Over the years it's fair to say that I have had my fair share of boats. In fact at the last count it was eight boats in approximately ten years. Give or take a month or two.
I’ve bought and sold quite a few in a relatively short space of time, and, apart from the man maths and upgrades carried out, I’ve not lost too much money over the period I have owned each one.
There are interesting stories (to me) with every boat I have owned, maybe I will write about them some day. But for now, here’s what I believe are the most key elements about purchasing boats. It’s not an exhaustive list and others may have differing opinions, and that’s ok - this is what has worked for me.
Firstly (and most importantly) is... Budget.
Exactly how much can you afford to waste? I use the word ‘waste’ only because with boats you ‘re never going to get much of a return on your investment. So, you must be prepared to throw away a certain amount of coin. Now, what costs have you thought about in your budget? Of course, there is the cost of the boat. How about storage or mooring costs, maintenance costs, safety equipment purchasing and upkeep. What about motor servicing, anti-fouling, electricity bills if you use a marina with shore power. Or even slip way fees and harbour dues.
Try to make a comprehensive list, research the prices for each item, total them all up and then add another 20% just to be sure.
Don’t forget, apart from purchasing the boat, the other costs are annual.
Second is ‘requirements’ or ‘intended use’
What do you want from your boat, how do you envisage using it and with how many passengers?
Will you be fishing, overnighting, day tripping or just using it to tow toys and entertain? Or ALL of the afore mentioned? Do you have kids, a dog maybe or just a few mates that want to go have some fun at your expense?
The point is, however big you think you’re going to need, go bigger. I would say that on average 50-60% of first-time boat owners decide they are going to upgrade within the first 2 or 3 trips out.
A 20ft boat can seem really small really quick with 5 grown men on board. If you don’t do the go large thing, and want to upgrade, then go back to the budget checker.
Thirdly, mooring and storage.
Heavily linked to the budget this one. Do you wish to tow your boat and keep it on the drive? Is your driveway flat? (another story for later), have you any experience of towing or do you, like me see towing as a bit of a faf? I’ve tried it and hated it. Towing is by far the cheapest option for storage, but in most marinas mooring gives 24-hour access to the water. You are unlikely to be restricted by tide, and you don’t have to wait in line at the slipway whilst all the jet skis do their thing. But it is the most expensive. Again, do your research and cost out annual mooring or dry stack fees.
Research, research and yet more research.
In my mind this is probably THE most important element to buying a boat. If like me, you love speed and adrenalin, but the wife doesn’t, don’t buy a twin engine 4 tonne speed machine. Unless you want to end up selling it 4 months later because your dear wife flat refuses to go on it. What you find fun, the family may not. However, if you don’t intend to take the family out for fun days and bonding time in the sun, well go for it. But be aware, that once the Mrs and kids realise that you are spending more time with your mistress (the boat) than them, you may find you have company and a need to change your boat.
Decided on your way forward? Good. Now what manufacturer and model do you require, or lust after. Will it be suitable for the conditions of the area you live in? Will it get you quickly and safely to that far flung wreck that you love to photograph with your side-scan sonar; will it allow you and a couple of mates to fish comfortably, or my most important consideration, ‘can I take it out safely on my own’?
There are so many variables to consider, choose wisely or choose again soon.
Once you have decided on the boat for you, then do even MORE RESEARCH. Find out the boat’s characteristics, its flaws and weaknesses. What’s its top-rated engine size, what is its hull rating category, how many people can you safely have aboard. All this knowledge and learning will help you when you come to view the boat you’d like to buy.
Next up is the viewing.
Don’t be lazy, be prepared to travel for the right boat. Don’t buy a boat because it's local.
Brokers and private sellers will (with exceptions) lie through their back teeth to get that sale or commission. If you’re a bit savvy and you know a fair deal of information about the boat you plan to view, then you’ll be able to pick a porky teller from a genuine seller. Never be afraid to ask questions and never feel like you are asking stupid questions. If the seller can’t answer the questions you pose, insist on a follow up call later that day with the answer.
Check the paper work for the boat if it's available to view. Look in every single nook and cranny that you possibly can, you never know what may be hiding. Don't be rushed by a seller. Any genuine owner or agent will be happy to spend quality time with you and discuss all the issues you may want to discuss. If you're rushed off a boat and given excuses then if it were me, I would walk and find another. Never ever rush to buy a boat, never ever buy the first boat you look at (unless it’s an absolute peach).
Ok, so you’ve seen a few, picked the best example and you’re in love. In your mind the season is quickly passing you by, even though it's only February. Don’t get emotional over a deal. You know what you want to spend, now try to keep to that budget. Going to make an offer? Great, start with around 20% off the asking price. So, for a £10,000 boat offer £8,000. What have you got to lose?
They can either say YES or NO. If they say no, then ask what they would be happy to accept. Now the fun begins. Remember, a boat is only worth what a buyer is willing to pay. Hold your nerve. If you have a cash deposit with you, show it to them. In their mind they will know you’re not just a fender kicker and the sight of freshly pressed £20 notes is irresistible. Strike a deal (based on a sea trial and FULL marine survey), but never pay more than you can afford to waste.
So, you have bought a boat!!
Or at least struck a deal and shaken hands. Get a receipt for your deposit and make sure the seller writes on it that the deposit is returnable if the sea trial or survey take a nose dive.
Surveys and sea trials – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Do not scrimp on this aspect of the purchase. One piece of advice is this… most surveyors in the local area will have visited the marina or yard that you're buying from (unless private) and will more than likely know the agent/vendor, maybe not intimately but they will have met and said hello on a friendly basis. Some will be very good mates. Be aware, I always look for a surveyor who lives 50-100 miles away from the boat's location. This minimises the risk and makes sure the surveyor is working for you and not the seller. You should have a full survey; mechanical, electrical and structural. Remember that nook you couldn’t see into? If there's a problem in there and the surveyor doesn’t pick up on it, you have comeback. Now go take the craft for a sea trial. If possible do it with an independent marine engineer, or the surveyor if he is fully qualified to do so properly.
You’d need to use this opportunity to test all the onboard electronics. Does the chart plotter work? Can the transducer find the seabed when underway and at rest? Also make sure all gauges are checked for correct operation, your engineer should do this naturally, but it doesn’t help to have a look yourself. Raise any questions you may find you have. If fitted, do the trim tabs work? Does the windlass operate properly? How does the boat ride? Does she list when under way? A listing boat could indicate that a trim ram is malfunctioning, even if the gauge (or digital display) reads ok.
Call up the coast guard on the VHF, just to check the radio works. Once you're happy return to port.
Don’t forget, you are parting with a lot of your own hard-earned cash, so don’t be scared to satisfy all your own questions.
Happy with your survey? Enjoyed the sea trial? Good. Any points of concern? Yes? Well address them now. Make them part of the deal; get them done to your satisfaction as part of the renegotiated deal post survey. Don’t forget, your deposit was with clauses.
Once you have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s, enjoy your boat!
Until the next one catches your eye. And it will... believe me, I know.