Jerry taking delivery of his new Tracker 195 TXW aluminum fishing boat

Whether it is a new boat or just new to you, deciding to purchase a boat is a significant milestone. However, before you can start enjoying it, you need to first take possession or delivery.  While you might be tempted to rush through this step, there are some key precautions you should take to help the process go smoothly and to launch your boat ownership journey on the right foot. In this detailed blog post, I will guide you through the steps involved in finalizing the purchase and safely receiving your prized possession.

Special thanks once again to my friend Joe Lewis, General Manager at Mount Dora Boating Center, for contributing to this article.  As a key industry leader and someone who has been selling boats for over 30 years, Joe was a wealth of knowledge for this and other chapters of this ebook/article.  If you are looking to buy a new or used boat in the central Florida area and are looking for someone who is very customer service oriented, be sure to check out Mount Dora Boating Center.

PREPARATION

Once you found the boat of your dreams and have agreed to the purchase, there is often a lag time of a few days to a couple of weeks to get everything in order for you to take possession of it.  This allows the seller to prepare the boat or address any issues identified and it allows the purchaser to arrange time for financing, insurance and storage.  Below is a list of action items that you, the buyer, need to do in advance of the big day.  If there is a possibility that you might be bringing the boat home the same day you purchase it, just be aware that you should do the preparation tasks listed before you venture out to see the boat.

Identify acceptable payment methods

Check with the seller/dealer to find out what payment options are acceptable. As discussed in the previous chapter, a wire transfer is likely the safest option for both the buyer and the seller.  Cash might be acceptable as well if the purchase price is not too high.  A cashier’s check could work if the seller has the ability to verify its authenticity before you drive away with the boat.  A personal check likely will not do unless you had a relationship with the seller ahead of time and they know you can be trusted.

The key thing is to verify the acceptable payment options with the seller ahead of time.  I recall speaking with a couple boat buyers in a previous study who were quite frustrated because the dealer would not accept their final payment method.  As a result, their boat delivery was delayed and they had to make a second trip.  The key lesson is to ask ahead of time and don’t assume.

Secure Financing

If you plan on taking out a loan, you obviously will need to select a source and get approval ahead of time. There are three major sources of boat loans:

  • Local banks and credit units – they might offer slightly better rates but the terms (duration) are often shorter. As a result, your monthly payment will likely be higher.
  • National lenders that handle boat loans – this includes institutions such as US Bank and Bank of the West. They often have more favorable (longer) terms but their rates might be slightly higher.
  • Dealer financing – if you are purchasing the boat from a dealer, they will likely offer you the opportunity to finance it through them.  This could make things much easier for you since the dealer will already have all the details on the boat.  However, it is still a good idea to check with other sources to ensure that their rates are competitive.

Be aware that securing financing on a used boat is much more difficult than for a new one.  This is because the lending institution will likely need to inspect the boat to assess its condition/value.  This is where buying from a dealer would be advantageous because they would already be aware of how much the boat is actually worth.

One other potential source of financing for either a new or used boat is a home equity line of credit.  This, of course, assumes you have equity built up in your home.  One advantage of this, especially if you are buying a used boat, is that you would not have to verify the value of the boat in order to obtain the loan (i.e., no inspection is required) since you would be using your home as collateral.  However, if you fail to make payments, there is a risk of foreclosure for the same reason.

Arrange Insurance

Before pulling away with your new boat, you will want to insure it (and if you are financing the boat, the lender will likely require it).  The policy should list the boat, motor and trailer (if applicable) and any expensive equipment installed as well.  When you receive the policy, check to make sure that the identification/serial numbers are accurate.

Progressive is a major player with boat insurance and often has the best rates.  However, you should also check with your current insurance agent for your home and auto policy to see what they can do for you as well.

Secure Storage

Finding a location to keep the boat can sometimes be a little tricky. Most boaters prefer to store the boat on their property if they have space for it and their community covenants permit (if stored outside).   Be aware, however, that most standard garages will not be large enough to fit anything but smaller boats (say 18’ or less) when you factor in the engine and trailer tongue.  If you are hoping to store the boat in your garage, be sure to take careful measurements of the length (including the engine and trailer), width and height of the boat on the trailer.  Note that if the boat has a windshield or tower, it could be too tall to pass through your garage door.

If you can’t or don’t want to store the boat at home, there are usually plenty of boat/RV storage lots available if you plan to keep your boat on the trailer.  Joe recommends finding a storage location close to where you plan on using the boat (to minimize trailering distance).  However, if you go to a variety of lakes (like tournament anglers), then you might be better off having the boat close to home to make it easier to access it before trips.  Do an online search to find boat storage facilities near you.  Be aware that many storage facilities that are not designed exclusively for boats and RVs might not be large enough to accommodate your boat.

For the ultimate convenience, you might be able to store the boat at a marina – either in a “wet slip” or “dry stack”.  However, space could be limited and it will likely cost you more.  Plus, if you are in a dry stack, you might only have access to your boat during business hours – not ideal for anglers who often go early or come back at night.  Marinas.com is a good place to start to find on-water storage locations.

Check Your Tow Vehicle

Before you are ready to pull your new boat home, make sure your tow vehicle is capable of handling the load. Verify the towing capacity for your vehicle and make sure you have the proper class of hitch.  Most boaters will need either a Class III (up to 5,000 lbs gross weight) or Class IV hitch (up to 10,000 lbs) to safely tow their boat.

Next, verify that you have the proper hitch ball size to fit the trailer coupler.   If you have a 2” ball (most common) but the trailer receiver is designed to accommodate 2 5/16”, you will not be able to safely tow it.

Finally, check the height of your trailer hitch relative to that of the trailer coupler.  With the trailer on level ground, adjust the jack so that the trailer tongue is level.  Measure the distance from the ground to the top of the trailer coupler portion that covers the ball.   Next, for the tow vehicle, measure the distance between the ground to the top of the ball on the hitch.  If there is much difference (more than a couple inches), you may need to raise or lower the ball mount.

Have Proper Electrical Connector?

The types of electrical connectors used on tow vehicles and trailers vary from 4 or 5 pin flat connectors to 5, 6 or 7-way round connectors.  Be sure to find out in advance the type of connector used on the boat trailer so that you can plan accordingly (either by changing the connector or adding an adapter).  I learned this the hard way for two of my boat purchases when I had the wrong connector type and had to scramble to replace it before I could bring the boat home.

Develop a List of Questions

In a recent industry study I conducted, the biggest area of dissatisfaction with the dealer or seller was not getting an adequate overview of the boat at time of delivery/possession. The main issues were that not enough time was devoted and that the information provided was overwhelming (too much to absorb in a short period of time).

To help avoid this, I suggest developing a checklist of questions ahead of time of things you want to be sure to learn or review before taking the boat home.  That way, you are not as dependent on the seller/dealer’s agenda or thoroughness.  Your list might include things like how to properly start the engine, how to operate key systems (e.g., livewells, lights, bilge, ballasts, etc.), basic electronics operation (e.g., fish finders, trolling motor, stereo), routine maintenance requirements (and when was maintenance last performed), and how to launch/load the boat on the trailer.  You will want to bring this checklist with you and take notes on it when you do a final walk-through of the boat.

FINAL INSPECTION

If there were any repairs to be performed or accessories to be installed, check to see whether the work was completed to your satisfaction.  Also, if you haven’t done so already, make sure that the boat, trailer and outboard identification numbers match what is listed on the title (if applicable).   A mismatch here could be a real hassle to straighten out later with the seller and state government agency.

TRANSFER FUNDS

Assuming everything is in order, the next step is to make the final payment using an acceptable payment option that you should have discussed with the seller ahead of time.  One thing that Joe Lewis of Mount Dora Boating Center strongly recommends is that if the boat has a lien, then your final payment should go directly to the lienholder (e.g., bank, credit union, etc.) – not the boat seller, to satisfy the outstanding loan amount.  If the agreed-to price is more than the remaining balance on the loan, then the difference should be paid to the seller.   On the other hand, if the agreed-to price is less than the remaining balance (i.e., the boat owner is “upside down”), then you would need to pay the purchase price to the lienholder and the seller would also be required to pay the lienholder to cover the shortfall.

The reason for handling it this way is because if you happened to pay the full amount to the boat seller and he/she doesn’t follow-up by satisfying the lien, then you might have some serious challenges getting the boat titled and taking legal ownership.  The key thing to remember is if the boat you are buying has a lien, be sure to coordinate with the lien holder and seller ahead of time to confirm how the final payment is to be handled and that you will be for paying the lienholder directly.

SECURE PAPERWORK

Once you pay the remaining balance, you are ready to make the transaction “official” by completing the appropriate paperwork.  If you are buying from a dealer, this step will be much easier since they will handle the paperwork for you.  But if you are buying from a private party, you need to find out the specific requirements for your state (and the state the boat is coming from if different from your own) to ensure everything is handled correctly and legally.  There are two key items you will need:

  • Bill of Sale
  • Title(s) signed over to you

A Bill of Sale is used after the purchase has been finalized and documents that the transaction has been completed and ownership has been transferred from the seller to the buyer.  This is different from a Purchase (or Sales) Agreement which is used before the purchase is finalized.  A Bill of Sale can be a handwritten document, but it is important that you follow the requirements for your state.  In general, a Bill of Sale will include a description of the boat, motor and trailer (along with the HIN, VIN or serial numbers), the purchase price, date of sale and the contact information and signatures for both the buyer(s) and seller(s).  Be sure the seller’s name is listed exactly the same way as recorded on the title.

Some states as well as all coast guard documented vessels require that the bill of sale be witnessed or notarization.  Also, if your state bases the sales tax on select components rather than the entire package, you will want to list the purchase price for individual items such as the boat, motor and trailer separately.  You can download an example Bill of Sale from my BoaterInput website or do an online search for one for your specific state.

The title designates the legal owner of a piece of property.  Most states issue a title for all motorized boats (and some non-motorized vessels over a certain length) and trailers.  Some even require a title for outboard engines.

For each title, the seller will need to fill out the transfer or “assignment” section (typically on the back of the title) by recording your name and address.  Make sure that your name is listed correctly and legibly.  Next, the seller will need to sign the title to verify the assignment.  Some states require that the signature is notarized.  Be sure to check the regulations for your state or the state where to boat is currently titled if different from your own.

Also, if more than one name is listed on the title and there is an “and” between the names, then both individuals listed will need to sign off on the title.  If there is an “or” between the names, then just one or the other needs to sign it.  Make sure the seller’s name is printed and signed in the same way as it is listed on the front of the title.

Once you receive the title that has been assigned to you, you are now the official boat owner.

PRODUCT WALK-THROUGH

Now that you are the legal boat owner, this last step is not mandatory but is highly recommended.  Boat dealers and many private sellers would be happy to give you an overview before you hitch up and take the boat home.  The purpose is to educate you on how to properly operate your specific boat, motor and trailer so that you are equipped to handle it on your own and have a positive ownership experience.

The ideal place to do the walk-through (and take possession), of course, is on the water.  However, some private sellers and dealers might not offer to do this if they are not located near the water.  And, if you have already done a thorough sea trial and are familiar with the vessel, receiving on-water instructions again might not be necessary.  In this case, receiving a detailed overview of the boat from the parking lot or driveway may suffice.

Whether it is done on land or in the water, it is important to remember that the product walk-through is one of the biggest areas of dissatisfaction among boat buyers.  Many feel that the time allocated is insufficient and the amount of information provided is overwhelming.  That is why I highly recommend bringing a list of questions and taking notes during the overview.

The amount of time needed will vary by the size and complexity of the boat, your level of boating experience, and the number of questions you may have.  In most cases, it should take an hour or two.  If you are purchasing from a dealer, it is better to take delivery on a weekday instead of on a Saturday so that your dealer representative will be more inclined to give you adequate time and not feel rushed.

Below are some potential things to go over during the product overview.  Some of these items might not be necessary if you are an experienced boat owner or highly familiar with the boat.

  • How to launch and load the boat
  • Starting procedures
  • How to shift and trim the engine
  • How to deploy/stow the bimini
  • How to operate various systems (e.g., livewells, bilge pump, lights)
  • How to operate electronic accessories (e.g., trolling motor, fish finders, stereo)
  • How to properly attach the cover (if provided)
  • How to properly attach the trailer to your hitch
  • Maintenance schedule (and maintenance history if buying a used boat)

In addition to the above, many dealers would be happy to show you some basic boat operation procedures such as getting the boat on plane, traversing waves/rough water, and slow speed maneuvering.  After all, they want you to be a happy customer and equip you for success on the water.  However, for more comprehensive training, you might want to enroll in a boater education course offered by the coast guard or other providers.  This will be discussed more in the next chapter.

HITCH-UP AND GO

Though you are likely excited to hook up your boat and trailer it home to show your family and friends, there are still some important precautions you should take to make sure that you and your boat arrive safely.  At this point, I am assuming you already have the correct sized hitch, ball and electrical connector as discussed earlier.  Some additional things to do or check are as follows:

Make Sure There are No Loose Items

I have spoken to individuals who purchased a brand new boat who had cushions blow out during their inaugural drive home.

Attach Safety Chains

The chains should be crossed underneath the to help “catch” the trailer tongue should it become unhooked. Also, the top of the “S” hook should be pointing back towards the trailer (not forward) to decrease the chances of it coming unhooked.  Note that if the safety chains are too long and might drag on the pavement, simply twist them to shorten the length.

Attach Tie Downs in the Stern

This is important to keep the boat from lurching into or on top of your vehicle should you make a sudden stop.

Check Lights

Make sure the trailer brake lights and turn signals are working properly for safety reasons and to avoid getting a ticket on the drive home.

Attach a Transom Saver

If your boat is equipped with a large outboard motor, it is a good idea to use a transom save to reduce the strain on the boat transom.

Once you have completed each of the above items, you should now be ready to tow your boat home and start enjoying it.

SUMMARY

As identified in this chapter, before taking possession/delivery of your boat, be sure to do each of the following:

  • Identify acceptable payment options from the seller/dealer
  • Secure financing
  • Arrange insurance
  • Secure a storage location
  • Check your tow vehicle (proper hitch, ball size and electrical connector)
  • Develop a list of questions to help educate you on how to operate and maintain the boat
  • Do a final inspection to ensure that the boat is as expected
  • Transfer funds to the seller
  • Secure a Bill of Sale and have the title assigned to you (or apply for a title if buying a new boat from a dealer)
  • Receive or request a thorough walk-through of the boat (and refer to your list of questions you prepared in advance) to learn how to properly use it
  • Properly secure your boat before trailering it home.
Jerry Mona - BoaterInput

About the author

Jerry Mona is an avid boater and angler and long-time boating industry insider. With over three decades of experience, he is often considered to be the leading research expert with boaters and has helped numerous manufacturers and trade associations to understand the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of boaters. He now shares many of his insights about boats and boaters for free on his BoaterInput.com website.

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