How To Inspect Used Sailboats

In today's pleasure craft market, you'll save a lot of money by buying a used sailboat rather than a new one and if you know how to inspect used sailboats, chances are you can pick up that pleasure boat for a song. With just a few tips, a flashlight and some other assorted tools, you can do a quick survey of the used sailboat before you make an offer.

Note: in order to do a full inspection of a used sailboat, it must be "on the hard" (on land) so the below assumes that you're looking at a sailboat on a trailer, cradle or jackstands.

  1. Start to inspect a used sailboat by looking at the keel and hull. If the bottom of the boat is painted, inquire about when it was last painted and prior maintenance. Ask if there have been any problems with leaking. Check to see if there are blistered spots in the paint or if it is in good condition. Walk as closely as you can and hold the mirror under the boat to check the very bottom (this will save your back!). Standing in front of the keel, look straight down the hull and see if you detect any distortions. If so, make a note on your paper and check the spot on the inside to see if there is bowing. Ask if the boat has ever been grounded and, if so, when and what damage occurred.
  2. Check the condition of the rudder of a used sailboat by wiggling it back and forth. The hinges should not have play in them but the rudder should move smoothly back and forth. Inspect the rudder for cracks or chips which could indicate that the sailboat has had a collision of some type. If the cracks or chips are small though, it's probably an indication that the rudders have bumped up against a dock or two and shouldn't cause many problems.
  3. If there is a daggerboard, ask the owner to put it down so you can visually inspect it. Check the dagger board for damage on the bottom which could indicate that the boat has bottomed out.
  4. Stand in front of the boat and check that the mast appears to be straight and firmly in the middle of the boat. A mast should never lean.
  5. If you're lucky enough to be able to take the boat out on the water, check the engine while the boat is under power. Sailboats usually have very small engines, just used mainly for docking but check that the engine runs smoothly. Ask to see any maintenance records. At the very least, the engine oil should be changed yearly.

Tips: If you're seriously interested in buying a used sailboat, get an official survey so that all systems will be go when you're finally behind the wheel of your new boat.

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