Skip to main content

Buying a Used Duck Boat

Buying a Used Duck Boat Can Be a Challenge, Avoid Getting Burned With These Helpful Hints

Buying a Used Duck Boat

(Photo courtesy of Aaron Gull)

Most duck hunters who chase birds over water have gone through the process of buying a used boat. Some were lucky enough to buy the boat of their dreams, while others may have bought a “fixer-upper” that proved to be more of a headache than an actual hunting vessel. Buying a used boat can be more involved than buying a used pick-up. There’s no VIN number you can run, there’s no CARFAX, and nothing to tell you if the boat has been kept in pristine condition or beat to hell and back.

Waterfowlers are hard on their equipment; their boats are no exception. There are hunters who will slam their $20,000 Excels and War Eagles over ice, stumps, dikes, and everything else to get to the ducks. Then turn around and sell that boat for the next available upgrade.  It’s our goal to give you some insight on how to avoid buying a boat that might leave you stranded and hiking out of the marsh, and instead buy a used boat that will provide years of enjoyable hunting.

person driving boat
(Photo courtesy of Aaron Gull)

Don’t Let the Paint Fool You

Jeff Weir, a fabricator and mechanic who works on duck boats and their motors when he’s not out hunting, says it’s easy to get fooled by a good paint touch-up when someone is selling a used boat.

“I’ve seen boats with dents, cracks, popped rivets, all sorts of things that would result in taking on water come through my shop. The owner throws on a new paint job and makes it look relatively new so people don’t think it’s had the guts beat out of it. Luckily, they’re bringing it to me to fix those issues, but there’s plenty of people who don’t—there’s dirtbags who just get a few paint stencils, throw on a new camo pattern, and post it for sale,” Weir says. “Don’t let a pretty new paint job make you think the boat is in great shape.”

Weir also says that if the paint is new, it can also draw your attention to any red flags that the seller might be trying to cover up. He notes, “If you see a specific concentration of new paint in an area, maybe near the bow, or the welds, look closely. People use paint to cover up areas where they have small dents or cracks, and those small dents and cracks are the ones that, over time, become a nuisance because when they leak, it’s hard to find them.”

A pretty new paint job may add to the appeal, but be cautious; it doesn’t mean that the boat is in great working order. Sometimes, it can mean the exact opposite.

Start The Motor—A Few Times

This one seems obvious, but it goes much farther than just seeing if the motor starts without coughing a few times. Kevin Ward, an avid hunter and small engine mechanic, says that when buying a used duck boat, you want to start the motor at least three times to see how it fires up and runs. He says, “It seems silly, and I’m sure everyone thinks to do it, but I’ve known guys that will start the motor, have it fire right up, then pay for the boat without any further inspection. What they didn’t pay attention to the nasty rattle the prop had going on, or the black smoke that plumed out when they pull started it. That’s when it ends up in my shop after they take it out the first time.

Kevin also says to start it a second time, and a third time, and even a fourth time. While boat motors have shafts and drives that aren’t meant to run out of water, it won’t do any damage to run them for 10-15 seconds to make sure things are in order. “You want to pay attention to how it starts. If it’s carbureted, does it start without needing to be plunged? If you did need to plunge it, ask the owner when the last time they used it was. If it was a while ago, that’s not that bad, but if it was only a few weeks ago, and you had had to plunge it, and pull start it, that could be an issue. If it’s fuel injected, and you hear delays in the firing process, or it doesn’t start right away, that’s a big red flag. Fuel injected engines are awesome, but when pumps, filters, starters—when those start to go bad, you’ll spend more time in the shop than out hunting. Or you’ll just have to buy a whole new motor.” Ward also says to give a little throttle and pay attention to the response. “If you give it a little juice and it takes the throttle well, great! If you give it some gas and it clunks or you notice it takes a while for the shaft and prop to respond, that’s a sign that the motor has either been beaten pretty hard or hasn’t seen much care.”

parked boat with dead ducks
(Photo courtesy of Aaron Gull)

Be meticulous when inspecting the motor. Check the battery and the spark plug for corrosion. Make sure the wiring doesn’t look frayed. Have a look inside at the air filter. Ward also notes, “If you buy a used car and it breaks down, you can have someone tow you. If you have a boat break down out hunting, it can be dangerous and sometimes life-threatening.”

REALLY, REALLY Inspect the Boat

If all you do is walk around what could be your new used boat, and conclude that it looks like it will float, you could be in for a rude awakening. Get in and get your hands dirty! Look underneath the bow with a flashlight for cracks or dents. Look along the outer edges for cracks or anywhere that breaking ice, or rough water might have caused damage. Make sure to check the lights! Working lights is a good sign that the wiring is in proper order. If a light is dim, it could be a bulb, or it could be a short in the wiring. If the boat has a bilge pump, and most do these days, give it a quick start and make sure it works. That’s one feature that can save your hide if you need it

Cracks aren’t the easiest thing to see, so get your hands on the boat and really feel for anything out of the normal. Especially on the bottom, along the lower sides, and on the welds where the boat would flex underneath stress from turning too fast or unsettled waves. If you come across a dent, which likely you will as you’re buying a used boat, make sure it’s nothing bigger than the size of a golf ball and that there’s no cracks along the edges. Anything bigger has the potential to create problems as you use it on the water.

Never Assume Anything

We all know the cliché saying about what assuming does right? Never assume the boat you’re hoping to buy is in great shape—even if it appears to be. Have an eye of caution towards everything. If you assume the owner hasn’t been rough on it, or if you assume that there’s no issues in the wiring and the motor runs fine, it can sneak up and bite you in the rear end come that first morning at the boat launch.

Recommended


Be thorough as you scrutinize the boat you plan to buy. After all, the boat you buy is going to be an instrumental part in many enjoyable days in the marsh.

person driving a boat
(Photo courtesy of Aaron Gull)

Other Important Things to Check

The main components of buying a good used boat are making sure that the motor is in good working order, the wiring is sound, and that the boat itself doesn’t have any cracks, dents, or stress fractures.

However, the boat needs a trailer. Make sure to plug the trailer into a vehicle to make sure the lights work. If the owner will let you take it for a tow, do it. See how well it pulls, because a good boat isn’t worth much if you don’t have a good trailer, or a trailer you’re uncomfortable using, to tow it with.

A good cover isn’t mandatory, but it does help with the longevity of your motor and the “nice-to-have” features inside. If the current owner has a cover for the boat, make sure to look see if it has holes or tears. If the boat has gun boxes or compartments inside, give them a test to make sure they open and close correctly.

Also, make sure the seller can provide you with a title upon the sale. For those unfamiliar with that process, having the title and a bill of sale allows you to properly register the boat in your name (should you choose to make the purchase).

Owning a good duck boat can provide some magnificent shooting. Used duck boats are a great route to go if you’re just starting out or don’t want to put together a boat from scratch. Just follow these helpful hints to avoid buying a boat that will force you to spend more money at the mechanic’s shop or stranded in the marsh, and you’ll enjoy some great days watching ducks swinging into the decoys.




GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

Fiocchi's New Duck Busters

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

Migration Strike

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

Enhancing the Hunt: Skip Knowles and Tetra Hearing's Game-Changing Products

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

The Goose Factory

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

Heyday Outdoor - HydroFoam Diver Duck Decoys Review & Field Test

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Learn

Why You Suck at Shooting….and How to Fix Your Faults

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

Remington Gun Club Cure Shotshells

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

B&P Ammunition

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

Browning Maxus 2 Wicked Wing

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Gear

Why You Should Be Using Confidence Decoys for Duck Hunting

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Learn

Exercise-Induced Heat-Related Illness

Adding honker floaters in your duck decoy spread can greatly add to your success.
Learn

Using Goose Floaters for Duck Hunting

Wildfowl Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Wildfowl App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Wildfowl stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Wildfowl subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now