How Do I Spot a Cheap Boat?

How Do I Spot a Cheap Boat?

people aboard a boat
When you find a boat you like, put your emotional attachment aside and conduct a diligent inspection to make sure it’s built properly. Jim Hendricks

In shopping for a boat, whether new or used, it’s easy to miss warning signs of shoddy construction and outfitting, especially when your head is filled with visions of calm seas and biting fish.

This is when a dose of cold reality comes in handy. Put aside your dreams of glory to closely examine any boat you’re considering. Most new boats today feature top quality construction and equipment, but there are a few clunkers out there. Here are five tips to help you recognize how and where a boat builder might have cut corners.

1. Hull Inspection

walk around boat
One of the first steps is to thump on the side of hull to make sure it sounds solid—a sign of quality construction. Then take it for a test to make sure. Jim Hendricks

Position yourself by the transom and, looking towards the bow, gaze along the sides of the hull. At this angle, you might pick up imperfections or slight indications of the fiberglass roving showing through the gelcoat. These are both signs of cost-cutting during the layup of the hull. Thump on the side of the boat, does it sound solid (a good sign), or do you hear vibrations resonating through the hull (a bad sign)?

2. Flex Test

locker on boat
Make sure lockers feature smooth liners and that hatches don’t flex underfoot. Jim Hendricks

Stand on the deck and lightly bounce your weight up and down. Do the same thing on any deck hatches. A well-made boat should feel like you’re standing on the ground, not a diving board. “I look for anything that flexes when I’m evaluating a boat,” said Lenny Rudow, a Salt Water Sportsman contributor and respected boating writer who has tested at least a thousand boats. “Check everything — the deck, hatches, T-tops, leaning posts, seat backs, etc. If it flexes, it’s going to break one day,” Rudow advises.

3. Look Underneath

underneath gunwales on boat
Check underneath the gunwales for to make sure that fiberglass is properly and smoothly applied. Jim Hendricks

“Out of sight, out of mind” could be a motto for corner-cutting boat builders. Make the effort to peer into places where hidden flaws might hide. Lie on your back and look up to where the hull and caprail/gunwale meet. If there are visible gaps where light shines through, that’s a bad sign. Reach up there (be careful not to cut your fingers) to check for roughly applied fiberglass — another bad sign. It’s best not to have wire bundles routed underneath the gunwales, but if there are, are they neatly organized and secured at regular intervals? “I always like to check the undersides of any fiberglass hatches,” Rudow says. “If I you see roughly finished fiberglass underneath, it’s an indication that the builder saved money in other places, as well.” Here’s another red flag: storage hatches with web straps to prevent them from opening all the way.

4. Kick Plastic

molded fiberglass hatch
Shy away from plastic hatches in favor of molded fiberglass pieces that feature gelcoat finishes on the underside. Jim Hendricks

Prefabricated accessories with plastic doors are another item on Rudow’s pet peeve list. This includes tackle storage enclosures in leaning posts, compartments for transom showers, transom storage lockers and other common enclosures. Plastic components and accessories are a way for builders to add functionality without adding a lot of cost, but they will be among the first items on the boat to break after repeated exposure to the elements.

5. Look at Hardware

cheap chromed Zamak cleat
Make sure that hardware features high-quality stainless-steel construction, or else it could corrode quickly in the marine environment, as did this cheap chromed Zamak cleat. Jim Hendricks

Poke around peek “under the skin” to see how deck hardware and other key components are attached to the hull. Railings, handholds, and other hardware that will bear pressure should be through-bolted with stainless steel hardware. Cleats and anchor rollers should be through bolted with backing plates. Was marine bedding compound used to seal bolts, nuts, and screws to prevent water intrusion and corrosion? If not, it’s a bad sign? Poorly attached hardware will not only be a future maintenance issue, but it can also cause damage to the hull and gelcoat when items work their way loose.

The Difference Between Inexpensive and Cheap

To be clear, there are “budget” boats that are designed to be more affordable, lighter in weight so they require less power, and easier to tow. Popular “rolled edge” center consoles are good examples of this category, and their affordability and “work boat” utility make them very popular. Even among this class of boats, however, careful examination can help consumers differentiate between inexpensive and “cheap.”

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