COLUMBUS, OH – Finding a boat to fit your needs may mean purchasing a used boat instead of a new boat. When buying a used boat from a private seller, whether it’s your neighbor or through a newspaper or online ad, it’s important to ensure your purchase is legal, which allows for proper registration and titling.
Whatever type of used boat you are buying, the same general rules apply. Follow these tips and you can buy a used boat with confidence, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Division of Watercraft.
Most importantly, know the titling and registration laws for boats not only in the state where you live (www.ohiodnr.com/watercraft), but also the state where the boat is coming from. Know if the boat/outboard motor is required to have a title, because if you buy a boat that should have a title but doesn’t, you likely won’t be able to register it. All out-of-state boats, boats that do not have a 12-character hull ID, and boats without a proper title need to be inspected by a State Watercraft Officer before an Ohio title (or a registration) can be issued. All outboard motors that are 10 HP and more are required to be titled in the State of Ohio, but not registered.
Other homework to do before contacting the seller:
Before you buy, call your local State Watercraft office to clarify what you are going to need, paper-wise, to legally register the boat; be sure to include all related details when you call, such as: “I’m looking at buying a 16-ft. fishing boat with a 40HP outboard from a guy in Indiana. What do I need to get it registered in Ohio?” This will keep surprises to a minimum, help you determine the worth of the boat, and ensure legal registration and titling in Ohio.
When you contact the seller, be sure to ask:
- Is the boat registered in Ohio? If so, what are the “OH” numbers?
- Do you have the registration paper or card for this boat? Is it in your name?
- Do you have a title (if required by state law) for this boat outboard motor if 10 HP or more and being purchased in Ohio in your name? If the title is not in the seller’s name, you may not be able to title the boat/outboard motor in your name – which means you won’t ever be able to register it.
- Why are you selling the boat? This question can give you some clues as to how well the boat has been looked after before you even see it.
- What comes with the boat (trailer, safety equipment, etc.)? If the equipment needed to transport or operate the boat is not included, build that into your cost for purchasing the boat. NOTE: If a trailer is involved, be sure the required paperwork is included for it, too. Trailers in Ohio are registered through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles annually, like car license plates. That is a different procedure from getting the boat registration changed.
If any of the answers seem suspicious or if the seller is not forthcoming with information, walk away. For more information on boat registration and titling requirements, call 1-877-4Boater (toll free in Ohio) or 614-265-6480.
When you meet the seller in person:
- Ask to see his/her photo ID, the title (if the boat/outboard motor requires one) and the registration.
- Make sure the hull ID number on the registration and the serial number on the outboard motor matches the title (if the boat/outboard motor requires a title). Make sure the seller’s name is on both documents.
- Look at the boat’s maintenance log. This should list all services, repairs and oil changes. If it’s missing, it can be hard to tell how well the boat has been looked after.
- You should also ask what the boat was used for, which may affect its condition. For example, boats that are used mainly for skiing tend to run up a large number of engine hours. However, this may not be an issue if the boat was properly maintained.
When checking out the boat itself:
- Find the hull ID number and make sure it doesn’t look like it has been tampered with and that it matches the number on the boat’s registration and title documents. Write it down or make a pencil tracing (place the paper over the hull ID and rub the side of the pencil lead over the stamp or etching).
- Look at obvious features, such as the gel coat, woodwork and upholstery. If these haven’t been maintained then there’s a good chance the rest of the boat has not had much care either.
- Inspect all wooden decking and interior woodwork for any soft spots.
- Are any parts of the exterior paintwork poorly matched? This may indicate an accident which, in itself, may not be enough to dismiss the boat, but if the owner has not already mentioned it to you, then what else have they not told you?
- Check that all control cables are in good working order.
- Look for water lines inside the boat or on the engine. These would indicate that the boat has flooded in the past.
- Open and close all the hatches and sea cocks to ensure they’re in good working order. If there are any water marks inside the hatches, it would indicate that they are no longer water-tight.
- Test out all the systems: bilge pump, winches, freshwater system, lights, heater and air conditioning, generator, stove etc.
- Check that all hardware is attached firmly, and that electrical items and connections are free from rust.
- On a sail boat, check that all the sails and rigging are in good working order by rigging the boat.
Check the engine:
- Check for the presence of oil in the bilges—a sign of an oil leak.
- Check for any oil leaks around gaskets and hoses.
- Inspect the level and condition of the oil. A milky appearance to the oil is a sign that water may be leaking into the engine. A burned smell or any grit in the oil is additional indications of mechanical problems, while a chalky residue on the engine or drive would signal that the engine has been running hot.
- Pull out one of the spark plugs and examine it for age. If it’s old, perhaps the engine hasn’t been serviced as often as it should.
- Examine all the hoses and belts. Are they cracked or degraded? Smell for fuel leaks, and check that the fuel tanks are sound.
- Get a compression check on the engine or have a boat mechanic check it out for you.
Buying the boat
- If the boat hasn’t been tested on the water, include that as a contingency in the purchase agreement.
- Be sure you have all the paperwork before you pay.
- Pay with a cashier’s check made out to the seller.
- The boat and outboard motor (if 10 HP or more) must be titled within 30 days after purchase. The boat can not be registered until the title (if a title is required) is transferred in your name. This also is required to be completed within 30 days.
Once you have your boat legally titled and register, it’s time to go boating. Information on boating safety programs, tips and where to enjoy boating may be found at www.ohiodnr.com/watercraft.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR Web site at www.ohiodnr.com.