What you’ll learn in a sea trial

Story by Harris & Ellis / July 3, 2023

Author: Ewan Campbell, Yacht Broker Harris & Ellis Yachts

Your boat deal will likely be subject to conditions, the two most common being the survey and the sea trial. The sea trial or water test, as it is sometimes called, usually happens after the survey and just prior to closing. If your survey is primarily to inspect the structural integrity of the vessel, now the sea trial will inspect the mechanical integrity of the boat’s systems.

First and foremost is the engine, especially if you are not getting a professional engine inspection. A surveyor will inspect hoses, engine mounts, and fuel lines but will stop short of actually running the engine. Some people will tell you that you can fire up the engine on the hard, and that will certainly show that it turns over. However, it will not demonstrate the engine under load.

On the sea trial, you should run the engine up to temperature, plus 10 or 15 minutes in forward gear and a few minutes in reverse. Check for smooth shifting of the gears. Open the engine access and check for fumes or water leakage. Take the boat through some hard turns to check the steering. It is not necessary to “red line” the RPMs. Most diesels are quite happy in the 2500 to 3000 RPM range. If they feel and sound good at that range, all the better.

If you are sea-trialing a sailboat, hoist or unfurl the sails to check their condition, if you haven’t already done so.

On all boats, power up the instruments and check for functionality. Take the autopilot through some course changes. Run the pressure pumps and refrigeration. Check the bilge for water before you leave the dock and after you return.

If the seller is on board, ask them for any tips or idiosyncrasies the boat may have. Most sellers are all too happy to talk about their boats.

Once you are satisfied with the sea trial, you can confidently move toward closing. Enjoy!



As first-time boat buyers and as foreigners wanting to buy a cruising catamaran in the US, we knew we needed a reliable broker that had our best interests in mind. John Heintzman was just that, and more! He was extremely committed to understanding what we were looking for, gave great advice, and guided us through the purchase process with great patience and knowledge. All in all, we felt very well taken care of.

I feel compelled to reach out about the absolutely wonderful experience that I have had with Grant and Patricia Bowlby. I completed the purchase of a boat yesterday and I couldn’t be happier. They were so helpful, kind, and patient. This was my first experience with a broker, and I think I’ve found the best.

I can’t thank Ewan Campbell enough for the super job he did in selling G, making up for my lack of experience in this realm and patiently searching for just the right buyer and a win-win for seller and buyer alike.

It was a wonderful experience selling A with Jeff Cole’s expert assistance. Thank you for simplifying a complicated process. Your patience and kindness are especially appreciated.

I just wanted to thank Jeff Cole for all his hard work. He was very professional and effective.

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