Pontoon boats can be very expensive to buy new, but there are huge savings to be made on the second-hand marketplace. But if you don’t have a lot of experience with boating, knowing what to look for when buying on the used market can be very daunting and confusing.
I bought used and haven’t regretted it once. Thankfully I had a buddy with me to help me out with all the questions to ask when buying a used pontoon boat. If you don’t have that luxury, the buying guide below will help you in making the right decision.
However, with the used boat market, there will be risks.
The history of the pontoon boat could be vague, there might be mechanical problems not immediately visible, and there could be some costs you will need to factor in for repairs and improvements once you buy the boat used.
But, if you read the buying guide notes below on what questions to ask, and what to look for when buying a new pontoon boat, it will mitigate a lot of that risk – with you then saving a whole lot of money with hopefully a great boat you can use for years to come.
How to buy a used pontoon boat: questions and tips guide
The used pontoon boat checklist, questions, and advice below will help you protect yourself against buying a complete wreck of a boat, and hopefully at a lower price than it was actually advertised for.
1. Decide on what you will use the boat for?
Before you even consider buying a used pontoon boat, think about what the primary purpose and usage of it will be.
For example, if you want something for fishing in the main, you’d want to pick a boat that has a good fishing set-up and layout (here are 17 fishing layout tips). Alternatively, if it’s mainly for leisure you’re going to want a decent deck size and possibly a tow bar.
Here are the different types of activity you might want to use your boat for, with some ideas on what equipment to look for in a used model.
- Fishing: if you are going to be fishing a lot of the time, then the ideal pontoon will have a couple of fishing chairs up top, possibly a livewell, trolling motor, and rod holders attached to the rails.
- Partying: if you are planning on having a party boat you might want something with a slide. At the very least, opt for a pontoon with decent food and drink storage, and most importantly seating that allows for great conversation.
- Relaxing: if sunbathing is your thing, look for a used boat that has a decent sound system (but you can buy Bluetooth speakers separately so not deal breaker) and a decent sized padded sun deck.
- Watersports: if you’re going to spend a lot of time in the water swimming and tubing, look for a pontoon with a tow bar, gate access to the water, and working boarding ladders. It will also need to have good horse power engine rating in order to pull tubes.
Handy Hint: One thing you should never neglect is the captain’s chair. You’re going to be sat in it for many hours, so it needs to be comfortable and stylish. They are simple enough to replace and install. Read my pontoon captain chair reviews here to see which I currently recommend.
2. Think about how much deck space you need
The size of your large and open deck will depend on how long the pontoon boat is. In most cases, the tube length of the pontoon will be advertised which will give you some idea of how much room you have to play with.
The size of the pontoon and deck also tends to have a direct correlation to how much power it has and how fast it can go.
As a rule of thumb, the following sizes suit the following scenarios:
- 16 feet to 19 feet: ideal for 8 passengers and smaller, calmer waterways.
- 20 feet to 22 feet: ideal for 13 passengers on larger waterways.
- 23 feet to 27 feet: ideal for 15 passengers and rougher waterways.
3. Search for used pontoon boats and book appointments
You will find private ads on boating forums and websites, but there are also dedicated used boat websites where sometimes the seller ratings and credibility will be easier to validate.
Some of the better websites for buying a used pontoon boat are Boat Trader, Boats.com, and iBoats.com. They are simple to navigate around and let you sort by price, locations, features, and so on.
In your own local area, you will also find dealers who sell used pontoon boats for sale.
The benefits to going to a dealer direct is that you can ask lots of questions about the boat and take advantage of their expert knowledge. They might also be able throw in additional extras if you decide to buy, plus will offer warranties in some cases and will have fully tested and fixed the boat up.
However, with a dealer, the price you pay for used will be more expensive than buying from a private seller. But it will offer you a lot more peace of mind.
4. Check and inspect the most important equipment and boat condition
Once you have found a suitable boat, it’s time to go do some viewings.
The first thing I want you to remember and insist on is that when you look at the used pontoon boat, make sure that it’s raised up on a trailer or platform. I want you to be able to walk around the boat freely, being able to look up and under at it.
Here are the checks and questions you need to ask the seller:
- Hull and pontoons: check the hull and pontoon tubes for any damage, signs of welding, cracks, patches, lumps, and dents.
- Shift and throttle: are the linkages nicely greased with no visible signs of damage and corrosion? The springs should also snap back into place.
- Laminate: check underneath the boat to see how smooth the laminate is. If it is bubbled, cracked, or wrinkled it’s a sign that the boat wasn’t built very well.
- Gauges: check that the reading and dials are accurate and that there are no oil pressure problems.
If there is any damage or sign of repair to the hull, it isn’t always a bad sign. Most used pontoon boats will have had dings and dents over time, so the key is to find out how serious the damage was and what repairs were made.
For example, if the patching has been done well it’s nothing to be concerned about. It’s not unusual to see repairs. The time I would be cautious is if there have been multiple repairs, or the patching is very extensive and large.
And lastly, how is the overall shine of the boat?
A dull looking pontoon boat isn’t the end of the world. It just means she hasn’t been buffed and shined like she should have been.
It’s easy enough to fix up, and I’ve put a guide together on how to polish pontoons if you have an afternoon spare to do it yourself.
5. Is the motor in good working order?
Another most important question to ask when buying a used pontoon boat is how many hours have been put on the engine. You should never buy a used pontoon without knowing the hours on it – click here to find out why.
It won’t be the only factor that determines where you buy, but any seller should be able to give you this information – if they can’t, it’s suspicious so walk away.
Other checks you need to make is to take the outboard engine cowling off.
Do that and look for any white marks. This shows that gas or liquid has been escaping and is a sign that the engine isn’t what it should be.
This would be a good point to also ask the seller if any repairs have ever been made to the engine, and if so, can they provide evidence and receipts.
The main decider though is how well the motor runs, making the checks you would make just like buying a vehicle.
To summarize, this is what you look for:
- Is the motor clean or is it dirty?
- Are there any signs of leaks?
- Have any repairs been made?
- Is there any work that will need doing once you buy?
6. Is the furniture and flooring in decent condition?
Now let’s move to the boat’s interior.
Have a look around checking for what condition everything is in, looking for general wear and tear, including cracking. This won’t be a deal breaker in most cases but will mean you will need to factor in repair and maintenance costs.
Let’s cut to the chase; almost every single second-hand boat will have some degree of interior wear, it’s just knowing what to look for when buying a used pontoon boat.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the floor.
If there’s mold there it’s not a massive issue, as carpet can be cleaned or replaced easily enough. However, if damp has gone into any wooden aspects to the floor, there could be some rotting which is a far bigger problem which is more expensive to repair.
To check for rotten flooring, walk up and down the deck. If you come across any spots that feel soft, then that’s usually a sign.
Moving onto the furniture, one of the most common problems you will see when buying a used pontoon boat is mold and mildew on the vinyl. Again, these can be treated, with decent cleaning results taking a few hours – here’s how to clean pontoon seats.
If the seats and cushions are beyond repair, you can buy new ones or have them reupholstered by a professional.
Often it will be cheaper to do the reupholstering yourself if you have the time and inclination. I published a step by step process on how to reupholster vinyl boat seats where you can see how you can do it.
7. Do the features satisfy what you want from a used pontoon boat?
Now that you have checked the overall health and condition, there are some more things to look for when buying a used pontoon boat – do the other features tick the boxes for what you want?
Aspects to consider and check, including any questions to ask would be:
- How comfortable are the seats and is there enough seating?
- Is there adequate storage for what you will be taking?
- Does it have a grill? (here are the ones I recommend if not).
- Does it have a Bimini top? You will need one for shade.
- Will it come with a boat cover? (here are covers I recommend if not).
- Will the seller let you buy the trailer as well?
- Is there a sound system or marine speakers?
- Is there a tow bar for pulling tubes and water skis?
- Will the seller include safety gear such as PFDs?
8. Compare prices of similar spec pontoons
Another important consideration on how to buy a used pontoon boat is price comparisons. Do your research to see what similar sized and featured boats are selling for in your local area.
Prices will differ from state to state, so just look locally to see what similar boats are selling for. That will help you get a better deal and potentially negotiate which I will move onto later.
9. Is the price of the pontoon boat a fair reflection on market values?
Having done some price checking, you should be able to decide whether the boat you like has been priced fairly compared to market rates.
The websites below can also give some guidance on how to determine the value of a pontoon boat.
- BUC Valu Search– Includes retail high and retail low prices – visit website.
- NADA Guides– Provides low, average, and high prices for models – visit website.
I’ve listed some average pontoon boat prices here, but those are for new boats only. If you read those guideline prices and then factor in depreciation values, it could give you another angle on price.
You should also understand how much your boat is going to cost to run each year. There are many things that you probably haven’t even considered which you can read about in my guide to what pontoons cost annually to run and maintain.
Annual running costs can include:
- Start-up costs such as safety equipment, trailer, and training.
- Recurring costs such as fuel, cleaning, storage, taxes, and insurance.
10. Does it still have a manufacturer warranty?
This is really important. If you buy from a dealer, get a guarantee and warranty from them that will cover any replacement parts and labor for every single aspect of the pontoon.
Ask them if it covers the electronics in the boat, as they will often be the first thing to fail.
If buying from a private seller, see if they have an existing manufacturer or dealer warranty that can be transferred into your name. Not just for the boat, but also any extras they might have added and upgraded such as outboard motor or electronic systems.
11. Ask for receipts and logs of any work that’s been done
Most responsible sellers will have kept invoices and receipts for any work that has been done on the boat, or any features that have been installed as after-market accessories.
It will give you a better idea on the boat’s history, as well the possibility of getting parts replaced if they break down inside a warranty period.
12. Check for the NMMA certification sticker
The NMMA is the National Marine Manufacturers Association. I don’t know of any of the big name pontoon builders who aren’t members, but it’s still worth checking that the boat you are buying has a sticker of certification.
NMMA certification gives you the peace of mind that the boat has passed stringent quality checks and tests to be used on American waters.
13. Take the used pontoon boat for a test drive
It’s now time to give the boat a run-out. Don’t be nervous, it’s quite easy to drive a pontoon boat! Take your time though, as this is where you will get a feel for the boat.
Start the engine up and keep an ear out for any unusual sounds. You want to let the engine warm up before you set-off, and if this takes too long, it’s a sign there could be problems.
Once out on the water, test the acceleration, slowing down, and turning. Does the boat handle speed and turn changes well?
Also, insist on at least 30 minutes for your test drive. During the test drive you will be able to test out various usage scenarios, and it lets the engine run for long enough to check for any over-heating problems.
The biggest issue you might find here, aside from a seller not wanting you to test drive (walk away in this case) is that it might be trailered up with no access to water.
I don’t think I would buy a used pontoon boat without testing it – it’s your call depending on your attitude towards risk.
14. Check the dealer’s credentials and reputation
Before you purchase from a dealer, do your own due diligence to check that they are members of the local and national boat industry boards.
By doing so, you have the peace of mind that your buying from a dealer who “in theory” works to industry codes of practice.
Also do online checks to look up reviews of the dealer and ask on pontoon boat forums and Facebook groups for feedback.
With private sellers you won’t be able to do this.
15. Ask to see proof of ownership
Boats and trailers get stolen more often than you might think, and only 1 boat in every 10 ever gets recovered after a theft.
That means that there are a lot of stolen boats being sold on the second-hand market.
If buying a used pontoon boat privately, ask the seller to provide you with proof that they own the boat. This can include insurance certificates, the receipt for the boat, and licenses.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask, because if you end up buying stolen property you have some big potential headaches ahead of you from a legal perspective.
16. Don’t be afraid to barter and negotiate on price
Sellers almost expect a buyer to try and negotiate on the price. Dealers are especially used to this. It’s one of the most important factors in knowing how to buy a used pontoon boat as it can save you a whole lot of money.
Here are just a few tips to consider:
- Do your research: turn up to the dealer or private seller knowing what similar boats sell for. Having the NADA book value printed out gives you some bargaining power. Most private sellers tend to over-value their boats due to an emotional attachment they have with it.
- Dismiss the value of the electronics: tell the seller that you will be replacing any electronics because (in most cases) they will be out of date on a used pontoon so would like a price without them included. That can often lead to a price drop.
- Note all upgrades and repairs needed: take a notepad with you and write down any repairs or updates that could be needed. You can then barter to have the price of these repairs taken off the price.
- Make the sale dependent on storage: if buying in the winter, see if it can remain in the slip or trailer parking until you’re ready to take it. It could save you some money on storage costs.
- Ask the marine surveyor to be picky: if you decide to commission a marine survey, ask the surveyor to be really picky, identifying the smallest of issues. That gives you more room to bargain the price down with the seller.
- Ask the seller to give you extras: if you don’t own safety gear, ask the seller to throw that in to the deal. Similarly, with towable tubes, grills, and any other pontoon equipment and gear you don’t yet own.
In this video below, the guy talks a little bit about negotiation and price checking. The whole video is really good, but the negotiation parts starts around 8 minutes in.
17. Consider a marine survey
The best way you can have the confidence in a used boat is to have a marine survey carried out. A professional marine surveyor can conduct a comprehensive check for any problems with the vessel.
To find a qualified marine surveyor in your area take a look at MarineSurvey.org. On there you can search by zip code and find a professional with The Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors accreditation.
If you need finance to pay for your boat, often your insurance company will ask that the vessel has been inspected with a full marine survey.
Should any small problems with the boat be identified during the survey it will put you in a better bargaining position to get the price reduced.
18. Buy pontoon boat insurance
You can buy specialist pontoon boat insurance (read more about it here) and I advise that you do so. It might also be worth checking with your home insurance company, as some will let you add a boat onto the policy.
Here’s how much specialist insurance could cost you.
- Basic Insurance – costs $8 per month: this only covers for liability and any damage that you cause to others. The pay-outs would be around $50,000 per person, and then up to $25,000 when you damage boats or other property.
- Comprehensive Insurance – costs $29 per month: just like your car insurance, this will cover almost any eventuality. The pay-outs significantly rise to $100,000 per person, and a $50,000 limit on property damage. The quote I received will also pay for medical care up to $5,000 and will cover accidents with un-insured boaters.
19. Buy your used pontoon boat with confidence!
And finally, it’s time to buy!
The previous 18 tips should now have in a far better position for knowing how to buy, what questions to ask, what to look for when buying a used pontoon boat.
I hope it’s given you that confidence!
I was lucky enough to have a buddy with me when I bought my first, and he was able to help me out with all the questions to ask when buying a used pontoon boat. He came along with me for viewings and was there to offer his experience.
I hope that these pointers mean you can now do this yourself, and no longer doubt that you have the knowledge required on how to buy a used pontoon boat.
What other pontooners say
I also looked on social media to say what existing owners said about buying either new or used pontoon boats. Here is a selection of the best comments I found:
“Many used boats have been used sparingly. Many new buyers don’t make the commitment to the boating life and just don’t use them enough to substantiate the investment. That is when the great buys happen.”
“I would always recommend that you buy a used pontoon boat, and not new. Why? Because it lets the first buyer take the big hit. Boats are like cars that depreciate so much in the first year.”
“We were really hoping to buy used when we were looking. But the sad part is nobody takes care of them. Everybody leaves them sitting outside over the winter or uncovered in the summer and the interior goes to hell.”
“Buy used and learn how to use the pontoon boat and gain experience. My latest used pontoon boat is all scratched on the outside as it used to be a rental. We’ve debated about cleaning it up and wrapping or gel-coating it, but every time I bump something, I’m glad no one will notice.”
“I buy used. I don’t want to pay for 20 years on a boat when I can only use it 5 or so months of the year. I guess if I lived in Florida, I might feel different. My current boat is a 2008 24-foot pontoon with a 150 hp engine. I paid 12 for it with a new trailer and all new interior. With a used boat I don’t worry with every little scratch or blemish or stains.”
“I bought a refurbished pontoon boat from dealer. Everything was brand new except the toons. And I managed to buy it at half the price of a brand new one. Loving it!”
“I prefer to buy newer or lightly used. I just bought new and it’s now in the shop. Buddy of mine bought used and never a moment’s problem. With a used boat, you get the better price and hopefully all the bugs are worked out. With a new boat you pay the higher price and it’s under warranty, but you may still have to work the bugs out before being able to enjoy it fully. Guess I’m saying it’s a toss-up.”
“I have owned many boats over my lifetime and have never bought new and my father was in the boat business selling new boats. Either buy a new boat and give the salesman a nice commission and take a big depreciation hit as you pull it off the lot, or buy used and enjoy all the money you saved. New or used, they all have their quirks and need work, it is just a part of boating.”
What to do if you are selling a used pontoon boat
The guidance above is purely for people wanting to know questions to ask when buying a used pontoon boat and what to look for.
If you are selling your pontoon, I would also recommend that you take a look at my blog post regarding selling tips and preparing your pontoon for sale. It includes sections and advice on:
- Cleaning the boat before selling it
- Locating the boat’s records and receipts
- How to handle repairs and maintenance
- How and why you should set the right price
- How you can advertise your used pontoon for sale
The last word…
Whether you should buy a used or new pontoon boat is entirely down to you.
What I would say though is that with used, you know that the boat will have already been hit with the depreciation in value (see how depreciation works on a pontoon). Just like a car, they lose a huge amount of money once they come off the lot.
Undoubtedly there will some kinks, little problems, and things you want to fix up or improve when buying used. It’s the same with any other type of second-hand boat purchase.
Thing like carpets, tables, and seats are things that you buy cheaply, repair yourself, or completely replace – in fact, only recently I published a guide on how you can reupholster pontoon seats if they have started to look shabby.
But if you go into the situation knowing that you are saving a lot of money versus buying a brand-new pontoon, it might leave you some extra cash to spend on any improvements and repairs.
One thing that I always recommend is that you take a pontoon boat out on the water from a rental company. That will let you decide if a pontoon really is for you.
It won’t cost huge amounts for day, and you can see how rental prices compare across the United States in this rental price guide.
I hope you have found my used pontoon boat buying guide and checklist useful and wish you all the luck with your purchase!
PS: For more tips, check out this video on how to buy a used boat that I found on YouTube. It has some great hints and tips in it.