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Buying Classic Boston Whalers

A frequently asked question is "How much should I pay for this Classic Boston Whaler?" Rather than try to list the "right" price for every Classic Boston Whaler on the market, this article suggests some guidelines for buying and pricing used Boston Whalers. It is common to find older boats for sale as part of a package which includes the hull, an outboard, a trailer, and all the accessories (desireable or not). Thus, one must consider the relative value of all the components of the package.

FACTORS AFFECTING PRICE

There are many influences on the value or price of a used Boston Whaler, including replacement cost, age, condition, motor, trailer, location, provenance, and desirability. In some regions, seasonal fluctuations in price also occur. As in any transaction, the motivation of the seller and buyer may also affect the price. Consideration of all these factors will help in determining if a used Boston Whaler represents a good value for purchase or sale.

REPLACEMENT COST

Perhaps the greatest influence on the price of a used Boston Whaler is the current pricing of a similar new boat. Generally, the price of new boats has been steadily increasing year to year, but occasionally there will be a new lower bench mark price that can affect the value of many used boats. For example, in 2000 Boston Whaler introduced a new 13-foot model that was very aggressively priced at $7,995 including motor and trailer. While this boat is not an exact duplicate of the many thousands and thousands of "classic" 13-footers, it does represent very similar functionality and utility. Its comparatively low price is bound to affect the market for similar 13-foot Boston Whalers. Buyers looking for used 13-foot boats will have to weigh their value against a new 13-footer for $7,995.

Aside from the special case of the new 13-footer, the price for new Whalers of similar design to the classic models has been steadily increasing, providing the used market with upward price pressure. It is not uncommon for used Boston Whaler boats to sell for more than their original price, especially boats more than twenty years old.

For some models of Classic Boston Whaler, there is no equivalent boat currently available new in the Recreational Division of Whaler. Some classic hull styles are now only available from the Commercial Division, where they are built to order and tend to be rather more expensive than the recreational boat was.

AGE

Boston Whaler boats depreciate with age, but the slope of this curve is not too steep. The greatest depreciation occurs within the first few years, then decreases after that. After ten years, the hull is no longer under factory warranty, so the eleventh year may represent a larger decline in price than previous years. At some point, perhaps nearing 20 years of age, the hull enters the category of "older" and does not suffer much additional depreciation based on age. Condition, especially for these "older" hulls, is more of a factor than age. At some point, a very well preserved boat may enter the "vintage" or "collectable" state, and its value may actually increase with age, provided a buyer exists with historical interests.

I don't know of any formula-based solution for assessing the depreciation, but were there one, assuming the new prices didn't keep rising, it would have to reflect parameters something like this:

YEAR             RATE OF DEPRECIATION
---------------------------------------------------
1                15 % per year
2-3              7 % per year
4-9              4 % per year
10-20            2 % per year
20-30            1 % per year
30-40            none--boat may increase in value!
---------------------------------------------------

These figures are not based on scientific research, but are pretty much a guess based on general observation of the used boat market. Price inflation of new boats may result in older boats retaining a much higher percentage of their original cost. In some cases, the used boat may even rise in value above its original sales price! This is not unheard of with classic designs.

These estimates apply only to the hull, not to the motor and trailer. There are much steeper depreciation curves on outboard motors and trailers.

Outboard Motor Depreciation

Generally a ten-year-old outboard motor is only worth a fraction of its new price. Their rate of depreciation is much steeper than the hull's rate. It is normal to find an older Boston Whaler with a much newer engine. Some hulls have survived through four or five re-powerings. (You might want to subtract a little for a hull that has worn out that many motors!) Thus, the motor must be considered separately from the hull when assessing depreciation due to age alone. For more advice in assessing used outboard motors, see the separate article on this topic in the REFERENCE section.

Trailer Depreciation

A used trailer does not retain great value, but they often represent only a small portion of the purchase price, especially with smaller boats. Ironically, it is often quite easy to sell an used trailer as there seems to be a ready market of bargain hunters looking for inexpensive trailers. For smaller boats, a new replacement trailer will often represent only a small expense compared to the total price/value of the boat/motor/trailer package.

CONDITION

The actual condition of the used Boston Whaler may be the greatest variable in determining its value. Boats vary widely in their condition. The extreme strength of the Boston Whaler hull has permitted it to survive in situations of abuse that would have demolished other boats. Some boats have been heavily used in commercial or rental service, while others have sat indoors and unused most of the time. When assessing a used Whaler, pay close attention to hull integrity, gelcoat condition, and wood finish.

Hull Integrity

The construction of a Boston Whaler is unique in the boating industry. The process that gives the hull its combination of strength and light weight depends upon the integrity of the "uni-bond" construction. The hull, foam, and liner must remain bonded as a single structure. The number one problem to avoid on a used Boston Whaler: delamination of foam-to-hull or foam-to-liner bonding. Number two problem: foam core saturation with water. These problems result when owners have neglected to maintain the gelcoat or laminate integrity.

Integrity of the foam to laminate bond was carefully checked on every Boston Whaler hull as soon as it left the molds. This was accomplished by tapping a small plastic mallet against the hull and liner, listening for a "dull" thud. This process was used over the entire hull and deck areas, and any defects were immediately repaired. When considering any used hull, this should be your first concern. Tap and listen for any dull responses. Test the hull by pushing against it with your hand; there should be no movement. Delamination can often be seen visually by looking for waviness in areas of smooth gelcoat.

Another source of delamination is improper mounting of large and heavy items to the hull or interior. The recommended way to secure any object to the boat is to locate it in an area that has backing material (wood, whale-board, aluminum, melamine) embedded underneath the laminate and to use an appropriate number of smaller screws to distribute the load. Fasteners that are screwed or glued only into the thin laminate can pull the laminate away from the foam, causing delamination and weakening of the structure.

A related problem to delamination is water retention in the interior spaces. Any damage to the hull or cockpit laminate should be repaired immediately to prevent water ingress. If the interior foam has been soaked with water two effects will be noticed. First, soft spots in the hull will occur. Any softness or sponginess in the hull should be considered a serious defect and a major reduction in value. Second, the hull weight will climb significantly if there is retained water. This will affect the performance of the boat and its reserve flotation. A boat with retained water in the interior may be difficult to dry and repair. This is a major defect.

Also, water can seep into the encapsulated wood in the transom area, seriously weakening it. Any holes that penetrate the transom area should be inspected for proper sealing. These include the motor mounting bolts, the motor well drains, any transom mounted accessories like depth sounder transducers, swim ladders, and especially the cockpit sump drain. The outlet of the drain is always underwater and should be properly sealed to the hull. Check this closely!

Boats that have spent a great deal of their life in the water are most at risk for water retention. Boats that spent most of their time on a trailer are less likely to have water retention. In either case, check the hull carefully for any possible damage that could have permitted water to enter.

Gelcoat Condition

The appearance of the gelcoat is a good indicator of the care the boat has received. Boston Whaler boats were fabricated with excellent gelcoat, and even 25-year-old boats can maintain a like new appearance with proper care. A dull and oxidized gelcoat may require considerable work to restore. Also, the gelcoat layer is only 18-20 mils thick. There may not be much of a layer left if a great deal of oxidation needs to be removed.

The appearance of small spider-like cracks in the gelcoat is common. These occur at areas of high stress and are permanent indicators of the existence of such stress. Look over the interior of the boat carefully, especially in the area of the transom, for the presence of these cracks. If the cracks are few and do not appear to have permitted water to enter, they can be ignored and a cosmetic repair done later. If many cracks exist and they are dark and wide, they indicate more serious flaws, perhaps even structural problems with the hull. A large and costly repair may be needed to remedy these conditions.

Again, boats stored out of the water and out of the sun are the most likely to be in good condition. Years of exposure to sun and water, especially salt water, can take a toll, even on a Boston Whaler.

When assessing any damage to the boat, you can easily gauge the depth of the injury by the color. The hull gelcoat layer is white or desert tan. Underneath it is a layer of laminates with a bluish cast. Underneath that is the brownish tan color of the foam. Any boat which has damage that reveals the foam layer should be carefully evaluated for water ingress. And any below-the-water-line damage that has been allowed to go unrepaired should be very seriously looked at as a big problem.

Wood Condition

Classic Boston Whaler boats were constructed with the finest grades of mahogany and teak woods. The wood components required more maintenance than the rest of the hull, and it is common to see older boats where the wood has suffered. Provided the original wood parts are still in place and have not rotted, amazing restoration can be accomplished. Replacement of original wood is expensive. The dimensional wood used is often not available from lumber yards and must be custom milled in many cases. A frequently lost item is the front hatch cover, often replaced with something homemade. Wood trim in excellent condition is a boost to the boat's value. Do not underestimate the cost, time, and work involved is restoration of wood in bad condition.

General Condition

The overall condition of the boat is important, too. Does it have bottom paint? Was it used in fresh or salt water? Are there canvas accessories and what is their condition? Is the canvas the OEM Wm. J Mills Canvas, always marked with a sewn-in silk label, or is it a cheaper aftermarket canvas? Is the electrical wiring intact and well done? Have the previous owners added accessories in a shipshape manner? Are the original elements of the boat--the interior pieces--intact and available? There are many variables here to consider.

MOTOR

Prior to their purchase by Brunswick, Boston Whaler were not as closely associated with Mercury outboards as they are now, and they sold only boats in their corporate structure, except for a brief period in the 1960's, when they offered a pioneering 4-stroke outboard, originally made by Homelite. In general, the Whaler was a premium boat and was sold with a premium motor, typically an OMC brand, i.e., an Evinrude or a Johnson. Whalers with dealer-delivered Mercury outboards were not as common. When Yamaha entered the U.S. market in the late 1980's, it pushed its brand as a premium outboard--it certainly was on price--and it began to show up on Boston Whaler boats, too. Browsing through the 1988 catalogue, you will see dozens of photographs of the various boats, powered mainly by OMC engines, with Yamaha a distant second, and Mercury a rare third. (Perhaps this tendency toward OMC/Yamaha engines made Boston Whaler a more attractive target for Brunswick to acquire. By doing so, they could remove many of their competitor's outboards from the transoms of new Boston Whalers.)

Assessing the value and condition of a used outboard is a complete topic by itself, so for this article's purpose only the suitability of the motor to the boat will be discussed. For each hull, the factory published a chart of minimum and maximum horsepower. Motors outside of this range should be considered suspiciously, especially over-powered boats. Too much engine may have produced excessive stress on the boat. Too little engine and you may not be happy with the performance. Replacing an engine can be very expensive! A boat with an appropriate motor is a better value than one with either too small or too large an engine.

RECOMMENDED HORSEPOWER from 1988 CATALOGUE

Boat             Max. HP  Min. HP  Transom Ht.
-----------------------------------------------
9'  Tender            5      -          15"

11' Standard         10      -          15"
11' Sport/SS         20      -          15"
 
13' Standard         20      9          20"
13' Sport/SS/        40      9          20'
    SS-Limited
    
15' Sport/SS/        70     20          20"
    Striper/CC/
    Limited
    
17' SS/Striper/     100     35          20"
    Limited/
    Newport/Montauk
    
18' Outrage OB      150     75          25"/20" (single/dual)

20' Outrage OB      200     90          25"/20"
20' Revenge W-T     200     90          25"/20"

22' Outrage OB      240     90          25"
22' Revenge OB      240     90          25"/20"

25' Outrage OB      300    115          25"/20"
25' Revenge OB      300    115          25"/20"

27' Center Console  600    300          25"/20"
27' Whaler          600    300          25"/20"
-------------------------------------------------

For a quick assessment of engine care and condition just look at the lower unit, the prop, and the skeg. They usually are good indicators of the care given to the motor. It is wise to check any used engine thoroughly. At a minimum, the outboard should demonstrated by being run on "ear-muffs." Of course, an on-the-water test of the motor and the boat is most desireable.

TRAILER

Often a trailer is included in the package. Inspect the trailer carefully, first to see if it is the proper type. A separate article details this concern. One quick check on a trailer's condition is to crawl under and behind the wheels to look for evidence of grease having been flung from the wheel bearings onto the wheels, fender, and axle. Bearings that throw grease will need new seals; not expensive, it is a messy a job. Poor bearing maintenance is a sign of general trailer neglect.

Older trailers are often constructed of steel and painted for corrosion protection. If the structural members are made with closed tubular forms, beware of hidden internal corrosion, particularly in the central frame member. Galvanized steel or aluminum construction is preferred and is more common in newer trailers.

Trailer tires often rot or UV decay long before their tread wears out. Painted steel trailer wheels may harbor serious rust. Unprotected steel in axles and springs may also be rusted to the point of failure in an older trailer. Rebuilding an older trailer from a parts catalogue may cost more than buying a new one. A reliable trailer is a necessity for enjoyable trailer-boat boating.

ACCESORIES

Anyone who owns a boat generally adds something to it over the years; it is part of the fun. All these accessories can add up to quite a bit of modification to the original boat. Except in the case of boats only a year or two old, accessories don't age as well as the other parts of the package. A twenty year old hull has the same utility it did when new if it's in good condition. A twenty year old marine radio is probably worthless. The same goes for old depth sounders, old fish finders, old LORANs, old speedometers, and all the other electronic "toys" that you are likely to find installed. The truth is, on an older boat, the less of this stuff the better. You're just going to replace it all anyways, and the fewer holes to patch and mend the better.

Even recently purchased electronics like GPS receivers suffer quite a bit of depreciation because of the rapid advancement and technologic development of these devices. A GPS receiver that cost $500 a few years ago is likely to be selling new for $150 today.

More durable accessories like anchors or fuel tanks can add some value. Canvas items in good condition like a mooring cover, a bimini, and a forward shelter can represent considerable value. Price their replacement cost and you will find yourself looking at over a thousand dollars in a hurry.

As important as the accessories themselves is the manner they were installed. If the boat has been hacked up and serious damage done by owner-installed equipment, deduct dollars from the value. You'll want your older Boston Whaler to look "Classic" and undoing a lot of poor work will take time and money.

In some cases, the restoration may not be too hard. Before I learned how to work with epoxy and gelcoat, I saw a used Boston Whaler 11-foot hull than had been in service for 10 or more years mainly as a duck blind! Its interior was riddled with holes left over from mounting the duck blind screen. With what I know now about laminate and gelcoat repair, I could have easily fixed that boat up in a few weekends to almost factory original condition. I keep kicking myself that I didn't buy it for $500. Your assessment of any "project boat" will depend on your own skills and resources.

ASSIGNING VALUE

In some cases, particularly boats over twenty years old, it may be more accurate to assess the value of the boat by placing very low dollar amounts on the outboard, trailer, and accessories. On a 25-year old package boat/motor/trailer, if you figure that you're only paying $250 for the outboard, $100 for the trailer, and $0 for the electronics , you'll be able to see the real price/value of the hull.

LOCATION

Boston Whaler boats have been sold all over the world, but certain areas are hot beds of classic Whalers, while in other places they are rare. Such local influences may affect the value and price of a used boat. The presence of a current dealer, especially an old-line and active Whaler dealer, can also affect the market price for used boats. When you cruise through the Les Cheneaux Islands in northern Michigan you'll see a Whaler in front of almost every cottage; spend a week on Kentucky Lake and you might not see another Whaler.

Florida is an area of year-round boating and the home of hundreds of boat builders, including Boston Whaler with a factory in Edgewater. Florida is probably the best marketplace for anything in the boating industry. There are a large number of suppliers, a large number of customers, and a great deal of competition; you will find some of the best bargains in marine products there. This includes Classic Boston Whalers, too. The only down side to Florida is its salt-water and strong sunlight (UV) environment, both of which can degrade a boat's condition quite fast.

PROVENANCE

If you run across a used Whaler with a known history, say a very early hull number still visible and intact, or one owned by someone famous, maybe Dick Fisher himself, then this could affect the value.

Early hulls are identified with a hull number painted by stencil into the gelcoat near the transom or sometimes in the forward storage locker. An embossed metal tag which carried the completed boat's serial-number was also attached by rivets to the transom area. The hull number just identifies the hull; the serial number identifies the completed boat: what the hull became with additional components like seats, railings, and consoles added to it. If these identifiers have been preserved, you can get the born-on date from Whaler (1-800-WHALER9) and perhaps discover the original dealer/buyer.

At some point Federal law required a molded-in serial number be incorporated in every hull. Boats whose molded-in serial numbers have been obscured are considered very suspiciously; thoughts of "stolen boat" are associated with them. It is not uncommon for older Boston Whaler boats to have the painted hull number covered by layers of new topcoats, or for the metal tag on the transom to have become detached. However, it is more desireable to have a boat that preserves both of these unique hull identifiers, as they precisely fix the age and original configuration of the boat.

If someone tries to sell you the Whaler that John F. Kennedy used as a kid, remind him that Kennedy was already a Senator (albeit a young one) when the Whaler was invented.

DESIRABILITY

In the course of making boats for over 42 years, Boston Whaler produced some models that were more popular than others. A few, like the Currituck-Montauk, have been in continuous production from their inception. Others had long runs, like the Sport and Super Sport series. Some came and went in a matter of a year or two. Absent the interest of a collector in some of these rare models, you'll find that the high production boats are probably also the ones with the best resale value.

Any Whaler that is in good shape and is reasonably priced will sell fast. Many times the first real buyer to see the boat will take it if the price is decent. When you go to a used boat lot, you won't find many Boston Whalers sitting there, unless they are in poor condition and overpriced. This spring the number-one Whaler dealer in the world, Nauset Marine, reported they had zero used Whalers available.

So when you do see a boat that you want and the price is reasonable, don't expect it to hang around for a couple of months waiting for you to decide if you really want it. It will be sold.

SEASONAL FLUCTUATIONS

In areas with boating only in the summer, you'll find quite a variation in price and demand for boats during the year. In the northern climates, the best bargains may be had at the end of the boating season, when the seller has had a season's use of the boat but doesn't want to pay for winterization and storage. Conversely, boat prices rise in the spring, when everyone anticipates another summer of boating ahead.

SUMMARY

With over 300,000 boats sold, and most of these still in floating, there are plenty of used Boston Whaler boats available for sale. These Classic Boston Whalers are often excellent boats with years of use left in them. They are available at considerably less cost than a new boat, and some offer features like beautiful wood components and trim that cannot be duplicated. Shop carefully, keeping these guidelines in mind, and I am sure you will find the right boat for your budget and needs.

Happy Whalering!

Jim Hebert
May, 2000


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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared May 17, 2000.