The Washington Times - November 11, 2008, 02:25PM

The Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.), the country’s top recreational boat owner advocate with 650,000 dues-paying members, is concerned about unknowing consumers purchasing a “used” boat, only to later discover that it might have gone through a damaging hurricane or tornado.

It happens.

BoatU.S.  offers the example of a man purchasing a 9-year old, $35,000, 24-foot fishing boat that had been “subjected to excessive trauma from a hurricane that caused serious structural damage. By the time the flim-flammed boat buyer approached the BoatU.S. Consumer Affairs Department for help, it was too late. The new owner now had one costly option: Hire a lawyer and go to court.

BoatU.S. agrees that buying any boat is never easy, but it gets doubly difficult when — after a Gulf or Caribbean storm passes through — suddenly a bunch of hurricane-damaged vessels hit the used-boat market, but are not advertised as such. BoatU.S. says that while many such boats are properly repaired and then sold, a good many of the sellers don’t always tell the whole truth. Just finding out whether a boat has been hurricane-damaged can be tough, particularly if minor, but cosmetic repairs have been made and now make it difficult to spot obvious shortcomings.

The boat owners organization says if you plan to buy a boat with an unknown history, have a survey done by an independent professional. In the above-mentioned incident, the new owner of the storm-damaged 24-footer did just that. However, the surveyor wasn’t hired until after the boat’s new owner, who lived in in Ohio, received delivery from Texas and eventually suspected that something was wrong with the boat.
BoatU.S. says that it’s probably best if you buy a used boat in the same state you reside in. “To obscure a boat’s history [one] need only cross state lines to avoid detection,” the group says. Unlike automobiles, only a few states require that titles of junked or salvaged boats be marked as such.

Also be wary of web sites that offer used boats and then say that comprehensive background information about the boats is available. “There is no national clearinghouse for boat information, short of checking the records of each boat by calling the boat registration agencies in every state. And be aware that even if you do that, state boat registration records do not include information about accidents or insurance claims,” says BoatU.S.

Remember that an “as is” purchase leaves you hanging by a thread and you have no recourse. Even your insurance company will not take care of pre-existing damage repairs when you suddenly discover something is terribly wrong with your “like-new used ” boat.