Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How to Look for a Boat

We all have romantic visions of boating- sailing off into the sunset, speeding along the coast in an offshore racer, catching the “big one” from the deck of the perfect fishing boat, or whiling away the afternoon in a row boat out on the pond. At the boat show there seem to be plenty of perfect boats. The question is how to go about choosing the right boat for you.
Normally, the most straightforward way to begin searching for a boat is through a process of elimination. The goal is to get a rough profile of the kind of boat you are looking for so you can search more effectively.
Let’s say you want a boat to sail to Hawaii and back with your family and a couple of friends. You don’t have a large budget, or much time to spend on maintenance. A sample profile might look like this:

Type: Sailboat
Subtype: Cruiser
Length: 35-45ft
Price: 50,000-75,000
Year: 1980-2000
Engine(s): 1
Fuel: Diesel
Hull construction: Fiberglass
Additional features: center cockpit, sloop rig, 6+berths, large galley, aft cabin.

Not all of the variables need to be filled in (i.e. number of engines and fuel type for a sailboat) and you might add some different ones of your own.

The first variable to consider is whether you want a sailboat or a power boat. How much time you are willing to spend in transit, the extent to which you want to have to take the weather into account, the budget for fuel, and whether you are more interested in the journey or the destination will affect this choice.

Next is the subtype. What do you intend to use the boat for? Will you be spending the night on board? How long will you be as sea? The body of water you intend to use it on has a profound effect on which boats will work for you. If you are planning on using a boat on the open sea don’t buy a boat designed to only be used on the flat water of a lake.

The length of the boat is a more complicated decision. Factors to be taken in to consideration are storage, budget, and intended use. Will you be trailering the boat or storing it in the water? Marinas and boatyards charge by the foot for slips, haul-out service, and dry storage. Often, the price per foot also increases with the length of boat. Routine maintenance costs such as bottom cleaning, painting, etc., are also calculated by the foot. Generally speaking, a longer boat is more comfortable and less maneuverable than a shorter boat.

Do you want a new boat or would a used boat fill the bill?

Price is another area that can be deceptive. Not only must the initial purchase price be considered, but also the cost of outfitting, and, in the case of a used boat, repair. Obviously a new boat doesn’t require any repair, but the cost of outfitting (electronics, safety equipment, additional appliances, tender, etc.) can be very high, especially on a larger boat. This is one place that a used boat in good condition can be a better value- often some or all of the extra equipment and gear is included in the price.

Age of a boat is mostly a matter of personal preference. Everything on a boat deteriorates with age, especially if it is not well maintained. Bright work, sails, running rigging and bottom paint are often the first things to go, followed by the gel coat and engine. Older boats do have certain advantages, though. They often have more and better-quality woodwork, stronger (though heavier) hulls and “saltier” lines. New boats are often better if performance it the goal. Making use of the latest technologies and high performance materials, they are usually faster, lighter, and sleeker than their older counterparts.

Number and type of engines is generally set by the intended use. The first choice is between outboard and inboard engines. Twin engines provide extra power and an added level of safety if one engine fails, and are more common on offshore powerboats. Sailboats usually have single engines, which allow more living space and are lighter. Gas engines are lighter for the same horsepower, but gasoline comes with the risk of explosion and will burn easily in liquid form. Diesel engines are much heavier than gas engines, but tend to be more durable and the fuel is safer. Electric boats have recently become more common, but are mostly used as harbor cruisers due to their shorter range.

Finally we come to hull construction. Fiberglass is the most common and generally agreed to be the best all-around material. It is low maintenance, inexpensive, durable. Other materials have their place but are normally used for specific applications, i.e. steel for arctic cruising and very large vessels, aluminum and carbon fiber for racing, and wood for classic or historical designs. Ferro-cement hulls, which consist of cement reinforced with rebar and chicken wire, should be avoided unless one is very knowledgeable about their construction and maintenance.

Many yacht brokers use an abbreviated form of this type of profile on their websites. A boat that would fit the profile above might look like this:

40’ HUNTER 1999 US$64,000 S U S D FG San Francisco

The length is first followed by the make and/or model, then the year it was built and the price in US dollars. The next set of letters is a code:
The first letter stands for the type of vessel: S (Sail) or P (Power)
The next letter is the condition of the vessel: N (New) or U (used)
Then number of engines: S (Single) or T (Twin)
Then fuel type: G (gasoline) or D (diesel)
Finally the hull construction: W (Wood), ST (Steel), AL (Aluminum), FG (Fiberglass), CP (Composite), or FC (Ferro-Cement).
Finally, the location of the boat is listed (sometimes the location of the brokerage is used instead).

Once you have the basic profile of the boat you are looking for it is time to determine what additional features you need. For example, if you need berths for 6 then there is no need to look at a boat that only sleeps 2. If you’re planning to do a lot of cooking on board, a stove with an oven, and a lager sink will be necessary. The more specific you are about what features you need, the less time will be wasted on boats that won’t work out. This is the time to go to boat shows and look online at as many different boats as possible to get a feeling for what features and design elements you want.

Some sites that are helpful in researching boats are: over 150,000 boats to search.
Yachtworld: one of the leading international sites for all types of yachts.
Apolloduck: has every type of vessel from all over the world.
Sailboatlistings: just what the name implies.

Once you have decided on the type of boat you want and the features it should have you are ready to set about actually acquiring it. This will be covered in a future post.

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