small boat buying advice?

I believe people when they say a boat is a hole in the water you throw money into.

I’m looking for a SMALL fishing setup for my wife, who grew up on a lake up north and loves to fish.

Something simple like a 14 foot jon boat, with trailer, trolling motor, maybe a fish finder, and possibly a small gas motor.

What are the pitfalls to looking for a setup like this? What do I need to steer clear of and any general advice you may have.

I’d really like to keep it well under $2000.

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2 thoughts on “small boat buying advice?

  1. $2000 is an easily attainable number with a used jon boat.

    The old maxim about a boat being a hole in the water blahblahblah is definitely true if you’re buying a NEW boat, or a high-end used model. For your purposes, though, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Jon boats are basically maintenance-free. The only possible repeat expense in your setup is a small gas motor, which shouldn’t be very expensive anyway. You could probably get the boat, trailer, and outboard for around $1000-1200 if you look for a deal on craigslist. The boat may or may not come with a trolling motor and fishfinder, although together these can be had easily for $400 brand new.

    The only real variables to consider are the style of hull that the jon boat has, the construction of the hull (riveted or welded), and the size of the gas motor. Aluminum hull boats come in v-hull and flat-bottom configurations. A jon boat is a flat-bottom boat (as you know), which has the advantages of being more stable for standing up in, and having reduced clearance for navigating shallow creeks and pools. A v-hull is more streamlined and will track much better (it goes in the direction it’s pointed without changing course), which will generally give you better speed in the water and will allow you to troll with less effort and fuss. V-hulls generally have higher gunwales, which means they can handle choppier water without taking on water, and usually have a larger weight capacity.

    The construction method of the hull isn’t very critical. Everyone raves about welded hulls, claiming that riveted ones can leak. While that’s true, it’s very rare, and a leak can generally be fixed with a hand drill and basic tools for under $20, and will then never be a problem again. Welds *can* crack, and are a much bigger pain to get repaired. However, if you have damage sufficient enough to crack a weld, generally you’re going to be better off getting a new boat anyway. I think both methods work just fine, and no preference is warranted one way or the other.

    The motor is your final variable, and you mentioned that having one isn’t critical. You really don’t need one, but a 5 or 10HP would be more than enough for your purposes. They’re cheap, and their operation is simple and reliable. Whether to get one is up to you, but I will say that you need to have at least two forms of propulsion on your boat. I had the pleasure of an electrical failure on a trolling motor, and me and my buddy had to paddle some 400 meters back to shore using folded-up camp chairs because we weren’t smart enough to bring paddles. That was a bad day.

    As far as things to steer clear of, there’s really not much to worry about on a jon boat. When you go to buy it, I’d have the owner demonstrate a quick leak test by filling the inside of the boat with a few gallons of water. You can watch for drips on the outside to see if there’s a leak. If there’s a motor, make them fire it up. A motor can run for a few seconds without water, or you can dunk it in a trash can full of water if there’s doubt. A motor that will at least start tells you that the motor isn’t siezed up, and if you find that it can’t run for long periods of time afterward, repairs will be minimal. Trolling motors should be demonstrated, as well as a fishfinder, livewell, bilge pump, or any other included electronics. Don’t fall for the “Can’t show you right now, battery’s dead” trick. It’s usually not a trick, but bring jumper cables and cable your car’s battery right to it to test the electronics. For the trailer, check the lights and check the tires. That’s about it for the trailer.

    One thing above all, make sure the owner has the title(s) IN HAND and free of liens; they should be “clear” titles. Verify this before even going to look at a boat. Going to the DMV and requesting new titles is their job, not yours. Pay attention to the registration on the boat , trailer, and motor, if applicable, as these will likely need renewal. That will be your responsibility, and you should leave some room for paying for them.

    One last tip: Verify that the name on the title is correct, and the name of the guy you’re buying from. I made this fatal oversight with a boat purchase similar to yours. Owner had the title, but he never bothered to change it from the former owner’s name. Basically, because he never changed the title over, he never owned it, and when he sold it to me it was meaningless. I would have tracked him down and made it right, but he moved and his contact information was lost. Long story short, I don’t have a boat anymore.

  2. If you are a beginning boater interested in a boat from a small builder, buy one from a builder in your area, don’t buy one from a small local builder half-way across the country. Strong large builders can service boats across the country, many small builders do a good job of servicing boats in their region, but may struggle as servicing certain problems across the country.

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