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Used boats can be bargains

by Bryan Hendricks | June 3, 2021 at 2:13 a.m.
A good used fiberglass bass boat is often available for an excellent bargain compared to new boats, which can cost as must as $80,000. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

Fiberglass bass boats are the best fishing platform for Arkansas waters, and good, used models are often available for excellent bargains.

New bass boats can cost as much as $80,000, and even economy brands bought new are significant investments. With patience and legwork, you can find affordable, gently used specimens to accommodate almost any budget.

One of my frequent fishing partners paid less than $8,000 for an old but well-maintained Triton TR-18 bass boat with a 150-horsepower Evinrude. It came with electronics sufficient for fishing familiar haunts in south Arkansas such as Lower White Oak, Lake Columbia and the Ouachita River. The boat serves its role perfectly, and my friend has come close to covering its cost with bass tournament winnings.

My first bass boat was a 1972 Ranger with a 50-horsepower Force outboard (made by Chrysler) and a fairly current Motorguide trolling motor. It also had a primitive Humminbird graph that suited my style of fishing. I got the boat and trailer for $800. It was not fancy or fast, but it was dependable. I caught a lot of white bass and crappie from it at Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Reservoir and Mark Twain Reservoir in Missouri. I kept it for about two years and sold it for the purchase price.

I upgraded to a 1983 Cajun Brat with a fairly new 40-hp Nissan outboard with electric trim, Evinrude trolling motor and trailer for $2,400. That boat accompanied me to Arkansas, where I used it for two years. It was so short and had such a shallow draught that I could take it places bigger boats could not go. I sold it for a slight loss.

Before shopping, you need to determine a hard number that you can afford and reduce that number by about 20%. It's a psychological trick to discourage you from going over budget. If you can afford $12,000, start your search at $10,000. If you find what you want at $10,000, you'll save yourself two grand. Otherwise, the cushion allows you to shop for a model that's closer to what you want in terms of a better outboard motor, trolling motor or other accessories.

Great deals are out there. You have to look for them, but you must also be prepared for happenstance. Sometimes a great deal is parked in somebody's yard or on the roadside. These boats are usually outdated and underpowered for tournament fishing, which drastically limits the pool of potential buyers. The owners are usually very eager to sell, so there's often a lot of room to negotiate.

When shopping for a well-used boat, make a list of inspection items. Check the hull closely for damage, and also for repairs. Existing damage, no matter how slight, will deteriorate with use. A bad repair job can leak, which can lead to a lot of other problems. A skid plate on the keel is always a plus.

More than likely, an old boat will have worn several electronic graphs during its lifetime, so it will also have worn several different transducers. That means multiple holes will have been drilled through the hull to mount the transducers. These will have been filled with marine putty or silicone, maybe incompetently. Old plugs can deteriorate and leak, so check them closely. Leaky transducer plugs aren't deal breakers, but you will want to renew them.

Electronics are commonly troublesome on boats. Wave pounding can jar connections loose, and moisture can also erode connections. Take for granted that the speedometer won't work. It almost never does, but a functional tachymeter is important. Check the lights and accessory switches for the live wells and bilge pump. Nonfunctioning switches are not deal breakers either, but they can be negotiation points.

Trim work can also be a negotiation point. Carpet will almost assuredly be faded, worn and even torn. Windshields can be cracked. Gelcoat can be faded and cracked. Those are merely cosmetic deficiencies that can help lower the price.

It's seldom convenient for a boat owner to take a boat for a test ride, but you really do need to know whether the motor, water pump and lower unit function properly. A water collar allows you to test those components in the owner's driveway. A water collar is a pair of rubber discs on a rigid metal frame that fits over the water induction ports. Hook it to a water hose and turn on the water. If the water pump works, it will pull water through the manifold and cool the motor while it runs. Then you can test the reverse, forward and throttle. Check the water pump indicator and also coolant exhaust ports to ensure the water pump works properly. Also, check the fuel lines. They should be supple, not rigid, cracked and faded.

On the trailer, check the running lights, turn signals, reverse light and license plate light. If not, a quick visual inspection will reveal if the problem is a bad bulb or LED or a short circuit from an exposed wire. If trailer hubs have Bearing Buddies, apply new grease immediately. If Bearing Buddies aren't present, install a pair as soon as possible.

Also, make sure you get a proper bill of sale and any other items you need to title and register your boat. I recently spent about 20 minutes behind a father and son at the state revenue office who had failed to get proper documentation for a boat they bought. They wheedled and cajoled the agent to suspend procedure. Exasperated, the older man finally asked whether she couldn't just trust them on this one.

"Sir, I don't trust nooooBODY!" she said. "I've got three ex-husbands. I don't even trust myself!"

Game over. A proper bill of sale would have saved everybody a lot of time.

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