what to look for when buying a used pontoon boat

What to Look for When Buying a Used Pontoon Boat

Pontoon boats are wonderfully versatile recreational watercrafts that can accommodate family fun, fishing, and all sorts of water sports. So it comes as no surprise as to why they can be pretty pricey. Now, if you're buying a pontoon but just don't have the budget for brand new, then secondhand should be just fine. The only question now is what to look for when buying a used pontoon boat.

The market for pre-owned pontoons can be pretty expansive, and the choices aren't any less overwhelming than what you'd find if you were purchasing new. So here we're dishing the dirty details on what you should look out for to make sure you're getting used and not abused.

Important Factors to Consider

should i buy a new or used pontoon boat

There's actually less to think about if you're purchasing a new pontoon boat from a dealer. The thing about new boats is that they come out of the dealership perfect and polished, so you won't have to worry about performance, damage, corrosion, and other possible issues. The opposite is true with a secondhand boat.

Buying a used pontoon boat will means that the present status and quality that depends largely on its previous owner. Of course, there's also the issue of paperwork, routine upkeep, existing damages and performance issues, and other little factors that you wouldn't have to worry about if you were shelling out on a fresh boat from the showroom.

Intended Use

It's easy to overestimate what kind of performance you need when buying a used pontoon boat. But try to be realistic - where and how do you plan to use your boat? To put things into perspective, you probably thought you'd drive across the country when you got your first car. Now that you own it, where do you really take it? Just around town, of course.

Keep in mind the boating waterways available to you. Are they fresh or saltwater? Whatever the case, it might be better to buy a boat that's been used exclusively in freshwater and just make any saltwater conversions after the sale. That's because saltwater exposure has been known to cause more damage to a boat.

Then, think about the conditions where you plan to go boating. Calm, inland waterways that rarely ever experience strong currents and waves might not call for such a powerful used pontoon boat. Then again, if you want to try your hand at some watersports or if you want to go fish out at sea, then a model with a stronger motor and engine might be in order.

Space Considerations

This one's two-fold. First of all, how much space do you need on deck? You can estimate that by thinking about how many people you plan to take with you during your boating trips. Pontoon boats have limits when it comes to how many people can stay on board at a time. And while a deck party might sound like a smart idea, you can't really just cram as many people as you want on your boat.

Pontoon boat passenger seating capacities range anywhere from 8 to 16 or more, depending on the size of the boat. For intimate personal and family use, small 12' to 19' boat models might be more than enough roomy comfort. If you want to use your boat for bigger gatherings, you might be looking at a size of 24' or more.

The second size consideration is the size of the boat itself. Do you have any where to store a 24' or 26' used pontoon boat? If you answered no, then you might have to rent out a slip or a dry storage facility at the marina which obviously adds to the cost burden. Trailers also get exponentially more expensive as they grow in size.

Furniture, Features, and Fixtures

What you'll notice when buying a used boat versus a new pontoon boat from a dealer is that choices in this segment tend to be significantly more unique. That's because boat owners take their liberties with customization and upgrades, so you're not going to find two picks that are exactly the same condition. That also means that you're in a position to find your desired features and fixtures already installed into the options available.

There are loads of different additions you can find on a secondhand boat, including:

Fishing seats and other accessories

A built-in livewell, seats, rod holders, and extra cup holders are just some of the telltale signs that a used pontoon boat has been customized for the angler's life. These can be great if you were hoping to get started on your own fishing journey.

Sound system

An upgraded sound system with a subwoofer and high-fi speakers can be perfect for parties or for lounging about while ebbing with the currents in the middle of the lake.

Watersports and recreation

Board ladders, tow bars, slides, gate access to the water from the side of the boat make it easier to enjoy your favorite watersports without having to customize your boat any further.

Again, you're going to want to pattern your choices to the kind of use you expect. So if you're not interested in fish today, you shouldn't think that a boat that's customized for fishing will change that.

Condition and Damages

You'd be lucky to find a used pontoon that's in as good condition as a new boat from a dealer after even just a few years of use. Scuffing, rust, dents, dings, scratches, mold and mildew, and other signs of wear and tear on both the interior and exterior are all part of the secondhand package. Your objective is to find the boat that has as few of those damages as possible.

And while cosmetic issues might be the most unpleasant, the functional damages are the most dangerous. At a glance, you might be able to tell whether some parts of a boat might be at risk of putting your safety in jeopardy during use.

  • Rough, raw welded areas on the floor and various parts of the boat might indicate an unprofessional flooring patch job
  • Cracks on the hull whether sealed or not
  • Mold and mildew on the furniture, seats, floor, and basically everywhere
  • Rust on metal parts of the boat or hull can indicate poor upkeep and frequent use in saltwater
  • Bubbling, cracked, or wrinkled laminate underneath the boat floor or hull
  • Inaccurate gauges and pressure problems
  • Signs of wear and tear on interior machines and parts

It's easy to tell when a used pontoon was actually taken care of and properly maintained or left to fend for itself against the elements. At the first signs of wear and tear caused by poor maintenance, it's best to keep your money and walk away. Most of these poorly maintained secondhand vessels are accidents waiting to happen.

Motor and Engine Hours

Seeing how many hours are clocked on the motor and engine should tell you a lot about how much the boat has been used. As a general rule, 1,500 to 2,000 hours on a marine engine or outboard motor is considered the floor or end-life for standard used pontoon machinery. So if they're selling you a boat with 1,200 hours on the engine, you might want to keep your money and walk away. When you buy a used boat, remember that the average owner will clock just 50 to 200 hours every year.

Generally speaking, 700 hours on a 10-15 year old boat that's well taken care of and in good condition is a pretty sweet deal. So make sure you ask about engine hours before you push through. A seller who says they don't know or who simply won't provide the information might not be the kind of person that you'd want to deal with.

It also helps to inspect the engine and motor interior condition on a used pontoon yourself. Here's what to look into:

  • Is it clean and does it seem to be well maintained?
  • Do you smell any sort of leaks, or see cracks and break points?
  • Has the engine or motor been subject to repairs?
  • What kind of work or replacement do you think you might need to do after buying the boat?

Aftermarket Repairs

Since we're on the topic of maintenance, another important factor to look into when buying a pontoon would be any aftermarket repairs performed on the boat and whether it was taken care of properly during ownership. Unlike buying a new boat, you should check to see a complete log of repairs, maintenance checks, parts replacements, and other relevant jobs done when you buy a used one.

The purpose of asking is it shows you the condition of the boat and what parts are new and which ones might be nearing their replacement date. This way, you can map out your personal upkeep and repair effort and prioritize the parts of your boat that might need most urgent care.

NMMA Certification

The National Marine Manufacturer's Association sets the standards for pontoon boat manufacturing to make sure that all of the boats that are sold on the market pass their quality control checks and are built up to code. Virtually any boat sold through leading manufacturers should be NMMA certified.

Unless you're buying a pontoon that was manufactured somewhere outside of the country, you really shouldn't be worried. You can see the sticker of NMMA certification somewhere near the capacity plate on most pontoon boats. As general rule, you should steer clear of a purchase if you can't find NMAA certification.

Proof of Ownership

You'd be surprised how many shady Tom, Dick, and Harries would actually go out and sell a boat that's not even theirs. These deals will often drag in trigger happy buyers who want to snag the first good deal they find. Shrouded behind a price tag that's simply too good to be true, these unscrupulous sales can put you in legal danger if you ever decide to take the bait.

Always, always ask for proof of ownership before you push through with your purchase. A trustworthy, reliable seller shouldn't be afraid to show the necessary documentation accompanied by any identification needed to verify that they own the boat they've put up for sale. Walk away if they refuse.

Warranty and Insurance

Is the boat still under warranty? For the sake of information, most manufacturers will actually impose a limited lifetime warranty on a used pontoon from their brand, but there's a lot that an owner can do to void the warranty.

First off, ask if the boat's warranty is still active and what it covers. If there are any replacement parts on the boat, ask for receipts as well since those should be covered by their own warranty. Negotiate with the seller for a lower price if some parts have exhausted their warranty coverage.

Then of course, you should make it a point to transfer any warranty coverage to your name. Placing the documents under your ownership means that you can get the benefits of free repairs and maintenance in case anything happens when you finally purchase the boat.

Insurance will typically be non-transferrable, which means you'll have to spend your own money to get your own insurance policy to cover the boat under your ownership.

Where to Find Secondhand Pontoon Boats

So where exactly can you find a good secondhand pontoon boat? There are a few websites you can visit to scan the options in your area and schedule a meet with the sellers.

Boat Trader, Boats.com, and IBoats.com typically have a number of listings for people looking to buy a secondhand pontoon boat.

You can also check pontoon boat forums to find privately listed ads from individuals hoping to sell their pontoon boat in good condition. Of course, you can also head to your local marina where sellers might put up flyers or posters to provide basic information on boats they might be looking to sell.

Once you find a boat that you might be interested in, call the owner and schedule an appointment. This should let you see the boat firsthand so you can make the necessary assessments and determine if the boat is right for the money.

Take It for a Test Drive

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If everything checks out and you think you've got yourself a winner, the last step of the buying process would be to ask the seller if you could take that baby out for a spin. Of course, the owner will want to tag along just to make sure you don't end up sailing all the way home without paying up first.

There's a lot that a boat will tell you based on how it handles. Does it feel like it's struggling or lurching through the water? Or is it snappy and responsive? Does it maneuver well, or do you feel like you have to put a little extra effort to get it to move how and where you want it to?

Here are some specific performance areas you might want to inspect during the test drive:

  • Acceleration
  • Deceleration
  • Turning

Ask the owner if they can let you test the boat for at least 30 minutes. This should be enough time to assess handling and to see if the engine will overheat during use. Of course, you should be pretty sure about your willingness to make a purchase by the time you reach this point, so you won't be wasting their time with a free ride.

In some cases, you might find yourself face to face with a boat you can't drive because the seller has it on a trailer or on dry land. If it's your first time meeting with the owner, that shouldn't be a problem. Just ask them to schedule a test drive on a different date. If they say no, take that as your cue to keep your money and walk away.

Tips for Selling a Used Pontoon Boat

So maybe you're at the opposite end of this outfit. Then you probably need a few tips on how to liquidate your pontoon boat at the highest prices without overwhelming your potential buyers. Here's how to make that sale quick and easy:

Perform a Deep Clean

As in super clean. Clean sparkly used boats could take years off of its apparent age, making it more appealing to buyers. Plus, rubbing off stains, mold and mildew, scuff marks, and discoloration could make lots of your fixtures and furniture seem better maintained. See our guides on cleaning:

Complete Necessary Repair

You'd be surprised how much you could increase the value of your boat by targeting minor repairs around the deck. For instance, replacing your floor might cost several hundreds right now, but could bump up your pontoon's price by double the amount it took to perform the flooring repair.

Remove Personal Items

Just like staging a home, guests won't want to buy a used boat when it obviously looks like it's been used or lived in by someone else. Removing personal items increase the appeal of your used boat and could make buyers more willing to shell out more.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How much should I pay for to buy a used pontoon boat?

That depends on a whole lot of different factors, but the best way to estimate the price of the boat would be to check the acquisition cost and then subtract depreciation. Most secondhand boats between 2-9 years old will lose anywhere from 50-60% of their original value. Older boats crossing the decade mark might cost just 10-15% of their original price.

Check out our guide on pontoon boat depreciation and value for more information.

What to avoid when buying used boats?

The obvious answer would be to avoid untruthful sellers. You want to transact with someone who's absolutely transparent with what they're trying to release from their ownership. If they're trying to hide or cover up details, consider it a no-deal.

Should I buy a new or used pontoon boat?

It really depends on your preferences and your budget. There are some seriously good deals on the secondhand boat market that can get you a solid pontoon for 40% of the original value, or less. But if you have the budget and you want a vessel that truly performs, don't think twice about new.

When is the best time to buy a pontoon boat secondhand?

Offseason is definitely the best time to purchase. Prices are lower right around this time of year, and boat owners who don't want to continue on with their ownership will markdown to get the responsibility of boat storage off of their hands.

Better the Second Time Around

There are some serious bargains swimming in the previously owned pontoon boat market - all you need to do is look for them. Make sure you keep these tips at the ready when you scour the web for your secondhand pick so you know what to look for when buying a used pontoon boat.

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