Ron Vitkun wanted to add more to his campground. Already, his Yogi
Bear’s Jellystone Park in Hagerstown, Md., had a heated pool
and a kiddie pool, but no exciting rides.
Then a friend alerted him to two tube slides for sale from a Wisconsin waterpark.
It had closed because someone offered the owner a grand sum of
money for the park’s land. So the owner was selling the
equipment at bargain prices.
But Vitkun, president of RV Properties Inc., in Williamsport, Md., discovered
that it came with a different cost. Numerous variables must be
considered, including condition, size, liability, codes and
secondary costs. And once you’ve made the purchase, you must
decide what to do when the new piece is delivered to your
For operators who
know what to look for, buying used equipment is a great way to add
new appeal to a park. The following pages offer six important
points for used-equipment buyers to contemplate.
1 How old is the equipment? Experts recommend
buying pieces that are no more than 15 years old. “Twenty
years is the useful life of fiberglass,” says one slide
manufacturer. If the equipment is nearing the end of its life
cycle, not much more value is left. Most people are looking to
replace their equipment at the 20-year mark, which is good reason
not to buy theirs.
2 Who is the manufacturer? Find out the
equipment’s manufacturer, and call for additional information
about the piece. If they’re no longer in business,
don’t buy the equipment, says Kevin Hoffman, director of
member services at the Park District Risk Management Agency in
Wheaton, Ill. “You can’t necessarily get things
replaced easily,” he warns.
Manufacturers say they often receive phone calls asking for blueprints and parts, as
well as general questions about reassembling products. In some
cases, the manufacturer can evaluate the pieces and suggest a
better setup. With a slide, for instance, it can redesign a path
that would better suit the new park’s elevation and
3 What is the item’s point of origin? Distance makes a
difference in the final cost. The farther the equipment travels,
the higher the shipping costs. In addition, someone should visit
the site to check out the equipment before
If it’s coming from a cold-weather area, for example, and was stored outdoors,
chances are the equipment has experienced more expanding and
contracting than that kept indoors year ’round. The older
they are, the more wear and tear these outdoor pieces may
4 Are blueprints available? These show exactly
how the pieces fit together and work with the waterpark’s
landscape. “Without the blueprints, they might as well stop
immediately and light a match to it,” says one recent buyer
in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. “I don’t think you could
do it without engineered drawings.”
Alison Osinski agrees. “It’s like putting Tinkertoys together,”
says the president of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego.
“There’s X-Y-Z coordinates and they’re meant to
go in a certain pattern, but the pieces are somewhat
If the blueprints aren’t available, call the manufacturer to see if they still
have them for that specific park.
5 Is the equipment up to code?Older equipment
might not meet current ASTM standards and state codes, says Jeff
Nodorft, former director of aquatic engineering at Ramaker &
Associates Inc. in Sauk City, Wis. Codes vary from state to state,
so make sure the equipment passes your state’s standards. For
example, some states do not allow several slides to exit into the
same pool. Some require at least 5 or 10 feet between
Vitkun experienced such an ordeal with his purchase because he was the first in his
area to put in a waterpark. “Nobody in the zoning and
building department had ever seen anything like this before,”
he recalls. It was a slow approval process, pushing his opening
Hoffman’s agency hands out an agreement to its members who are selling,
donating or auctioning equipment. The agreement outlines risk
management recommendations that should be in a buyer contract. The
sample contract includes a disclaimer of warranties, a condition
waiver and an indemnification provision that would protect the
seller in the event of an accident.
6 Is it worth it? While the initial
cost of the used equipment may be significantly lower than buying
new, several additional costs must be considered which may or may
not make a huge difference between buying new or
That’s why overpaying for the actual equipment is the biggest mistake people
make, Nodorft says. They forget to add in the extra costs
associated with having waterpark equipment, including a pool,
pipes, pumps and goods that come with running a piece of waterpark
equipment. In the end, you need to make sure the useful remaining
life you just purchased is well worth it.
If the park has already disassembled the equipment, that saves money for you.
Shipping and transportation is another expense, and further damage
may occur during that process, requiring more repair to the
Reassembling the equipment at your park is yet another cost. The Winnipeg buyer says
he planned to assemble it himself with the help of his staff and a
“If it’s a 15-foot slide, you may do it all yourself and take 100 percent
liability,” Nodorft says. “But a 40-foot slide, I would
definitely recommend somebody who’s experienced in
[assembling] water slides.”
Osinski notes that warranties are not transferable because the next buyer is not the
original owner, so the cost of repairs would be up to the new
owner. In addition, an engineer and surveyor are needed to
investigate the structural soundness of the new addition, and to
get permits and pass safety inspections.
She adds that spending extra money to have the equipment redesigned for your park
is a wise move. It sometimes involves computer modeling to
determine the fit and angle of the item prior to installation.
“It’s easier to test equipment in a computer model than
it is to put it together and try it out,” Osinski says.
“A few inches off makes a difference.”
Check it out Once you’ve
located a possible purchase, you should examine the physical parts
to make sure it’s structurally sound and in good shape.
“Obviously, it’s been in use and worn to a certain
extent,” Osinski says.
Then make sure you
have all the pieces. Use an inventory list and, if possible, check
that the major parts are still intact. Look for cracks and wear on
the joints. If it’s a slide, see if the fiberglass still has
some slippage left. Refinishing an older surface is not easy and
not always the best solution, manufacturers say.
Vitkun hired a
surveyor, who made a detailed examination of the heights, slopes
and coordinates, then labeled all the pieces from the top of the
slide down. He took this information to Ramaker & Associates,
who composed the engineered drawings for his park.
always be slightly faded from UV exposure and chlorinated water.
Some may be appear more used than others. Vitkun sent his slides to
a refurbishing company that handles big waterparks such as Six
Flags and Busch Gardens.
If refurbishing the
piece by yourself, the surface should be sanded as closely as
possible, one manufacturer says. Call the equipment maker to learn
which gel coat was originally used to polish and finish the item.
The gloss should be applied with a spray rather than a roller, for
a uniform application. Also, apply in segmented sections, rather
than going over the entire surface. Because joints flex and move
during use, they will expand and contract. Blending the sections
together can cause sharp edges to form as the slides move and
By painting the
backside, you can give a fresh look to a slide or ride. A new color
will give it a clean look and help it merge better with your
Vitkun is already
planning additions to his growing waterpark and says he would buy
used equipment again, depending on the circumstance. “If I
had the same level of comfort like this one was, with all the
details, I probably would,” he says. But he’s excited
about his current project. “It’s going to be our
showpiece. People will want to stay here.”