So You Want To Buy A Sailboat
Well first off, let me say congratulations. There is nothing like being the
skipper of your own boat. That said, buying a boat, especially a first boat, can
be a daunting task. It is not like buying a car, a VCR, or a bowie knife off some
home shopping television network. If you approach it that way, then you’re
asking to get burned. No. No. No. Buying a sailboat is more like buying a house.
A house that will sink if not cared for properly. So as I write this, my approach
will be as if you are a first time buyer. And in doing so, I will be as bluntly
honest as possible, and at the same time, I'll try and make the reading a bit
entertaining. Because after all, sailing is fun, right? Looking for your sailboat
should be fun as well. So let's get to it.
Take your time and control your emotions
For most, buying a sailboat is an emotional undertaking. It should not be taken
lightly. It is easy to get caught up in the sheer beauty of sailing. Warm breezes
fill the sails as the boat cruises along to the sounds of Jimmy Buffett or Bob
Marley. You've got your hand on the helm as you fetch a far off island in the
Caribbean or your own fake sea (commonly know as a lake). You drop the hook in
that exotic cove and as the sun leaves you to begin a new day on the other side
of the world, you settle in with a cold one. Life is good. Who wouldn’t
want to do that?
Visions such as these often move people to buy a first boat, which is perhaps,
a bit too large for their actual needs. Be rational about your wants, needs, and
skill level when it comes to buying a boat. I can promise you, there’s a
lot more to sailing a 30 - 35 foot boat than an 18 - 22 footer. Big boats are
great, but without a doubt a good small boat can perfectly serve your sailing
needs, is less expensive overall, and easier to handle.
Reasearch! Research! Research!
Do your homework? Keep an open mind, but have an idea what kind of boat you
would like to have. With the availability of the Internet, becoming an informed
boat owner is so much easier. There is simply so much information available and
people willing to help you make an informed decision. With this in mind, beware;
a lot of the info available is just bad! So hit that Internet, there are a number
of sites dedicated to boats and their ownership. If you already have an idea what
kind of boat you would like, just do a Google search on that boat, and chances
are you will be in for more information than you know what to do with. The publication
Practical Sailor is another good place to learn about boats. Check them out at
Talk to people in your sailing community, and not just a few, but a lot of
people. Remember what I said about bad information, by talking to a number of
folks, your chances of getting consistently bad information decreases. For example,
if you are talking to someone and they say, “Look at a MacGregor 26; those
right there are real nice”, chances are, if you speak with enough folks
knowledgeable at all about sailboats, you will not hear that theme often repeated.
By doing a lot of homework, you will be in a better position to evaluate what
is good, what is bad, and where to look for trouble spots.
Don't be shy about getting some help
Hiring a sailboat broker to help you with your search is probably not a bad
idea either. Interview several and have each provide you with a resume about their
sailing experience and references. Ideally, your broker should have at least two
years experience as a broker, but preferably five. They should also be a member
in good standing of the Yacht Broker's Association of America (YBAA). A broker
in European should belong to the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association.
Being a marine broker is much like selling real estate. An agent may work for
on realty, but is more than willing to show you homes listed by another. The marine
brokerage business is the same way. A good broker is going to spend a lot of time
listening to you describe your needs. He should ask a lot of questions, then take
that information and show your sailboats within your expectations. Having a good
knowledgeable broker can be quite the asset. However, if a broker spends a lot
of time showing you boats that don't match your needs, or if they only show your
boats from their own firm's inventory, questioning their motives may be in order.
So you've done your homework, you've hired a qualified broker to assist you
in your search, he or she has shown you a bunch of boats that should fit your
needs. Then it happens, after several weeks of looking and climbing through boats,
you go home with the thoughts of just one boat in your mind. You like it, more
importantly, your spouse likes it, it will perfectly meet your needs, and best
of all, it will fit within your budget. What now?
Control them hormones some more
Take a deep breath. This is where the emotional part of buying a boat really
enters the picture. As I see it, it isn't a whole lot different than teenage love.
You get all newey, newey, gooey, gooey, and the brain stops working, and that
almost always leads to mistakes. Slow down shipmate. You still have work to do.
This is the time to be strong and prevent the emotional from taking over the business
part of the acquisition. Do not allow yourself to take mental possession of the
boat before the rest of the deal has been completed. If this is truly the one,
there will plenty of time to get emotionally intimate with the boat; after the
With every boat you look at, especially the one you have just fallen for, keep
this in mind, “Everything that glitters isn't gold”. There are a lot
issues and potential concerns about a boat that don't immediately present themselves
during an initial viewing. The strength of the rigging, the condition of the sails,
the integrity of the hull and deck, the quality of the electrical system, the
functionality of the instrumentation, and soundness of the engine are all systems
which require an expert's eye before you buy. Even if the owner is capable of
producing a comprehensive maintenance log, each one of the systems I just mentioned
could have a list of problems a mile long, and to the untrained eye, be completely
unnoticed until it's too late. And that's usually after you have already bought
Enter the surveyor
Even with all that doom and gloom, let not your heart be troubled. This is
where the marine surveyor comes into play. Not at all unlike a home inspector
that will scrutinize a home before you buy. A qualified surveyor will check all
those systems I mention earlier, and then some, to make sure you are not about
to spend too much for your new used boat.
When selecting a surveyor, be cautious. First off, don't just get a recommendation
from the broker as to who should do the survey. Brokers know which surveyors are
soft and easy, and which ones are thorough and tough. If you were a broker looking
to make a sale, which surveyor would you recommend? Secondly, and most important
remember this, any bilge rat can hang a shingle up and call themselves a marine
surveyor, and there are many that do. However, like the broker, he or she will
be a member in good standing of an accredited professional society that requires
its members to meet strict professional, technical and ethical standards. The
two largest of such entities is The Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors-SAMS
(marinesurvey.org) and the National Association of Marine Surveyors-NAMS (nams-cms.org).
I would encourage you to spend a great deal of time researching the subject of
hiring a good surveyor. Their role in your successful purchase of a sound boat
of acceptable quality is far too important for you not to.
A little true story
Case in point and true story. My good friend Joe was in the market for a bigger
boat a few years back. Another friend of ours, Mike, was doing some cruising on
the Intra Coastal Waterway. Mike and his wife stopped in North Carolina for stores
and fuel when they came across just what Joe was looking for in a bigger boat.
It was a 37 foot cutter and in like-new condition. Mike immediately called Joe
to share his findings and to promise a digital camera full of pictures upon their
arrival home. When Joe showed me the pictures, my mouth just dropped. It was a
drop dead gorgeous boat. That next weekend, Joe and his bride were on their way
to Oriental, NC to see the boat. Everything was as they expected and the boat
was a jewel. Placing a down payment and contract on the boat, they both returned
home to begin the planning process for getting the new boat home.
With cash in hand, he went back to eastern Carolina to seal the deal. Joe was
ready to deal, but Joe wasn't born yesterday. He was actually born the day before
yesterday, but that's a different story. Anyway Joe was smart enough to include
in his contract conditions that called for the final sale of the boat to be contingent
upon a complete survey and sea trials.
Well, I guess you can probably guess where this is going. The survey was never
completed. It was a disaster. The cabin top was saturated with water, a problem
serious enough that the surveyor stopped his inspection and conferred with Joe
about the need to continue. Once Joe heard about the damage and that repairs would
be 10 to 15 thousand dollars, it was over. He paid the surveyor for his time,
collected his deposit money, and returned home to break the news to his family
and friends. They were heart broken.
The lesson here is important. From all outward appearances, the boat was perfect.
It showed no obvious sign of troubled, none. Heck, Joe had cash to cement the
deal. He never expected the survey would find any thing wrong with the boat. But
there was something wrong, very wrong. And because he was smart enough to arrange
a survey, he was only out a few hundred dollars and a couple trips to coastal
NC. If you ask me, I'd say he still came out ahead on the deal. Any excuse to
spend time on an eastern Carolina shore is reason enough and worth the trip.
I'll say it again, “All that glitters isn't gold”.
So that's my little gouge on buying a sailboat. I hope you have all success
in the world in finding that first boat. Remember, take your time, do your homework,
don't get too emotionally involved, hire a good broker, have a thorough inspection
done by an accredited surveyor, and if everything checks out, go sailing. That
far off cove is waiting.
From the quarterdeck of JoyRide,
Kirk S. Jockell