KEVIN VANDAM: My Advice on Buying a Used Tournament Rig - Major League Fishing
KEVIN VANDAM: My Advice on Buying a Used Tournament Rig
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KEVIN VANDAM: My Advice on Buying a Used Tournament Rig

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January 12, 2022 • Kevin VanDam • Angler Columns

With boat and motor sales being wide open over the last 18 months, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about boat purchasing recently. As a professional angler, part of my job is being a boat salesman. In fact, my very first job was selling boats for my brother, Randy, who owns D&R Sports in Kalamazoo, Michigan, so I’ve spent a lifetime selling boats. 

This winter and spring will likely be busy again with bass boats changing hands, so I wanted to offer a few pointers to those looking to buy a bass boat, specifically a used tournament rig. 

A Different Era of Boat Buying 

First of all, boat buying has changed considerably compared to what it used to be. Back in the old days, bass boats were all about speed, hole shot, RPMs, storage space, etc. These are important aspects, but boat manufacturing as a whole has improved so much over the last 10 years that the differences in form, function and performance of fiberglass bass boats are not as drastic as they used to be. 

These days, buying a tournament bass boat is more about the electronics, trolling motor, shallow water anchors and other fishing accessories that can be added on a boat. Instead of standard boat “packages” of yesteryear that included a trolling motor and a couple of LCR depthfinders, there is a lot more customizing that goes into the actual fishing end of the game. Accessories that make fishing and boat control more efficient have become more important than gaining another mile-an-hour at top end. 

With that, there has been a tremendous emphasis put on the technology side of bass fishing, and subsequently, boat rigging. In a way, boats have become more like computers and cell phones where buying one with the most current technology is critical. Given that, boat dealers are great resources for purchasing used boats. They have the knowledge and tools to make sure everything on a used boat is up to date and functioning properly. However, many boats are still bought and sold through private individuals. If you are going that route, here are some tips on checking out a used boat thoroughly.

Photo by Joel Shangle

Prepare a Thorough Inspection Process

Obviously, the first thing you want to check is the motor. The modern era of four-stroke outboards like the Mercury FourStroke Outboards have improved the overall quality and dependability of outboards when compared to the old two-stroke days. A certified marine mechanic can do some simple checks to confirm the motor’s overall health based on its number of hours. From checking compression levels and electrical functions at the top of the motor to examining prop shafts and lower unit gear lube for damage at the bottom, having a mechanic inspect the outboard will clear the air of any potential issues with the motor. I would also have a mechanic test the batteries, including all of the trolling motor batteries, as well as the onboard charger to make sure all is good with the boat’s power supply. 

From there, I would suggest launching and running the boat in person with the seller. This provides an opportunity to go over everything together so you both see eye-to-eye when negotiating price. 

Once the boat is launched, don’t just jump in and speed away to see how fast it will go. Instead, start your inspection right there in the parking lot on the empty trailer. With the boat off the trailer, this provides a great opportunity to really examine bunks, axles, trailer wiring and wheels. Take an especially good look at the brake lines, brake pads and all the tires. Any premature or abnormal tire wear could be a sign of axle issues.  

From there, turn your attention to the boat, but no racing just yet. Before getting too far from the ramp, turn everything on — and I mean everything. Check bilge pumps, all navigation lights, livewells, even give the horn a bump. If there is a switch, use it, including those up on the bow panel where the front trim switches are usually located. Look in all the compartments to check the condition of latches and to make sure no mold has built up in any boxes. Open the bilge area (with livewell pumps running) and take a good look around in there. Use a flashlight to really inspect the bilge for any water seeping in from faulty transom seals or leaky livewell plumbing. Take a close look at the wiring for any signs of corrosion. 

Next, play with the important stuff. Deploy the trolling motor and give it a whirl. Make sure the Spot-Lock holds location. Drop and raise the shallow water anchor poles multiple times. Use all the floor, console and lanyard switches for the poles. 

Give Special Consideration to Electronics

Turn on all the graphs to confirm the GPS pucks/receivers work and the units can locate your position on mapping. Use all of the 2D sonar, imaging, side scan and down scan modes to make sure the transducers are working and your graph images are clean. If it is equipped with forward-facing sonar, pull over to a dock or bridge piling and “shine” it around to make sure the transducer is working and the unit displays images to your satisfaction. 

I would highly recommend doing your research on the graphs that come with the boat before the boat testing. Be aware of what generations they are and how many generations have come before it. If they are more than four or five years old, chances are they are going to need to be replaced. So many of the most valuable innovations included on modern-day fish finders – chirp sonar, extreme clarity, detailed mapping and forward-facing sonar compatibility – are only available on the most current generations of electronics that have been made in the last three years or so.  

VanDam adjusting his electronics before a day of Bass Pro Tour competition. Photo by Chris Shangle

Finally, it’s Test Drive Time

Now move onto the big motor: trim it and the hydraulic jack plate all the way up and down a couple of times to make sure the pumps on each are good and strong. Then plane off and run the boat through the different speed ranges that you are comfortable with. I’d say a 30-minute ride with the boat will give you a good idea of it’s hole shot, speed, and performance.

After you return to the dock, check the bilge area one more time to make sure no water has appeared in the bilge area. Don’t be bashful about trying everything out and asking lots of questions. It’s amazing how a little nitpicking brings out tidbits like, “that trim switch has been a little finicky lately,” or “that horn has never really worked right.”

Keep a list on paper or on your phone on issues that you find. It’s amazing how quickly things can add up. Maybe the brake pads are bare-thin, the horn doesn’t work and one of the shallow water anchor floor switches is out. Those are all things that can work in your favor for a little wiggle room on the price. Pay more attention to the age, updates and arrangement of the fish-finding accessories rather than the top-end speed of the boat. Getting there first is not as valuable if you can’t Spot-Lock, pole down or use the newest technology to catch the fish.