A used sailboat can either be an incredible bargain or a colossal wallet-drainer. Much depends on how sharp and informed you are during the buying process.
Here's what to look for (and walk away from) when you're shopping for your dream boat.
- 1Take an expert with you. Some of the faults of a sailboat can look awful but are easy to repair while other faults are hidden and expensive. For a beginner, it's really hard to spot the difference. If you don't have a friend familiar with boats, consider hiring a professional. It will be money well-spent, especially if the boat is an expensive one.
- 2Figure out what kind of boat you want to own before you go shopping. If you go looking at boats without a clear idea of what kind of boat you want to sail, you may fall in love with a boat that won't meet your needs. Think: Do you want to race? Then, buy the kind of boat people in your area are racing. Do you want to trailer it to distant cruising grounds? Then, restrict your search to smaller boats with trailers. Do you want performance or a big fat cabin? If you don't know the answers, you risk wasting your money.
- 3If you are new to sailing, look for a boat that is basically ready to sail away. Learning to sail involves lots and lots of sailing. Fixing up a junker boat can take months or years and won't teach you a thing about sailing.
- 4If you are interested in racing a sailboat, always hook up with local sailboat racers before you buy a boat. There is all sorts of obscure knowledge about racing boats that you will be helpless without.
- 1Stick with fiberglass construction if you're a beginner -- most wooden boats require a good deal more maintenance and care, and damage and rot in wooden boats can be hard to find without a massive teardown and/or lots of professional experience.
- 2Check for: boat pox (blisters on the bottom); spongy deck; leaking chainplates; water running down the inside from the hull-deck joint; severe cracks around deck fittings and mast step; fittings pulling out of the deck; large gelcoat gouges below the waterline; cracks along the top of keel; wobbly rudder; wobbly driveshaft. These are all potentially expensive fixes.
- 3If the gelcoat looks dull or faded, make sure it just needs a polish and not a new paint job.
- 4Don't like fiberglass? Steel is generally unbreakable but watch out for serious rust. Concrete? Walk away unless you built it yourself.
- 1In cabin sailboats, much more damage involves leakage of rainwater from above than seawater from below. Check for signs of leaking decks and cabintops, such as streaks, stains and mildew inside the cabin. Watch for gobs of sealant around the portlights (windows), which is a sign that somebody has been chasing down leaks.
- 2Leaking decks can lead to very expensive damage to the deck itself and to bulkheads below. Many fiberglass boats have decks with plywood or balsawood core material. If water has leaked in around improperly sealed deck fittings, the plywood or balsawood core of the deck may have delaminated and rotted. If you find spots or areas of the deck that are mushy in the least, run away. This is a huge pain to fix.
- 3Water damage and rot in the interior bulkheads and woodwork may cause more than cosmetic damage. In some boats, the chainplates (attachments for the rigging that holds up the mast) are attached to plywood bulkheads inside the cabin. In some boats, the interior woodwork holds up a deck-stepped mast. If such structural woodwork is water damaged, rotted, or otherwise unsound, be alarmed.
- 1Steer clear of rare or very old engines unless you're certain there's an adequate supply of parts.
- 2Do the Smoke Test: healthy diesels make small amounts of black smoke with some white on cold starts. Sick ones make blue or continuous white. Diesels are generally robust but require a strict schedule of oil changes. Bonus points for proof of maintenance.
- 3Check for fuel leaks and a working bilge blower in gasoline engines. Again, bonus points for maintenance records and a spare parts kit. Common ailments of gas engines: wet or worn-out electricals, bad points and plugs.
- 4Before the seller cranks the engine, check to see if it is already warm. If the seller took the trouble to warm up the engine before showing you the boat, it may be hard to start the engine when cold.
Sails and Rigging
- 1Take all of the sails out of their bags and spread them out. Look for chafing, repairs, stretches, pulled-out stitches and broken slides. Mildew is harmless but tough to get rid of. Check spinnakers for excessive bagginess. Hoist the windward sails and check for excessive draft and stretch. Remember that replacing the sails can cost you half the price of an old sailboat.
- 2Rigging will show the general quality of the boat's maintenance. You can pretty much count on replacing a lot of rigging on any old boat, though. Check for worn pins and shackles, unraveling wire, broken blocks, worn-out lines. These items are relatively easy to fix and replace, however. Winches should work smoothly, but if they don't, you can almost always get them running right with a quick cleaning and greasing.
- 3If possible, hoist all the sails and work all the halyards, sheets, winches and furlers.
- 1Check the wiring -- it's commonly done by people who have no clue about what they're doing. If you have no clue, then get an expert.
- 2Check seacocks. Beware if they're seized open.
- 3Look for leaks around portholes and hatches.
- 4Work the engine controls; cables and linkages should move smoothly. If possible, do a battery load test.
- 5Check spreader and mast lights. Listen for wires banging around inside the mast -- a sure way to lose a night's sleep.
- 6Dodgers and other canvas get bonus points for being Sunbrella and having unfogged plastic windows.
- 7Make sure safety equipment complies with government regs and in good condition. In the galley, the propane or CNG should be installed properly.
- 8Ensure that the bilge doesn't smell like a bilge.
- When bargaining, make a list of stuff that needs attention and refer to it when you make an offer. When sailboat owners sell, they've either got the hots for a bigger boat or they're getting out of sailing for good. In either case, they're motivated- so don't be afraid to lowball. If need be, walk away. Chances are you'll get a call the next morning.
- Find a reliable mover/transporter to transport your sailboat. There are hundreds of feedback-rated sailboat transporters on www.uShip.com.