How To Inspect Used Bass Boats For Sale
I learned to fish on a small, rugged stream in West Central Alabama called the Sipsey. As soon as factory Jon boats became available, my family abandoned their old flat-bottom cypress model for a secondhand 14 foot version made of aluminum. We used wooden paddles for our float trips and a small outboard for the larger nearby rivers, and inspecting one of those used bass boats for sale was an easy task.
We learned to take care of our motor by changing the foot grease, water pump, spark plugs, and to mix our oil and gas precisely. In addition, we knew to clean the carburetor filter and keep an eye out for any change in performance. Our motors weren’t much to look at, but they served us well and usually outlasted our boats.
Today, most boats have carpeted decking and a myriad of wires, pumps, and tubing underneath and out of sight. Fiberglass seems to be the favorite construction material, and most outboards are now four-stroke and have Electronic Control Modules and fuel injection.
That’s why it might pay to have a professional take a look when you are considering purchasing a bass boat used.
So, how does one decide if their current boat or one they may consider buying is structurally and mechanically sound?
It is often said, “Experience is the greatest teacher.” If this is true, finding someone who has that experience might be an excellent place to start.
I talked with Angela Britt, the service manager at Bucks Island Marina in Southside, Alabama. They have been in business since 1948, when Buck Lumpkin set up shop on the banks of the Coosa River. It’s still owned and managed by his family, and they have accumulated a wealth of experience in both sales and service. They still run their business according to Buck’s philosophy of “Treating customers like we want to be treated.”
Britt shared with me the process they use to determine the structural integrity of a used boat’s hull and the mechanical condition of its motor. They have 18 dedicated service bays at Bucks Island, and their factory-certified mechanics strive to stay up-to-date on the newest products on the market.
Angela said most outboards produced in the last 20 years have a control module that stores vital information about the motor and its operation. They begin the motor inspection by examining the lower unit and propeller for any impact or freeze damage. They also check the foot and engine oil of used bass boats for signs of water or impurities.
Computerized Engine Logs
“We plug into the computer to download the engine log before doing a compression test on each cylinder,” Britt said. She noted that newer engines store a wealth of data that can help evaluate an engine’s current condition. Some of the information stored can include such items as:
- Total engine operating hours
- Engine run-time at various RPM ranges
- Active faults
- Previous faults
- A record of all engine data at the time of a fault
- Sensor failures
- Engine start count
- The number of times the engine has shifted gears
Older Hour Meters
Up until 20 years ago, most boats with steering wheels and consoles had hour meters mounted in the dash. However, they only provided a rough estimate of the actual run-time because they operated through the ignition switch. For example, the operator might leave the key in the on position, or a wire might come loose or get disconnected, and either of these conditions would alter the true run-time.
That’s why when looking over an older model engine, the overall motor condition and compression readings on each cylinder are a better indicator of usage on older used bass boats for sale.
Hull And Transom
Though a hull issue might be the result of a manufacturing defect, it’s much more likely to be the result of an impact, improper storage, or neglect. Fiberglass is a fantastic choice for constructing a boat, but telltale signs on the exterior of a hull can indicate the need for a more thorough inspection.
I asked Angela what her service techs looked for when examining a fiberglass boat’s transom and outer hull. She said they raise the foot of a motor, then place upward and downward pressure to ensure the transom is solid before looking closely at the entire outer hull. “They look for any scratches or abrasions that extend past the gel coating, and also for any spider-webbing, then determine if it’s normal wear or signs of an impact,” she added.
Angela said they also thoroughly inspect a boat’s trailer to ensure the wiring, lights, brakes, tires, and bearings are in good condition. “We also look closely for abnormal wear patterns on the tires that might indicate a spindle or axle issue,” she added.
Britt said that after their mechanics finish the initial inspection, they run the engine with water flowing through the foot. It’s run at various rpm’s, shifted, stopped, and repeatedly cranked to ensure everything is in working order. After that, they do a compression test to evaluate each cylinder’s condition. If a technician detects any abnormal issue, they will take it to the river for further evaluation.
“If everything checks out in the shop, I begin a search of its service history, warranty claims, and any service bulletins or recalls. Only then will a boat be approved for sale,” Britt said.
“Electrical components such as fish finders, stereos, and other onboard devices can be challenging to assess, Britt said., “If we determine they are in good working order and operating correctly, that’s about as much as we can do.” Other considerations are the age, button wear, and screen condition, but other than checking for any recalls or service bulletins, there is no guarantee for how long a used electronic device might last.”
If you’re buying from an individual, insist on seeing the registration and title with their name and address. You also need this same information for the trailer.
Ensure the registration numbers on the used bass boat for sale match the make, model, and hull identification numbers. You will also need a copy if you plan to finance the boat and trailer. Also, request a bill of sale signed by the owner that clearly describes any warranty coverage, if offered.
Considerations Before Buying
You can learn a lot about the current condition of used bass boats for sale by appearance and maintenance history—both the quality and quantity of that servicing, along with who performed it. It can also be helpful to know how and where the owner stored the boat. Even if the owner produces the service records, have a mechanical inspection done by a qualified technician if you suspect anything whatsoever. They can tell you the current condition of the engine, drive system, and related components, regardless of its service history.
Questions You Should Ask Before Buying
- What’s the manufacturing date of both the boat and motor?
- How many hours does the engine have on it?
- When were the boat and motor last serviced?
- Where was it serviced?
- How long ago did the seller buy the boat and motor?
- Are they the first owner?
- Where was it purchased?
- Have there been any major repairs to the engine or the hull?
- When was the vessel last used?
- Is the boat or motor still under factory warranty?
- Do they have the original sales paperwork?
- Where has it been stored/ has it been covered?
- When was the trailer last serviced?
- Spin the propeller as you look at the center of the shaft. Does it wobble? Does the lower unit show signs of an impact?
Things to Look For Before Buying
- Look at the overall condition of the motor on the outside and inside. Look for freshly painted areas or welds that don’t look normal. How clean are the powerhead and cowling?
- Check the age and condition of the battery and cables.
- Take the boat for a test ride. Start it up and listen closely. Does it start quickly and idle smoothly?
- How quickly does the motor reach maximum rpm and get to plane?
- Does it bog down or act sluggish?
- Get into the boat and walk around as you feel for soft spots in the deck. Bounce a little.
- Make sure all lights, pumps, gauges are working.
- Ensure the steering system turns smoothly. Inspect the steering cable.
- Check the condition of the fuel tanks, lines, sending unit, and fuel filter.
If you feel confident that you can perform a thorough inspection when buying a used bass boat/motor/trailer, be sure to take your time so as not to overlook anything. Take along a checklist.
Give the folks at Bucks Island a call if you begin to have doubts or questions about any aspect of a prospective deal. You could also check out their inventory and save yourself time and worry about the condition of your next boat.
Angela Britt (Service Manager)