 1972 the US has mandated the use of hull id numbers , even for imported boats

Unlike online listings where there is a defined identity, often with a history of the boat, the biggest issue with roadside boats is identifying what they are. I check the hull identification number (HIN) on the upper right of the transom. If there isn’t one, that’s a clue that it was probably stolen (if it has been removed), or built prior to 1972 (when builder tags became a requirement), or a home-built boat (where the builder did not comply with the law for HIN’s).

I don’t want to just drag someone else’s junk from their yard to mine. I’m generally looking for something unique that I can put a little work into, restore, and resell. A good thing about roadside boats, beside the price and a bit of mystery, is that they are often on trailers, making them easier to take home. Andt the trailers have probably received even less maintenance than their roadside brethren.

roadside boats

The curved windows and distressed paint on this roadside boat are unique. I still don’t know what kind of boat this is.

I like to think my strange practice of looking at boats by the roadside has some psychological parallels with people who adopt stray pets. And I admit to doing it mostly when I’m alone, probably so my wife can’t complain about me rescuing another needy boat. I also admit that sometimes I extend my roadside curiosity to the boats stored in yards. I’m not looking for a specific boat to buy, just looking for something that strikes my fancy at the right price. And sometimes that can be found by the side of the road.




  1. DBM Guy says:

    I live in Australia WA and it makes me sad seeing all these older boats on people front lawns. Bit of a shame really. I wonder if its a sign of people getting lazy these days.

    Funny thing when i read this i couldnt stop thinking of a boat i saw for sale the other day and did the same thing, however when i turned up the local council ranger also turned up and told me he was calling the owner to move it. Guess your not allowed to do that out the front these days.

  2. Jay says:

    wow, I do this very same thing I have bought repaired and resold many older boats . great story.!

Speak Your Mind