Marine News from the Great Lakes

Be Cautious Buying Boats After Major Storms

Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2018
By: Capt. Fred Davis

You have probably read numerous articles warning about the hazards of purchasing a vehicle after a major flood or hurricane. The articles often explain how additional care to identify damage should be taken when purchasing a motor vehicle of any type after a storm that involves flooding.

All the same cautions should be exercised when purchasing a boat, regardless of the material it is made of or the size of the craft. Salt water is capable of damaging all material; even steel hulls are reported to be destroyed by salt water storm damage.

Aluminum construction, especially that with rivets, often reacts to saltwater quickly. An additional caution to be aware of is that when new rivets have been installed, they may not be compatible with the aluminum of the vessel. The result could be that the fasteners could dissolve and separate. It would be best to check with the boat’s manufacturer to obtain the correct alloy.

If you encounter a boat on a lot, polished to look like new, don’t take the seller’s word that it has not been storm damaged. A fiberglass hull can easily be cleaned and detailed to look like new. Outboard and inboard engines can be flushed and cleaned of all obvious effects of salt water encounters. Eventually, if an inboard vessel was submerged, it will develop problems such as rust in pumps and engine breakdowns involving rings, pistons, and blocks.

Examine any boat you are considering for purchase closely. Check around the hull for a waterline. If you find one, mark it with a permanent marker or use the present, painted waterline on the hull. Ask to have the vessel launched for a test drive. Once it is sitting afloat, look for the waterlines you located and take note. Are the lines you marked below the water’s highest height on the hull? If the hull appears to be sitting low in the water, the inner hull’s insulation may be saturated and full of storm water. Some vessel designs have void areas that can fill with water, yet the water will not reach the bilge and the bilge pumps cannot expel it.

If you find a boat with an inboard engine that has passed all your checks, drain the fuel tank to be sure it has no water in it. Check the fuel lines and determine the water separator is clear. Disconnect the fuel line at the motor, remove the spark plugs, and turn over the motor for just a brief minute or two. Afterward, examine around the spark plug holes for water or oil - you should see none.

When considering the purchase of an outboard engine, check the lower unit oil. Pull the bottom plug below the planing plate, loosen the upper plug, and, with a container (glass would be best), see if water runs out of the lower gear case hole. If the oil is milky, there will be possible expensive problems with performance.

After all the obvious checks are completed, go below deck and start checking electric connections. See if they are wet or show a green coating. While checking the electronics, remove the light lenses and look for water or green-stained plugs. It’s also a good idea to look closely at the lettering and registration on the hull to see if they appear to have been replaced.

If you are looking at a trailerable boat, do the waterline check again and, after you load the boat on the trailer, get some assistance. Have a few husky helpers rock the boat on the trailer and listen and feel for water moving inside the hull. If you suspect water that cannot be located, move on and look for a different boat no matter how great the price may be.

Two of the recent historic hurricanes that struck during 2017 — Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida —call for special caution. It’s imperative that you question a boat’s history if you are considering purchasing it. Ask for proof it has not been exposed to saltwater immersion if any of the checks you make are questionable. Just as vehicles are transported out of a storm area when attempting to sell them, so are boats!

This article first appeared in the Launch Issue (May/Jun) 2018 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Boating 101, Used Boats

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