So how do you choose a boat? The first step, which is sometimes neglected, is to start sailing. Sail as much as you can, on other people’s boat if you have to. Chartering? Maybe, but the boats you’ll charter may not be a realistic match with your financial resources. Better to try out boats that are close to your financial capability. But you’ll learn something even from boats you can’t afford!
One of the best decisions we made was to buy an inexpensive boat ($7000 in 2000) and sailed it as much as we could. We suspected it would be too small and bare to turn into an ocean cruiser that met our requirements, but we wanted to test our requirements as cheaply as possible. When we found a slightly larger and better outfitted boat a few years later we were able to sell our first boat and buy the second one with more confidence that it was close to our needs. In retrospect we made one error – we should have spent a little more, borrowing if necessary, to get a boat a little closer to ready to go. It has become a great boat for us, but we put a lot of money and time into it that we probably could have paid for up-front. There seems to be compression in the boat market – functional old boats don’t drop below a certain ceiling for their size, but a middle-aged boat won’t be much more expensive. This goes the other way too – you are unlikely to sell your boat for what you put into it, even if you manage to sell it for more than you bought it for. Your work and effort are undervalued – but you knew that, right?
Assuming you cannot buy a new one to order, how do you rate the boats on the used boat market? Well, certainly discard those whose bones are not beautiful to you – but try to see past unpainted, unvarnished, neglected surfaces. These characteristics are much easier to cure than poor performance or lack of ruggedness. By looking at the performance factors associated with these boats and reading about the experience on them you can start to understand how a less famous line of boats might compare with the better known (and therefore more expensive) brands. Get to know local boats (Cascade Yachts or Stan Huntingford in the Northwest and Canada) or older boats that are no longer built (Ohlson).
No boats are perfect, but the kind of problems they have is important:
- Some problems are relatively cheap to cure: aesthetics, paint, non-structural neglect, non-structural equipment such as ground tackle, lack of headsails (mainsails are more persnickety to fit and so can be hard to find).
- Other issues are relatively expensive or impossible to cure: lack of wiring or basic electronics system, basic configuration, too-small-tankage, bad engine, strength and sea-worthiness, structural integrity.
For instance in comparing two boats, one may have more equipment on it. Ignore the equipment that you don’t need (or don’t want to maintain!) but finding a boat with an HF Radio or other navigation equipment, IF it’s equipment you’ve decided you need, can save you a lot of money. A bare boat in perfect condition vs an older boat is aesthetically worse condition but with a lot of equipment you want already installed – the first is appealing but the second will save you money and time.
Talk to the saltiest people you know before you buy. Read books. Listen to your head, and a little to your heart as well. Include your spouse / sailing partner. Good Luck!