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The Guide to Buying a Duck Boat on a Budget

Ready to buy your first or next duck boat, we'll help you get the most bang for your buck.

The Guide to Buying a Duck Boat on a Budget

Buying a budget duck boat does not mean it has to be used or cheap. (Photo By: David Rearick)

If you are tired of watching wakes from the shoreline or looking to upgrade from your current duck boat, there is no better time than the present to start your search. With an unlimited budget, everything is your oyster, so you can probably just skip over this article and get back to rolling around in your mattress stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. But, for those of us, myself included, that rely on a 9-5 to pay our bills and are looking for ways to balance a mortgage, house expenses, remodels, and our hobby, being thrifty with our purchase is imperative to a happy spouse and a happy life—or something to that effect.


You Never Forget Your First

I remember my first duck boat vividly. I traded my grandfather a 270 Winchester Remington model 700 deer rifle, with a Tasco scope mind you, for his 14-foot Starcraft V-hull outfitted with a 60’s vintage Evinrude 10(ish)-hp outboard. I quickly converted that boat into what I thought would be a duck-slaying machine complete with rattle-can camouflage and a handmade (and poorly constructed) burlap blind. I even made my own longlines using old metal fish stringer hooks to attach the decoys. I was 18 and felt like I was king of the water. 

Long story short, my first hunt was a disaster. The motor broke down and the burlap blind got soaked and weighed what felt like 500 pounds, but I shot a duck, albeit a merganser, and I was hooked. While the experience was one of mixed emotions, it gave me the urge to save up some money and try to upgrade, which I have done again and again over the years until I finally figured out exactly what I wanted needed to accomplish my goals. 

What Do Budget Duck Boats Look Like?

I’ll begin by stating there is no boat on a “budget” that is one-size-fits-all. Everyone’s budget is different, everyone’s needs are different, and budget doesn’t have to translate to “used”. For some, a duck boat on a budget will need to be a boat at the cheapest price and for others it may need making trade-offs of features, size, or outboards to get below their allowable spend. They key to keeping the purchase on a budget is to look at boat hulls that are more basic, ignoring features that you don’t need, and understanding that getting from A to B doesn’t necessarily mean you have to look the part. Just like you don’t need a Ferrari SP51 to drive back and forth to work when a Ford Tempest will do, the gingerbread on a boat hull doesn’t equate to filling any more limits.  

Entry Level Duck Boat Options

If you are not very handy or knowledgeable about boats, looking at new, entry level options is a great place to start. New duck boats come with a warranty of some sort and therefore require less intricate knowledge of boats/motors/electronics to determine their seaworthiness. Without even saying it, this option will be more expensive than a used boat of the same caliber, but also likely require less immediate maintenance and come with more peace of mind. If you have ever heard the term Break Out Another Thousand (or BOAT) before, you need to understand that boat ownership is not free, and unlike a car that is generally fairly maintenance free, boats can turn into a money pit if you let them. Starting with a new model will help avoid taking on someone else’s problem child.

While most manufacturers offer a very basic hull that lacks the bells and whistles of more expensive models, selecting the appropriate model for your situation is key. For a general-purpose duck boat, Grizzly JON boats made by Tracker offer a combination of cost, durability, and readiness that will offer some peace of mind to a new buyer entering the market. They are available in multiple lengths, can be purchased fully outfitted with conventional outboards, and, generally speaking, are a good value. Grizzly models have a modified V-hull that works well in both shallow water and deeper lakes, but they lack some of the high-end features included by duck-boat specific manufacturers. I would not necessarily recommend them for hunters looking for a truly rugged mud boat, but if you are planning to hunt the soft edges, you are getting a good bang for your buck. If you have a Bass Pro Shops / Cabelas nearby, they generally have them available to look at/get inside of so that you can see them before your buy.

Grizzly Jon Boats by Tracker
Grizzly Jon Boats by Tracker (Photo courtesy of Tracker)

On the flip side to the more “commercial” options that are more specifically tailored for our duck hunting applications, many specialty manufacturers sell what could be considered an entry-level option that has more bells and whistles, isn’t always more expensive, but is built for more intense hunting environments. A good example of one of these options is GO-DEVILS Duck Hunting Boat Line. The advantage of going with a more “custom” boat maker like GO-DEVIL is that lengths, widths, and options are generally expanded, as showcased by the eight different models in the Duck Hunting Boat Line. While boats of this type aren’t available as a “package” on a website, they can be made into one after a simple call to someone at the factory. 

Go-Devil Duck Boat
Go-Devil Duck Boat (Photo courtesy of Go-Devil

While custom may sound more expensive or fancy than commercial, remember that in most cases you are also cutting out the middle-man, thus getting more for your money. The key to staying on a budget is to purchase the basic hull, only add the options you need, and outfit it adequately with an outboard that is sufficient, but not overkill.

Entering the “Used” Duck Boat Market

Buying a used duck boat is not all that different form buying a new boat on the surface. First, you must determine the hull type you need, the minimum length, and the type of conventional outboard or mud motor you want. Once you have an idea of what you need and a list of must-haves, start scouring the web including places like Craigslist, Boat Trader, Facebook Marketplace, and the ads in your local newspapers. The first step in the process outlined above is straightforward, but taking the next step is where things get complicated.

After you have found a list of potential options that are suitable candidates, you must start asking the hard questions. All boats live a different type of life, with some being rode a little harder and put away a lot wetter, making them potential money pits.

To make this easier, especially for a novice, consider asking these questions:

  • Age of the boat hull, trailer, and outboard? (They don’t always match)
  • Where has the boat been stored?
  • How many hours are on the outboard?
  • What is the outboard compression?
  • Has the boat every been used in Salt or Brackish water?
    • If so, what was done to after use in these types of water? (motor rinses, etc.)
  • When was the outboard last serviced?
  • Any damage/repairs to the hull?
  • Are there any slow leaks?
  • Any soft spots in the floor (pertains only to boats with wooden or fiberglass floors)
  • Have any holes been drilled through the hull for wiring, transducers, other mounts?
  • Has the motor experienced any impacts?
  • Is the propeller original?
    • How often has trailer’s electrical and bearings been maintained?
  • What type of fuel has been used in the gas tank / motor
    • Ethanol fuels are simply awful for these types of engines, especially because they sit unused for long periods of time
    • Fuel treatment helps, and sometimes is the only way to minimize any problems
inspecting the floor of a duck boat
Carefully inspect a used duck boat to avoid costly repairs. (Photo By: David Rearick)

The answers to these questions will generally be pretty telling. If the seller is evasive, doesn’t have answers, or is otherwise annoyed, it should serve as a red flag. On the flip side if the seller is forthcoming, descriptive, and remains in contact, that is a good sign. I will caveat both these sentences by saying that sometimes people are bad sellers and/or good liars, so answers alone should not heavily influence your decision.  

After initial conversations, and assuming you are still interested, the next step is to see the boat in person. With the internet opening the door to being able to view boats hundreds or even thousands of miles aways, I would strongly caution against buying a used duck boat without seeing it. I am not saying I haven’t personally done it, but be forewarned that photos can look better than real life, so make sure you are 150% comfortable with everything before purchasing a boat unseen. 

Once you get to see the boat in person, inspect the entire outer surface of the hull, looking for corrosion (yes aluminum corrodes), dents, and damage. Once satisfied, move inside and step all over the floor to look for weak/soft spots, open all the hatches to look for signs of heavy water infiltration, and check out the electrical system to make sure it isn’t a mess of connectors and tape. If you are still satisfied, take the cover off the outboard and look over the internals as well as the externals. Most importantly, the skeg and propeller will be telling as to how much the boat has been used/abused, and if the skeg is bent or broken, it should, at the minimum, elicit some conversation. Long story short, if you aren’t very mechanically inclined, before purchasing, make sure to take someone with you. The last thing you want to do is a buy a used boat that has no compression in the outboard, bad wheel bearings in the trailer, and a faulty electrical system. Issues like these can eat up “savings” related to buying used over new in a hurry—say it with me again, Bust Out Another Thousand! 

What about Outboards on a Budget?

Let’s assume that you have purchased a hull but need to buy an outboard separately. In addition to the questions/things to evaluate related to the motor that are included in the section above, it never hurts to add extra scrutiny when buying a used motor. I have purchased many used conventional outboards, saved thousands, and got excellent results. The key is to ask questions, evaluate the motors, and even pull the spark plugs. Oh, and never buy a used outboard without hearing it start.

While used outboards are the obvious way to buy a motor on a budget, also look for leftover model years. I once saved $4,000 buying a “new” two-year old model. They exist, but you have to do some digging. Additionally, specifically for mud motors, you can buy “kits” that come with all the components, except an engine, that can be purchased locally from stores like Harbor Freight. Beaver Dam Mud Runners makes some unique mud motor kits including an 8-26 horsepower kit that allows you to scale up as you go. This particular kit allows you to get started with a less-expensive, lower horsepower engine and then increase/improve performance as your needs or your boat hull gets bigger.

Beaver Dam Mud Runners mud motor kit.
Beaver Dam Mud Runners mud motor kit. (Photo courtesy of Beaver Dam Mud Runners)

Reflecting back, the original 14-foot V-hull I purchased got the job done until I could upgrade. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked, and was all I needed at the time. If you stay focused on what you need, not just what you want, you will be able to keep the price down and still achieve the same goal of getting off the sidelines. 

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