When Is The Best Time To Buy A Used Boat: Getting A Deal

A red and white Donzi boat is the only boat left in the water in a marina with snow covering the docks.

After purchasing dozens of used boats, I seem to find deals in all seasons. For novice or first time boat buyers, it may be best to shop when you can fully evaluate the boat in action.


Very late summer into very early fall, will most likely land you the best deal on a used boat. First time boat buyers need to purchase a used boat when they will be able to test it in the water prior to paying for it.


Your geographic location certainly plays into the purchase timing issue. Cold winter climates require doing a winterization to the boat for cold weather storage. Sellers really don’t want to deal with this expense and trouble if they can help it, so they are more motivated to sell before storage is required. But does spring and summer also produce deals? Let’s talk about this in more detail.



What Is The Boat Seller Thinking


This may vary depending on their motive for selling. For me, their motive for selling can provide a stronger buying opportunity than seasonality. So don’t ignore the possibility of a great used boat deal at any point in the year. Your best deal comes from timing it to when the seller loves their boat the least.


From a seasonal point of view, how might a seller be thinking when it comes to selling their boat in a full four season climate? This is good information to know about the sellers level of motivation to get rid of their boat.

  • Spring:

    • Lots of people are wanting to buy a boat for the summer and I’m going to get a very high price for my boat.
    • Hopefully there will be a lot of buyers, and someone will buy mine, because we just don’t use it.
    • My boat needs a little work to make it nice again. Now is a good time for someone to do some repairs before the boating season starts.
    • It cost me too much to store a boat for how many times I used it, so I want it gone, before I have to pay for a boat slip also.
    • I REALLY want a new wakeboard boat, but I need to sell my runabout first. I hope it sells fast so I can enjoy the summer in my new boat!

A boat auction taking place on a sunny day with many bidders around the boats.

  • Summer:

    • Here we are in the middle of another summer and the family has been on the boat only twice. It’s time to sell before the expenses grow.
    • We seem to always be boating with our friends along, but there just isn’t enough room in this boat. It’s time for an upgrade “a.s.a.p”.
    • I’m just not that mechanically inclined to keep this old boat. I’m selling it and getting a more reliable boat before summer is over.
    • OMG! Now is the best time to sell and make a killing on my boat! Lots of people have realized by now that it’s best to own your own boat.
    • The kids college tuition is due soon. Gotta sell the boat.


  • Fall:

    • A man jumping off his boat out in the water and text on the image says "Please buy my boat before I go Under".Hopefully I find a buyer that felt they missed out on all the boating fun this past summer and want a boat now to be sure it doesn’t happen again.
    • I used the boat twice this year and now I have to pay to winterize and store it. I’m just going to sell it!
    • The boat I bought this summer was in a prepaid slip. I don’t have a trailer and the marina wants a TON to maintain it for the winter. I have to find a buyer quick.
    • Had a blast this summer and I want a more powerful boat for next year. I need this one gone.
    • The wife says she wants a pontoon boat because our kids are too small for a sport boat. I am going to find someone to trade with, or just sell it fast.


  • Winter:

    • This boat hasn’t been in the water the last couple years. I want it gone.
    • The wife doesn’t want the boat in the driveway anymore. It’s just in the way all the time.
    • I’m tired of snow blowing around this thing and getting snow off the cover. I’m selling it no matter what.
    • My husband works hard, and I want him to get a new boat for Christmas. I need to sell the boat quickly and quietly.
    • I’m tired of making payments every month, when I can’t use it every month. I hope someone will buy it in the winter.


“I don’t advocate taking advantage of people in a weakened or desperate state. However, if everyone leaves a deal satisfied, then you can get a great deal and still have helped someone out of a bad situation. Nobody is forcing the seller or the buyer to do the deal. Either one can just say no. Most deals are advantageous to both parties. Never feel bad about getting a great deal on a used boat“.


Notice throughout the seasonal thoughts a seller may have, it’s more about outside motivators other than the weather that actually drives them to want to sell. Most of the time, the weather is just the final spark that makes them take action.



Why Buy Used Boats In The Water


Two people in a bowrider boat driving in the water on a sunny day with trees in the background.From late spring to early fall, you have the advantage of water testing your potential boat purchase.


When you’re a boating novice, I wouldn’t recommend buying a boat that you haven’t taken out into the water. This is where you can tell if the boat performs as it should. It doesn’t matter if you’ve ever driven a boat before. Get behind the wheel/helm (I recommend taking a boater safety course before buying a boat). Let the seller put the boat in the water and get the boat out into a safe area of the lake first. Then you take over.


15 things you want to watch and listen for, when inspecting a boat:

  • Is the engine smooth at idle?
  • Does the engine accelerate smooth, or does it bog or cough at all?
  • From a hard acceleration or full speed, pull the throttle back to neutral quickly. Does the engine settle to a smooth idle?
  • Accelerate to full speed. At anytime getting to full speed, is there any noticeable vibration? (Possible engine, drive-line bearings, or propeller issues.)
  • While moving on plane, does any part of the boat flex excessively specially over waves? (This condition is not sustainable. Something will give eventually.)
  • Does the trim go all the way up and down? Does the trim gauge read properly?
  • Does the throttle cable and steering cable move smoothly. (Stiff cables need to be replaced with new ones.)
  • What happens when you let go of the wheel/helm at speed? (It should not wander much. If it does, you need to find out why.)
  • Go at full speed. Pull back the throttle to neutral and shut off the engine. Coast to a stop and restart the motor. Does it restart and idle smoothly?
  • At idle, shift into forward and then right back to neutral. Then shift to reverse. Is there any hard shifts or hard clunking? Any vibrations while in reverse?
  • With the boat still and engine off, open the engine cover. Can you see any water in the bilge area? If so, look and listen for leaks.
  • Turn bilge on to be sure it runs.
  • Start up the boat and verify all gauges are working properly.
  • With the boat off the trailer, how do the bunks look? Does it look like the trailer is going to need any work?
  • Have the owner put it back on the trailer. Did the owner seem to have good control of the boat when docking? Did you watch how they maneuvered the boat into position?


Check out my Free Boat Inspection Checklist.



Motivated Boat Sellers In The Winter


A boat engine that has a crack in the block with rust coming out of the crack.After winterizing his boat, the seller won’t want to start the engine for you. If there is any risk of freezing temperatures, running a boat motor will blow out all the antifreeze from winterizing. Running the engine with muffs and a hose puts straight water back into the cooling ports of the engine. This water could freeze, breaking the engine block.


Any potential boat buyer that can’t hear the engine run, let alone water test the boat, is going to want a GREAT deal. Even for myself, with lots of experience, buying a boat that I can’t really test at all, is very risky. But I’ve done it more than once.  Why? Because I am only paying for what I know is good and sell-able.


“I buy, considering the worst case scenario”.


You can’t always expect to come to an agreement with the seller this way. That’s OK, because I’m supposed to protect my investment, not the seller’s. I’ve never lost money on a boat. Not even the ones that I kept and used. I have made a profit, even after using a boat for several years.


In the end, When Is The Best Time To Buy A Used Boat?

Any time you are buying it to not lose money.

The other best time, is when you are happy and you’ve provided wonderful boating experiences and memories for your family and friends. In this case, you paid the right price and got a great deal on your used boat!


I bought my first boat while in high school 1981. I had more hours working on it than using it in the water. I can't count how many boats I've had since, but I really enjoy reviving boats. I've had so many boats that I could never use them all. Once I fix a boat up, I play with it a couple times and sell it. My goal is to use my many years of experience, and help as many people Begin Boating.

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