The Under $10K Bass Boat Buyers Guide



The Under $10K Bass Boat Buyers Guide

by Bryan “BayBass” Novotny / Owner-


I often hear guys say they can’t afford a big flashy $60K bass boat, or even a used one for $20-30K and for this reason they remain on the bank and have currently given up on the chances of owning a boat.  I'm also one of those guys who can't afford a $60K new Ranger or even a 3 or 4 year old boat for $20-30k.  I buy my boats for under $10K and I do my homework on them prior to handing over the cash.  I want to provide some hope to those that believe they must spend $20K+ to fish the big water in a “glitter rocket”.  There is nothing wrong with learning and enjoying the sport from the bank or kayak, however owning a bass boat capable of covering water quickly and proficiently is key to upgrading your knowledge and experience as an angler.  Using sonar while finding offshore structure combined with eliminating water on big lakes and river systems will take you to the next level in this sport.  There are also lures and patterns one can not experience or practice from shore such as deep cranking, verticle jigging, and more.  For these larger bodies of water you do need a  fiberglass boat or a V hull all welded aluminum boat 18’ or greater with a 115hp or larger motor.  This boat and motor combination will allow you to cover water and get around safely without breaking your back and/or ruining your chances of having children. 


In this article I will explain what to look for when buying a boat such as warning signs, good motors to choose, boats to stay away from, and the exact models and manufacturers which will fit your budget of under $10K.  I break it down to basics for a first time boat buyer.  There are great fiberglass bass boats available on the market for less than $10k, and I’ll review your best options.  If you’re not a first time boat buyer and already own a $60K boat, you may want to pay attention also because you never know what may happen.  You may have to sell it to afford the divorce attorney, or you’ll be selling it to put your daughter through college, and you’ll be back to square one searching for a 90’s 18’ Ranger 350V with a 150 Merc XR2 for $5k.  This article is long so strap in.  Reading this is an investment in your future.  If you see yourself one day purchasing your first bass boat, you must continue on reading and print this article for your records.  Please note that I have no business/sponsor affiliation with any boat brand. (at the time of writing this was true, things have now changed as of 2016)


For those who fish horsepower restricted waters, such as the Occoquan Reservoir which requires a 9.9hp or less, or at least a motor that is not much larger in size than a 9.9 with 9.9hp stickers, you have several hulls to choose from.  I would not recommend an all welded boat for reservoir use.  They are heavier, more expensive and not needed for smaller waters.  The point I made earlier regarding the use of an all welded boat on the Bay and Potomac is due to the rough water factor.  Riveted john boats can be damaged easily in rough water and you’ll spend many weekends constantly running the bilge pump and welding the rivet seams back together.  For reservoir use, I’d highly suggest building an Alumacraft MV1448 with a brand new 9.9hp or equally “sized” motor for around 6K brand new, such as my fishing partner’s boat above.  Keep in mind that NO fully built (decked) 14’ jon boat will plane with a “legal” 9.9hp motor, two 200lb anglers, 10+ rods, 50lbs of tackle, (3) 12v batteries, and a 60-80lb livewell/aerated cooler full of fish.  The decks on this boat were built professionally and the build was $1,000 in materials and labor.  The boat pictured above owned by Dennis Nease is one of the nicest rigs on the reservoir and I fish out of it often.  The boat, motor, and trailer were purchased brand new for $5,200 in 2014 from a Baltimore small boat dealer.  After the deck build, 74lb/24v Minn Kota, and some decent sonar, the boat totaled $7K including tax and tags.  This boat will run for the next 25 years without a single issue.


When it comes to buying a fiberglass boat you must know how to inspect the boat.  I will inspect the boat myself and pay someone local like the guys at Harbin Marine to look over the boat and run compression and leak down tests on the motor.  You must review the following:


Motor- Does the previous owner have maintenance records?  Those who keep maintenance records are MUCH more likely to take better care of their equipment.  There are few exceptions.  Have a certified mechanic who works on boats for a living  run a compression and leak down test as well as take a good look around the transom and motor.  Test drive the boat through the power band once it is warm.  If you don’t know how to drive a bass boat yet, have a buddy or the current owner drive it.  Never hammer down on the throttle right after start up, especially if it is cold.  If the motor does not run right, do not buy the boat regardless of whether the current owner says it just needs new plugs.  Have this claim verified by a mechanic.  Before purchase I’d have the new plugs put in and then test run the boat.  Be wary of boats that have NEW LOWER UNITS.  This is usually due to an accident running aground or hitting a submerged object, often on plane at high speed.  This will often damage the transom and a transom can be just as expensive to fix as a blown motor.  Do not bother attempting to fix a transom, it will never be worth the trouble or money on a $10k or less boat.  Make sure your trim is working properly from all three trim points, bow (next to TM plug), console (on shifter or blinker style), and motor itself (small switch on side of motor).   Trim the motor up in the air and measure the height from the prop to the ground.  Inspect the rest of the boat for a while, or grab lunch as you think about an offer.  When you return to the motor, re-measure the distance from the props center point to the ground.  If your motor moved it's due to a leak in the trim cylinder/pump.  These are expensive and a new one from Mercury for a 80's or 90's 150hp motor is $1,000.  You can find them for less in the aftermarket (non OEM), which I did for a boat 8 years ago.  I paid $400 and it worked fine.  

Transom- A boat’s transom is the most stressed part of the hull.  The transom not only has to support the weight of the 350-500lb motor, but it also must support this weight for over 10+ years while running 50-70+mph over 1-3’ waves/chop as well as trailering down streets and highways with bumps and pot holes.  This constant jarring puts tremendous pressure and stress on the transom which is where your motor is connected to your hull often via jackplate.   A jackplate provides space between the transom and motor which some "setback" or “offset” which in turn allows the boat to handle better in rough water, attain higher speeds, and increase handling in turns and sharp evasive maneuvers such as dodging logs on the Potomac at 60+mph.  The transom can crack and begin to flex, often not noticeable to the naked eye.  You may feel the motor’s weight causing the transom to flex as you run around the river but it’s best to catch the problem before you're on the river at 60+mph.  This flexing or cracking is a tell tale sign of a soon to be catastrophic failure which can kill you and your partner.  I’d estimate over 50% of older bass boats with wood in the transom are “wet” boats, meaning the wood has rotted out and the bolts which the motor or jackplate is attached are literally anchored into rotting 20+ year old wood.  Many companies used wood encapsulated in fiberglass to seal the wood which prevents moisture from entering.  Despite this manufacturing process, many of these transoms are still “wet” or damaged from hitting submerged objects.  The motor will eventually rip right off the back of the boat in rough water or after hitting something submerged and you will be hurt or killed after being thrown out of the boat or when the 400lb motor lands on your back and head with the prop still spinning at 5,000 rpm’s.  Newer boats are built with no wood in the transom, and some manufacturers ended this wood transom in the 90’s, with Ranger leading the way in July of 1987 when they ended their wood transom production.  This does not mean that a “no wood” boat can’t have a bad transom.  

All fiberglass transoms can crack and weaken from abuse while driving or trailering.  Using a transom saver bar on your trailer/motor is a must. You can use the “light tap hammer test” (cloth/rag  around hammer head) or “motor push down test” to inspect the transom for a dead give-away, as well as looking around the attachment points bolts/jackplate for cracks.  The top of the transom near the carpeted rear compartment will also often show wear or separation.  Have your mechanic inspect this area carefully as this area is often the first to go bad.  A transom is easily $2.5k to $3.5k to fix and requires major surgery by a well qualified fiberglass repair shop.  Often times when dealing with older bass boats, you’re better off taking the hull to the junkyard after stripping it of the motor, electronics, trailer, and other OEM parts and finding yourself another hull for under $2,000. Make sure there are no soft spots in the floor also.  This is NOT a good sign and means that you've got some watersoaked wood.  This is very common in older boats kept outside without a cover for extended periods of time.  No, you can't just cut out that area.  You do not want to know what other issues lurk below your feet. Pictured below is my 2nd Ranger, a late 80’s 350v I bought for $1250 10+ years ago with a blown #5 cylinder.  

Jackplate- The larger the jackplate, the further the “setback”. The average older bass boat has a 6” jackplate with the larger and faster 20’-21’ boats running 8” to 12” jackplates.  If you’re buying a boat with a hydraulic jackplate which allows the driver to instantly lower or raise the motor height/prop height such as 1” below the pad, vs. manually adjusting from outside the boat, you must make sure the hydraulic jackplate is functioning properly when inspecting a used rig.  These hydraulic jackplates will set you back $1,000 easy.  Test your trim and hydraulic plate during the test drive.  See above pic of my old Ranger 350v's manual jackplate.  I bought this boat for $1,200 with a blown motor.  I bolted up another Mercury Powerhead for $1500, had the trailer serviced, bought two new batteries, and I was on the water in 2 weeks.  I used it for two years and then sold it for profit.

Trailer- The trailer is the most underrated and forgotten aspect of any used boat purchase.  Have an auto or boat mechanic go-over the trailer and check the hubs, axle(s), electric, brakes (if any), and every other part imaginable.  Most boat mechanics also work on trailers and this is a MUST INSPECT before purchase.  Trailer work can be VERY pricy, and driving a boat with a bad trailer down the road at 60mph can be just as life threatening as driving a boat with a bad transom.  If the trailers tires are dry rotted, do not drive it.  They could potentially rip apart at any moment.  If you still buy the rig, let it stay in place jacked up until you get down the street to a tire shop.  Make sure the tires you are buying are TRAILER TIRES, not automobile tires.  There is a difference.


Wiring and Dash Switches- Do not expect all dash gauges to work in older boats.  The speedometer will often not work properly and if you want to know how fast you are going, your smart phone, or newer model GPS/depth finder/fish finder will tell you.  Your livewell aerator, trim, navigational lights, bilge pump(s), horn and tachometer are most important.  You can blow up an outboard quickly by running over the recommended rpm’s.  Older boats have often been re-wired by 3 different owners and the back compartment and console wiring often look like a terrible backlash.  This is not a good sign and chances are you will be ripping it all out and re-wiring everything.  In these older boats with older wiring left in place, there is often no way to tell what does what and what goes where and you’re better off ripping it all out and starting over. 

Before you start re-wiring, check the fuse panel.  Know where the fuse panel is located and know how to tell the difference between a good and bad fuse.  On the cover of the panel there should be a diagram depicting what each fuse is for.  When in doubt, check them all and replace them all even if they do look ok.  Often your culprit to a non functioning livewell or dash lights is a $0.15 fuse.  Always carry a spare fuse kit with you such as the exact kit pictured above which I purchased from Harbor Freight.  (check the size as my newer Ranger 392V takes the larger size fuses, my R71 used the above) I bought my kit for $8, and it will last me the next 10 years.  It has saved me on several occasions over the years.  This same fuse kit will save your day if your vehicle has issues also.  While you're at the store, pick up a set of exta long jumper cables and toss them in your boat and leave them there.  You CAN jump your outboard off your TM battery.  Simply hook up the cables and crank it over like normal.  Once it's running, leave the key on, and disconnect the cables.  Keep them handy, you may need to jump again when leaving your next spot.  Let the motor run as long as you can though after jumping so your cranking battery has a chance to charge back up.  If this does not solve your issue with the cranking battery, you've got a bad cranking battery.  Of course check your terminals before you get out the cables.  Make sure they are tight and corrosion free.  Pictured below is my 4th Ranger, a ‘94 392v I bought during the two week span it took me to write this article. 


Compartments & Carpet- Compartment lids can be loose in older boats.  They are not hard to re-attach.  Don’t be scared off if the boat has loose compartment lids.  The compartments should be water tight and they do need to have the rubber lid seals which are also easy to install and cheap to purchase.  For re-attaching the loose compartment lids, you will need to purchase/use a larger electric drill bit than the original hole and some screws with plastic inserts/plugs.  The old hinge is often re-usable.  Carpet is cheap but the install is not easy.  It's not as simple as it seems, especially if you're looking to do it correctly and make it look right.  A carpet job on a 18-19' bass boat runs around $1,000 installed professionally.  A friend could help you in the garage for a day and the job will only cost you $280 in materials.  It's up to you which route you take but personally I'd pay a professional to do it right the first time.


Trolling Motor and Electronics- Do not expect your 10k or less used boat to have current/upgraded down-imaging/HDS sonar and a brand new 36volt Minkota.  You do not need a 2k sonar unit to catch fish, nor do you need a 36volt 101lb thrust trolling motor.  You also do not need a power pole, let alone two.  Yes these items are nice to have, and they will help you locate fish and structure as well as navigate big waters and stay anchored if used correctly.  I would highly recommend you not put $5K in electronics/sonar/power poles in your $5K Ranger.  You will not get this money back when you re-sell, so if you do upgrade the boat, plan on keeping it for 5-10 years or take the stuff off when you re-sell, and put the original equipment back on.  A nice GPS/down imaging sonar unit can be purchased for $500 or less.  It may not have a 10” screen but it will work just fine and do what you need it to do.  A new 24V 70+lb thrust Minn Kota is $700 shipped. Pictured here is my 3rd Ranger, a R71 with a 115 Johnson that needed work.  I bought the boat for $2500. 

Gell Coat/Paint- The gell coat in these older boats is often cloudy/faded with what appears to be a milky white substance.  This is oxidation.  The boat cannot be fixed with another layer of clear coat or wax.  NEVER PUT AUTOMOTIVE CLEAR COAT ON A BOAT!!!  The top cap of the boat will tell you a lot about the way the boat was kept and cared forA terribly oxidized top cap is often the sign of a boat which was kept outside in the elements with no cover, and usually boats kept outside with no cover were also neglected mechanically.  The oxidation can be removed and the boats gell coat/sparkle finish can often be brought back to near new condition with a high speed orbital buffer, 1,000 to 1,500 grit sandpaper for wet sanding by hand using Dawn dishwashing detergent as your lubricant.  My old Ranger’s picture above is the result of a “read and go try” wet sanding and polishing job I did in 2014.  Prior to this work, you could not see any sparkle as it was covered by a milky white layer of oxidation which made the boat look 20 years older.  The green Ranger R series above I owned at the start of this article and sold it towards the end of this article.  This boat is 15 years old (2000 model), and shines like a 2012.  


Make sure the boat is cleaned very well prior to sanding and polishing.  After the wet sanding is complete use some medium cut polish with the hi-speed sander and a polishing pad.  Start slow and work faster.  If your RPM’s are too high you can damage the gel coat.  Finish with a good marine wax.  Always start high on the grit number, meaning less coarse.  You can always come down later by using 800 grit if the oxidation is really bad.  I researched how to do this myself in 2014, and after spending 24 hours of labor on my boat with $120 in supplies, my 15 year old Ranger’s finish went from terrible with no sparkle to nearly blinding.  A professional detailer can also do this work for $500-$1,000 depending on how bad the oxidation is.  Make sure you cover the entire boats interior and trailer when you do this because you will sling polish everywhere, and after it dries hard it’s very tough to remove.  Bass Boat Central has a great forum titled “Detailing” which goes into extreme detail on this and the guys on there will help you through it if needed.  YouTube is also a terrific resource for learning how to wet sand and polish a boats gel coat.  Start on an area of the boat which is less visible such as the rear near the motor.  You may need some practice space and if you screw up, it’s best to do it on the rear of the boat near the transom, or in the splash well.


Prop- I would not expect the prop to be perfect or even to be the best choice for the motor/hull.  Check on the internet on sites like Bass Boat Central or The Bass College and ask the other owners in your forum group such as the Ranger forum.  You want to find the best prop for your boat which can make up to a 5mph difference in speed with a 150hp, and 7mph+ with a 200-225hp as well as a HUGE difference in handling.  If your prop is a little beat up, it can be “re-worked” by a place like Miller Propeller in MD.  Shipping a prop is around $20, and re-working/polishing a prop can run around $100 shipped.  A new prop for these motors I will review below is between $300-600.  Used in good shape pricing is $180-$300.  Remove your outboard and trolling motor prop after every trip and check for fishing line.  All lines, especially braided line, can cause some big problems around your prop shaft.


Motors/Oil Pump or Pre-Mix?- The Mercury 1990’s carb motors are the motors to look for along with the fuel injected EFi and XRi.  Johnson is no longer is business, and parts are not as readily available as the Mercury parts.  The older Johnson/Evinrude motors you will run across are the GT150, GT200, and XP, as well as the Johnson Faststrike which I prefer.  The Faststrike during a certain year period around 1991 or 1992 if my memory serves me correctly, was rumored to make around 170+hp out of a 150hp engine, and 200hp out of the 175.  They were dialed down on paper as 150’s, and 175’s and they blew away the competition in tests and racing circuits.  Mercury was not happy about this and Johnson was soon forced to change them and cease their “special” production.


Used Mercury power heads built in the 1990’s are very inexpensive and if you happen to blow one, finding another used powerhead in good condition will not be hard. Yahama motors are most expensive to fix due to used parts cost and the lack of availability.  The older Yamaha motors you may run into are the Pro-V and the later Vmax.  Many boat owners opt to disconnect the oil pump on these older motors and pre-mix their oil into the gas by dumping the right amount of oil into the tank during fill ups at the gas station.  You need to consult with your mechanic about the ratio as you can’t just estimate it, use a measuring bottle.  If you run too rich you will smoke like a chimney and foul your plugs.  If you run to lean you can blow your motor or damage internals.  The reason for disconnecting the oil pump is to avoid the chances of blowing up the motor due to a failed oil pump.  If your oil pump does fail on these older motors, by the time your console alarm comes on the damage is already done, especially at high RPM.  At low RPM, immediately shut down the engine, and check your oil reservoir.  If full, aggressively pump the oil bulb, even if it’s hard put all your weight on your palm and give it a few hard presses.  From my own experience I’ve found that the oil pickup line in the bottom of the reservoir can become clogged/gummy and a few solid pumps can free it and the alarm will turn off.  Only try doing this after mixing some oil in the gas to be safe.  If you do get the oil pump to start working again, you will smoke and possibly foul plugs, but plugs are much less expensive than a new powerhead, and you will make it back to the ramp.  You can also disconnect the oil pump and just run the pre-mix gas.  Make sure your mechanic shows you how to disconnect your oil pump!  I always carry some spare oil in the boat so if needed I can mix some in with the tank to avoid being towed back to the ramp. 


Here are my top choices for used bass boats under 10K.

(my first and second Ranger pictured below)


Ranger 3 series and 4 series, the smaller 18’ models specifically the 350V are TANKS and in your budget of $5-10k year model 1988-1998.  The 390 series is the aircraft carrier of these 1990’s Rangers and IF you can find one for under $10K it may be the best possible deal you could ever dream of.  These are 19’ 3.5” and are commonly rigged with a Mercury 200 and a dual axle trailer.  They are some of the best larger hulls ever made, and they exhibit amazing handling, especially in rough water.  They will run close to 70mph when fitted with the right prop and jackplate. 

I have owned three 350V series Rangers over the years with a few pictured above.  They are built very well and handle rough water extremely well.  These 350V’s are 18’ and run 60mph with the stock 150hp Mercury XR2 or XR4, Johnson GT150, or Johnson Fast Strike.  These hulls are not hard to find and Craigslist is your answer to finding these boats.  Most do not have jackplates and I recommend a 6” plate for better speed and handling.  The 4 series were built/designed after the 3’s and are awesome boats but they will be more expensive as they were made in later years often with more hp.  Ranger switched to all fiberglass transoms July 1st of 1987 so I’d suggest you search for models made in 1988 or later.  The reason I give the extra year of bumper is due to the fact boat manufactures make boats ahead of the year model, due to the timeline of the manufacturing process.  If you want to be positive the boat is an all fiberglass transom vs. the wood encapsulated by fiberglass,  call Ranger and provide them the HIN.   HIN stands for Hull Identification Number.  Know this number.  It is located on the hull, usually around the transom on these Rangers.  Your boat insurance company and mechanic will need the number.  If your mechanic needs to re-wire or trouble shoot, or purchase parts, he can access the wiring diagrams, parts listings, and more through the Ranger parts department with the HIN. Ranger customer service is amazing and they have every part you’d ever need including the optional extended deck for these boats which I highly recommend.



Ranger R71, R81, and R91- Found in 17’, 18’, and 19’ models respectively, these are great hulls which were introduced in 1998.  R series production began in 1995 and ended in 2001.  The R71 is a 17’1” model usually found with a 115hp Mercury or Johnson.  The R81 is a 18’9” model commonly found with a 150 Mercury but capable of running a 175hp which is the boats limit.  The R91 is 19’ 8” and is commonly rigged with a 200hp Mercury.  If you find these models with a “2” OR “3” in place of the “1” such as R83, or R72 that dictates that the boat has a dual console.  The R71 and R81 can be found for $8k in good condition and the R91 can be found in good to excellent condition for just under $10K.  The R91 paired with a 200hp Mercury and set up correctly will run in the high 60’s and will handle the rough water very well.  Pictured above is my old 2000 model R71 with a 115hp Johnson.  I ran this boat in 2014 and 2015 prior to selling it in June.  It was perfectly fine for the Upper Bay’s rivers and the Potomac but I was limited to running it long distances across rough water due to the fuel capacity and length/horsepower.  I would stay within 5-7 miles of the launch ramp regardless of the body of water and I caught just as many fish in this boat as I did my earlier 21’ Skeeter with a 200 Yamaha.  I was able to run this boat further back into creeks in shallower water than the larger rigs could access and dock fishing was a breeze in this small compact rig.  The boats rough water handling was amazing for its size.  I highly recommend these three “R Series” hulls.  A 1998, 1999 or 2000 model R series can be purchased from a private seller in average to good condition for as little as $6,500.  



Bass Cat Pantera II- Bass Cat builds a great boat and their 19’ Pantera II built in the late 80’s through mid 90’s will be in your price range.  Back in the day this boat was very popular and highly sought after.  They are awesome older boats and you’d never know they are 20 years old if they are kept clean and under a cover or in a garage.  They handle rough water well, but Champion’s hulls are smoother, and Rangers hulls are also smoother.  They were commonly rigged with Mercury 150 and 200hp carb motors as well as Johnson Fast Strikes.  The boats will run 60mph with the 150 and 65 to 67 with the 200 combined with the right prop and jackplate.  Their price range will be $6-10K in good condition.  Some year models had digital dashes and they can be troublesome due to age and replaced with standard gauges.  Bass Cat is still in business and they have an excellent reputation.



Bumble Bee- The 18’ and 19’ Bumble Bee is unreal as is all their models which are no longer made.  These hulls handle better than nearly all of the above hulls, but my 392V hull will give the Bumble Bee a run for its money.  They turn on a dime and handle rough water very well.  They drive like a supercharged Mazda Miata on a road course.  My first ride in a Bumble Bee was on Smith Mountain Lake in 2003 and I was shocked by the way the boat handled high speed turns in the creeks.  They were also built with padded decks to soften your stance.  The padded deck was an option on these boats and many guys opted for it.  They were most often rigged with Mercury and Yamaha 150hp or 175hp carb motors and you will find them on Craigslist in TN and KY mostly.  You do not see many up north.  These hulls will run slightly faster than the others and the 18’ with a 150 will reach 65mph if set up correctly.  With a 175 Mercury the 180 Pro V will hit 70mph.   The 19’ with a 200 Mercury will run 68-72 mph when set up perfectly.  The early to mid 90’s models will be in your price range of $6-10k.  Finding a nice one in excellent condition is not that easy.  They were not manufactured in high numbers like the Rangers and Bass Cats.  Check TN and KY boat listings. 



Champion 17', 18' and 19' - The 90’s Champions like the above pictured and minty 1993 Champion 190DC owned by my friend Kevin and powered by a 200hp Mercury XRi, were some of the best rough water boats ever made to this day.  These hulls were built to knock down the 2' rollers and they run smooth and steady.  They were commonly rigged with Mercury 150 and 200 carb motors.  They offer great storage, and are commonly found in areas of the country which deal with larger lakes and rivers known for rough water.  A 18’ Champion rigged with a 150 Mercury is a great starter boat which feels more like a 19-20’ hull due to the ability of the boat to handle waves/chop at speeds over 50mph.  This boat will run 60 to 62 mph and will run 50mph over 2’ chop.  Running chop is much easier in all of these boats when you are running upwind.  Running downwind overtop of rollers is always terrible.  A 19’ Champion with a 200hp Mercury will run 58-63 mph depending on setup, prop, and jackplate.  I don't like how high the bow sits, but that's just due to me being used to the Rangers low bow.  Bass Cat also has a higher bow.  For pitchin docks and close quarters stuff, I prefer to be lower to the water, but that's just me.




Skeeter ZX180  & 190- The 1990’s model 180 or 190 is a great boat commonly paired with a Yamaha outboard.  These 18’ or 19’ hulls are good in rough water and are very comparable in speed to the Rangers and the Champion.  They are heavier hulls and are built well.  Finding a Skeeter without a Yamaha is like finding peanut butter without jelly.  The Yamaha outboards are phenomenal motors, but remember that they are more expensive to fix and maintain.  I have owned a Skeeter boat powered by a Yamaha outboard and I was very happy with the rig and I had no issues.  These boats in model years prior to 1999 will be less than $10k and are not tough to find.  You will generally see more Skeeter boats as you head north on the larger bodies of water in NY, MI, VT, ME, and OH.



Dual or Single Console?- This is a highly debated question but it boils down to personal preference.   In years past I have not bought or even considered buying a boat with a dual console.  The console takes away much needed floor space for a net, tackle bag, passenger rods, kid space, and landing space, especially netting or swinging fish.  On the other hand, without one, your passenger is exposed to brutal wind and water spray at high speed and in rough water including those days with below freezing wind chills.   At these speeds in the winter, you must wear a full face motorcycle helmet or your neck will freeze and you’ll have trouble breathing.  Bumble bees, birds, and even rain drops can hurt and injur at high speed and even leave dents in your face or blind you permanently.  Always wear eye protection.  I have been in several boats which have had collissions with birds at high speeds in excess of 70mph and it's not a laughing matter at that speed.  I have now opted to purchase a dual console.  One of my main fishing partners is my 4 year old son and the extra protection from the console will make him more comfortable in cold weather.  I will also now install a sterio system inside the console.  In my situation the pros of keeping him safe and comfortable behind a windshield outweigh the cons.


Purchasing- Do not ask your bank for a $8,000 boat loan.  If you do decide to go the loan route, ask them for a personal loan.  A boat loans interest rate will be sky high and by the time you pay it off you could have bought another with the interest.  Keep in mind most boat dealerships have used boats for sale, however many banks will not provide loans on boats older than 10 years.  You will also pay much more for a used bass boat at a dealer vs. a private seller.  If you go to look at and inspect a boat for sale, bring a wad of cash with you or make sure your bank is nearby and you will be able to withdraw money or have a certified check written to the seller.  A seller may not wait for you to return the next day.  If the boat is in great shape and a good deal you are not the only one who has their eye on it.  The market for older Rangers under 10k is very competitive. 


Resale Value- Keep in mind that one day you will sell your boat and you will need to get every dollar possible back.  Certain brands tend to hold their value better than others with Ranger being at the top of the list.  Out of 4 Ranger Boats I have purchased used over the years, I have sold 2 for profit after years of use, and 2 of them I broke even on after years of use.  This is very hard to do unless you are a mechanic, or electrician.  I was able to find great deals and take care of them during my ownership period.  Prior to re-selling it is a very wise decision to install new carpet and go the extra mile to fix what does not work properly.  You may end up breaking even on the money you put into it to sell it, but you will sell it which is the end goal in the first place.  Few people want to spend their hard earned money to then save up more money to fix things.  Champion also has great resale value and their hulls are in demand, especially the older 1990’s models which were the most popular rough water hulls in the history of the bass boat industry with the Ranger 3 and 4 series right on their tail.  Speed means nothing unless your lake or river is immune to boat traffic and wind.   To keep yourself up to speed on the value of your boat or one you are thinking of purchasing I suggest you use NADA and select your options carefully and accurately as they make a big difference.  Note that Lowrance HDS7’s for example, are not an option to add to a boats appraisal value and these types of items must be added in after the final appraisal is made.


Insurance- Progressive and Boat US seem to be popular but use whoever you want.  Just make sure you have adequate coverage so if you hit something and destroy your lower unit or crack your transom you're covered.  Payment installments are an option if you choose not to pay annually.  Make sure you have appropriate coverage including liability, theft protection, road side assistance, damage during use, and TOW coverage which is a MUST.  Do not tell your insurance company what you paid for the boat.  This is none of their business, and some companies will ask this, and refuse to insure the boat for more than what you paid.  This makes no logical sense.  If you got the boat from a friend or family member at a great deal, they will punish you by not insuring the boat beyond what you paid.  This is flat out ridiculous.  If they demand to know, tell them you paid what the high end of the NADA value is plus the add-ons such as sonar and powerpoles.  You could also tell them to go play in traffic and do business with another company.  I have had an excellent experience with Progressive and highly recommend them.  For the boats listed in this article you can expect to pay $300-$650 annually with 4 payment installments over the first 4 months as an option.  If you sell the boat prior to the end of your annaul coverage, you will be issued a refund check as long as you notify them of the sale immediately.  You must take pictures and inventory everything in the boat including all electronics.  If you have receipts, you need to gather them up and lable what each is for.  Make a large binder containing all your records and receipts.  This also increases your resale value as the prospective buyer will be impressed with your record keeping and will be less likely to doubt your maintenance history.  Those who keep records almost always take better care of their toys.


Driving Ability- You cannot just hop into these boats and go.  Even an 18’ boat with a 150 requires a serious learning curve when it comes to driving.  You can kill yourself easily in these boats if you make one wrong move.  One wave, log, or sandbar can end your life or put you in a wheelchair for your remainder.  If you get caught in a boat wake and you do not know how to ride the lanes, you can spear a wave and bury the nose of the boat 4-5’ down and rip everything off your deck and get tossed around your fiberglass interior like a rag doll.  If you are running upwind into 15-20mph headwinds at 60+ mph and hit a larger boat wake, your boat will become airborne and literally take off like an air plane until the motors weight causes you to land pad down and subsequently throws the hull sideways launching you and your passenger against the consoles, floor, and top cap before ejecting you out of the boat unconscious.  YouTube “Bass Boat Crash” when your done reading.  If your in a boat with someone careless driving like a moron, or who does not know how to properly drive in the conditions you're facing, speak up and tell them to take you in, or take over the boat and show them what performance driving is all about.  I have had to do this several times over the years.  

These boats are basically race boats with fishing stuff in them, and if you don’t respect them they will kill you.  It’s just like buying your first motorcycle. There are only two types of boat and motorcycle drivers, those who have wrecked, and those who will wreck.  Wrecking in a boat includes hitting submerged or floating objects, stuffing a wave, or launching off a wave becoming totally airborne prior to being ejected.  Always wear a life vest and kill cord.  The kill cord will automatically shut your motor down if you are ejected.  If you do not wear it, your boat will keep running and you will have no chance of climbing back aboard if you are conscious enough to do so.  In cold water, you’ll die of hypothermia before you can swim to shore.  Without your life vest and while wearing heavy clothes for the cold temperatures; you will sink like a rock. 

Safety first, fish second.  If you have any questions about purchasing a used boat feel free to ask me or the guys on the Bass Boat Central forums, The Bass College Forums, or my forums on  For more information on Ranger Boats specs and models see this chart.


*During the writing of this article which was spread over several weeks, I both sold and bought a boat, both Rangers.  Writing this article made perfect sense to me as I was thinking and pondering over the same subjects I wanted to discuss with my readers.  I searched Craigslist and Boat Trader for over 3 hours a day for 3 weeks straight after selling my 2000 model R Series Ranger to a first time boat buyer.  I had practically memorized every bass boat for sale east of the Mississippi yet I only made three phone calls and inspected just 1 boat, which I bought.  This is the cleanest 1994 Ranger 392V that has ever existed.  The 19’ 3.5” boat looks as though it was placed in a time capsule.  I found the boat on Craigslist 7/17/15 at 1pm, just four hours after it was listed.  I made the phone call and arranged the visit to Thornburg VA that evening in traffic.  I made it home at 12 midnight with the boat in tow and an excited yet fast asleep 4 year old in the back seat.  The boat is all original and looks as though it came off the showroom floor.  The gel coat shines the way it did when it left the factory.  It sits on an immaculate Ranger dual axle trailer with surge breaks and is loaded with (2) Lowrance HDS7’s, a nice 24V trolling motor, and 3 new batteries.   Everything on the boat works including every light, every pump, every latch, and every gauge.  The boats wiring is clean and easy to track.  The fuel injected 2.5 litre 200hp Mercury XRi is spotless inside and out, has good compression and idles smooth.  The original carpet is amazing with no rips or stains.  The leather bench seat is the factory original with no stains, rips, or leather cracks.  The boat has been garaged its entire life and never abused.  I even have the original Ranger factory production paperwork with the signatures of each factory department head/inspector who made this boat, and the original Ranger dealer paperwork from NC.  Every owners manual from the HDS7's and trolling motor, to the outboard is in my possession.  I found a gem and I jumped on it.  My patience paid off as the three weeks without a boat were not easy on me.  These older boats in excellent to mint condition are not common, but they ARE out there and they CAN be purchased for under $10k like this one which made it through the cut off by just a few hundred dollars.  A new 2015 19’ Ranger with a 200 Mercury sells for around $55k and this 1994 392V will do everything that a 2015 Z119 will do.  This beauty still has another 20 years in her, and I hope to treat her with the same respect and care as her last two owners.  See pictures below.


UPDATE^^^^^^ "She" has had some changes made to her recently and to follow up on how this boat is doing today, follow this post here

I have a new bait painter I highly recommend.  Look at their work and details here.

Tight Lines,

Bryan “BayBass” Novotny  /

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