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Buying a second hand boat

Buying a previously owned boat is a good way to get more features for your money. As well as saving money, you can get afloat within days, without waiting for your ideal boat to be built.

Boater Naomi Brook at the side hatch of her narrowboat

The price of a boat will reflect its condition and specification. Unless you are adept at DIY work, you should buy the best-maintained boat you can afford. You should also check that spares are still available for the engine and other key components. Whatever you choose, maintenance costs will inevitably be higher than with a new boat.

If you're not purchasing from a reputable boat broker, make sure that the person selling the boat is the lawful owner and that there's no finance lender with a stake in the vessel. Ask the vendor for a legal Bill of Sale using the Government's recommended pro forma.

Buying a boat with a mooring

Take great care if the boat is advertised as having its own mooring. It's not normal for mooring agreements to be assignable to a new owner of the boat, so ask to see a copy of the mooring agreement and check with the mooring provider that they will assign it to you.

The price of a boat which has an assignable mooring could be much higher than the value of the boat itself, and if this is the case, you need reassurance that when you come to sell, you do indeed have a legal stake in the mooring for the long term. Even then you cannot be sure of being able to recover the premium you paid, particularly if the annual mooring fee has been rising.

Buying from a broker

Many secondhand boats are sold by marinas or other brokers, who will often exhibit them together in one place. They produce detailed reports on each boat, much like an estate agent would. They can often arrange insurance, finance, transport and surveys for you.

A good broker will ask the vendor for a detailed craft background, including its financial situation, but they cannot guarantee that the information supplied by the vendor is accurate. Therefore it is important you check all details.

When a sale is agreed between the broker and the buyer, a deposit is paid by the buyer. This is typically around 10% 'subject to survey'. If your survey suggests that the boat is materially unsatisfactory, the deposit will normally be refunded.


When you're looking at older boats please take insurance into consideration. If the boat is older than 20 years you may be asked to complete a hull survey to satisfy your insurer that the boat is sound.

The boat should have a recent Boat Safety Certificate. If it does not have one, make sure you know the extent of the work that will be required to obtain one - you won't be able to use the boat on Trust waterways until you have one.

Getting a survey

If you are serious about buying a particular boat, you should not just accept the vendor's survey, but commission your own from a professional surveyor. The information they provide may help you to negotiate a lower purchase price and save you a lot more expense and heartache in the future.

You can also request an engine survey to be carried out by a qualified engineer. Your insurance and finance company may insist on a full structural survey of an older boat. The Boat Safety Scheme examination alone is not usually adequate for these purposes.

Expect to pay around £10 per foot (£30 per metre) for a hull survey, or around £12 to £14 per foot for a full survey. For example a hull survey for a 55 foot long narrowboat would typically cost £550 and a full survey would be £680. A valuation only would be a standard charge of £250.

A typical 25 foot long GRP cabin cruiser usually costs around £320 for a full survey.

Don't forget that the charge to lift the boat out of the water for a hull or full survey will be extra and payable to the boat yard. Money spent on your own out of water survey will always pay for itself in the long run and will identify any potential problems with your purchase.

Ensure your surveyor is correctly qualified and a member of one of the recognised marine surveying institutes such as the International Institute of Marine Surveying or the Yacht Designers & Surveyors Association. Unless specifically asked, the surveyor will not automatically carry out a BSS examination as part of the survey. You can find details of surveyors and examiners authorised to issue Boat Safety Certificates at the Boat Safety Scheme.

Last Edited: 27 July 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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