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10 things to consider when buying a boat

Updated: Jan 16

Your guide to getting the most out of your purchase or sale

tips on buying a boat

They are all happy days!

Whether you are buying your first boat or your 10th or whether you are selling your boat to trade up or trade down there are some key considerations that make a huge difference to the success of the transaction and your ongoing enjoyment of boating. Boat owners looking to sell often overestimate the true market value of their boat. This is understandable as there is always an emotional as well as monetary attachment to your boat.

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At the same time buyers often believe they should be able to grab a ‘bargain’ from a desperate seller. It is this gap between the sellers and the buyers expectation that experienced marine brokers are able to close delivering a win-win to sellers and buyers alike. Boating is one of the great pleasures of life and choosing the right boat can be quite a challenging process as there are so many different uses, types, sizes and prices of boats to consider. Your enjoyment of boating is ultimately a reflection on how well you are able to navigate and balance these competing issues.

The purpose of this guide is to articulate the top 10 key considerations when buying or selling a boat. This guide is focused on power boats kept on moorings or marina berths, however, the principles apply to most boat sale and purchase transactions.

Buying your boat

So, you've decided to buy a boat.

No doubt, you've already started to research different types of boats on the internet. There are many excellent websites offering both private and brokerage boats for sale. The first decision that you need to make is new or second hand? The advantages of new boats are that they have the latest technology, are often customisable to meet your specific requirements and have warranties on all the key components. New boats are obviously more expensive than secondhand boats and during the first 12 months of ownership can experience some teething issues or warranty items that need to be resolved. That is why, when buying a new boat, it is imperative to choose a reputable brand and a reputable dealer.

One decision to be made when buying a secondhand boat is, do you buy privately or through a boat broker. Before we get to that, let's look at why you want to buy a boat

1. What do you dream of?

When you think about going boating, what images come to mind? Are you keen to go fishing, spend time with family, just head out for the day to relax or go cruising for weeks at a time? Is it a mixture of all of the above? It is important to spend some time working out how you will use your boat as each different use dictates different requirements within the vessel and these requirements often compete with each other.

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Simply, if you are looking for a boat that does more than one specialised thing you need to work out your priorities and be ready to compromise. For example, boats that are ideal for fishing aren't necessarily the most comfortable boats for long-term cruising.

Another key factor is how many people do you expect to have onboard. This determines the size of the vessel depending on the use. If it’s friends or family, do they share your dream? Likewise, if you intend staying out on your boat for a number of nights you may wish to consider purchasing a boat with a generator as batteries will only get you so far.

We suggest making a list of what you want to do when you go boating and who you intend to do it with then discuss it with them, refine it and prioritise it. This will give you a very good indication of the type of both you're looking for.

You can find more information about types of boats here.

2. What’s your boating budget?

Fundamental to any boat purchase decision is setting a budget. The budget should not only be for the initial purchase price but for ongoing storage, maintenance and operating costs.A simple rule is to buy the smallest, newest boat that meet your needs.It is tempting to buy a larger, older vessel for the same money as a newer vessel but this can often be a false economy as larger older vessels will have higher maintenance and storage costs. For inexperienced skippers, larger older vessels are also more difficult to navigate particularly in close quarters as they tend to have a larger windage and may not have a lateral controls like bow and stern thrusters. Boating is a journey. Your first boat should certainly not be your last boat. Buy a boat that meets your needs, skills and budget today and enjoy your boating. As your needs, skills and budget change over time you can always buy another boat that meets this new criteria.

how much is a boat to buy

One of the best places to see the diversity of boats on offer is a boat show like the Sydney International Boat show. This is a new boat show and even if you are looking for a second hand boat you will learn a lot about different types of boats and have the opportunity to compare a wide range of boat types.

There are four competing criteria in meeting your budget requirements,

the age of the vessel,

the condition of the vessel,

the size of the vessel and

the ongoing costs of ownership of the vessel.

Find the right balance and you will have years of happy boating.

3. How much time do you have?

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Boating is more than just going boating. One of the joys of owning a boat is just tinkering, whether this is within the marina or out in the bay. Is looking after a boat or restoring a boat your future hobby?

Old timber boats (or new timber boats for that matter) require ongoing maintenance particularly in relation to varnished surfaces. There is a certain charm and passion associated with owning and maintaining a classic timber boat. It does however, require a substantial commitment of time and effort to maintain.

Most modern fibreglass boats require less maintenance. Modern gel-coats are quite resilient providing they are protected with regular polishing, not unlike car finishes.

Boats need to be used.

Boats that sit around and aren’t used for weeks or months at a time are less reliable and require more maintenance than boats that are used regularly. That is because boats that are stored in the water are exposed to the elements and extremes of temperature.

If you don't have much time perhaps owning a share in boat is worth consideration.

That way the boat is used by other owners as well and managed by the syndicate manager.

4. Where would you go boating?

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What sort of boating are you into? As we discussed in point 1 above matching your boat to your dream of boating is the first step on your journey to boat ownership. The key to this is understanding boating destinations and how these match to your vision of your future boating.

Do some research, if you're new to boating you will probably want to seek out boating destinations that aren't too busy.

Once you have identified a location consider the following.

  • Is there a lot of commercial traffic like ferries to avoid or competition for the best anchorages.

  • Are there sailing regattas to avoid?

  • Are there places where you can rest at anchor or on a mooring?

If you are more adventurous, would you be looking to do some coastal cruising, and if so, consider vessels that are appropriate for this use.

For powerboats there are essentially two types of hulls, displacement hulls and planing hulls. Displacement hulls push through the water and tend to be slower, heavier and more stable vessels capable of longer distance cruising. They tend to have smaller engines as the maximum speed is determined by their waterline length. Planing hulls use the power of their engines to lift the vessel so that it plains across the surface of water. Vessels with planing hull are faster, use more fuel for the same distance and are less stable at slow speed.

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5. Where will you keep your boat?

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By now you have worked out what sort of boat you want and where you want to go boating.

Now you need to work out where are you going to store your boat.

Depending on your choice of boat, where you live and where you want to go boating the options available include private mooring, private berths, commercial moorings and commercial marina berths.

Private moorings are often the cheapest alternative but come with a number of inconveniences as you typically need to row yourself, your guests and your supplies out to your boat. Your boat is not connected to shore power so keeping batteries charged is a challenge.

Marina berths on the other hand provide ‘walk on walk off’ access, shore power and other on-shore amenities like restaurants and social events that make for convenient boating and enjoying the marina lifestyle.

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If you are considering storing your boat on a marina you should check out our e-book “20 things to consider when choosing a marina”

6. Petrol or Diesel?

A further consideration when choosing a boat is the type of fuel the engines use.

Most modern larger cruising vessels are fitted with diesel engines because of their long term performance and torque. Whereas, sports cruisers are likely to be fitted with petrol engines.

Petrol engines are lighter and rev higher than diesel engines giving faster acceleration and higher speeds making them ideal for sports boats.

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One matter to be aware of with petrol engines is the vapour risk. The flash point, being the lowest temperature at which the vapour of the material will ignite with ignition source, is different for petrol and diesel. The flash point for petrol is -43°C whereas the flash point for diesel is +52°C. This means that any fuel leak into the bilge of a boat with petrol motors can create the presence of petrol vapour. That is why with petrol boats it is essential to start the blowers and let them run for a whilebefore starting the engines to ensure no vapour is present.

This is also good practice for diesel engines as well.

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Following these simple procedures will minimise the risk of vapour ignition for all fuel types and with proper care and maintenance both engine

types can provide years of reliable service.

7. Get a survey & mechanical check

Boats are complex machines.

They have multiple systems and components that you rely upon for your boating enjoyment. It is important that before purchasing a boat privately or through a broker that you obtain both a condition survey from a marine surveyor and a mechanical check from a marine mechanic.

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All secondhand boats have some issues, most of which, if the boat has been well maintained, will be minor. There is however the potential for significant issues to be present within secondhand boats and failure to identify these issues prior to purchase can have significant financial and safety implications.

Where undisclosed issues arise during the survey phase there is often the opportunity to negotiate the resolution of the issues as part of the purchase. Reputable marine brokers can provide you with a list of experienced marine surveyors and marine mechanics who can undertake these surveys on your behalf.

8. Too many or too few hours

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How many hours should the engines on the boat have?

Too many hours and you may be up for significant costs in repair or repowering of the vessel.

Too few hours and you may be facing exactly the same consequences. Marine engines need to be used.

Engines left sitting idle or only run infrequently at low speed can suffer from corrosion and blockages that substantially impair engine performance and create premature ageing of the engines. Normal engine usage should be around 50 hours per year. If the engine usage is multiples of this it is likely that the vessel has been used in shared ownership or charter. Engine hours of significantly less than this is likely to lead to the issues outlined above.

9. Review the service history

All the vessel owners should maintain logbook of the vessel service history, additional accessories, modifications and operating manuals.

It's worthwhile to have this service history reviewed by the marine surveyor and the marine mechanic during the survey process. Where the service history cannot be provided greater emphasis needs to be placed on the review by the marine mechanic prior to purchase.

10. Marine Broker or Private sale?

Buying a boat privately comes with certain risks.

In private transactions there is no formal contract of sale. Consequently ‘Proof of Purchase’ is not automatically established. Vessel registration is not proof of ownership. It is important to undertake certain investigations to determine the pedigree of the vessel and whether it is currently offered as security for finance. This can be done through the PPSR register. When buying a vessel privately you will also need to organise the marine and mechanical survey yourself. There is also clearly no after sales service in a private transaction.

Reputable boat brokers are members of the Boating Industry Association and Marine Brokers Association. These brokers adhere to a code of practice and provide you with advice and assistance in helping you achieve a boat that meets your needs. The broker undertakes the PPSR checks, provides formalised sales contract documentation (which assists in boat finance applications) and co-ordinates the survey process on your behalf. The broker can also assist you with boat storage options and boat handling training.

Boating is an ongoing learning experience and, as such, it is worth building a relationship with reputable & knowledgeable people in the industry that you can call on for advice.


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