By Mark Casper
Would YOU buy this used Stream?
Lets face it: most of us would prefer to buy a new HydroStream, but the cost of a new boat forces the majority of us to go the used route. I have written here a basic guideline of things to look for. For first time buyers, it may help avoid some costly mistakes or at least enlighten you as to what you may be getting yourself into. For experienced buyers, maybe it will help as a checklist to remind you of things to look for.
OK, so you have found a boat that has caught your interest. Arm yourself with a good flashlight, a basic set of tools (screwdrivers, socket set, rubber mallet, etc.), and a compression tester and lets go. It also helps to bring someone else along with you; a second set of eyes will often pick up on something you miss. The first thing that you may see when you pull into the driveway to look at it is a gorgeous boat with great lines. The adrenaline gets going and emotions take over. If you are not careful, you will start seeing what you want to see, and hearing what you want to hear. Slooooowww down! Do not fall into the trap of buying a boat with a pretty face but ugly personality. Lets give it a complete lookover starting with the first thing you see: the deck.
Dont just look at it, touch it! Run your hand along it. Does it feel like sandpaper? If it does, it may need new gelcoat. Is it just faded? If so, dont be too discouraged. Wet sanding and compound/polish can do wonders in bringing back a finish. Do you feel any bumps as you run your hand along? Take a look at them. They are often an indication of a past repair which is often not a big deal, but it is something you want to be aware of. Look for stress cracks in the gelcoat. Again, not a big deal, but the look may bother you so its better to see them now than when you get home.
Now lets move on down to the hull. Walk around the boat several times and give it a good look. Then walk around it several more times just to be sure. The first obvious thing to look for is cracks. If you find one, dont just note it and move on. Analyze it! If it is just a stress crack in the gelcoat, OK. If it goes deeper, there could be problems. Look for any discoloration (caused by a wet core that may stain the surrounding area) or gelcoat peeling or blistering. If so, the core may be saturated. Then ask yourself why it cracked. Was the owner abusive to his boat? Did he make some repairs and the crack returned? If he did, then he either didnt repair it correctly or the core has saturation and delamination problems. Apply pressure with your hand along the pad underneath. Does it deflect at all? Use a rubber mallet and tap along the pad. It should be a solid thump. A hollow sound could indicate a problem, but not always.
Now check the transom. Again, tap around to make sure it is sound. How much power and weight is hanging off it? If it is overpowered, you want to make sure the transom is properly reinforced. Remember, most of these boats were made before the extreme horsepowers we see today. How is the motor mounted to the transom? There should be aluminum or stainless steel support plates for the mounting bolts both inside the transom and out. Check the corners inside the splashwell. Are there cracks? Usually, most have some stress cracks in the gelcoat. If it looks deeper, carefully step on the cavitation plate on the motor (make sure the boat front doesnt flip up!). As you do, look for any flex and separation at these corners. If you see any, the transom may have some problems. If youre able to, remove a screw in the transom or core and look for rust (if the screw isn't stainless) which would indicate moisture. Also see if any water seeps out of the screw hole. While youre back there, check the HIN number which is located on the upper right on the back of the transom. Make sure the year (shown at the end of the number) matches the year that the owner says the boat is.
Take a good sideview look at the bottom of the hull. Does the pad have a hook in it? A hook is where if you place a straightedge along the last 4 of the pad, you would be able to see daylight in the middle between the pad and the straightedge. In some hulls like the Vector, you can expect to see a hook. Other hulls like the V-King are flatter. An 1/8" gap is a small hook. ¾" would be considered a large hook. If the hook is large, is it because the back end of the hull is not properly supported by the trailer? Be advised that a big hook could cause severe performance problems, especially if the boat is not overpowered.
While we are looking underneath, its time to check over the trailer. The tires are an obvious check: treadwear, dryrot, etc. Ask the owner if he regularly checks and greases the bearings. If there are bunks, see if the wood is rotted. Check the rollers to see if they need to be replaced. Make sure all the lights work. Finally, look over the winch and strap.
Now hop up inside the boat. Walk around and press down on the floor to check for sponginess. If it is soft, plan on replacing it. How are accessories attached to the floor? If there are woodscrews everywhere, the floor may be rotting in those areas, especially if the boat has been left outside uncovered. Check the seats (lift them up and look under them) and pedestals. All exposed wood should be properly sealed. Time to look at the dash. Minimum set of gauges should be speedo, tach, water pressure, fuel, volt, and water temp. Take a peek behind the dash and make sure the wiring looks in order. Proper marine wiring and terminals show care and a job well done. Steering: move the wheel back and forth and check for stiffness or slop. If there is excessive play, you will want to adjust it after you get the boat home and before you take it out. If it is too tight, you need to know if it is not adjusted properly or if the cable(s) needs replacing. You need to know this because cables are not cheap (over $100.00 each). If the steering has only one cable, plan on having to install dual cable steering. This is necessary for safety and to reduce chinewalking. While were discussing safety concerns, also see if the boat has a foot throttle, trim on the wheel, and a kill switch (tethered to your vest during high-speed runs). These are must-haves and are the first areas you must address when you take possession of the boat.
Naturally, look over the interior for holes or tears. A worn interior can obviously be replaced at some expense. Check to be sure there is a bilge pump and that it is working. Also be sure the lights are not missing and that they work. Find out how old the battery is. Look at the gas tank. If it is aluminum and attached to the floor, check the mounting ears for cracks.
Now the motor. Start it up. Check forward, neutral, and reverse. Rev it up and down and listen to it carefully. Turn it off and take off the cowling. Give the inside a good lookover and then do a compression test. The cylinder readings should not vary more than 10% between each other and anything under 100 could indicate a problem. Operate the trim on the motor and make sure it goes up and down properly. Does the motor have solid mounts uppers and lowers? If not, you will want to install them again, to help reduce chinewalking. Grab the motor by the midsection and lower unit and try to move it around. You want everything to be nice and stiff with almost no movement. Otherwise, the mounts may be worn.
Does the motor have a jackplate? If not, you will probably want one. Low heights for waterskiing and overall less stress on the transom, higher heights for those high-speed runs. Manual or hydraulic jackplate is a personal decision. Some people prefer manual because they weigh less, cost less, and have less maintenance. Others prefer hydraulic for the convenience of being able to adjust the height while underway: good for planing and low water areas. My preference is hydraulic. While were talking about raising the engine high, check to see whether the lower unit has a nose cone with low water pickup. You will need it for raising up the engine for top speeds. A torque tab, riveted or welded to the back of the skeg, is also desirable as it helps counteract steering torque. If it doesnt have one, it only costs about $10.00 to purchase it.
What prop(s) comes with the boat? If you waterski, you will want two props: low pitch for the skiing and a higher pitch for going fast. Good used props will run around $250.00 on up while new ones will set you back $600.00 or more. Look at the prop and check its condition. Check closely for dings and cracks.
Ask the owner where he gets the motor serviced. If he is a regular customer at a particular shop, or he has had recent work done, call them and inquire if they can shed any light on the motors condition. Write down the motors serial number and make sure it was built in the year the owner said it was.
Finally, is the motor appropriate for the boat, and is it a desirable brand and model? For example, the Vixen pictured at the beginning of this article has a longshaft motor on it. A longshaft motor is not appropriate for this boat and you would have to invest some time and money swapping over to a shortshaft. Is the boat overpowered or underpowered? As mentioned previously, an overpowered boat can cause structural concerns. It can also be the source of possible insurance and liability problems. An underpowered boat often equates to poor performance and you will be unhappy with it. What make is the motor? Without causing too much controversy here, there is a reason why the vast majority of our boats are currently powered by Mercury motors. Their light weight and high-revving motors are ideal for our lightweight boats. Other brands (and models within brands) may develop less RPMs and more torque and are better suited for heavier boats such as bass boats. Also, a Merc or OMC have better service availability and resale value than some of the other "off-brands".
After you are all done looking at the boat, you should make every effort possible to take it out for a test ride. This will help avoid any surprises such as porpoising or handling problems as well as be a good test for the motor.
The Bargain Boat. OK, heres the scenario: a HydroStream Varoom is listed for sale for $500.00. You talk to the owner on the phone. He says the paint needs a good waxing and the interior is kind of worn, but other than that, the motor runs good and she should clean up real nice. Is it really a bargain? You show up there and find a boat that has been left uncovered outside, has a cracked windshield, deteriorated interior, and the paint is going to take a lot more than waxing to bring it back. Now that you know a lot more about what it takes to get into performance boating, you also discover that it has single cable steering which feels kind of stiff, no jackplate, no foot throttle or trim on the wheel, and the prop doesnt look too good. Replacing the cable and installing dual cable steering can cost around $500.00 in parts alone, a new hydraulic jackplate is around $1000.00, and the new interior maybe $700.00. Before you know it, you will have invested $3000.00, and this is before we have even discussed the trailer, motor, cracked windshield, gauges, the core and floor that are probably saturated ($400.00 for a 4 x 8 sheet of core material!), etc. It adds up quick. For $3000.00 you could probably find another boat in much better condition and not needing as much.
This is not to say that the "bargain boat" is a bad option. If $500.00 is all you have and it means owning a HydroStream needing work or none at all, then maybe that is your best option. Just go into it knowing the costs and work ahead of you. You can think of it like a loan without scheduled payments. You will wind up paying more in the long run, but at least you have a boat and can improve it as finances and time allows.
Now, what if you should find a boat real cheap (free is good!) and it has a decent windshield and other hardware components, but you know the transom and core are likely rotted. It may cost $3000.00 to have it professionally fixed, but if the boat doesn't need a huge additional investment, that may not be a bad road to take. Reason being is that while the work is being done, you can take advantage and make some improvements during the work such as the mandatory knee braces that should be added and maybe a thicker transom. You can also make sure the work done is better than that done by the factory (such as vacuum bagging, better materials, and proper preparation and coverage) and you know it will last for many, many years. Also, you now know that your boat is structurally sound rather than always wondering just what lays beneath that beautiful exterior.
I hope this guideline helps you choose a boat that is suitable to what you desire, and also helps in the negotiating process. Go into it levelheaded and with some knowledge and foresight, and you will be rewarded with fewer headaches and a boat you will be happy with for quite some time.