So...you want to buy a yacht?

Dee Haitch
Posted September 23 2015

By far the most common reason for buying a yacht is to just have fun. Getting out in the fresh air, using different muscles with the movement of the boat, getting away from it all for a while, exploring little spots that are not accessible by road and even doing a bit of fishing. All admirable ideas. It is also one of the few things that you can still do today where you have freedom to do what you want and express your individuality. And all legally, as long as you keep within the safety regulations. Many yachties seem to take a pride in their individuality and customise their boats to suit their own particular desires.

One question that is often asked, particularly by those looking at upgrading from a runabout, is “How hard is it to learn to sail”. The simple answer is that it is not hard at all. Virtually anyone can learn to be a proficient social sailor in a very short time. That is not to say that you can expect to take off on a world cruise straight away or to win the Sydney Hobart next year. That is whole different category of sailing. If you don’t have an experienced sailing friend to teach you (probably the best way) there are good sailing courses available and of course plenty of books that can give you the basic skills which you can polish up as you go on. Even a wander around a local marina and a chat with boat owners there may net you the offer of help. You don’t need to expect to be an ‘expert’ the first time you go out.

The one thing you do want to avoid is buying something that is going to be a constant worry and that thinks that you have a bottomless pit for a pocket. That is a sure-fire way to be put off before you really even get properly started. A bit of understanding and planning right from the start can help overcome that problem and make your boating the enjoyable experience you were looking forward to.

There is no such animal as a maintenance-free boat. Whilst some are certainly less maintenance intensive than others, they all need to be looked after on a fairly disciplined basis.

Regular use of your boat is one of the best ways to keep it in shape. You tend to keep on top of little things that go wrong and fix the small jobs before they become big jobs. No matter that you may be shy of the experience needed to fix things maritime, there is no ‘magic’ in learning and there are enough books on the subject to satisfy virtually any situation that might arise. All you really need is the right attitude to begin with. Boating also tends to be quite a social activity - once you get past the tinnie stage - and most people are more than willing to pass on their knowledge to those who are just starting out and keen to learn.

Many people that enjoy yachting minimise their costs because they do much of the associated maintenance themselves. That is not to say that they don’t call on specialist help for some things, merely that they try and do as much as they can themselves or with the aid of friends and fellow yachties. A lot of boating involves socialising with similarly-minded people. The ’sundowners’ taken in some quiet little bay whilst rafted up with other boats are legendary and something that has to be experienced to be understood. This is usually when conversations turn towards the little things that always seem to ’need to be done’ and are stuck on the back-burner. You yourself might be good with engines but hopeless with electrics, whereas on the boat next to you the guy might be a sparky by trade, but doesn’t know how to bleed his fuel system. It is hardly rocket science to work out what is going to happen. Interaction like this greatly assists in keeping your boat maintained whilst minimising your cash expenditure.

There is an old, but very true, adage about boats that says, quite simply, use it or lose it. A yacht that is ‘worn out’ would be quite a rare thing indeed. Far more common is the boat that has been ignored for too long and left to deteriorate and eventually rot away. We have all heard the horror stories of those that bought a boat - often paying a goodly sum for it - and then complain that when they tried to sell it they found they had lost three-quarters of what they paid for it. Apart from cases where illness or circumstances beyond control have caused the neglect, the loss can usually be blamed squarely on the owner. Markets do fluctuate of course, but by and large, a second-hand yacht, bought at a realistic price and properly looked after, will hold its value very well. All too many people buy just for the sake of being able to say ‘I own a yacht’ or because it seemed a good idea at the time, and then just leave it to sit sadly on its mooring. If you don’t think you are going to have the time and the inclination to actually use your boat, then it is probably not worth your while to read on, because you are probably the sort of person that should not buy one in the first place!

Making your choice

You have decided that you want to go ahead and buy a yacht? No doubt you have looked into the type of use you want to put it to, the areas you want to cruise in and the number of berths you want it to have. Perhaps you have a friend with one and want to get the same type. Most likely, you will have a general idea of what you want but still have to narrow it down to the one that will finally be ‘it’.

Length alone is not the deciding factor. Two yachts of a like length can be very different when it comes to interior layout and space. Similarly, their sailing characteristics and abilities can be very different. Going to a bigger boat is not just a matter of it being longer. You have to also take into account that costs tend to rise - often disproportionately - as the length goes up.

Even something as simple as a marina berth can be a big cost difference between, say, a twenty-five footer and a thirty-five footer (despite them both occupying the same pen!).

Equipment gets larger - as do engines - and sails get heavier to lug around. And of course you need more paint - particularly for your annual antifouling job. Even slipway charges are based on length. For your first yacht, you may do well to choose something smaller assuming it can still do what you want it to. Gain some experience, get an idea of what the true costs of running your boat are - and how much you are able to learn to do yourself - and then upgrade to something a little bigger. Better to have a boat that you can operate successfully, even if not as roomy as you would like, than to have a boat that turns out to be so much of a handful that you get no enjoyment from it and it keeps you poor. An important thing to remember is that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ boat. Compromise is the name of the game. One popular misconception is that the bigger the boat, the more it is able to handle any bit of inclement weather you may come up against. Not so.

In the sort of vessels we are talking about as being someone’s first yacht, design is far more critical than size and again it comes down to what you actually want to do in the yacht. A 25 foot Top Hat is a genuinely ocean-capable yacht, despite it’s space limitations, whereas there are 35 footers that you wouldn’t want to take out of a sheltered bay. Generally however, it’s pretty safe to say that any well-found yacht will take a lot more weather than you would!

Having decided on roughly what you want, you will no doubt then start to scour the brokers, magazines and internet in order to find a boat of the right type and at a price you can afford.

Not as easy as it sounds. Unless you are looking for some really obscure marque of craft, you are going to find that you are swamped with choice. Some of them will be obvious rubbish right from the start, but there are still likely to be enough possibilities to keep you active for a while until you nail down your short list. Whilst most people are probably fairly honest, the seller will very likely have an inflated idea of what their boat is worth and a tendency to over-emphasise the attributes whilst playing down the faults. Human nature. This leaves you with the problem of sorting out fact from fiction. Not quite so straightforward, especially when half the property you are examining is under water - at least on the outside! First impressions are often a good guide. Does the boat look as though it’s well cared-for and, just as importantly, used? If the boat obviously hasn’t been used much then it is odds-on that it hasn’t been maintained much either. Does it have the obvious signs of belonging to someone? Personal odds and ends lying around, wet-weather gear in lockers, food in cupboards (take a look at the dates to get an idea of how long they might have been sitting there) and so on. Or does it have that sterile ‘I’ve just been cleaned up to sell’ look about it?

Obviously, the primary consideration is whether the boat has the basic attributes you are looking for in terms of space and ability. If it doesn’t, then you are unlikely to proceed any further. If it does, then you are going to want to poke and prod a bit more deeply in order to find out if it is really what you want or if it is likely to just be a liability—no matter how pretty it might look. Don’t be rushed. If the owner makes it obvious that he is pushed for time and isn’t really too happy at you making a thorough inspection, then there might just be a very good reason for it. You would be better served by calling off the inspection there and then and suggesting that you would be willing to come back when he has more time - and see what the reaction is. In the same way, don’t be pushed by the suggestion that you are going to have to make your mind up quickly because there is someone else coming to look at the boat the next day or whenever. Better to suggest that you will give the owner a call after the other person has seen the boat and, if it is still available, arrange a convenient time to do a proper inspection. Buying a boat is, for most people, a serious business and opens the door to something you are going to have to live with for a long time. Take all the time you need and if you miss out on one you can be pretty sure that there will be another one just down the track. Never let yourself be pushed into hasty decisions.

As an aside here, it is worth considering the pros and cons of whether to buy privately or through a broker. There are for and against for both and price is certainly not the only, or even the main, consideration. Almost without exception a yacht owner will have an inflated opinion as to what his yacht is worth. You’ll sometimes hear the comment “Ah well, it owes me xxxxx”. How can it? If you think about it, that would have to be one of the most ridiculous statements ever and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what a yacht is worth. Right now it is very much a buyer’s market and, unfortunately for sellers at the moment, that is the governing factor. Many people will suggest that your initial offer might be down around 65% of the asking price - and then be prepared to haggle up to 75% or 80%. Don’t be afraid of insulting the seller; it is not an insult it is just plain business and he will be aware of that. The worst that can happen is that he just gives you a flat “No way”, in which case you just go and look at the next prospect on your list. Don’t be too surprised if you get a call from him a few days later though, saying something like “Are you still interested in my boat?”. It happens. A lot!

Buying privately, you probably meet the owner directly and can, perhaps, form your own opinion as to his (or her) veracity. Chances are, if he is genuine, he will be willing to give you some background on the boat as well and even tell you what the ‘warts’ are. Remarkably, many yachties tend to be quite honest about their vessel - even if slightly starry-eyed. Any yacht that is genuinely used - especially with a bit of age on it - is always a work in progress and never totally finished. This is not detrimental; it just means that the owner is probably doing the right thing so far as on-going maintenance is concerned and that you, if you buy it, will have plenty to keep you from getting bored! If you get told that everything is perfect, be wary, because that is highly unlikely. Always take the trouble to do a REVS check. You wouldn’t be the first to buy a boat from a really nice seller and then find out that it is actually owned by a finance organisation.

Buying through a broker does not always mean that you are going to pay more for the boat. It is still your choice as to what you might offer to pay for the boat and a reputable broker has a duty to pass that offer on to the owner - however far below the asking price it might be. A broker can take a lot of the hassle out of the deal. Not only are you likely to be able to see more craft in one location, but a good broker will probably turn out to be a wealth of information for you. In many cases there will be no objection to introducing you to the owner, although it must be remembered that some sellers use a broker purely because they don’t want the bother of showing the boat themselves. A broker will handle all the paperwork for you and, if the boat is under finance, make sure that the debt is cleared before the seller gets the money. He will be able to assist with finding a slipway for inspection, introduce you to a range of possible surveyors in the area, maybe give you some pointers on insurance cover and probably be able to organise a temporary mooring for you until you are ready to take your new boat home. If you are a total novice, he may well be able to give you some basic instruction and even arrange to give you a hand to take your boat home when you are ready.

But never forget; the broker works for the seller - not for you. Whatever he might do for you, over and above selling you the boat, is purely an optional service, done in the hope that you will happily go back home and tell your friends about the great service you got from that particular brokerage office. It’s a business after all!

Remember, you are buying a second-hand boat at a second-hand price. If you look for perfection you are going to be sadly disappointed. Expect that there are going to be things that you have to get put right and also expect that there will be things that you are going to want to change to suit your own needs. Boats are very personal things and will usually reflect the whims of the current owner.

When you find the yacht you think could be ‘the’ one, then you will need to start to look a little more deeply into what you are considering buying. Slipping at this stage is a waste of money. Far better to get that bit closer to deciding that this could be ‘the’ boat first.

3 people found this helpful. Do you?Thank Dee Haitch

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