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Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats

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Sizing Up Serviceability

The Little Things That Add Up to Big Dollars

One of the best ways to reduce the high cost of boat ownership is to perform much of the routine maintenance work yourself. Having looked at over 5,000 used boats during my career, it's clear to me that the reason why so many boats suffer from poor maintenance is that the builder gave no consideration to the ease of maintenance. Often times, just doing the simplest of chores is a difficult proposition.

-Engine access
- Stern Drive Boats' Engines
- Oil Filters
- Batteries
- Fuel Filters
- Generators
- Steering system
- Exhaust system
- Air conditioning
- Sea cocks
- Bilge Pumps and Float Switches

Not only does poor accessibility to those aspects that require frequent maintenance make it very difficult for owners to do the work, it drives up the cost for those that normally pay others. You get a $300 bill for an oil change and you start thinking about extending the period between changes. The same goes for air conditioning service or anything else for that matter.

When sizing up that prospective new or used boat purchase, here are a few things to specifically be on the lookout for.

Engine access

Are you going to have to take apart furniture, move 300 lb. convertible sofas, pull up nailed down carpeting just to check the fluid levels? If so, you're facing a major maintenance problem. Engines should be easily accessible with no more than a lifting of a hatch. Carpet should not be nailed down, but left loose so that it can be pulled back.

Stern Drive Boats' Engines

Many stern drive boats have engines jammed so close together that pulling spark plugs is a near impossibility. So is changing starter motors and many other components. Engines that are jammed into tiny compartments drive up the cost of labor hours and turn self service into self immolation.

Oil Filters

Where are the oil filters, and can they be easily reached? If not, is there a relocation adaptor available? Can the oil pan drain plugs be reached in order to install an electric pump out system? Many times it can't, so that the installation will be difficult and costly.


Are you going to have to crawl on your belly and repeat the army boot camp experience to service or change batteries? These cantankerous things need to be located front and center, not stuffed back in some dark corner that can't be reached without injury.

Fuel Filters

Fuel filters may require frequent changing, so it's particularly important that these be located in a spot with easy access.


Generators are often the most troublesome in terms of accessibility. A complete lack of adequate space makes this an inevitability. But when combined with engines that are hard to reach, it's a double whammy.

Steering system 

This, too, should be easily accessible. How are you going to maintain the rudder stuffing boxes if you can't reach them?

Exhaust system 

All elements of the exhaust system should at least be visible. If there are mufflers hidden behind fuel tanks under a non removable deck, you'd better hope that you don't own that boat when that part of the exhaust system requires repair or replacement, and the deck has to be cut up to do it.

Air conditioning

More and more we find A/C units buried in places that can't be reached. There is really no excuse for this sort of thing, and you'll end up paying more because of it. A/C units in boats frequently break down.

Sea cocks

Ever try to change hose clamps on a sea cock situated UNDER an engine? There's no reason why a builder shouldn't have taken the time to locate them in a convenient place, it's just a lack of consideration.

Bilge Pumps and Float Switches

The same goes for bilge pumps and float switches which are an item that requires frequent cleaning when bilges get greasy. How are you going to do that when it's located under the engine?

The smaller the boat, the more pronounced these problems become as builders sacrifice machinery space for interior space. Most boats more or less have a few difficult servicing issues. But it pays to be on the alert for boats that have too many of these problems. If that is the case, then the cost of ownership is likely to be a bit more than you anticipated.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, then ease of service should be one of your primary criteria to help keep the pleasure in pleasure boating.

Posted August 10, 2000


David Pascoe - Biography

David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

Over forty years of knowledge and experience are brought to bear in following books. David Pascoe is the author of:

In addition to readers in the United States, boaters and boat industry professionals worldwide from nearly 80 countries have purchased David Pascoe's books, since introduction of his first book in 2001.

In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

On November 23rd, 2018, David Pascoe has passed away at age 71.

Biography - Long version

Your First Boat - Part I

By far, the most frequently asked question we get in our emails is the one by first time boat buyers asking about what brand they should buy.

Your First Boat - Part II

In this segment we'll take a look at the basics of trying to decide exactly what type, style and shape of boat that you think you need, versus what may actually best fit you purposes.

Your First Boat - Part III

In Part II, we made the recommendation that an used boat offers excellent value and good prospects for reliability. But how old of a boat? And how do you go about completing a deal?

The Hull - to - Deck Joint

A Critical Look at This Often Under-rated Element of Boat Quality

Boat Specifications

Length, weights and other trivia

Dealer Service Qualifications

All Is Not Well in the Boating Industry

Sizing Up Serviceability

The Little Things That Add Up to Big Dollars

Related Reading:
"Buying A Boat" Section
at yachtsurvey.com

Browse Chapters with Excerpt at DavidPascoe.com