Tips for Buying a Used Kayak

How to save money and avoid paddling away in a lemon

Photo courtesy Michael Potter.
Photo courtesy Michael Potter.

By Joe Mayer

Buying a new boat is a lot like buying a new car. While it feels pretty awesome to command a craft that has little to zero mileage, not everyone can afford that luxury. Buying new can also seem a little decadent, especially considering depreciation, planned obsolescence and pressure to have the latest and greatest. Designers like to tweak existing designs, repackage them, and sell them as all-new. If you watch long enough you can see these trends repeat themselves. There are many examples of this such as a renewed interest in long boats, RPM-styled river runners and now I’m hearing boaters cry out for the glory days of cartwheel machines with slicey ends. The good news is that every time a new trend rolls back around to the front, another boat type becomes passe and prices on those boats plummet. There are some great deals out there if you look around. Here are some strategies I’ve used to buy pre-owned kayaks:

Get to know the used sites and going rates

I can’t stress this one enough. Spend some time watching the gear swap pages on boatertalk.com and mountainbuzz.com to see asking prices for your favorite whip. Look often enough and you will eventually find a great deal. When that happens, be ready to pull the trigger because real bargains on boats usually don’t last. You’ll know the dregs when you continually see them reposted on these sites. Usually, it’s a pricing issue as opposed to a boat in poor condition because even beaters that are priced right seem to sell.

Check Craigslist
This might seem redundant because you are already checking Boater Talk and Mountain Buzz twice a day, but I can assure you it’s not a waste of time. This is a place where non-boaters will post and occasionally a real steal shows up. I once came across a Pyranha Jed, paddle, helmet and PFD packaged up for $500 on Craigslist. Turned out to be a pawnshop looking to dump the goods and recover some of their money. It was too far away for me, but if you are always looking and within striking distance, then BAM… you could end up with a nice newish whip for a great price.

Wait for package deals
This tip is especially true if you are new to the sport. Patience is required, but the payoff can be great. Package deals usually mean someone didn’t like the sport and is quitting, although a savvy seller will sometimes throw some of their old gear on top of a boat to try and sweeten the deal. Either way can mean a gain for you, even if you plan on turning around and selling some of the gear yourself. Buying a boat, paddle, sprayskirt, PFD, helmet and/or drywear in one fell swoop could save you money and hours of web crawling.

Think out of the box when it comes to transport
Don’t be afraid to ask around about anyone traveling to or from the area of purchase. Hit up the message boards on Boater Talk and Mountain Buzz. Check your local ride share boards at colleges or online. I once asked a potential seller if he knew anyone traveling through the Midwest for the holidays. It turns out his mother was heading from Atlanta to Green Bay for Thanksgiving. That sealed the deal and I was able to buy the boat.

Negotiating and buying from a distance can sometimes seem troubling. Request a lot of pictures and ask pointed questions about boat condition, reasons for selling, etc. Trust your gut; if something seems off then bail. I find that the boating community errs on the side of being overly honest, however–no one wants to risk angering the river gods. Another option for shipping is Greyhound. I’m told the cost is around $80 and max size is 30″x47″x82″. I’ve never shipped with Greyhound, but it always seemed like a good option. Anyway, check out their website or give them a call for more info. Again, sometimes it’s as simple as asking around. One time a friend from message boards hauled a boat for me on the back of his big rig. Thanks Michael Potter.

Go to festivals
This is one of my favorites because it’s the most fun. Any river festival you go to will be a blast. You are sure to have a great time partying, listening to music, running great rivers, meeting new people–and finding deals on gear. Paddlers are always displaying boats they have for sale at these things. Why not? There’s a captive audience. There is usually a bit of drinking at festivals, which might not hurt your inner horse-trading skills.

Good luck and I hope these strategies help you find a new old boat real soon.

More from C&K

Run 'n Fun Reviews: 2016 River-Runners

Rides: Real People and the Boats They Love