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Buying A Boat

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In This Section:

Sailing4.wmf (3046 bytes) Return To Home Page or click Ensenada 20 for a fine Trailerable Sailboat example
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) Separating Dreams From Reality So you think everyone wants to be a sailor, eh?
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) The First Boat Download Fixed! 5 good reasons for buying an "experienced" boat!
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) Trailering Your Sailor Can you pull it, and more importantly, can you stop it?
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) Finding The Best Boat Avoid "Dock Walker Syndrome" and get sailing!
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) Asking Price Nonsense How to make sense out of the seemingly illogical!
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) Used Sailboat Evaluation Make sure you're getting the bargain you think you are!

Separating Dream From Reality

Lots of people envision a Beaver Cleaver family sailing new destinations every weekend. However, first you should make sure your dream is shared by family members.

I hate to say it, but it certainly seems that sailing is mostly a "Guy Thing". There's many a sailor that ends up with a boat, only to have the first mate end up with the house.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are some very astute female sailors that can't get their partners to set foot aboard. Also remember  that most teenagers prefer spending time with friends than with boring old Mom and Pop.

I'm very fortunate that Ondine doesn't mind going "tilty" too much, and our kids now 16 and 18 still humour us with the honour of their presence from time to time. 

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The more time you can spend sailing on others peoples boats, the better you'll be able to determine how well your family will really like it. You'll also be exposed to various kinds of boats and types of sailing, so you can establish preferences that will simplify purchasing your first boat.

The First Boat

Unfortunately for some, the first boat will be the last. This normally occurs when someone runs out to buy a boat on a whim or gets caught up into making a hasty decision at a boat show before doing the homework necessary to establish personal needs. For those who carefully evaluate what kind of boat will best fit their needs, the first boat is usually the initial investment into a series of vessel purchases, to match changing needs, desires, and available finances.

Since the first boat is not likely to remain the only boat for a life-time, your sailing skill level will advance rapidly after you start sailing it, and you'll develop new or more deeply entrenched preferences with increasing experience, many suggest the first boat be a used boat. Purchasing a "previously experienced" vessel provides the first time buyer with numerous advantages including:

Lower Capital Cost
Protection From Initial Depreciation
Easier Future Trade or Sell Opportunities
Includes Gear or Options at Less Cost Than New
Reduced Risk of Being Stuck with a Boat You Don't Like

Again there are pro's and con's to everything, and you have to be sure, just like with any other used purchase, that you are not buying someone else's problems. The risk of buying a lemon can be reduced by learning as much about boats and designs as possible before hand, and by involving an experienced advocate on your side for the final boat inspection. An experienced advocate could be a friend with substantially more sailing experience, or perhaps similar experience but who hasn't fallen in love with the boat under consideration at first site. A professional advocate is referred to as a Marine Surveyor.

The Marine Surveyor is hired to inspect the boat, identify potential problems or future repair requirements, and to provide an opinion of value for purchase (required by financial institutions for loan security) or value for insurance (replacement cost in the event of loss) purposes.

But before you tax your friendship or incur Marine Surveyor costs, you first need to narrow the field of possibilities for consideration of first boat candidates. To do this you will need to ask yourself a number of questions. First you must decide whether you wish to trailer, keep the boat at a marina or club (or both). This alone will narrow the field considerably.

If you've concluded that you desire a trailerable cruiser, click here Trailer Sailor Size Selector Guide to download a (37 Kbyte .pdf file - Adobe Acrobat Reader Required) to help you narrow the field even further.

Trailering Your Sailor

Some people have chosen a boat too small to fit their needs because of the limitations of their current tow vehicle. While this has a bearing (no pun intended), be careful how much weight (again) you give it. You can always rent or borrow a friends truck now and again, but it's not so easy to exchange sailboats.

Others make the mistake of using too small a tow vehicle. Not only do you have to get it rolling, but you'll probably have to pull it up a steep wet ramp. Even more importantly, you have to be able to stop!

Your current vehicles towing capacity is identified (or calculation formula provided) in the owners manual using the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) normally stamped on the inside of the drivers door. For light duty vehicles, it is often recommended that your towing weight not exceed 75% of the vehicles maximum capacity.

Don't forget that towing weight includes the weight of:

The Boat (displacement specification)
Trailer (typically 220 to 470 kg or 500 to 1000 lbs)
Motor (typically 22 to 47 kg or 50 to 100 lbs for a 5 to 10 HP outboard)
Gear (all the stuff you'll want aboard your cruiser can easily weigh 140 kg or 300 lbs)
Provisions and Tankage (food, water, fuel and sanitation, can easily add up to 47 kg or 120 lbs)

Your towing capacity will also be limited by your trailer hitch, as will your tongue weight (indicated on the hitch nameplate). To prevent trailer sway at highway speed it is often recommended that your tongue (trailer tongue) weight be at least 10% of your towing weight. On Serendipity we have to remove the outboard and rudder and move all gear forward to the bow, (until I get an opportunity to move the trailer axle back a few inches) to gain enough tongue weight to trailer well.

It is always wise to check your local laws and those of the geographic regions you'll be trailering in. Some knowingly exceed their maximum capacity and get away with it, but if you're ever in an accident while towing an overweight load, well, you better know a good lawyer. The most dangerous place for a sailboat is on the highway at 100 km/hr (60 mph), behind an undersized rig.

Which leads us back to the size of the vehicle required. It’s a function of your boats displacement, how far you tow, the condition of the vehicle, and how long you expect it to last. Towing is hard on a vehicle. If it weren’t for the poor fuel mileage you’ll get the 99% of the time you’re not towing anything, the answer would always be the biggest you can find! However trailer sailors tend to be the practical sort, so the following chart should be a reasonable rule of thumb for "minimum" tow vehicle sizes. (Individual opinions and experience may differ).

From the following chart, select the next larger vehicle if towing more than 4 times per year, and/or greater than 320 km (200 miles) one way. (4WD or AWD is nice to have but may be cost prohibitive).

Towing Weight

Tow Vehicle Engine Size

Less than 700 kg (1500 lbs) large 4 cylinder (e.g. Mazda B2200, 2.2L)
700 to 900 kg (1500 to 2000 lbs) small V6 (e.g. Dodge Caravan, 3.0 L)
900 to 1400 kg (2000 to 3000 lbs) large V6 (e.g. Chevy Astro, 4.3L)
1400 to 1800 kg (3000 to 4000 lbs) small V8 (e.g. Ford F150, 5.0L)
1800 to 2700 kg (4000 to 6000 lbs) large V8 (e.g. Chevy Suburban, 5.7L)

Greater than 2700 kg (6000 lbs), consider a large diesel truck or professional mover.

For long distance, mountainous regions and/or warm climates, an oil and automatic transmission fluid cooler is strongly recommended.

Always ensure:

  1. Everything is secure, including safety chains and coupling lock.
  2. The boat is all the way up to the bow stop.
  3. The lights and brakes (if equipped) are operational.
  4. You've complied with all local trailering regulations.
  5. You perform regular bearing and tire maintenance per manufacturers recommendations.
  6. You take corners wide.
  7. You leave lots of room to stop.
  8. You have an escape route in the event of an emergency.

Finding The Best Boat

Now that you know what size of boat you need, and if your tow vehicle is capable of pulling it, it's time to start looking at boats. Lots of boats! Only by reviewing a variety of different makes, models, and types, will you begin to sort out your preferences. But beware of the phenomenon known as "Dock Walker's Syndrome".

You can easily identify poor souls afflicted with this terrible disease. They can be found at virtually any marina or yacht club. They continuously walk up and down the docks, with an arm extended pointing at various boats, and can be overheard muttering things like, "The disadvantages of that make are...", or "The problem with that design is...". They normally conclude by pointing at some huge shiny fibreglass testiment to human engineering, and even spew flaws in that. Then they hop in their car and drive home, only to repeat the process  over and over again, never actually leaving the confines of terra firma.

The truth is, every boat consists of a number of design compromises, and there is no such thing as "The Best Boat", otherwise there would only be one make and one model. In reality, there are 1000's, designed and manufactured over the years to suit the needs and preferences of individual sailors.

So while it's a good idea, to check out many boats to get a feel for hulls shapes, rig and keel types, deck and accommodation layouts, instrumentation options, gear and owner modifications, after you've seen about 10 different models in you size and price range, you should be able to determine what your initial preferences are. I say "initial", because no matter what, as your sailing experience increases, your needs will change and your preferences will become more fine tuned.

In other words, there is no such thing as a "Best Boat" and even if there was, you wouldn't have the background to realize it when you found it. So the best advise is to define your "main needs", identify you "must haves", and then go shopping, seriously!

Asking Price Nonsense

If you're like me, you'll immediately run into a problem. Various boats, all seemingly similar, will have drastically different price tags. Our dreams before buying Serendipity were almost dashed when we lost confidence in our ability to understand whether an asking price was reasonable.  About to give up, for fear we'd unwittingly end up with an over-priced lemon, we met a racer that was in his 80's (and owned the fastest boat around).

He told me,

   "Lad, there are three prices for every sailboat":

  1. The price for which a boat lover will hand over the keys with a tear in his eye.
  2. The price a starry eyed owner needs to move up to the boat he now wants.
  3. The amount he'll take when he's giving up sailing, or after he's already bought another.

Suddenly it all made sense to me, "Sailboat asking prices don't make sense"!

So all I had to do, was evaluate the worth of a boat myself, offer what I believed fair, and if my offer was accepted, GREAT, and if it wasn't, that was also OK because there are too many boats for sale to pay too much for one, I'd  just find another from an owner that falls into category 3 above.

Used Sailboat Evaluation

When looking at various boats; owners, brokers, and manufacturers literature will be in various formats, and include different kinds of information. To simplify boat comparisons, it's important to compare apples to apples, so the first thing you should do is put all information in a common format. If the information isn't readily available, keep asking questions or searching the net, until you have everything you need to completely define what each boat is, and what it includes.

To download a handy inspection form,click Trailer Sailor Evaluation Form,  (8Kbyte .txt file), that you can print out and complete during vessel inspections for future reference and vessel comparison.

I once heard a trailer sailor declare: "Anything over $3000 (US$2000) for an 18 footer is too much, with so many boats out there."

Well, I've seen plenty of 16 footers worth much more, and 25 footers that weren't worth the gas it took to see them. But I will say,

"In today's used boat market, every buyer should be able to launch a bargain!

A great resource, for determining boat value is available from various yacht brokers on the internet. Calculate the average asking price for the year, make, and model of the vessel you are considering. Deduct 20% from the average asking price. Apply premiums and discounts as listed on the Trailer Sailor Evaluation Form, based on the vessel condition, sail inventory and condition, and gear included with the deal.

If you can buy it for anything less than the resultant amount calculated, you've launched a bargain. Don't be afraid to offer considerably less than the owner is asking. If they seem somewhat irritated, show them your figures, clippings from similar vessel advertisements that are similar in price, and explain the reason for any premiums or discounts applied. Sooner or later, you'll find a "Category 3" seller. 

A professional Marine Survey is recommended prior to purchase and sale conclusion.

Sailing4.wmf (3046 bytes) Return To Top of Page Sure hope you enjoyed, "Buying A Boat"