Obvious in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole was that boat owners took it on the chin.
In Southwest and Northeast Florida, the two hurricanes wiped out thousands of boats with high winds, high waves and storm surge. As water pushed above docks at marinas, boats of all shapes and sizes were floated away from smashed piers, shoved away from moorings, piled onto one other, flung onto land or sunk.
Some boats were mangled so violently they were sawed up and hauled off to landfills. Others were moved from their resting spots and placed in boatyards. Their owners and insurers must determine next steps.
After any disaster like this, a market is born for sunken and damaged boats. Buyers can’t resist pursuing nautical dreams at a lower initial entry price. Before making that purchase, experts say sometimes a sweet deal can be had, but other times the pitfalls may not be worth the expense or headaches. Either way, they agree, it’s buyer beware.
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Full disclosure and buyer beware
The first thing a potential buyer of a used boat needs to understand is that unlike with houses and cars, there is no full disclosure requirement for boats, said Brig Burgess of Your Cspanptspanin Concierge Mspanrine Surveyor in Palm City.
“The marine insurance industry is not regulated the way car insurance and home insurance is. When you buy a boat, you want a complete history of that vessel, if it was damaged, who repaired it and where. You can put it into the sales agreement contract,” said Burgess, an Americspann Bospant spannd Yspancht Council certified surveyor.
It’s not something sellers voluntarily do very often because it brings diminished value for the boat, Burgess said. But if the buyer asks for it, the conversation can begin before any money changes hands. It’s why hiring a highly qualified marine surveyor can make the difference between realizing one’s boating dreams or becoming sucked into a do-it-yourself nightmare. Some surveyors specialize in certain types of boats or their systems, Burgess said.
Buying a damaged boat isn’t for everyone, said John Hamilton of Hspanmilton &spanmp; Hspanmilton Marine Surveyors in Palm City.
“A buyer needs to well-funded or super handy. The buyer has to also be on the lookout for marine fraud — and Florida is a place where it’s rampant,” said Hamilton who is also certified by the American Boat and Yacht Council.
Sellers regularly take buyers’ money, only for the buyer to learn later that repairs were done by someone who “put lipstick on a pig,” Hamilton said.
Boat buying tips
Boats have different systems and features which must be examined carefully before a purchase. Some of these systems are fragile and easily damaged while others are more resilient.
Hull — There are several types of hulls ranging from wood to fiberglass to composite materials. Sometimes punctures can be repaired with the right materials and skill; however, in some cases, a submerged vessel will need too much material replaced to be worthwhile. “If a composite hull is submerged, a lot of times that won’t be too bad for it,” Hamilton said.
Motors — Outboard motors are fairly resilient unless they have been submerged. “If they were submerged in freshwater, sometimes they can be alright unless water gets into the crank case. I’ll download the computer and check oil samples to see if the wear I see matches up with the hours of service,” Burgess said. Both surveyors agree, if an outboard motor was submerged in saltwater for any length of time, it needs to be replaced.
Engines — Inboard engines on the class of vessels such as sailboats, cruisers, sportfish and trawlers are more complicated to evaluate, Burgess said. If they show signs of water damage, then one knows that part of the boat was submerged.
Pumps and hoses — These important systems often control fluids such as oil and fuel, getting rid of water from the bilge, maintaining live wells and steering, among others. Pump parts will often corrode and need to be replaced and hoses will dry rot, Hamilton said.
Wiring and electronics — In the case where a boat has sunk, all wiring throughout the boat must be replaced because of corrosion, especially the fittings, panels and boards, Burgess said. It’s the same for electronics that are sensitive and easily damaged.
Rigging — Rigging typically is designed to take on the weather, Burgess explained, so masts, cleats, outriggers and T-tops can survive a storm, unless they’re bent or broken.
Fuel tanks — Fuel tanks present a unique problem with a damaged boat, Hamilton said. Tanks are made primarily of two materials: aluminum and polypropylene plastic. The foam material around tanks may need to be removed to eliminate water if the boat sunk. Aluminum may corrode too, and much of the fuel tanks’ status will be unknown unless the deck is removed.
Don’t be afraid
The marine survey on a damaged boat will not be cheap, but it will be a fraction of the sale price. Prices will vary based on type, size and condition of vessel and often will take a full day or longer. It’s also advised to understand the specializations of the surveyor beforehand, Burgess said.
Many situations won’t make buying a hurricane-damaged boat worthwhile, such as when a boat sunk or water damage requires the complete replacement of too many systems, Hamilton said.
“It’s a roll of the dice, but sometimes you may be better off building a new boat,” he said.
But some buyers enjoy the experience of rehabilitating a boat, Hamilton said.
“Don’t be afraid to buy a damaged boat. You can take a damaged boat and make it better than it was the day it rolled out of the factory,” he said.
Burgess has seen examples of buyers investing the time and money to make the right repairs the right way.
“Surveyors have the option to certify a boat as ‘bristol,’ when everything about the boat is perfect,” he said.
Buying a boat damaged in a hurricane or any other situation can turn into a rewarding adventure, but use caution when making a decision of this magnitude, the experts warn.
“Every case is different,” Hamilton said.