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How to Buy a Used Kayak or Canoe

If you are looking to purchase a canoe or kayak in order to quench your thirst for water sports and adventure, the boat options are endless. If you are looking for a recognizable brand or something considered high quality, however, you will find that some of the price tags can give you sticker shock. This is why many people looking for quality canoes and kayaks on a budget opt for a used boat. But as you start your search for a used canoe or kayak, there are some variables and shopping tips you should know while you embark on this quest.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Have An Open Mind, But A General Idea Of What You Want

The used kayak and canoe market is vast. When you search for one of these used boats you will run across everything from basic plastic recreational kayaks to one-of-a-kind hand made canoes. Purchasing a used kayak or canoe should be approached with an open, yet focused, mind.

  • Do your research and have a general idea what kind of boat you are looking for. Try to answer the following questions.
  • Do I want a one-passenger or two-passenger boat?
  • Do I want to take the boat on open water or stay closer to land?
  • How long do I want this boat to last?
  • Am I loyal to one brand, or open to several?
  • What is my general price range?

Answering these questions will help focus your search, and narrow down the sea of options that lay in front of you. Additionally, the used kayak and canoe market can be most beneficial when you keep your options open. The odds of you scoring a killer deal increase significantly when you are open to a more broad range of boats. Still, knowing your non-negotiable is important, as it prevents you from wasting time.

How Much Should A Used Kayak Cost?

It’s important to remember exactly why you are opting for a used kayak canoe, and that’s the price. After all, if you had endless money then of course you would opt for a brand new kayak or canoe. But as you search water sports stores and online marketplaces, you might wonder how much a used kayak or canoe should cost, in order to ensure you don’t get ripped off.

While there is no exact price tag or formula, you should expect to pay somewhere between 50% and 75% for a used kayak or canoe compared to what you would pay for a brand new version. This percentage can shift based on supply and demand, quality of the kayak, brand recognition and other factors.

Regardless of these variables, it is important to make sure you research the price of the used canoe or kayak you are interested in and how much it would cost brand new. If you see that the used price is 85% of the original or greater, you might want to keep searching, as this likely isn’t a good deal.

Inspect The Surface of The Kayak Or Canoe For Clues

Once you find a kayak or canoe that checks off all your boxes and is within your price range, the next step is to see it in person and get a closer look. One of the best ways to see if a used kayak or canoe is worth purchasing is by taking a long close look at it.

First inspect the surface of the boat. If a boat was poorly stored, you might notice warpage, so keep an eye out for signs of warpage. Most often, scratches and damage can be found on the hull towards the bow. Pay particular attention to the bow, as this is where most kayak and canoe accidents occur. It is also a good way to see if the boat was carelessly dragged or taken out of the water.

You should also look at the boat’s hardware. Everything from seats to handles, hatches and oars need to be looked at. Not only should you make sure these pieces of the boat are in good working order and not frayed, but also make sure the screws and connections are in good shape. If you notice rust or decay by the fittings, this could be a sign of poor maintenance.

Remember, however, that just because a seat or some of the hardware might be outdated or tattered, it does not make the boat unworthy for purchase. It is possible to get new adjustable seats and other hardware for your used kayak or canoe. Just be sure to budget those prices into the total price of the boat.

Seat Recommendations:

Take The Kayak Or Canoe For A Test Ride

Once you have gotten a good look at the boat’s surface and its hardware, if you are still interested in the kayak or canoe, then you should ask to take it for a test ride. If you are very serious about purchasing a used kayak or canoe, ask the owner if you can take it for a brief ride.

There is no better way to know if a used kayak or canoe is right for you than to take it for a test paddle. This test paddle will determine if the size, speed and comfort is what you need. It will also point out any issues like leaks, or compromised hardware. After you take it for a spin you should know confidently whether or not the boat is right for you at its used price.

Sometimes, this option isn’t possible. If, for example, you are purchasing a boat in the dead of winter or one hundred miles away from a body of water, you won’t be able to take it on a test paddle. But if it’s possible, a test paddle is a great way to see how the kayak or canoe performs, how it fits your body and whether it is the right boat for you.

Red Flags To Look Out For With Used Kayaks And Canoes

Cracked Fiberglass: If you are looking into a fiberglass canoe or kayak and you notice cracking or damage to the surface, you might want to rethink the purchase. These cracks are warning signs that the boat's inevitable deterioration is not too far away.

Evidence Of Critters Making The Boat A Home: If you see nests, rodent droppings, or other signs the boat was the home of burrowing animals, you might want to look elsewhere. This is a sign the boat was not properly stored, and might also have other hidden issues and vulnerabilities.

Damaged Hardware: It is certainly possible to replace things like storage bungees, bow and stern handles and even hatch covers. Damaged foot pegs are also something to look out for. But if you notice excessive damage, rust, and general poor upkeep, it could be a sign the boat was not covered or maintained.

Sun Damage: Sun damage can decrease the life expectancy of your canoe or kayak. It will eat away at surfaces, weaken them and cause them to crack. Bleached surfaces and other sun damage warning signs are a red flag. If the boat is in otherwise good shape, consider purchasing a sun protectant to prevent sun damage.

It’s Uncomfortable: In the end, you need a kayak or canoe that is comfortable. After all, you will be sitting in it for hours on end. If the boat doesn’t fit you perfectly, or it is not comfortable to paddle in, move on. Even if it checks all the other boxes, you should never buy an uncomfortable used boat.

Tom Gaffey is a travel writer and author who first discovered his love of paddling at his grandparent’s lake house in Massachusetts, where he could be found canoeing endlessly. As an adult he fell in love with SUP boarding while living on Oahu’s North Shore. He also loves exploring in a kayak around some of his favorite places in the world, like Puerto Rico, Montenegro and the hidden shores of Oaxaca.

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