Now that you’ve a list of boats you’re interested in, it’s time to ask some questions to make sure these are worth visiting and you’re not wasting your time. Most times, a lot of information is missing from the boat listing but just by contacting the broker/owner you’ll get some answers that might make you pass on or really really want to see a boat.
Things you should ask before making plan to see a boat
- If not specified: How many hours does the engine have? Has it been rebuilt? If so, when and what was replaced (bearings, seals…)?
- If it’s not specified: What’s the engine horsepower?
- For long range cruising: what’s the fuel tank capacity (how much range do you have?)
- How old is the standing rigging?
- What safety equipment comes with the boat?
- For extending cruising: Is the liferaft certified? If so, is it a coastal or offshore one?
- Is everything working on the boat (electronics, auto-pilot, pumps, head, windlass, fridge, freezer, water-maker, radar…)?
- Why is the owner selling?
- How long has this boat been on the market?
- Ask for more pictures (for example if there are none of the engine, bilge, electronics…)
For reference, an engine needs to be rebuilt on average every 5,000 hours. If well maintained, this number can be as high as 8,000. Ask for a maintenance log from the owner to have an idea of the maintenance schedule and how well it has been cared for (professionally or not).
Nowadays, the cost of replacing an engine might be close to rebuilding it (~10k for a 30 footer).
In term of engine power, a good rule of thumb is you should have at least 3 horsepower/ton, which I found sufficient to get in and out of inlets or ports but I would suggest 5 horsepower/ton for long-range cruising.
For example, a boat with a 13,000 lbs displacement (or 5.9 tons), an engine with 18 to 30 horsepower would be acceptable. Anything less than 18 horsepower probably won’t be enough to move your boat around safely.
To calculate the range of the boat, you do:
range = fuel capacity (gal) / consumption (gal/h) * boat speed (kn)
So for a 20 gallons tank and an average speed of 5 knots and a consumption of 0.5 gal/h, you range is 200 NM.
If the standing rigging is over 7 years old, I would consider replacing it (unless inspected) specially in humid, salty environment (such as Florida, Caribbean…).
Safety equipment costs a lot to add but doesn’t really add any value (price-wise) to the boat so the more is included the better the deal!
Safety equipment includes: automatic bilge pump(s), manual bilge pump, VHF radio, portable VHF, fire extinguishers, propane sniffer, carbon monoxide detector, lifesling, emergency tiller, up-to-date flares…
For reference, re-certifying a liferaft costs about $600-$1500 and it should be done every 3 years. If you plan on sailing 25 to 50NM offshore in warm waters, a coastal liferaft is fine but if you plan to venture further away, then you should consider an offshore liferaft. Fore more info about liferafts, I find this article interesting.
If some of the pumps, head, freezer, windlass, winches don’t work, this can be brought up during negotiation. If a lot of the equipment isn’t operational, I would suspect that the entire electrical system might have to be replaced so you might want to pass on this boat.
Knowing why a boat is on the market might indicate that the seller is really motivated and wants to sell quickly so you might be able to get a good deal.
Keep in mind that if the boat had been for sale for a long time, it probably hasn’t been maintained since it first was on the market, but if the boat needs to be cleaned up and some TLC, that could be a bargain.
If you’re planning on living aboard your vessel, I would recommend to look for a boat where people lived aboard so that it will already have the safety equipment (bilge pumps, flares, fire extinguishers…), cooking, drinking water and head situation set up and working.
The boat should also come with a lot of tools, manuals, cruising guides, maps, spare parts and adequate electronics and safety equipment (such as liferaft, EPIRB, AIS…).
And usually these boats, even though sailed more, are maintained and cared for as they were someone’s home.
Newer fiberglass boat have a thin layer of fiberglass sprayed which is way less resistant than a boat with fiberglass hand-layed as the fiberglass thickness is less. The old boat were overbuilt and heavy using a lot of fiberglass material (till the 80s) but it feel like some boats now are really on the lighter side and I would feel comfortable for coastal sailing but not long-range cruising.
What we didn’t do and wished we had
Hire a good surveyor (because we didn’t know better and he should have)
We were in a rush and just pick the same surveyor as the seller because he was available quickly. I think he did an okay inspection but overlooked some major issues (some of the sea-cocks were sealed with a cork which…. isn’t great, the propane bottles were past their expiry date…).
I would advise to find an accredited surveyor with a good reputation (otherwise your insurance company will probably ask for another survey). You can find a list of certified surveyor in the US here: list of accredited surveyors in the US.
If you’re interested in a specific make, you might also want to find a surveyor that is specialized in this make so he/she’ll know exactly what to inspect.
Usually, a survey cost about $20/ft so count ~$700 for a 35 footer (+ cost of hauling-out). It might take up to a month to get a surveyor to look at your (future) boat so be patient!
Get your standing rigging checked
We were cheap, trying to stick to our budget, and decided not to go with the expense of getting our standing rigging surveyed. But, year 2, we inspected the rigging ourselves and it was clear that 2 fittings were cracked.
Were these damaged when we initially bought the boat or something happened when it was stored for hurricane season? We’ll never know. What we do know if that the cost to replace the rigging was $4,500 (crane and installation included) and an inspection only ~ $1,000 (for a 35 footer)?
A note about boat brokers
Know that if your budget is less than $30,000, a boat broker might ask for a 5% commission (usually buyer and seller’s brokers split but for $30,000 there isn’t enough money for them to be interested, at least in Florida).
So when I’m looking at boat I include boats with asking prices 30% higher than my budget (thinking they can be negotiated up to 30%).
So for a $30,000 boat, I’ll be looking at asking price of $39,0000.
Free boat and project boat
This one is up to you but know that there is no such thing as a free boat. A good used boat is a boat that has been meticulously maintained. The best the boat is maintained, the higher the price.
We’ve met people in boatyards who spend years refitting boats. It’s a nice project but don’t expect to be sailing soon! Also, the cost of refitting a boat can be fairly high, depending on how much work it needs.
I’m not trying to discourage anybody. Some people buy hurricane damage boats and fix them up and get a good boat for a lesser price but be aware that it will take a lot of your time, energy and money!
A boat is worth what people are willing to pay for. We sold our boat which was now in great shape for half the price we paid for! But because of the location and our eagerness to sell, we let her go!