Buying a sailboat is the easy part to make your dream come true but to buy a sound boat is a different story! So let’s dive in. The first thing I do is to make (my beloved) lists: the must have items, the nice to have and one for what I don’t want.

To each their own so you can decide to narrow down your search for a fin keel boat over a full keel boat but to me what matters the most is to have a seaworthy boat or bluewater boat. Finding an actual definition of what a ‘bluewater’ boat is varies greatly.

What’s a bluewater boat

For me an offshore capable boat:

– Is built with solid hand-laid fiberglass (so it won’t sink/break when you run aground because if you haven’t yet eventually you will!) or is made of steel or aluminium.
– Has a moderate to heavy displacement to length ratio (D/L) (to have a compromise between speed and stability)
– Will turn upright if it were to capsize (bye bye catamarans!)

Boat length

You should decide on a boat length range with which you feel comfortable in terms of size , maneuverability and maintenance.

Count about 10 to 20% of your boat’s price for annual maintenance.
For the first year, you might need as much as 40% so you can refit the boat and add all these nice to have items.

Obviously, the bigger the boat, the more costly (that includes marina fees, dry dock where the prices are set per foot, bottom paint, rigging… and sometimes cruising permits!).

Cruising ground

Consider your cruising ground and what are your cruising plans. If
you would like to sail around the bay on week-ends and cruise around
the Bahamas, you won’t need the same boat as if you’re planning to cross the Atlantic.

For example, my list for my first boat included:
– A shallow draft (ideal for the Bahamas)
– A heavy displacement to length ratio (between 200 and 400)
– A length between 30 and 35 ft
– An engine in good shape
– A genoa/jib on a roller furler (not hank-on)
– All lines leading to the cockpit

For the next boat, I’ll prefer a bigger boat with more draft (steadier in stronger winds) and more items for long-range cruising (water-maker, water heater, better engine room access).
As you own or sail different boats, you will learn what you really like (and what you don’t need!)

List of Must have items

This list includes what can’t be modified or added easily (such as boat length, boat design, deck or keel-stepped mast, rig, draft…)

My list of must-haves for the new boat look like this:

  • Length: 42 to 47 ft
  • 1982 or newer (it’s more difficult to source parts for older boats and they might not be up to ABYC standards)
  • Sail plan: Cutter, ketch or sloop with solent stay
  • Gas stove + propane installation (vented locker, propane sniffer…)
  • Engine with less than 2,000 hours and/or that has been replaced with enough horsepower
  • Enough tankage (water and fuel) for long-range cruising

List of Nice to have Items


The nice to have aren’t deal breakers as most of them can be bought or fabricated and installed later on. This includes things I would really like to have but that can be added later on (roller furler, lines all leading to the cockpit, solar arch and solar panels, wind-generator, water-maker, fridge…)

My list of Nice to have items:

  • Standing rigging less than 5 years old (we’ll consider boats with older standing rigging but factor in the cost of replacement and negotiate the asking price accordingly)
  • Solar panels (kinda must-have but can be purchased and installed)
  • Safety items: life raft, EPIRB, Ditch bag…
  • Dinghy and outboard engine
  • SSB (to get weather reports)
  • Watermaker
  • Water heater
  • Up to date electronics
  • Outboard engine crane
  • Composting head

If you know you want something that’s not on the boat(s) you’re interested in, you should factor it in the price (think how much it will cost and try to negotiate the boat so you can have everything you like and stay within your budget).

Another option is to upgrade every year and add these nice to have items as you get the money. There is no such thing as a perfect boat and ANY boat will need monthly/yearly maintenance and repairs.

List of things I don’t want

In this list, I will have what I will be ‘stuck with’ and won’t be able to modify or remove (such as hull material, hull design, inside layout, centerboard…).

My list looks like this:

  • Gas engine (gas is more prone to fire than diesel)
  • Centerboard mechanism (we had one on our previous boat and having extra thru-hulls for the flexibility isn’t worth it to me)
  • Wooden boat (they look beautiful but, in my opinion, the maintenance is way too high!)



Educate yourself by reading books and websites (I love this website: Mahina and these books: ‘20 affordable sailboats that will take you anywhere‘ by Gregg Nestor, ‘The cruising life‘ by Jim Trefethen) or talk to fellow sailors and get to sail on different boat designs so you’ll get a feel for what you like best!

Here is a list of websites I use: (worldwide)
inautia (worldwide)
sailboatlisting (mainly US/Canada – owner)
– Craigslist in the For Sale > Boat section (US/Canada – owner) (France – owner)

Let your search begin

There is no one boat fits all so you should find out what you like before spending countless hours looking at all the boats on!

Tips: On, you can perform an advanced search with all your must-have items (including boat length, boat makes and models, age, hull material, price range, new/used) so you’ll have a list of boats targeted to your needs.

Now that you have a list of the boats you’re interested in, let’s look at the questions you should ask before even looking at a boat and the things I wish I knew when I bought my first boat!