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Ten Items for Inspecting a Boat

This Article appeared in the September 2000 issue of Sailing Breezes online magazine.

By Phil Peterson, NAMS-CMS

Considering the price of new boats, buying a used boat is an attractive alternative way to get on the water for less money. Once you find a boat that catches your eye, consider the following 10 areas to check to help determine whether or not you should purchase the boat. The items are limited to the hull and deck, and not onboard systems.

1) What is the overall appearance of the boat? Is the hull fair? Are there any significant scrapes or scars?

2) What is the overall condition of the boat? Is the owner a good housekeeper, or is the boatkeeping sloppy? If the boatkeeping has been sloppy, maintenance may well have been sloppy, too.

3) Are there any blisters on the hull? They are most common along the waterline, both above and below the bottom paint. While they are repairable, they do detract from the value of the boat.

4) Is the rudder in good condition? It is not uncommon for water to permeate rudders, either through groundings or cracks in the gel coat. When water enters the interior foam core, freeze/thaw cycles will cause cracks in the fiberglass and delamination between the fiberglass skin and the foam core. This condition affects the structural integrity of the rudder and should be repaired. Further, some boat builders use mild steel, which is welded to the stainless steel rudder post. Internal moisture can cause the mild steel to rust out.

5) Check out the area beneath the base of the mast step. If the mast is stepped on deck, is there any compression in the deck, or has it retained its strength? If it is stepped through to the keel, is the mast support in good condition, or has it deteriorated?

6) Check the deck for cracks. Spider cracks are not uncommon, but cracks that have short parallel lines in cored areas can indicate a wet core. The freeze/thaw cycles cause this pattern.

7) Check the deck for soft areas. The deck may have delaminated or have absorbed water, causing the deck to lose its stiffness and strength. An easy test is to drop the handle end of a screwdriver on the deck from the height of one inch. If the screwdriver bounces, the deck is likely in good condition. If it doesn’t bounce, the area is likely in need of repairs.

8) Check the chainplates. If they go through the deck, inspect the deck fiberglass around them. It should be fair and without cracks. If the deck has a slight raise or “bump” around the chainplates, the chainplates may be moving. Inspect the bulkhead, partition or structural member that secures the chainplate below decks to determine that they are well secured. Also inspect the area around the chainplates below decks for waterleaks.

9) Inspect the deck-to-hull joint. On the exterior, check for fairness and damage. On the interior check for waterleaks. There shouldn’t be any.

10) Inspect bulkheads and partitions for any movement. Bulkheads in fiberglass boats are commonly held in place by fiberglass tape or “fillets.” If the fiberglass has separated in any areas, the boat may have been sailed hard or damaged.

Once you have gone through the boat, and the boat is still to your liking, you will want to have a more thorough inspection, including one of the decks, hull and onboard systems. That inspection should be done by a qualified marine surveyor.

Phil Peterson is a Certified Member of the National Association of Marine Surveyors, and lives in Bayfield, Wisconsin. He can be reached at 715-779-0254. 

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