Especially when its a secondhand fiberglass boat, so many of us fall into a trap, in fact not only fiberglass, it could be wood, aluminum, steel,  ferro cement or poly and for the ones that do get a good boat it is usually because of several factors.

  • The seller is honest.
  • The secondhand fiberglass boat has been kept and maintained in good condition.
  • No bad repairs have been done.
  • No cover ups have been glossed over or hidden.
  • The buyer has had a Pre-Inspection Report done prior to purchase or has done a thorough job of inspecting it himself.

But isn’t interesting that when we go buy a car, suv, 4×4, truck or anything like this how we are usually wary and cautious .

We usually if not always get it checked out by a mechanic, or a car club like the  NRMA or RACQ (as an example) to make sure its in good nick, specially the brakes, motor, gearbox, mechanical, chassis or body repair.

So, why do we not do the same with the boat we are going to buy?

The fact is that a fiberglass boat can cost just as much as any average second hand car or many new ones, so we should be just as cautious before spending our hard earned money!.

Below are just a couple of true events of life situations of what can happen when buying a secondhand fiberglass boat without getting a inspection done, I may have filled a line or two to make it more interesting, but the events are from the owners that shared their experiences with me as I was giving them quotes or advice on the best outcome of what to do next in their new found situations.

Well, it’s going to be a beautiful day once again and the seas will be like a mill pond, just like the days previous, we were out on the bay with our mates among schools of macks (Mackerel) that have followed shoals of herrings and pilchards moving up the coast, you could throw just about anything at them and hook up.

Days later the guys decided to go out to the reef and just like the macks the reds (Red Jew, Red Emperor, Red Throat and Trout) were on the bite as well, it was a great day out! Keep a few, have a ton of fun of catch and release and tag a couple.

Back home the wife gets an ear full of the one that didn’t get away, even if he didn’t catch it, you swear he did!!

So, over a fantastic fish cook up he says to his girl he wants to buy their own boat and that they would have a ton of fun and he can show her the islands and with some beautiful beaches attached it could turn out to be a great family day with the kids.

So, they sit down and discuss the finer points of buying a fiberglass boat, the wife says, “well, what type of boats do your mates have when you caught these fish?”,

“Well, says hubby, we caught the macks in an 18′ center console made from aluminium and the reds were caught in a 19′ center console fiberglass boat”.

Wife says, “does it have a toilet?”

“Well,…… no says hubby”.

“So, what did you do when you wanted to….. ok I not wanna know and if you think me or the kids are going to use a bucket! forget it”. (although some girls are ok with this). guy hooks big fish So, after much deliberation the husband folds to agree on a half cabin fiberglass boat, specially after the wife paints a kind of romantic scene after a good or bad day of fishing with bbq type dinner on the beach and a little romance and sleep on the back deck or forward bunks that have been converted into a triangular type double bed, or the guy has decided on a centre console for trips out with his mates, either way the scene has been set and our emotional side has somewhat taken over in what to look for.

pretty girl on boat The couple decided on a fiberglass boat as it gave more choices in brands and usually had a better ride than alloys and was more within their budget.

So after telling all their friends, everybody is on the lookout for a suitable boat.

Several have been located but are pasted over due to colour, bad trailers, boat condition, not enough electronics or whatever the reason, but then one is found, the ad reads just as we wanted to hear; immaculate condition, just been resprayed, thousands spent, all electronics and even including a toilet with the half cab, even the colour is great and within their price range.

For most people they believe what they read and what the seller tells them, a good seaworthy boat in great condition, after all just look at it!! Nicely sprayed, but you know it should be like this but more times than not it is a different story.

Scenario #1

Two farmers found (they thought) what was a great buy, they came across a 19’vr Haines Hunter fiberglass runabout, the boat looking pretty schmick.

They never bothered to get it checked out , they thought it more important the motor and trailer be in good nick rather than the boat.

After all they didn’t want the trailer to collapse towing it along the road and the motor stopping while out at sea, what could be worse!

So they get a mate to check out the motor, and the trailer they checked themselves, all tested good, so after handing over quite a few dollars, they got themselves ready for a weekend out.

With a few friends on board, plenty of ice for the upcoming catch and a few drinks and with full tackle to handle just about anything, they head out and we boaties know the weather can change fairly quickly, and being a mill pond in the morning started turning into a 20 knot northerly with whitecaps everywhere towards the afternoon and a short swell to match.

Most Haines Hunter boats have a good reputation for sea keeping qualities and still enjoying a fairly pleasant ride under harsh conditions, but this also comes down to the person at the wheel, just like driving in heavy rain on roads we need to take heed, but our farmer friends wanted to get to the island quickly so as to spend the rest of the day relaxing and waiting for the calm of the morning to fish.
fisherman fishing new zealand

So, flat bickie (full throtle) it was, pounding into head seas felt good to them as there were no girls on the boat to justify a lower speed and comfort let alone going easy on the boat.

As the owner said, “one minute we were airborne, the next sounded like we hit the rocks”, but in fact what they heard was the hull cracking on the port side under the strain of the hull flexing along cracks that were already in the hull caused by the longitudinal hull bearers not being in a sound or passable condition (amazing what filler and a coat of paint can do).

They managed to limp home with one side under floor flooded and a pump managing the rest, bringing it on the trailer would have been interesting to watch, but you know fibreglass is interesting stuff when it comes to cracking, it has a tendency to close up fairly tight as the glass wants to reform to the original shape, so the water may just weep out needing the rear bung to be opened to exit the water from the hull.

A professional pre-inspection report or guys with some sound knowledge would have saved alot of problems here and also alot of money to say the least, but is this where our guys learn any lessons?, unfortunately not as they took the second hand fiberglass boat home and decided to fix it themselves.

Again they call on their mates (now there is nothing wrong with this providing one has enough knowledge to know what ones looking at and doing).

cracked rear strake

So, over a few beers and much deliberation they agreed to take off the motor, cruise tank and block and tackle the boat up to the rafters in the shed to get a better look and survey the damage.

The one who thinks he has the most knowledge, says to the others, “its pointless cutting out the floor as the floor is in pretty good condition, plus we can see the bearers by opening up the crack in the hull”, it was said that all bearers had to be removed and so he got his power saw with a cutting wheel and so cut through the hull either side of the strakes thinking the longitudinal bearers would come out through the hulls bottom.

Ones mind is by now having visual nightmares, how wrong they were, the bearers were attached to the transom, had semi bulkheads in front and rear of the cruise tank hold as well as baffles between the inner and outer bearers, had floor member supports notched out and screwed to the bearers, the floor was also screwed and glassed to the bearer tops for water tight seal.

After hearing all this and the question that followed was ”can you fix it, how much will it cost and how long will it take?” my answer was “Just about anything in fibreglass can be fixed, but at what cost let alone the fiberglass boat was pretty old, the job was not done.

Scenario #2

A young couple not long married, who both loved boats, love fishing and being out on the water, they wanted to buy a secondhand boat, the boat of course had to have a toilet, some bunks at the least, after all, if us boys want to bring a girl out fishing and specially if we have a mate with us, it would be decent for her to have a little privacy and comfort, would it not? or would we give her the bucket and let her say ” and?” so what would the male answer be ” Well love, drop ya pants hold on tight, we promise we not look” “and then?” ” throw it over the side and anything in the water is open for comment if it passes (with a smile)”.

So, such as life would have it she gets pregnant and with twins, both have fairly good jobs and so a decision was made to put off the boat in favour for a house, and so being young the house had to be a good one and into debt they went, quite a few months go by and the young husband finds a boat, a 6.6 meter Fjord fiberglass half cabin with toilet, shower and small galley.

He thinks it would be good to get and to surprise the wife and like a lot of boat buyers he believes all that is told by the seller, as the boat being in good condition, so the thought of getting it checked out he thought was pointless and adds to the cost, even the seller agreed!

With the seller letting the young fellow know there are “Other buyers are keen as well and he should act fast if he wants it” So, he maxes out their account with little movement left and tows the boat home, 6 hours away, gets home gives it a wash and parks it in the rear shed to surprise the wife.

Deep sea fishing

The next day the wife gets a blindfolded tour to the shed not knowing what to expect, when the blind fold is taken off and the husband tells the cost, she hits the roof, but as she is persuaded inside the boat she calms down when she sees the shower, table, toilet and nice big V-berth forward, she settles somewhat.

A trip to the islands is planned the next weekend and the boat is launched, not knowing that many months earlier this boat was severely damaged and holed and being uninsured the boat owner decided to get the boat repaired as cheaply as he could and get antifouling roller coated over the bottom to help hide any noticeable defects in the hull to the unaware buyers.

Amazingly, the boat lasted 2 trips and on the third trip being more choppy than normal the repair let go, peeling back as the water pressure hit the now exposed repair lip and creating a larger surface area exposed to the pressures of the water and the boat traveling at 20 knots.

Needless to say that the boat filled with water very quickly under the floor, and if that was not bad enough the internal longitudinal bearer/stringer was misplaced and the floor and deck mouldings were cracked, allowing air to escape and water to enter the cabin area, lucky for them a larger boat was nearby and tied hard to the side to stop it sinking, whilst it was taken back to the harbour.

The boat sat in the backyard for 3 years before being brought to our workshop for reconstruction repair work. The wife refused to go back boating and the boat was later sold.

testing transom for rot

The young husband later on buys a tinny for the creeks and continues to fish with his mates on their boats.

Scenario #3

While searching one of the Auction sites, a boat buyer finds what appears to be a good buy, a 20 foot second hand fiberglass boat, brand unknown with lots of work already done and being sold in good condition with even a new transom, tandem trailer and motor reconditioned.

The boat did not reflect the price and was open for offers above the price indicated and had to be sold, after quite a few emails the seller said, “You could get the boat for several thousand cheaper by going off the site”, which he did, paid the money off line and got the boat sent up via transport many hundreds of kms away.

He did not get the fiberglass boat inspected or any other part of it including the motor, “More times than not our emotions dictate what our end result will be and the outcome can be not what we expected, this could be said for all things we do when we use emotions alone”.

Upon arrival, all look good till he decided to trade up the motor, the marine dealership gave me a call to come and check out the transom as they thought the transom may not take the extra power and their thoughts were justified let alone the power it already had.

After consulting with the new owner, I decided to check out the rest of the boat for him, after all no point spending a large sum of money buying newer and bigger outboards and add the cost of transom replacement then finding out things like longitudinal hull bearers/stringers, floors and the list goes on need to be replaced and/or fixed and now a boat under $11,000.00 is now going to cost in excess of $45,000.00 (cost of boat included) to bring it up back up to structurally new condition with motor.

Unfortunately, its buyer beware, but with a little thought, a tight rope on our emotions and time out, we can save ourselves alot of stress and usually a lot of money, plus with today’s computers, its saves us much time in finding businesses in cities or different states (if the boat or car are far or distant from us) if we need someone to check it out for us.

The other thing also is to do some research via the internet on the brand, model and boat type we are chasing and also reviews are helpful, sometimes the boat your looking at to buy may have had alterations done in its life to suit a owners needs, so looking at the original model can give us a good idea of what to expect when purchasing a fiberglass boat or anything else for that matter.

So, here are some guidelines you can follow.



When we find the fiberglass boat/boat we want (if local) go back and look at it at  least twice, take a friend with us if possible and believe it or not, girls usually have a good eye for things out of place, two heads are better than one, if the boat is out of reach from us make sure you email or text the owner if possible with a list of questions so he hopefully can answer to the best of his knowledge.

This way you have a text copy to go back on, and make sure if possible that you print the boats add for sale or auction page/s as when the boat is sold these pages are usually taken down and are not usually recovered, even if bookmarked, some questions you can ask if not listed in the sale are?.


  • Has the fiberglass boat in the present or past had any repairs done to it, if so where, why and who done them?.


  • What condition is the transom in?, is the floor sound?, is there any gelcoat cracking in the corners of the longitudinal strakes on the hulls bottom or keel?.
    Just remember, just because a fiberglass boat has had a new floor put in, don’t think everything else is rosy under the floor.


  • Has the boat been re-sprayed? If so, why and when?.


  • The boats manufacturer, model and age if not listed.


  • Has the boat had any modifications done to it, if so what was done? when and by whom?.


  • If the fiberglass boat is moored, when was it last slipped and the name of the slipway or travel lift and what work if any was carried out there and by whom? A call here could find information with osmosis being repaired or not being repaired and just painted over as per owners request or the owner himself.


  • How many hours are on the motor and its condition?.


  • When was the last service done and the name of the service centre, this way you can call the service centre and get more insight of the motors history and more if any.


  • What condition is the trailer in? factory or home made? tyres, got a spare? brakes, manual over ride? electric or hydraulic? is it registered and when is it due?.


Now if most comes back as to your liking, do not get carried away as some or more of it may not be true depending on the seller, now if your still keen on buying the fiberglass boat, you now need to get it checked out by someone who knows what their doing and looking at.

Now contact the boat owner and ask him if he agrees to the boat to be inspected, if he is then go the next step, if not then be careful or look elsewhere.

If you ask a outboard or marine engine mechanic or outboard dealerships these guys can put you onto a good professional fiberglasser who knows his trade and most can do Boat Inspections for you or you could ask the dealership if they can do a pre inspection of the boat and trailer while they check out the motor but these guys usually will not be as thorough as a fibreglass boat builder/repairer.

You can use the local telephone directory but these don’t say who is good or not good, a marine surveyor is a good choice but can cost more.

Boat dealer ships are still good as they have a reputation to hold up, plus they sell marine engines and engines go in and on the back of boats, if the transom or engine bearers are beyond serviceability and they tell their customer that the transom needs replacement before the outboard goes on, they are not or shouldn’t send them to “bad glass boys r us” or else their motors may end up in the deep blue sea, transoms could end up inside the boat (have seen that happen) or a life could be lost from severe twisting, cracking and throwing the boat upside down.

If the boat is not local look up the Yellow Pages for outboard dealerships, fiberglassers or marine surveyors in the area where the boat is.

If possible ask two dealerships that way they should come up with a couple of good names to choose from or one name that comes up twice.

Marine surveyors are a good choice as this is their trade, they will look at all boats in survey or not and usually will test run the boat as well if possible and give you a comprehensive report plus photos, these guys are well worth the extra money, specially when the boats get over the 7 meter mark.


Once you have located your boat inspector, some will do on-site inspections or they may require the boat to be brought to them depending on distance from them and the latter is usually the case, although surveyors will go to the boat.

Most fiberglass repairers that do boats can also give you a quote on any work that may need to be done, this is actually a good idea because that way you know what it would cost you if you go ahead with the deal and is a good bargining tool to get the price reduced depending on the work required that the owner did not know about or thought you did not.

But let us not forget the motor even though we have asked the owner about the services and if the dealership cannot give you a current report or download on the motor ever being there, many owners would be quite ok to take the boat over to the dealership or outboard mechanic to get the motor checked out for you (at your cost of course) and some mechanics can go to the boat so you would need to organize this, and if the owner not want to do this then be a little shy of the motor on the boat you are looking at to buy.

If you are too far from the boat you want to purchase, it will make looking at the trailer difficult as well, so while the boat is at the dealership or mechanic, phone up and ask them to check out the trailer for you, most will not charge you to do this as you have already paid them to check the motor and would be quite happy to run their eye over it, after all boat dealerships trade/sell motors, boats and trailers.

Scenario #4

Even though this guy thought everything checked out all good or reasonable, he didn’t think that the four stroke 140 hp motor would cause a problem, the motor itself did’nt but the extra weight and the 20” transom did.

With the fiberglass boat being under 5.5 mts and also being in the mid 80’s in age, older boats and even many older 18′ cats don’t handle the extra weight of 4 strokes especially if the h.p is on the high side.

So, when two people would walk to the stern, the water would lap over the sterns alloy cover strip giving a very and un-easy feeling.

The owner decided in raising the transom to 25”, modifying the outboard well, drains and getting a 5” body extension and other things like longer drive shaft, gear shifts ect.

At least a couple of grand to do, but problem fixed but you know if a inspection was done this would have been picked up and the selling price could have been adjusted some what and the new owner would know in advance of the situation and allowed for it or he could have looked for another boat.

When it came to older Shark cats, they did not recommend 4 strokes for their boats (specially if the h.p was at the highest recommended for two strokes) as the extra weight and motor style caused the water level to be raised around the motors causing over heating, actually even some 2 strokes suffered from this.

Now you may think “are we done yet” well that will depend on YOU!, after all, about 80% of first ownerships of secondhand fiberglass boat buyers fail to get a fiberglass boat checked out, but listen entirely to the seller and even if the seller is honest and he/she thinks their boat is sound it may come to a bit of a surprise or shock to find out otherwise.

Now that you found the boat you want to buy, it is time to do the maths and what I mean by this, is this.

You have the price that the boat is now worth from the seller, you should already have a notebook writing stuff down that you found that needs attention or replacement and a cost to fix.

You now need to add up any cost the inspector has quoted on for repairs that ARE necessary to be carried out now or in the very near future.

Cosmetic repairs like gelcoat scratches and chips along the keel and lower bow/chine area of trailable boats are part and parcel of a well used boat and can be a DIY job by the new owner on a weekend at some other time in the near future.

Add also any registrations that are coming up within a month or two and like most of us there may be electronics that need to be bought or not come with the boat and do not forget the safety aspects neither like flares out of date, epirb, life jackets ect.

water absorption in foam

What about the trailer? is the outfit over the 750kg limit (Australia) if so will the trailer/brakes past a road worthy and if not you will need to add this cost on, plus any rollers that are non working or broken, tyres, springs ect (you know what I mean).

But wait, did I hear someone say that I am comparing old with new? not at all, if something is sold in “Good Condition” then that means just that, it means that the boat, trailer and motor are still quite servicable, that those things like transoms will not need replacement for at least 3 or more years, the gelcoat still has 3 or 4 cuts left in it, tyres not need replacement for some time and the motor keeps ticking over with regular services.

So, “how much does a boat pre-purchase inspection cost?”, well if I told you it would cost between $45.00 – $66.00 per meter would you consider it expensive?, well you may think so but I am sure the guys in the scenarios above would jump at the chance if they had their time over as the lowest alteration/repair there was over $2,000.00.

Just for general interest, I myself had the opportunity of looking for a fiberglass boat to buy for business and personal use, out of the four boats that were advertised that were between 8 – 15 meters in length and I looked at two myself and the other two were further away so I had marine surveyors look at them, only one was as the add and owner said it was and he was a honest owner and he also got a sale.

For the other three boats the adds and owners were a total misrepresentation of what was found apon inspection, so I certainly hope that no one buys a boat from the internet or anywhere else for that matter without first looking at it or get a Pre-purchase inspection done first.

Happy and Safe Boating.


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