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Rob Landers, Treasure Coast Newspapers
After Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, it was obvious that boat owners took it by the chin.
In southwest and northeast Florida, the two hurricanes wiped out thousands of boats with strong winds, high waves and storm surges. As water pushed over marina docks, boats of all shapes and sizes were blown off wrecked piers, pushed off moorings, stacked on top of each other, slung ashore or sunk.
Some boats were so badly mutilated that they were sawed up and towed to landfills. Others were removed from their resting places and housed in shipyards. Your owners and insurers need to determine next steps.
After every disaster like this, a market for sunken and damaged boats emerges. Buyers can’t resist pursuing nautical dreams at a lower entry price point. Before you make that purchase, experts say that sometimes a good deal can be struck, but sometimes the pitfalls may not be worth the expense or headache. In any case, they agree, buyers beware.
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Full disclosure and buyers beware
The first thing a potential buyer of a used boat needs to understand is that unlike homes and cars, there’s no full disclosure requirement for boats, said Brig Burgess of Your Captain Concierge Marine Surveyor in Palm City.
“The marine insurance industry is not as regulated as auto insurance and home insurance. When you buy a boat you want a complete history of that vessel, if it was damaged, who fixed it and where. You can put it in the sale agreement contract,” said Burgess, an American Boat and Yacht Council-certified appraiser.
It’s not something sellers do voluntarily very often because it reduces the value of the boat, Burgess said. But if the buyer asks, the conversation can begin before money changes hands. For this reason, hiring a highly qualified marine surveyor can mean the difference between making your boating dreams come true or being sucked into a do-it-yourself nightmare. Some surveyors specialize in specific boat types or their systems, Burgess said.
Buying a damaged boat isn’t for everyone, said John Hamilton of Hamilton & Hamilton Marine Surveyors in Palm City.
“A buyer has to be financially strong or super practical. The buyer also has to be on the lookout for ship fraud — and Florida is a place where it’s rampant,” said Hamilton, who is also certified by the American Boat and Yacht Council.
Sellers routinely take buyers’ money, only for the buyer to later learn repairs were made by someone who “put lipstick on a pig,” Hamilton said.
Boat buying tips
Boats have different systems and properties that need to be checked carefully before making a purchase. Some of these systems are fragile and easily damaged, while others are more resilient.
hull — There are different types of hulls ranging from wood to fiberglass to composites. Sometimes punctures can be repaired with the right materials and skills; In some cases, however, a submerged ship requires too much material to be replaced to be worthwhile. “Often when a composite hull gets submerged, it’s not that bad,” Hamilton said.
Engines — Outboard motors are quite resilient unless they have been submerged. “If they’ve been submerged in fresh water, they can sometimes be fine unless water gets into the crankcase. I download the computer and run oil samples to see if the wear I’m seeing matches the hours of use,” Burgess said. Both reviewers agree that if an outboard motor has been submerged in salt water for a long period of time, it needs to be replaced.
Engines – Inboard engines in the class of ships like sailboats, cruisers, sportfishing and trawlers are more complicated to value, Burgess said. If they show signs of water damage, you know part of the boat was submerged.
pumps and hoses — These important systems often control fluids such as oil and fuel, remove water from the bilge, maintain living wells, and control, among other things. Pump parts often corrode and need to be replaced, and hoses rot, Hamilton said.
wiring and electronics – When a boat has sunk, all wiring throughout the boat must be replaced because of corrosion, particularly the fittings, panels and boards, Burgess said. The same applies to electronics, which are delicate and easily damaged.
rigging – Rigging is usually designed to withstand the weather, Burgess explained, so masts, cleats, booms and T-tops can survive a storm unless bent or broken.
fuel tanks – Fuel tanks present a unique problem on a damaged boat, Hamilton said. Tanks are primarily made of two materials: aluminum and polypropylene plastic. The foam material around tanks may need to be removed to remove water if the boat sinks. Aluminum can also corrode, and much of the condition of fuel tanks is unknown unless the deck is removed.
Surveying a damaged boat won’t be cheap, but it will be a fraction of the selling price. Prices vary depending on the type, size and condition of the ship and often take a full day or more. It’s also recommended to understand surveyor specializations beforehand, Burgess said.
Many situations make buying a hurricane-damaged boat not worth buying, such as when a boat has sunk or water damage requires the complete replacement of too many systems, Hamilton said.
“It’s a dice game, but sometimes it might be better to build 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 the day it rolled out of the factory,” he said.
Burgess has seen examples of buyers investing time and money getting the right repairs done the right way.
“Assessors have the opportunity to certify a boat as ‘Bristol’ if everything about the boat is perfect,” he said.
Buying a boat damaged by a hurricane or other situation can become a worthwhile adventure, but be careful when making a decision of this magnitude, experts warn.
“Every case is different,” Hamilton said.