Looking at Your Potential New Boat
By Lori Goldstein
So, you’ve located a likely candidate for your new boat and you have made an appointment to see her! She’s got the right number of staterooms, the proper draft, the asking price seems reasonable, and the photos look good. What should you be looking at carefully when you finally get to inspect her in person?
- The cockpit: the further south you venture, the more time you spend in the cockpit. In some ways, it is the most important “room” in the sailboat. Check that the seating is comfortable, that the seats are deep enough for both sitting and sleeping. Can you get in and out of the cockpit easily enough for you? Remember that when sailing, you are usually not behind the wheel, but rather sitting on the windward side combing. Test that out too for comfort and visibility.
- Decks: needless the say, they should not be at all slippery. It’s surprising how often they are, either from inadequate non-skid or from it having been worn away. If you are looking at a sailboat with teak decks, check around the stanchion or cleat bases – around any hardware that is bolted through the teak. The amount of “dishing” in the wood at these places will tell you how much of the teak has been lost.
- Exterior varnish: If it is in poor condition, the cost of stripping and refinishing properly will surprise you. If there are blackened areas in the teak, that may never go away.
- Down below – how does it smell? Head smells are unpleasant but easily remedied by replacing hoses. However, damp, musty smells can spell trouble somewhere, usually wood rot. Turn off the AC if it’s running – the AC can temporarily hide damp smells. Just because a boat is closed up, there should not be a damp, musty smell. Either something is leaking or something leaked previously and is now causing wood rot.
- The engine room: Of course, you can’t know the condition of the engine by just looking at it, but you can get a window into the owner’s attitude and aptitude. Of course, any rust or corrosion is a red flag, but so is a dirty bilge below the engine. Also, beware if the sailboat looks cosmetically beautiful, but, when you look in the engine room or in the bilges, it’s a disaster. If this is the case, you may want to get a specialist to look at the engine at the survey.
- Mast step: I have seen some horrible things around a keel-stepped mast step, primarily because some owners never look there: opaque jelly, for instance, which is what happens when aluminum sits in saltwater. Also, of course, rust. Now, these things can usually be remedied or repaired, so they may not be a reason to walk away, but you’ll want to be aware. If the mast is deck-stepped, however, make sure that the deck is not depressed at the step. That could be costly to remedy.
- General cosmetic condition: I see people overlook this all the time. They look at the electronics and all the extra equipment that is included and make an offer based on the value of these items. However, don’t underestimate the cost of refinishing a cabin sole properly or any of the surfaces inside. Those who do it well charge accordingly.
A good rule of thumb is to estimate the number of labor hours that you think it will take to do that job. Then, double that and you’ll be close. Note: Hourly rates vary widely depending on location.
- Sit in the salon: I mean really sit there and talk. Is it a comfortable space? Is the seating comfortable for you? How many people will be aboard typically? Will it be comfortable for all of them at once?
- The most important thing of all: Do you like her? I know this may sound obvious, but some buyers look too hard at all of their data and price comparisons without considering this basic thing. A great deal on a sailboat you don’t really like that much is not a great deal at all.
Related Reading: So You Want to Buy a Boat