Boat Inspection Checklist

Before bidding at a boat auction, here are a few tips for pulling off an inspection in 10 minutes.

1. Start with a quick walk-around. Look at the hull, paying particular attention to the stem, chines and strakes. These will suffer the brunt of any collision and show cracks best. Any unusual stress-crack patterns? All open cracks need to be repaired before she'll float again.

2. Remove the outboard cowling. Look for signs of seepage, shown as dry white "curtains," past the head gasket. Shift and throttle linkages should be greased and show no corrosion, and their springs should snap back.

3. Shake the I/O back and forth. If you find a lot of play, it might need gimbal bearings. Check for leaks around the seals and gaskets. Turn the wheel and operate the trim/tilt to check for full travel.

4. Check the dipstick. Does it smell burned? Does it look milky? There's water in it. Black? It's the wrong viscosity or was never changed. Check the drive belt and the serpentine belt. One quarter-inch deflection is normal; more indicates improper installation or undue wear.

5. Look at the wiring. Shrink-sealed butt connectors are good. Bare wire and terminations that are twisted together or "sealed" with electrical tape are bad. Check for corrosion around the motor and under the dash.

6. Test the fuel and oil. Today's gasoline is sold with 10 percent ethanol, which attracts moisture, which separates in the fuel tank. Water sucked into an engine is bad news. Water in oil is worse — it means a cracked block. Gauging paste will change color in the presence of water.

7. Open the hatches. You don't want to smell gas, or see water.

8. Check for leaks. If the previous owner let her sit for two or three months, the boat will have had gas in the tank for a while. Ethanol is also corrosive, especially for fiberglass. The fuel lines and the tank could have leaks.

9. Look at the upholstery. Inspect the underside of cushions for green algae at the seams, indicating a rainforest of plant growth hidden in the foam.

10. Anything missing? See those empty screw or bolt holes that look like they were once holding something? Those bunches of exposed wires peeking out of neatly cut holes? Faded lines of undercoating that were some decorative strip? Guess what? It's been stripped.