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What To Look For When Inspecting a Boat

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What to Look For When Buying a Boat

Let’s assume you have discussed with your spouse or partner what type of boat you want. Coastal Cruising, Weekends, Long term cruising, Live-aboard. And you have discussed want matters most in how you’re going to use the boat. 

Now you need to have a Plan for every boat you look at!  Start with a scoring system like:       

P – Poor   G – Good   E – Excellent.  

In addition, use Factor levels – Safety, Fun, Comfort and Easy.

This is not a survey but let the brokers know ahead of time you want to look at everything. You should spend at least an hour, if not more. Take Notes!

  • Open up storage, floorboards, hatches, engine room etc. Most problems with boats are in these nooks and crannies. 
  • Bring a flashlight and maybe tape recorder!
  • Bring this Check List and Work sheet (see example work sheet)
  • During inspection stop and visualize yourself out sailing at the helm, swimming off the back, in the galley, relaxing in the salon, in berth reading etc.
  • During inspection there are certain things to look for, so you will know this boat has been well maintained! Is this the kind of owner you want to buy a boat from? Use the Scoring system and Factor levels


Inspection starts here as you walk up to the boat:

  1. Hull/hand and rub rails – look down the sides, look for dings, scrapes, piling marks
  2. Anchor and stern pulpit –does the anchor look big enough for this size vessel?
  3. Waterline clean? This is one of those (Owner Cares Clues)
  4. Sailboat look up and down the rig – wind inst. at top? 
  5. Look at the boat from a distance, anything stand out that you like or dislike-write it down!
  6. Grade the overall condition-P, G, E

Get on the boat top side and do a Cockpit/Deck inspection

  1. Lifeline and stanchion condition (Safety factor)
  2. Walk around the deck 360 degree 
  3. Canvas or top condition also condition of Isinglass 
  4. Sit and stand at the Helm (Comfort factor) how does she feel?  Headroom? – Cockpit cushions? How’s the visibility fore and aft? –Turn on the Instruments see their readability-Gps, autopilot etc. Write it down!
  5. Winches – electric? Control line winch locations – can I lay down in the cockpit? 
  6. Grade the overall condition of the area-P, G, E.

Check out Transom

This is one the main features you will enjoy using your boat with family and friends at anchorage and even at the dock ease of access swimming off the back, and using your dinghy –(Fun factor)

  1. Walk thru transom or swim platform (Ease factor)
  2. Cockpit shower-hot and cold?
  3. Davits/dinghy area 
  4. Grill 
  5. Storage-what ropes are available and there condition
  6. Grade the overall condition P, G, E

Going Down Below- (Owner Cares Clues) 

  1. Go right to the engine room. Does the engine light work? Here’s where the flashlight is needed.
  2. Motor mounts -rust
  3. Oil in bilge
  4. Hoses and clamps
  5. Belt fragments 
  6. Fuel filter locations
  7. Would this engine room be easy to work in?
  8. Grade the overall condition P, G, E

Move to the aft cabin or cabins – Master or guest cabin – head? 

  1. Berth size/type- getting in and out?  (Comfort Factor) write it down!
  2. Headroom
  3. AC duck and Fans-location of the A/C unit
  4. Natural light-curtains-leaks around windows/hatches
  5. Is there an emergency hatch-some boats have them
  6. Light for reading  (Comfort factor) hop in the bed check it out
  7. Look for signs of leaks in opening hatches
  8. Storage, hanging locker, under bed
  9. Grade the overall condition P, G, E

Head   (Comfort factor)

  1. Smell test
  2. Manual or electric flush
  3. Separate shower
  4. AC vent
  5. Look under sink
  6. Grade the overall condition P, G E

What’s in your Galley – (Easy factor)

  1. How does it feel-stand there, hand holds-Safety factor?
  2. Frig/ freezer Top load- front load
  3. 2 or 3 burner
  4. Microwave
  5. 12 volt plugs
  6. Counter space
  7. Storage
  8. Double sink?
  9. Ventilation
  10. Fan
  11. Open up everything look and smell, thru-hulls
  12. Grade the overall condition P, G E

Navigation table this is where you usually find stuff (Easy factor)

  1. Manuals
  2. Control panel – propane solenoid – tanks – battery monitor
  3. VHF? Handheld?
  4. Inverter
  5. 12 volt plug
  6. Open panel look behind – organized? 
  7. Charts
  8. Electronics
  9. Grade the overall condition P, G, E

Moving to the Salon 

  1. Hand rails to grab as you move through the boat underway (Safety factor)
  2. Natural lighting-Curtains-Screens
  3. Open feeling
  4. Sit at the Table seating – easy to get in and out? (Comfort factor)
  5. Fold down berth
  6. Storage
  7. Opening hatches – screens? 
  8. Grade the overall condition P, G, E

Move to the Forward Cabin (Comfort factor)

  1. Has head and Shower
  2. Berth type  getting in and out
  3. AC duct Fans?
  4. Natural Light
  5. Reading light hop in get comfortable!
  6. Look for signs of leaks in opening hatches
  7. Storage, hanging locker, under bed storage, floor boards
  8. Is there an emergency escape hatch-some boats have them- (Safety factor)
  9. Grade the overall condition P, G, E

Here’ where we want to emphasize again the importance of spending enough time inspecting the vessel, so you can make a fair offer! Remember the offer is made before the survey, so this inspection on your part is very important. This list can be larger depending of the type and size of boat you’re looking at. Do not rely on anything you hear…. trust your own instincts. And if you need assistance, give me a call

John McNally 561-262-3672

start youR boat buying adventure

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Ed Khalily

Jeanneau 54

I wanted to thank you for the remarkable support and expertise you provided throughout the
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Teddy & Julie


Julie and I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your unwavering support and dedication throughout our journey of buying a yacht. Your expertise and commitment to ensuring we found the perfect vessel for our needs were truly remarkable. We are now the proud owner of our dream catamaran, and I have McNally Yacht Sales to thank for it. Here’s to many memorable voyages ahead!

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Boat Selling

Ellison Premier Marine Service and McNally Yacht Sales has great customer service, maintenance and sales support. I moved my cruiser from Illinois to Florida in 2016 and Scott Ellison serviced my cruiser for 6 years. Scott and his team continually exceeded my expectations maintaining my boat.  I would highly recommend using Ellison Premier Marine Service and McNally Yacht Sales for maintaining and/or selling your boat.

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