Buying a used bass boat?

Reprinted with permission from Inside Line Magazine

It’s 5:00 on a cool summer morning at the ramp. There’s a little dew on my seat but that’s okay. Coffee never tasted better. I glance at the horizon...the distant sliver of light promises a beautiful day ahead. In the twilight, I hear telltale feeding activity on the surface. I can’t wait for the top water bite! With a twist of the key and a puff of smoke, my trusty 200EFI comes to life, beginning its familiar loping idle as it builds heat for the morning run. A few minutes later, my eyes tear as I put a hundred feet of water behind me every second on my way to the first adventure of this day. I smile and think to myself, “Life is great!”

This storybook morning was my fantasy when I bought my first bass boat. The decision really wasn’t about buying any particular boat. It was about buying the know, the thrill of bassin. This article is for all you guys who, like me, who aren’t made of money and have to scrape up every dollar to indulge our bass fishing passion.

New bass boats are expensive, easily running over $45,000 for a top quality tournament rig. How does an average guy with a wife, kids and a big mortgage get into a good bass boat without going bankrupt? The answer is simple. 1) Settle for less in a brand new boat or, 2) find a good used boat within your budget. I’ve done both. The settle-for-less approach was a disaster. My “cheap” boat’s performance was always marginal and the resale value was terrible. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of wonderful fishing memories during those years but, in hindsight, I realize I could have done much better by buying a good quality used boat.

What are the advantages of buying a “used” boat?

• You get “more” boat for your limited dollars...maybe a 20 footer instead of an 18.
• Used boats tend to hold their value better than new boats...they’ve already depreciated.
• You know what you’re getting...if the boat has a maintenance record.
• Formerly “new” technology is now well known, in case there were any bugs.
• Someone else has already paid for the latest “gotta have it” upgrades.
• If it’s a newer “used” boat, like a prostaff boat, it may still have some warranty.

Now, it’s only fair to ask what are the pitfalls of buying a “used” boat?

• If you are not careful, you can inherit someone else’s headaches.
• Outboard engines are notoriously for short lives. The clock is ticking!
• Bass anglers tend to be hard on equipment. Boats can have serious damage that doesn’t show up on casual inspection. While a used boat may be pretty, it may also be junk.
• Some prostaff anglers don’t take good care of a boat when they know it only has to last them for a year or so.

If the downside risks are carefully managed, the advantages of buying a used bass boat are tremendous. The big mistake most guys make when buying a boat...even a new they make emotional decisions. That’s right. They fall in love with a boat and let enthusiasm make decisions rather than using logic to make sound choices. This is especially important with a used boat because there’s no warranty to fall back on. Any major breakdown is coming out of YOUR pocket! So, the best single piece of advice I can share with anyone looking for a used bass boat is to keep your excitement in check until the deal is done. Now, with your enthusiasm firmly under control, let’s look at the best way to find a super bass boat at an affordable price.

There are three important decisions to be made in buying a used bass boat.

• How much can I afford?
• What features do I want?
• Is this the “right” boat for ME?

Let’s examine each step, one at a time.

• How much can I afford?

The search for a used bass boat obviously begins with an honest appraisal of your financial resources. How much cash do you have available? Are you willing to make payments? If so, how much can you qualify for with a bank or your credit union? Once you know how much you have to spend, you are prepared to begin actually looking at boats within your price range.

Let’s look a little closer at this. If you don’t want to make any payments, then it’s really simple. If you saved up $10,000 then that’s how much boat you can get. However, if you are willing to make small payments after making a sizable down payment, then you can buy a lot more boat! Many lenders will finance boats over long much as 15 years! So, let’s see what we can do with our 10 grand IF we are willing to take on a small monthly payment.

Say you put $9,000 down (out of your 10 grand) on a $20,000 boat financed over 10 years at 10% interest. Your payment would only be $145 per month on the balance! Not bad! And, you still have $1,000 of your original $10,000 in savings for the inevitable upgrades and repairs associated with boat ownership. So, instead of settling for a $10,000 boat, now you are looking at boats in the $20,000 range.

Taking this notion a step further, why not leave your entire $10,000 savings in some kind of investment and take an equity loan on your house instead? Payment on a $20,000 second at 10% financed over 15 years is only $215 per month. My accountant tells me the second on the house is probably tax deductible too! Using this approach also means the title to the boat will be in your and clear. That way, if (when) you ever decide to sell the boat, you will not have the complication of a note to pay off. The point is you should be creative with financing. Do your financial homework BEFORE you go boat hunting.

Now, let’s go buy a boat!

• What features do I want?

This article contains a “BASS BOAT FEATURES LIST”. Print it out. It will help you identify typical fishing boat features to consider. Make sure the features you select address your own interests and needs...nobody else can tell you what style of fishing you enjoy. So, with that in mind, make several copies of the “BASS BOAT FEATURES LIST” to use as worksheets while you are shopping different boats.

How “much” boat do you need? Do you fish big water, small ponds, rivers, tournaments? If you plan to spend time on big water like the California Delta or huge lakes like Mead, then you need a boat with enough hull length to provide both safety and comfort. This usually means longer boats like 19 or 20 footers...although, even more length is preferred by some guys on these big waters. You’ll also need enough motor to cover long distances quickly. On the other hand, if you are planning to double anchor and stitch live crawdads or troll big swimbaits looking for trophy bass on small lakes like Folsom or Castaic, then you may be less concerned about boat length in favor of better electronics or a small gas kicker motor. You might also have regional pressures to consider. Here in California, we suffer more eco-politics than the rest of the country and our 2-stroke motors are under attack by eco-extremists. This probably won’t effect big water boating like on our Delta or Clearlake but a few small reservoirs might restrict motors to DFI and 4stroke only. So, a California bass angler might want to consider the CARB rating (3-Star) of his big motor in selecting a used boat.

A good way to start your search is to use the “Bass Boat Features List” provided in this article to “design” your perfect boat. Fill in all the features you want. Be realistic...but indulge yourself a bit. For “asking price”, simply enter the amount of money you are able to spend. This template becomes your standard by which you will compare the used boats you find. Remember, the “boat” you buy may be with you for many years to come! It’s important to make sure you get a hull and main motor configuration that you can live with. It’s easy to upgrade electronics and trolling motors so they are less critical in making the used boat decision.

Okay, now where do I find all those used boats?

Obviously, you begin with classified ads. Newspapers, bass fishing magazines and internet fishing sites like are excellent places to find boats for sale. Some boat dealers offer “trade-in” used boats that they took in when some other customer purchased a new boat. These dealers often have access to excellent lending resources for financing used boats. Bass fishing clubs almost always have members selling boats as they upgrade. Sometimes an angler will win a new boat in a tournament and he sells his older boat at a great price. Bank repos are another source. A few years ago, a friend of mine bought a 3 year old 19’ BassCat at a repo auction for only $13,000! Its book value was over $20,000 at that time! Lots of guys upgrade their boats in the spring so you can expect to find a better selection then. Of course, you also might find prices a little higher due to greater demand.

Each time you talk to someone about his boat, take a blank “Bass Boat Features List” and complete it for that particular boat. This will give you a good record of each boat you look at so you don’t have to ask yourself, “Now, what did that other boat have?” (Make plenty of blank copies.) After you get a bunch of Feature lists on used boats, then compare them to your “ideal boat” Feature List to find the one(s) that is/are closest to what you actually want. You’re trying to decide if you want to actually invest the time to go look at the boats. Don’t waste YOUR time! If a boat’s Feature List does not have all the main things you want, move on! There’s always a better deal just around the corner. Be patient! When you DO find a boat that provides most of the features you require, then you’re ready to spend some time on the water. That brings us to the next phase of buying a used bass boat.

• Is this the right boat? The “Boat Inspection Checklist”.

Maybe...maybe not! Are you a certified boat mechanic? Are you knowledgeable with boat structural evolution from the old wood based hulls to the newer all-fiberglass designs? Would you be comfortable pushing an ice pick into stringers to test for dry rot? Would the seller be comfortable with you poking holes in his stringers? Are you qualified to scope the inside of an engine cylinder? Can you spot major fiberglass damage repairs or excessive flex in a transom? Are you able to provide a certified appraisal of the boat’s value for a lender? There are many boat and motor considerations that require the help of a competent professional. But, it’s going to cost you a hundred bucks or more every time you bring a boat to the shop for a check up and appraisal. This could get expensive if you bring a bunch of boats in for a check-up. Of course, you could save your money and just “trust” the seller! Yeah, right!

Here’s a better way to keep those professional costs under control. You’ve looked at many boats on paper and you’ve found one or two at the right price with all the features you want. In fact, you have a completed Feature List on each boat. Sounds encouraging! Now, it’s time to see if each boat is in good condition. The good news is, there are many things you can check by yourself before making the final decision to spend money for a professional boat check up. Make a date with the seller to go out on the water. Take two things with you...the “Bass Boat Features List” for that know, the one you completed by phone when you first called about the boat. But, in addition to the Feature List be sure to bring the “Boat Inspection Checklist” provided in this article. This inspection list will make sure you go over the boat in good detail BEFORE you decide to drop a $100 bill on the professional check-up.

First - when you see the boat, verify that the boat actually HAS all the things you were told over the phone. Use your “Bass Boat Feature List” to check off each feature that you were told about. Of course, if the guy lied about the features on the boat when you review the Feature List then the discussion is over! Now, if there are no surprises, you’re ready to begin working your way through all the items on the “Boat Inspection Checklist”. This list covers the most common aspects of the boat operation and condition. Feel free to add anything else to the list that might influence your decision. For example, you might want to check for black light electrical plugs, downriggers, rod holders, stereo, condition of carpet or upholstery, ski harness, etc. The “Boat Inspection Checklist” is simply a step-by-step system to check out a boat. Take your time while using it! It’s YOUR hard earned money that’s on the line. Check every item that applies.


There are three parts to your inspection. If you are not sure how to check out some of the things on the list, take a trustworthy buddy along who knows bass boats to help you with the evaluation.

• Part 1: On the ramp before launching.
• Part 2: On the water.
• Part 3: Back on the ramp after being on the water.

The whole process should take at least an hour and, if the seller is really motivated, maybe he’ll agree to spend a few bonus hours actually fishing! Notice that there is no mention on the Inspection List about some cosmetic items like carpet or upholstery. Those things are easily replaced. If the boat has everything else you want at a great price, buy it! And then, spend a little more money to get the cosmetic things fixed. But, if cosmetics are important to you, don’t hesitate to add them to your list.

After your inspection is complete, if the boat seems to be exactly what you want then it’s time to pony up for the professional evaluation and formal appraisal. It’s the best $100 you’ll ever spend on your boat! If your marine mechanic gives you the thumbs up, you can be sure you’ve got the right boat, at the right price. If he does NOT give you his approval, then he can explain why and there still might be room to negotiate with the seller for a boat repair or price adjustment. In either case, you are making an informed decision and avoiding unpleasant surprises down the road.

One final thought. Many years ago when I was young, my dad shared a wise old saying with me. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. “Be careful what you wish for, cause it might come true!” This is great advice for buying a used bass boat. On the positive side, you will no longer have to wait for fishing invitations from buddies. You’re the boss! You get to decide when, where and how you fish. Winter, summer, spring and fall, you will be on the water enjoying the best each season has to offer. But, if you got your “wish” without being careful, then you could be spending many days waiting for a call from your mechanic who’s replacing a powerhead or rebuilding a transom. Your dream-come-true CAN become a nightmare. So, do yourself a favor. Make the dream into the wonderful reality it can be. Control your enthusiasm and follow this step-by-step method for buying a used bass boat.

Good fishing!

Boat Inspection Checklist