how we buy boats
Updated: Jan 12, 2019
I have felt fairly ranty recently about boat buying and price ranges for boats, so keep that in mind when reading this blog post, it is definitely pushing an agenda. That agenda being; go soon, go with a cheap boat (no cheap is not $40,000), and keep your safety net at home.
We arrived in Florida with the intention of buying a sailboat between $10,000- $15,000, and this price included all the repairs that would inevitably have to take place with a cheap boat. I was, at first, stunned when sailor after sailor we told had said we were crazy, "we'd never find a boat that cheap." If I hadn't have done it on 4 other occasions, I would have believed them! And yet here I sit, in my 34 foot, very seaworthy, non "project" sailboat. It got me to thinking, I bet nay-sayers like that, deter a lot of people! Not only that, but large YouTube channels show cheap boats starting at $40,000 and skyrocketing upward from there. I decided to get on my smaller platform and declare for those "cheap kids," it can be done!! I think to prove this you first need to know our credentials and then our method.
- 1st Boat: $6,000 Irwin Citation: lacking electronics, but turn key ready despite that
- 2nd Boat: $16,500 Bruce Roberts Spray: terrible engine, but it worked and the boat was a blue water goddess! Steel.
- 3rd Boat: $3,000 Westerly Windrush: Was basically a shell, we spent $6,000 getting her ready to cross the Gulf Stream.
- 4th Boat: $24,000 Searunner Trimaran: Had a hole in her, so we put, about $7,000 into her. By far our most expensive boat that taught us a lot!
- 5th Boat: $13,000 Tartan 34c: newer Beta Marine engine, interior in great condition, we'll put $4,000 into her to get her up to a safe cruising standard
Now that you know our credentials, here is our method:
1. Don't Sell EVERYTHING!!: I know a lot of blogs, YouTube channels and wonderlusters in general would tell you, "We just sold everything and hit the seas," but upon further questioning they have a property they rent out for passive income, a 10' x 20' storage unit holding their kayaks at home, etc. The truth of it is, you will probably go back to land life, at least in some form, and if not, well, you can always sell that stuff later, but it sure is nice to have that safety net. Sell things you wont need on the boat or in land life for extra cash, but keep the essentials.
2. Incorporate Repairs into your budget: Keep your budget low and make sure you are incorporating all the upgrades or repairs you will need to do to the boat. It may be a $11,000 boat, but need $10,000 worth of work. That would put you over your budget. Keep that in mind when looking it over and be realistic about the cost of the repairs and time frame to do it. An extra month in the boat yard could put you over budget by $1,000 just in Marina/Boat Yard fees.
3. Buy a boat you can fix yourself: It is always cheaper to fix a boat yourself so when assessing projects try and get a boat that you can do the repairs. Things like headliners, top deck paint, or interior paint are aesthetic, and you could easily do them on your own. Pulling the mast for any reason, that's a different story.
4. Buy good bones: Buy a boat that has a solid hull, upgraded rigging, newer sails/ canvas, newer or rebuilt motor; the heavy hitters, as it were. If the boat has good bones, things like interior cushions or electronics can be upgraded and serviced more easily and more affordably. If you buy a boat with bad bones, it will cause you a lot of headaches, and money, down the road.
5. Look for Tell-Tales: We have learned this lesson after making the mistake a number of times. We buy a boat and start sifting through things and say, "I wonder why there is Bondo onboard?" Bondo shouldn't really be used on fiberglass, but if it is onboard, that means something. Look for these small little indications of larger problems.
6. KISS (Keep it Simple Sailor): We look for everything to be manual on the boat. Manual water pumps, no water heater, no refrigeration, etc. These items just break and cost money to fix or fly in parts to foreign countries, so we choose to just go without. It's so much easier and can save a lot of money. It also saves time in the yard when trying to configure the wiring to make all the systems talk to one another or get them to work with your battery bank.
7. Have a Solid Time Frame and Deadline: Time is money in a boat yard and marina. Yards often charge daily for working on your boat and do not allow outside contractors. Make sure you have a realistic time frame and then double it. Believe me, it will double!
8. Weigh getting a survey: This is probably the most controversial of the tips we have. In the price range we are talking a survey can be 10%-15% of the boat price. You may be able to make that up in negotiating their findings with the previous owners, but that's not guaranteed. Also, unless you have been recommended a surveyor, not all of them are wonderful and thorough. We have had an excellent surveyor and a terrible one. Also, never get a survey that is recommended by your broker, if using one. Find your own that has your best interest at heart. We have not used a survey in cases where we were so below budget on the cost of the boat, we had enough slush to pay for any surprises that we didn't see in our own survey. We also didn't use one when it was a negotiating tactic. The previous owner wanted to fly out of country in 2 days and we knew he would take a lower price if we just offered him cash on the spot. We have also not gotten a survey because there wasn't a good surveyor in the area (Guatemala.) I will also add here, there were times we did not get a survey and got bit by a more extensive repair job. Luckily we had the money, but it could have been bad.
9. Research the models: If you're looking at a fiberglass boat that was manufactured in the mid 70's to early 80's, for example, they are more prone to blisters. Its good to know things like that for your inspection. Get on Facebook and join the owners page for the boat's make and ask for things you should look for. Usually owners are extremely helpful and will let you know what to look out for and what will cost an arm and a leg to fix, if it hasn't been already.
10. Make an offer, make it low: We have sold most of our boats quickly, however one sat on the market for 6 months! That may seem like a long time, but even that is nothing compared to some of the listed boats out there. For us, at the 2 month mark, we hadn't even gotten an offer and we would've killed for one. Don't be afraid to make a very low offer. Sometimes people just want a boat gone, want to stop paying storage fees, or could use the cash. Don't start out by apologizing for the low offer, just simply say, "This is our budgeted number, it's what we can afford when taking into account the repairs and upgrades we will need to do, so if that is something you're open to, let us know."
11. Buy when you have no money!: OK, well not exactly "no money," but my point is go now. Our first season we left Alaska with $12,000. Bought Lorax for $6,000 and came back with $2,000 hungry for work. It was one of the best seasons we have ever had and I am so glad we didn't wait until we had more money. Living simply and budgeting while underway made us better sailors, cruisers, and repairmen. I can't recommend enough going now, rather than waiting for "someday".....within reason, of course.
I hope these tips were helpful. Please take what you need and leave the rest that you feel don't apply to you, as every person, boat, and cruising dream is different. I suppose my goal is just to tell you all the mistakes we made, so hopefully you can avoid them. Happy hunting!