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Friday, 9 May 2014

Getting Afloat - Part 8

Peter Underwood looks what turns ordinary people into boaters

Buying a boat that has been owned before is no different to buying a second-hand car or even a house – it will always be a balance between price and condition. You are buying what you can see in front of you and you will only have one opportunity to bargain with the seller. It is important to get it right – and perhaps we can help.

IF you were a car dealer, selling a second-hand car you would clean it, polish it, touch up the paint and present it in the best possible light to get the maximum price, wouldn't you?

Even estate agents these days give careful advice to sellers about making sure their home has neutral colours on the walls, is clean and smells fresh before potential buyers are given a viewing.

So why do so many of the people who sell second boats – either brokers or owners -happily offer for sale, scruffy, often dirty, vessels showing all the signs of neglect?

When you begin your trek around the brokers and private owners offering boats for sale do not expect to be dazzled by cleanliness, shiny paintwork and spotless engines. In fact, if you find a boat like that, I would look at it very closely, simply because the trade as a whole is so bad at presentation that you have to wonder what is being hidden.

The plus side of that approach is that you will see boats warts and all and it should be easier to identify potential problems.

We will deal with all the things you need to bear in mind whilst on your boat search later, but I want to make one key point before we do.

If you are buying a boat today all the power is in your hands – this is a buyers market. There are more boats for sale both with brokers and privately than I can remember in nearly 20 years of boating.

The recession has meant that many families are finding it difficult to spend the £3,000 or so a year it costs to keep a boat licenced, insured and moored and need to turn their investment into cash.

That means that boat dealers with ready cash are offering anything up to half the asking price and still making deals.

 You will find plenty of brokers and private sellers,
but make sure that they meet all of your criteria.

In that context this is the best possible time to buy a second-hand boat – if you are willing to haggle and haggle.

Once you see the boat you like, do not assume that the asking price is the real price. Make an offer. It may well be that the dream boat you thought you couldn't afford is now within your reach, especially if you are a cash buyer.

Brokers across the country will admit privately that any seller who over-estimates the value of his craft and refuses to accept offers is likely to see his or her vessel on the broker's books for a very long time.

Well before you set off you will have gone through the business of narrowing down the sort of boat you are looking for, length, width, layout, style etc. So you should be comparing like with like.

Unfortunately, second hand boats are not like cars, with ownership registered on some central computer, nor are they like houses with the deeds stashed at the Land Registry. That means you need to be able to trust the people you may be buying from.

If it is a broker it will help if the firm belongs to one of the trade associations with an enforceable Code of Conduct such as the British Marine Federation (BMF), the Boat Retailers and Brokers Association, a group within the BMF), or the Association of Brokers and Yacht Agents(ABYA).

It's worth asking if the broker operate a properly administered client account and whether the money you pay over will be kept in this account during the brokerage transaction?

You should ask whether there marine finance on the boat and the detailed arrangements for it being paid off before the boat becomes yours.


Knowing who really owns a boat, especially an older one, can be difficult to ask about title documentation. It could have a Part I Registration, Builder’s Certificate if it newish or there could be previous Bills of Sale.

Evidence of compliance with the Recreational Crafts Directive and the VAT status are also helpful but, above all make sure you are satisfied with the seller’s title documents before you sign a binding agreement.

There are standard BMF/ABYA contracts and when you are buying second-hand you really need to make sure any contract is subject to an independent survey.

It wouldn't be a bad idea if the contract included a specification and inventory so that there is no future argument about whether a specific item of kit is included. Some brokers offer extras, like an opportunity to moor, but don't overestimate the value of such perks, marina berths are not in short supply these days.

Finally it is important to spell out when you will become responsible for licensing and insuring the boat.

All those precautions make sense but I would flag up that buying a second-hand vessels is very much a case of buyer beware – you will have little or no comeback on the broker or previous owner unless they have actually misled you in some way, and even then it could take a court case to get satisfaction.

Make sure you boat is up to the job you want it to do,
and that means getting a survey before aiming for waterway wonders like at Foxton.
That is not said to put you off – merely to drive home the need to ask all the right questions and make sure you are happy with the answers.

Most of the questions are basic – you will know as soon as you step on board whether the boat been well looked after.

Check the paintwork, look at the fridge, cooker, heating system and shower – are they all in good working order?

Make sure there are central, fore and aft ropes, and that they are staying on the boat, along with a windlass and mooring pins?

Oh, and if the boat is out of the water make sure you know who is going to pay for it to be craned back in.

You need an expert to check what you can't see or don't know about. Primarily this is the thickness of the hull and whether any repairs are needed. Having said that, even surveyors make mistakes and when we bought our ex-hire boat we were assured the hull was sound only to be told five years later that it was very thin on the edges of the bottom plate thanks to wear when it was operated as a hire boat.

Ask when was the boat last 'blacked' in dry dock, with the hull protected with several coats of bitumen.

If you are not a mechanic it may be worth getting one to check over the engine and gearbox as some older craft have some weird and wonderful kit in the engine room.
Check the batteries (three leisure and one starter battery is standard) to make sure there are still working well and look for a battery management system and an inverter to convert 12 volt battery power to 240 volts if you want to run mains equipment on board.

You have to go over the paperwork that comes with the boat. A vessel less than four years-old must have a certificate Recreational Craft Directive (Class D Inland Waters), which says it's built to laid-down standards.

Boats more than four years must have a Boat Safety Certificate (BSS), which is a bit like an MOT and confirms the basic safety systems - engine installation


  1. I have always wondered why boats are offered for sale in a dirty/scruffy condition. Like the House Doctor used to say, the purchaser is buying a dream and does not want to see unmade beds and dirty dishes in the sink.

  2. Tyson, you are spot on, we tell the owners to prepare the boats for sale and keep them in aa clean and tidy condtion while the boat is up for sale, however in our experience a lot of owners just drop the keys off and walk away, then in 12 months time wonder why the boat is not selling!