Catamaran on beach

How to buy a boat

8 ways to get your dream boat sooner

You’re in the market for the perfect boat.

You’re scrolling through online sites, you’ve got boat brokers searching too, and you’ve advertised your wish list on sailing forums, hoping to get the leap on boats yet to hit the market.

Weekends are spent hanging around marinas and boat yards, and even if you haven’t quite nailed down what you really want, you’ve ruled out plenty that you don’t.  

Finding that dream boat – the one that’s perfect for you – is undeniably hard work.

The more boats you consider, the more your goal posts change but getting a great boat, at a price that suits your budget, all comes down to a skilful search. 

Having bought (and sold) five sailboats now – two monohulls and three catamarans – and having inspected hundreds of boats in the process, I’ve learnt a lot about how to connect with the boat you want, faster. 

Here are my top tips for buying a sailboat. 

Know what you want

This is actually much harder to work out than you think, but before you get bogged down in steel vs. fibreglass, consider and set some loose parameters. 

Monohull vs. multihull 

Each style has its advantages: monos are generally far more affordable and can sail much closer to the wind, while catamarans have voluminous interiors and shallower drafts but command higher prices.

Lots of things will affect your decision, but it’s a good idea to choose your preference before you start your search. 

Boat size

Consider from the outset how much boat you can handle. There’s a sweet spot for every buyer that takes into consideration how well a boat sails (and the comfort she provides) in the kinds of conditions you want to tackle; how many crew you intend to sail with and accommodate; and the amount of boat you can realistically afford to maintain.

Annual boat maintenance is often costed at 10% of a boat’s value, but the actual cost depends a lot on what proportion of that maintenance you are skilled enough to tackle yourself (be realistic), and the condition of your boat at the time of purchase. 

Project vs. sea-ready

People get very excited about project boats (and their low, low price tags), unless, of course, you’ve previously bought one and endured the expensive, time consuming saga of perfecting an old boat’s faults.

Some sailors spend years fixing up their project boat while other mates are off sailing on theirs.

Consider carefully before throwing money at a project boat if you really have the time, energy, money and mental strength to take one on.

If time is on your side and you consider yourself to be a jack-of-all-trades, happy to take apart an engine, rewire the electrics, sort out the plumping, paint, varnish, and do all the thousands of tiny, invisible jobs that few tradespeople will want to waste their time on, a project boat can teach you a lot about boats.

But it will cost you your time and money. From experience, paying more at the outset to get a boat that’s seaworthy and ready to go, usually costs far less in the long run. 

Know what you can afford to pay, but look at dream boats too  

We all set out with a budget in mind, but that figure can lock you in to a category of boats that excludes some that may really be for you.

Always search the price category above your budget, and don’t be scared to make offers that are 10-20% lower than what a seller is asking.

As sellers, boaties are notoriously optimistic people who fall in love with their boats and often value them much higher than is realistic in the marketplace. 

Get over the trepidation that a lower than expected offer will insult a seller.

Be polite, be confident and be ready to negotiate if you believe the boat is the one.

Here’s another reason you should look beyond your budget: often, when a boat is overpriced, other buyers in the market will dismiss it as poor value.

This is good news for you because when no-one is showing interest in a boat, your lower offer may just jag you the boat. 

Be more patient than your seller

Sellers will often tell you that they’re in no hurry to sell…..(yet).

They might tell you they don’t really want to sell, and they are happy to wait for the right price (wrong).

No one puts a boat on the market unless they want it gone, and even the most patient seller will eventually reach the point where marina or boat yard fees begin to add up, insurance is due, maintenance is required and their beloved boat is costing them money.

When a seller is finally ready to move on, they become far more negotiable, but timing is everything.  

If you’ve found the right boat and are prepared to wait it out, time and patience can give you great leverage when making a deal.

You risk losing the sale to someone else with a lowball offer, but patience worked wonders when we bought our fifth boat Wild One.

The boat was listed online but in an optimistic price category where it was outgunned by far newer, bigger catamarans.

We put in an offer that was rejected outright, but kept in touch with the seller.

Nine months and two offers later, the seller had finally reached the point where he wanted out. We got our boat at a much-reduced price. 

Look beyond your sailing grounds

Sometimes you get lucky and the perfect boat sails into your harbour.

That happened to us with boat #4, bought from a desperate seller keen on quick cash and a clean break.

Other times your perfect boat will lie waiting in some distant, remote or foreign harbour, abandoned when someone’s dreams changed direction or their money ran out.

It’s very convenient to buy close to home, especially when a boat needs work before it launches.

But there are big advantages to buying in a remote location, especially if you are flexible with work and family life, and the boat in question doesn’t need a lot of work.

Thanks to the lack of ‘walk-by’ traffic, these boats may be priced to sell.

Fewer potential buyers results in better negotiating power for anyone who goes the extra mile and flies in to inspect.

Before you book your flights, request plenty of recent photos and grill the owner about the boat’s condition.

We’ve twice had sellers email us decades-old photos (from when they first bought the boat), and then arrived from interstate to find the boat suddenly and drastically aged!

When looking at this kind of scenario, factor into your costs what the boat might need to be readied for sea, possibly in a place without chandleries aplenty, and the amount of time and crew required to sail it back to your home port. 

Consider an offshore buy

To most buyers, a boat located on foreign shores might seem like a bureaucratic, organisational nightmare.

Given this, the sale price of boats left in foreign ports can be extremely negotiable.

But there are other reasons you might consider jumping on a plane to go find your dream boat.

Offshore-ready sailboats are often waiting for you in the kind of destinations people endure long passages to reach.

They generally also come with hundreds of features that many locally-cruised boats don’t, so you can get a lot of bang for your buck.

If the owners have cruised the boat extensively and made long, remote passages, you can expect that all the systems (from sails to navigation) will have been tweaked and perfected, and maintained well to work simply and seamlessly. 

You can also expect to find on board premium safety gear, along with just about everything required for a remote, continuous liveaboard life: a watermaker, an extensive off-grid power system of solar panels and/or wind generators, a large (possibly lithium) battery bank, extra fridge-freezers for all the fish you catch, a washing machine, air conditioning and much more.

Basically, all the boat gear you’d normally get, on steroids. 

The main downside to tackling this kind of purchase is the customs duty you can expect to pay when you eventually return to your home port. Research the approximate cost and factor this into the sale price. 

Get on the same page as your co-buyer

If you are buying a boat with a partner, friend or for your family to cruise on, consult and consider input from everyone sharing the dream.

There are a lot of sailboat features that make the magic of liveaboard life work, so don’t get too hung up on boat speed and sail area at the expense of beds and benefits for a happy crew.

Keen to learn more and support future articles from us?

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