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Bargain Hunters

You can save big ­by buying boating ­equipment ­secondhand. Here's how to score a good deal without ­getting stuck with a dud.

Boat parts

Online marketplaces like eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook can be great sources for gently used boating gear at a fraction of the cost of purchasing new. (Photo: Getty Images/KatrinTimoff)

My favorite place to buy shackles and cleats sells them by the pound. A few years back, my husband, Robin, and I would go to a boat junkyard where they would let us run wild with a screwdriver, gleefully pulling hardware off a few dozen dismantled boats. At the end of the afternoon we'd take our laden canvas bag to the cash register for weighing.

Like many boaters, I can't resist the thrill of a good deal. Much of our boating equipment is secondhand, from outboards to anchors to satellite phones, and we do most of our shopping on sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and eBay. In general, we've been happy with our purchases, but there have been the few occasions when the exhilaration of finding a good deal has caused us to miss red flags.

Tip

If using a service such as PayPal to pay for an item you bought online, always select the "goods and services" option (as opposed to "friends and family"). Doing so guarantees you a refund on the cost of the item plus shipping if it arrives broken or not as advertised — or if it doesn't arrive at all.

Perhaps the costliest example of this was a few years ago, when we decided to go bluewater cruising and spent $1,800 on a 1970s era secondhand windvane only to discover that it was deemed potentially unsafe by the manufacturer. (The vane had been made by a company that preceded it.) By the time we realized this, the seller had already spent the money and there was no hope of a refund. As 20-something penny-pinching bluewater cruisers, this was a major blow, but also a valuable lesson. While we may have fewer consumer rights when we buy something secondhand, there's a handful of good habits that can lower the chance of winding up with a lemon (or a worrisome windvane).

Consumer Rights

A buyer's rights are limited when buying used goods in private sales, however a seller has an obligation not to misrepresent or defraud the buyer. If he or she does, the buyer can sue to rescind the transaction or seek compensation. For example, if a seller advertised a 2012 outboard on eBay, when in fact it was a 2002 model, that could constitute misrepresentation and the buyer could sue to unwind the contract. The problem of course, is that even in small-claims court, there are expenses in money and time, and hiring legal counsel may cost more than the purchase price. In the end, it's still buyer beware.

Showing off find

The author proudly shows off a secondhand find — a deck cushion from Minney’s Yacht Surplus in Newport Beach, California.

A consumer has additional rights when buying from a merchant (e.g., a used parts dealer or online store). Most states offer some protection under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) in the form of an implied warranty of merchantability, which means that any new or used product sold by a merchant should work when used for its intended purpose (e.g., a working 65-hp outboard should run).

However, in the case of used goods, most states add a caveat saying any item is expected to work when used for its intended purposes, given the item's condition at the time of resale. In essence, consumers can expect it to work, but they shouldn't expect the same quality as if it were new. For example, if I bought a secondhand canvas enclosure, I shouldn't expect crystal clear visibility through the vinyl panels as they tend to become hazy with age.

Inside Minnie's Yacht Supply

Fiona and Robin were so excited to stop by the famed Minney's while sailing from Canada to Mexico, the staff gave them shirts.

Some states allow merchants to avoid a warranty of merchantability through use of disclaimers, but they must be in writing and conspicuous. Watch out for language that sells something "as is" or disclaims the warranty of merchantability in the sale contracts or in the website's terms and conditions.

Tips For Buying Used

Given the limits of consumer rights for used goods, the best option is to avoid buying faulty items in the first place. Here are some ways to reduce the risk.

Before You Buy

  • Ask for recent photos of the actual item. Don't buy based on product shots that may be taken from other online sources as they won't give you a good sense for the condition of the item.
  • Ask the seller to point out any faults and list any known problems with the item. Keep a record of their answers. Phone conversations are easily forgotten and hard to prove; if you correspond via email you'll have a record.
  • Find out the exact age of the item. A chartplotter listed as "a few years old" may be much older than you think. Ask for specifics or research when that model was made.
  • Look up model and serial numbers. This will tell you important information like when the item was manufactured and if there have been any recalls. Visit cpsc.gov/recalls to check.
  • Find valuation by looking at similar items that recently sold on eBay. Asking prices on Craigslist or other online forums don't necessarily correlate to actual selling prices.
  • See if there's a transferable manufacturer's warranty. It's much easier to seek repairs or replacement from a manufacturer than from the previous owner.
  • Hire an expert to look over big-ticket purchases. When purchasing big, expensive, and complex items (e.g., an engine), consider hiring a mechanic or other marine expert to give you an opinion.

Visit BoatUS.com/Selling-Scams to educate yourself about common boat-buying scams.

When You Buy

  • Keep a copy of the seller's information including name, phone number, and address. If things go wrong you'll be able to contact them.
  • Ask for a receipt. Something as simple as the details scribbled on a piece of paper or sending an email creates a trail that proves the transaction happened.

If Things Don't Work Out

  • Contact the vendor. Let the seller know if you've run into a problem with the item. In some cases, they may voluntarily offer to refund you in part or whole.
  • Contact the manufacturer. Many manufacturers will honor reasonable requests to repair or replace items even if you're not the original purchaser, especially if the warranty expired recently. A manufacturer once repaired our secondhand VHF radio at no cost. All we had to do was pay for the shipping.
  • Report spam or scams. Websites like Craigslist and eBay allow you to file complaints about suspicious posts and unscrupulous vendors.
  • While we may have fewer consumer rights, there are plenty of good reasons to buy used. With the right precautions, bargain hunting can make boating more affordable, keeps parts out of the landfill, and even provides some good entertainment value — if cruising the classifieds for that elusive boat part is your thing.

Caveat Vendor: Tips For The Seller

  • Never disguise or hide damages. Describe the item accurately including any flaws, however small, and include close-up photos of them. For example, take detailed photos of any small tears or discoloration in a sail. In the long run it will save you time dealing with disappointed buyers.
  • Ensure that the item hasn't been recalled. It's unwise to sell recalled goods because you could be held responsible if someone is injured — whether or not you're aware that the product has been recalled. The U.S. Coast Guard keeps a list of recently recalled marine items. When in doubt, call the original manufacturer.
  • Protect your privacy. Only give a buyer your home address if you feel comfortable, and once you've had a chance to talk over the phone. Don't include your address, email, or landline phone information in your post.
  • Only accept cash or secure electronic payment. Provide directions to the nearest cash machine if the buyer offers you a check, money order, or bank draft; they're easily forged. You could also conduct the transaction at the buyer's bank. Use caution when giving out bank information for wire transfers.
  • If picking up in person, meet in a safe, public location like a police station lobby or parking lot.
  • Watch out for scams. Sometimes a deal is too good to be true! For example, a deal where the buyer tries to send you payment for significantly more than the item price and tells you to refund the remainder, a common scam.

Author

Fiona McGlynn

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Fiona McGlynn recently sailed from Canada to Mexico to Australia in a 35-foot boat with her husband, Robin. She now lives in Atlin, British Columbia, and runs waterbornemag.com, a sailing website for millennials.