Buying a Used Boat?
Sea trials are important, and fun, but there are some fundamental checks that should come before you even turn the key. Buyers place a lot of emphasis on a sea trial, as well they should, but there are a few checks that you should do before you take it for a water test.
One thing to insist upon is that the boat you’re looking at be stone cold when you get there. When you start the motor, it should be the first time it’s been started that day. This becomes more critical the older the boat is and the more hours there are on the engine. When an engine sits for a long period, or even just overnight, the oil between all the metal surfaces drains. If there are excess clearances in the connecting rods or main bearings, or even too much clearance between the pistons and cylinder wall, it will often present itself as a telltale metallic knocking, ticking, or slapping on cold start-up. If the boat has been started too soon before you arrive to look at it, you will have lost the opportunity to listen for noises on cold startup.
Check the hour meter when you first get aboard, before start-up, but don't forget to check it again after you come back from your sea trial. If the hour meter hasn’t moved, those "low hours" may not be as advertised.
Always pull the dipstick and study the oil. It shouldn’t be inky black (unless you’re looking at a diesel engine) and if it has recently been changed, it should still look similar to when it comes out of the bottle. There should be no evidence of water in the oil. If there is, you might be looking at head gasket problems. Check how the oils smells, It should not smell like gas. If there’s a strong gas smell, it might indicate problems. Unscrew the oil cap and look underneath it. It should have dark brown residue on it, but anything milky or resembling chocolate milk might also indicate problems.
On MerCruiser products, whether it’s an Alpha or Bravo drive, the engine compartment has a remote drive oil reservoir. Although the resevoir is translucent plastic and you can see if the oil is to the full line - don't forget to pull the cap off and check inside for signs of moisture. Water in the drive oil will indicate a leak somewhere in the drive, allowing water to seep into the gear case. If this has been going on for a long time, the gears in the drive might have corrosion and pitting, which generates excess heat while in use. It’s quick and easy to check, and there’s usually nothing wrong in a maintained boat — but you don’t want to overlook it.
The trailer is often an important part of the deal. Before you back the boat into the water, take a moment to do a walk around inspection of the trailer. Check the condition of the bunk carpeting or the bunk rollers if so equipped. Look at the backs of the wheels to see if there are any indications of brake fluid or bearing grease leaking. Look at the center of the hubs, too. Check the condition where the leaf springs attach to the bogeys — if dual axle — and to the frame. A little rust is to be expected. A lot of rust can leave you stranded when the spring mount fails. Checking the lights is always a plus, as is checking the condition and working order of the coupler, surge brakes, and tongue jack.
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