The Big Picture: Reasons to Buy Used Boats

"Pre-owned" boats are a great way to get on the water without spending too much.

8th October 2009.
By Matt Trulio

In the market for a “new” boat at a great price? Consider used.

Many great deals on used boats can be found right here on boats.com

Many great used boats can be found right here on Boats.com

Maybe I’m getting too worked up—I have a tendency do that—but I refuse, categorically, to call any product “pre-owned.” That term is advertising-and-marketing speak for “used,” which for some reason has earned a negative connotation. Take the automotive world, where a used car is something you buy from your sketchy brother-in-law but a pre-owned vehicle is something you purchase from your local Lexus dealer.

Get the distinction? Good. Would you explain it to me someday?

So in this column I will use the word “used”—not pre-owned or lightly operated or semi-new or any such euphemistic nonsense—when I talk about buying boats that are, OK, used. First, it’s more direct. Second, it’s easier to type.

Used powerboats are a hot topic right now because, frankly, there are a lot of them on the market. A few years back, dealers were accepting them “on trade” as partial payment for new models like there was no tomorrow. Unfortunately, there was a tomorrow—it’s today, and with the huge downturn in the powerboat market and much tighter financing, those used boats are just sitting. And sitting.

So why not buy one? Look around and you likely find, though there’s no guarantee,  a used version—with low hours—of the new boat you just read about in one of the pretty boating magazines at two-thirds or even half the price. That’s because first, as I said earlier there’s a ton of used “inventory”—see, I can sling the fancy words with the best of them—and second, powerboats depreciate rapidly. (For proof, and here comes my shameless plug, do a little shopping on Boats.com.)

Good fun, good times, good to look at and even good to the last drop of water running off the deck—a powerboat is all those things and much more. It is not, however, a good investment, any way you look at it.

OK, powerboat builders, I can hear you grinding your teeth and I’m relatively sure the veins are standing out on your necks. But I’ve spoken to a bunch of you guys, as well as your dealers, around the country, and the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that much of the new and used inventory will have to clear before the market improves.

No one wants the market to improve more than I do. You make your living building and selling powerboats. I make mine writing about them. We live and die together.

That’s why I’m kind of bullish on used boats these days. First, buyers can get them for a song, and something is better than nothing for a dealer stuck with a fleet of used inventory. Second, a used model is probably the best way to go for entry-level buyers. They can test the waters, so to speak, without spending oceans of cash.

The market is full of used boats available at a good price from both dealers and private sellers.

The market is full of used boats available at a good price from both dealers and private sellers.

One other element makes used boats more appealing than ever: Stern drive and outboard engine power has never been more reliable. Just 20 years ago, boat owners shared endless tales of their boats “breaking down.” But it was rarely the boats that failed. It was their engines. Today’s far more reliable engines take the biggest variable out of the used-boat buying equation.

And by the way, if anyone is looked for a great deal on a used—I mean pre-owned—boating writer, I can probably hook you up. Not that I don’t love my gigs at Boats.com and Powerboat magazine, but like the rest of the economy, I could always use a little stimulus.

Editor’s Note: Boats.com bi-weekly columnist Matt Trulio is the editor at large for Powerboat magazine. He has been writing for Powerboat and various other magazines since 1994.


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About the author:

Matt Trulio

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Matt Trulio is the co-publisher and editor in chief of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site with a weekly newsletter and a new bi-monthly digital magazine that covers the high-performance powerboating world. The former editor-in-chief of Sportboat magazine and editor at large of Powerboat magazine, Trulio has covered the go-fast powerboat world since 1995. Since joining boats.com in 2000, he has written more than 200 features and blogs.
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