What is a Certified Pre-Owned Boat? (CPO Explained)

what are certified boats
Disclaimer: Boat-Alert.com is not a MRAA Member, Partner, nor has any affiliation with the MRAA CPO program.

Buying a pre-owned or used boat is a risky endeavor. As a buyer, you may not have complete faith in the boat’s history or ownership. As a dealer, you may have a hard time selling a pre-owned boat due to the buyers’ lack of trust in its quality. But what if there was a solution to both these problems? There is, and it’s called a certified pre-owned (CPO) boat.

This article talks about everything related to certified used boats in the MRAA program and how it benefits boat dealers and buyers. Having been in the pre-owned boat industry for many years, we give the best explanation of CPO boats below!

What does “Certified Boat” really mean anyway?

When a dealership becomes MRAA certified (read: Marine Five Star dealers), they can also get their boats certified by the CPO program. Not all boats qualify as you will see below. Look for the CPO logo on used boats when shopping.

Getting certified means hands-on, third-party inspections are done on the used boat, and certain regulations and benchmarks must be met to ensure the highest quality and safety levels.

Programs such as MRAA CPO are voluntary, so when you are looking at a certified boat, it shows that the dealer has chosen to go above and beyond the minimum requirements to ensure buyer satisfaction.

What is a Certified Pre-Owned Boat?

A used boat that is certified by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas (MRAA) as part of its Certified Pre-Owned Program is called a certified pre-owned boat. Under this program, the boat goes through a five-part comprehensive analysis. Two different third parties later validate its quality and condition to ensure it’s properly functional and meets certain quality benchmarks.

This program aims to establish industry standards within the used boat market to help dealers stand out. The reliable, third-party approval and validation process offers a win-win, offering dealers an opportunity to find greater profitability and confidence in their pre-owned business while providing buyers peace of mind when purchasing a used boat 

Which organization defines this certification?

Pre-owned boat certification is defined by the Marine Association of the Americas (MRAA) and backed by industry partners “Titan Certified” and Boat History Report to help marine dealers capitalize on the $10 billion pre-owned boat market. The program’s deliverables and criteria provide the right tools and processes to help them overcome obstacles while simultaneously allowing them to increase sales due to greater buyer confidence.  

How Does a CPO Boat Work?

The MRAA CPO Boat Program outlines a five-part comprehensive analysis of each boat. It starts with age and manufacturing certification eligibility – the pre-owned boat must be under 10 years old and be originally NMMA-certified. Next, the MRAA drafts a brand new, detailed 130-point inspection form offered in soft and hard copies. The inspection must show that the boat doesn’t require any repairs.

If the boat passes the inspection, MRAA then engages its two partners to provide an unbiased, third-party confirmation regarding the quality and state of the pre-owned boat. Titan Certified carries out a DNA “blood test” that analyzes the boat’s fluid samples, whereas Boat History Report offers a comprehensive background check on the boat’s history. (not affiliated with Boat-Alert.com)

It is mandatory for the boat to achieve a “pass” or “pass with fluid change” in the DNA test and show “no negative incidences” in the background check. After the evaluation, the boat is awarded a three-month Limited Guarantee Certification. 

Can I apply for a CPO? What’s the Process of Getting a CPO?

As a boat dealer and mraa member, you can increase the value of your used vessel by getting it certified. A CPO boat program can provide a potential buyer with greater peace of mind, knowing that it has undergone a thorough inspection and safety process and is covered through a comprehensive warranty. This, in turn, will allow you to secure a much-needed profit margin and drastically improve your credibility. 

You can apply for an MRAA CPO boat program through CPO Boats website. The entire process involves five steps to determine a boat’s eligibility (age and NMMA certification), conduct a detailed premium inspection, pull a boat history report, and assess the drive fluids and engine. 

CPO Eligibility 

A used boat first has to meet these criteria to even be eligible for certified pre-owned designation:

  1. Boats must be less than 10 years of age 
  2. Boats must have previous National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) certification. NMMA certification helps boat manufacturers ensure their boats are built per industry standards set by the American Boats & Yachts Council (ABYC). Not all boat brands have this designation.

Next, the Boat has to go through three steps to get certified

A detailed boat inspection / boat analysis is done with the following compliance checklist:

1-Detailed Inspection

Boat dealers must thoroughly inspect each model they enroll in the MRAA CPO Boat Program. You can check out the inspection form here. Each item has it’s own conditions.

2-Boat History Report

MRAA extracts background information from Boat History Report. (not affiliated with Boat-Alert.com) This third-party report examines data from different insurance companies, law enforcement agencies, auctions, USCG documentation, financial institutions, and registration documents/titles. 

3-Fluid Analysis  

Next, MRAA partner Titan Certified” conducts lab tests on engine fluids, legs and power heads, transmissions, hydraulic systems, diesel fuels, and power steering. To get the MRAA stamp-of-approval, the engine must earn a title of “Pass” or “Pass with a fluid change.” 

If the engines smoothly pass the test, the MRAA Certified Pre-Owned Boat Program has a 55-hour Limited Guarantee on all the internally lubricated components for every fluid sample.

MRAA CPO boat process to Certify Pre-Owned Boats

Certified Pre-Owned Boat vs. Regular Used Boat 

A normally used boat can come in any condition. There are no rules governing its level of quality as long as all the flaws are honestly advertised. It could have been involved in a major dock collision, experienced erosion, or misused by the last owner. 

You can always lookup the boat background data using a Boat-Alert.com report and then do your own inspection with sea trial. This is not related to CPO.

On the other hand, a certified pre-owned boat has to meet rigorous quality standards to earn its certification. This cpo badge gives the buyer greater peace of mind and instills trust in the dealer. 

Benefits of CPO for Buyers 

As a buyer, you need to ensure that your investment will be worthwhile in the long run. While second-hand boats are significantly cheaper than brand-new ones, they have the added risk of hidden underlying issues. A good solution to this problem is to choose a certified pre-owned boat, which can eliminate the risk to a good extent. 

Here are some of the benefits of buying a CPO boat:

Properly Inspected 

As we learned above, boats have to go through a series of quality assurance processes to earn a certificate through prestigious organizations like the NMMA or MRAA. When you buy a boat from a dealer with this certification, you can rest assured that it has been inspected from top to bottom and that any hidden issues have been fixed. Having this kind of assurance allows you to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride in your new pre-owned boat.

Greater Quality 

A boat that has undergone inspection, repairs, and a background check is superior to one that hasn’t. There are no guarantees when you buy a used boat from platforms like eBay and Craigslist. You buy it on an as-is basis and have to accept the quality later. With a CPO boat, you can benefit from improved quality.

Better Value for Money

Investing in a certified pre-owned vessel is almost always a wise decision if you buy a boat. Buying a new boat isn’t a smart financial move since its value depreciates significantly when you take it for the first sail. However, with a CPO boat, you can get the quality of a brand-new boat at a fraction of the price. Besides saving a ton of money, you will not compromise on the quality, which is a clear win. 

What is the Verified Pre-Owned Program for Used boats?

The Verified Pre-Owned Program is relatively new and an extension of the Certified Pre-Owed Program. Under this program, the MRAA accepts pre-owned boats that may not be eligible for the CPO program, thereby offering more flexibility related to the age and condition of the boat. Features include:

  • More detailed analysis and inspection
  • Titan Certified sample testing and Boat History Report 
  • Historical Record of the boat
  • Condition of the transmission and engine

How are they different? Certified Vs. Verified

The main difference is that “certified” CPO program requires an NMMA boat manufacturer and requires that boat to be less tan 10 years old. both programs still require titan and boat history. Consider the cost on boat purchases when evaluating pricing on boat inventory vs. your bottom line.

How are the logos different for each program?

The logos of both programs are quite similar where; the right one shows the MRAA Certified Pre-Owned boat Program, while the left one shows the MRRA Verified Pre-Owned Boat Program. Both programs are in the USA but can also apply in Canada.

certified vs verified preowned boats
Image: verification tags for certified Vs. verified preowned boats
RequirementCertified BoatVerified Boat
NMMA Certified ManufacturerX
Boat Age requirements10 years old or lessOlder boats
Clean Boat HistoryXX
Titan Fluid inspectionXX
cpo program criteria vs verified criteria

Should you only buy used boats if they are Certified Pre-Owned?

There are numerous benefits of buying a certified pre-owned boat. However, there are instances where you may not necessarily need it. For example, if you are a first-time buyer and need a boat to practice your sailing skills, you can get away with buying a non-CPO boat. 

Since CPO regulations are tough, a limited number of used boats make the cut. That can sometimes make it more difficult to find the exact model, size, and brand you want. You may have to compromise on such features, which may not always be worth it. In such a case, you may be better off buying a basic used boat.

If you decide to buy a used boat that is not certified, you must be very careful. Here are some of the tips to make your investment worth your money: 

  • Get a Boat-Alert.com History Report or perform an online HIN lookup on the website to check if the seller is reliable and the boat is free from a tainted past.
  • Arrange a Sea Trial to evaluate the performance of the used boat, prove its seaworthiness, and make sure you are comfortable sailing it.
  • Do a thorough background check on the last owner by searching them on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. If they have other customers, contact them to get personal testimonials. 


In this article, we talked about what a CPO Boat is, its benefits, and how dealers can get their boats certified by the MRAA. You should choose a certified pre-owned boat for many reasons, but at the end of the day, you want to see if it’s the right financial decision for you in the long run. 

#CPOBoat #CPOBoatCertification #MRAA #CertifiedPreOwned #preowned #CPO

References: MRAA Dealer Solutions unveils expanded marine pre-owned program | Boating Industry

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