Q: Marine surveys are a waste of money for smaller boats, aren't they?
A: A professional "condition and valuation" marine survey (typically costing around $15 to $20 per foot) can often pay for itself. It provides a list of deficiencies as well as needed repairs, focusing on safety. Deficiencies can be used to renegotiate the sales price or scrap the deal altogether if the repairs are too expensive or complicated. Without a survey, you may overpay or be faced with unexpected and expensive repair bills. For most people, a boat worth more than a couple thousand dollars is a candidate for a marine survey.
Q: Cheaper auto-engine parts work just as well on a boat, right?
A: Not so fast! Substituting certain automobile parts in your boat's engine can be dangerous. Inboard and sterndrive engines are housed in an enclosed space, unlike car engines, which are exposed to air. A small spark can set off gas fumes that build up in a boat's bilge. Boat-engine parts, such as starters and alternators, are designed to be spark-proof or "ignition protected," while automotive parts aren't.
Q: My boat has a capacity plate. Does that mean the U.S. Coast Guard certified that my boat is safe?
A: Neither the U.S. Coast Guard nor any other federal agency certifies boats. Only a few federal laws govern boatbuilding, including flotation requirements for powerboats under 20 feet, passenger- and weight-capacity labels, and fuel-system safety. Manufacturers self-certify that their boats meet these legal standards. The Coast Guard does, however, have a factory-visit program that audits boatbuilders periodically for spot checks and tests a few dozen boats for flotation compliance every year.
Q: My boat has flotation, so it can't sink, right?
A: Only monohull powerboats 20-feet long and smaller and built after 1972 are required to have integral flotation designed to keep it from sinking, even when swamped. The U.S. Coast Guard requires these boats to be able to remain afloat and, in most cases, upright when filled with water. Sailboats aren't required to have flotation, and inboard/outboard boats have less-stringent requirements than outboard boats. Some manufacturers, such as Grady-White, install flotation in all of their boats, regardless of size.