5 Boat Buying Mistakes We Didn’t Avoid (Top Tips for Buying Your First Boat)
Buying your first boat is a crazy, terrifying, exciting, frustrating and above all, expensive business. Buying a used sailing boat is even worse. There are so many traps to fall into, so many untruths to uncover, so many complicated procedures to follow. We’ve just about managed to stumble our way through to boat ownership. It’s the first step in our plan to sail around the world with our kids, and it has been an exhausting process. Looking back, we’ve made lots of boat buying mistakes, but here are the details of the biggest ones. Hopefully you can avoid making the same ones by following our top tips.
These are our five top tips for buying a sailing boat. They may seem obvious right now, but wait till you’re out there in the thick of it.
1. Patience is a necessity, not a virtue
We first started looking around boats in November last year. And finally, in July, we’ve managed to get aboard our own boat. This is short! It can take a lot longer than eight months.
If you’re working to a budget and are buying from the used market, things take time. A lot of time. We’ve had eight months of evenings and weekends spent in boat yards, talking to brokers and clambering aboard boats that just weren’t right. We’re incredibly lucky living on the south coast of England, as we’ve had access to a nearly infinite supply of used boats to view. I honestly thought that we would see the deal wrapped up well before Easter so that we could have the whole of this sailing season learning to sail.
You might get lucky and fall in love with the first boat that you see, but you need to prepare yourself for a bit of an epic journey. It’s going to take a lot longer than you expect. Even when you find the right boat for you, the process of negotiating a price, having a survey, renegotiating the price, getting work done etc. is going to take a whole lot longer than you think.
We were super keen to be sailing by Easter, and this just puts a whole bunch of unnecessary angst and stress into the process. It leads to you making bad decisions or becoming irrational. If you want to be on board in six months, plan for it to to take twelve months…. which leads us to…
2. There’s no such thing as the perfect boat
Everything about owning a boat is a compromise. A lot of what you want is impossible to get. We were looking for a solid hull that could get us around the world, reasonably new, with three cabins, a centre cockpit and a bright, airy saloon. It had to feel bigger on the inside that it was on the outside, and it had to be pretty much setup and ready to go because we were working to a tight schedule (see point 1).
After several months of research it seems that within our price range you can either get an old, solid and small blue water cruiser. Or something new, ex-charter and set up for coastal waters. There’s an infinite variation, but there’s no way you’re going to find something that ticks all of the boxes.
We put an offer in for a lovely Hunter Legend. It was way outside our budget, and missed the blue water cruiser box, and didn’t have enough room for the kids, but it was setup and ready to go, and we were getting a touch desperate. Luckily for us, that sale fell through. It wasn’t right for us. But it did force us to prioritise the boxes and work out which things we absolutely had to have.
For more on buying your own floating compromise, read ‘Buying a Boat – An idiot’s guide to choosing a family sailboat‘.
Once we found our “close enough to perfect” boat, we walked straight into the next bear trap.
3. It’s business, not sport
No matter how much money you negotiate off the price, it won’t be enough. There’s a reason the boat is for sale and, at the end of the day, this is a business transaction. Unless you’re buying from a friend and you know the history of the boat, keep your eyes open and leave the romance of boat ownership for later.
We met the owners of the boat we bought. They were a really lovely couple. But with hindsight, they were clearly selling to us and definitely weren’t altogether honest. We fell for the sales pitch. A month into owning the boat, and discovering a new issue every time we go aboard, it’s starting to feel like we’ve fallen for the used car “one careful lady owner, only drove to church on a Sunday” sales pitch.
So, keep your wits about you, listen to your heart but pay attention to your head.
Which brings us to the next point…
4. Don’t be shy, ask all the questions – especially the dumb ones
Don’t just ask why the boat is for sale, find out how much sailing it has done in the past five years. Where has the owner taken it? How much maintenance has she had (the boat, not the owner)? Trust nothing and nobody. Ask to see everything for yourself.
We were completely suckered into believing that the sails weren’t rigged because they’d just been serviced. Not insisting on seeing the sails working was definitely one of those boat buying mistakes. Quite a big one, in fact.
Surely the first thing to check on a sailing boat would be the sails, right? Hmmm. We probably should have been suspicious that the owner didn’t seem overly keen to hoist the mainsail. The headsail and the staysail weren’t even attached. They had just been laundered, he said. They were all tied up neatly, ready to go, he said. He didn’t mention that the staysail had been condemned over a year ago and that the headsail was the same colour as a student’s shower curtain. The mainsail looks alright though. And the mainsail cover, possibly the only item on the boat purchased since 2002, is a thing of beauty. Still feel like a bit of an idiot though.
We also found a lot of the language completely baffling and a huge barrier when talking to owners, brokers, surveyors and boat yards. If you can’t remember the difference between a staysail and yankee, or a halyard and a sheet, don’t make the mistake of not asking. Who cares if you sound like an amateur? Ask!
If you’re like us and don’t know enough to make an educated assessment of a boat, find someone who is. Take them along with you.
Which takes us neatly to the last lesson…
5. Make friends with everyone, but not the vendor
There are so many horror stories out there about dodgy, dishonest yacht brokers that we went into this process with the same levels of suspicion that you’d treat a used car salesman. Perhaps we’ve been lucky but every broker we have dealt with has been helpful, full of information and eager to educate us on all things about boats and sailing. It may help that we clearly had no idea what we were doing at the beginning. Perhaps a different approach might have had a less positive experience. Who knows? But I think that generally in life and relationships, you get out what you put in. So, go on. Be nice.
Yacht brokers are full of knowledge and top tips to help you buy your perfect boat. Make friends and make the most of their experience. You might even like them.
Once we found “our boat”, and armed with the positive experience of dealing with several different brokers, we pretty much threw ourselves on the mercy of the salesman and boat yard manager in Ipswich. And the experience was simply brilliant. Even though Robert The Broker was working for the vendor, he understood the market. He was much more realistic about what the boat was worth than the vendor was. Both Robert The Broker and Ralph The Boatyard Manager gave us tons of advice that has proved invaluable in the negotiations and subsequent early weeks of boat ownership.
That helpfulness has extended to everyone that we’ve met so far. There’s a huge sense of community amongst fellow boat owners. Everyone has time for a chat and gladly offers their time and help. Make the most of this. Take a stroll around the marina. Chat to people.
Get an idea of how often the boat you’re thinking of buying actually goes sailing. How much work gets done? Boats need constant upkeep. A boat that isn’t being constantly maintained is a boat that’s slowly degrading. How much time does the owner spend onboard? Compare “your boat” to those around it. Is the marina full of well loved boats, or are you sharing space with flotilla that’s heading for the breakers yard?
All this information is essential intelligence to get a better picture of what you’re buying. Not asking silly questions is definitely a mistake.
Never forget that the owner is ultimately a trying to sell his boat as quickly as possible for as much money as possible. The owner is probably a very lovely person. But if you meet him, remember everything he says, and then independently verify it. We didn’t, and have rewarded ourselves with a £1500 bill for a new staysail.
We made the boat buying mistakes, so you don’t have to!
And there you have it. We love our boat, and the more time we spend onboard, the more she’s becoming an essential member of the family. If we had to do it all again, I think that we’d still buy an Oyster 435. We’d more than likely end up with Grey Girl again. We might just get there a bit quicker, and with a better idea of what we were actually buying.
How about you? People buy boats all of the time, and I’m sure that there are way more man-traps that newbies need to be aware of. What would you do differently if you were to be shopping for your first boat all over again?
These are just some of the many, many boat buying mistakes we made. Hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes…. I bet you will though!