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Old 07-16-2007
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Approach to evaluating a used boat

Would like to start the search for our liveaboard/cruising dream boat. Have been skewed by the shiny new beauties at the boat shows (which we probably can't afford), so think it's time to start seeing what's out there in the more realistic used market. Grew up sailing on the family boat (fair weather and on weekends), but have a lot to learn as I only recently got serious about boats and chasing the cruising dream. We're about 2 years out from being able to purchase, but I've got to start looking to start learning. Yachtworld shows 2 vessels near my hometown that look interesting, and will call the dealer to inquire, but first a question:

Can anyone offer some advice on their approach to evaluating a boat on the first walk-through?

I realize an exhaustive list is not possible here, that there are a million variables to read about and personal preferences to consider, and that a professional surveyer is ultimately needed prior to purchase, but perhaps someone who has gone through this process can advise on the handful of questions they found most useful to ask, or the items most important to see firsthand, for the initial visual inspection. What were the must-have's and the dealbreakers? I'm obviously no professional mariner, so highly technical stuff is for the moment beyond me, but I'm hoping to be capable of evaluating if the vessel is generally well put-together and safe, appropriate for cruising with a family of 3 (not necessarily ocean crossing...yet), and not likely to suprise me with a need for a major overhaul 6 months after purchase. If nothing else, knowing what questions to ask will help me appear better informed than I actually am, and perhaps the dealers will take me more seriously...
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Old 07-16-2007
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Before going out and looking at boats, you really should consider what kind of boat you want. If you're looking to cross oceans, then looking at coastal cruiser designs doesn't make a lot of sense.

I'd also recommend you get Don Casey's Inspecting the Aging Sailboat. This book is well written and very readable and directly addresses your question far more thoroughly than any answer on a web forum.

I'd also recommend that you and your wife start getting as much experience on as many different boats as you can—crewing, chartering, daysailing, whatever... so you can figure out what you like, what you dislike, and what layout you prefer for the cabin, deck and cockpit.... so as to eliminate the boats that just aren't going to work for you, figure out which boats could be made to work, and which ones are ideal...
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Last edited by sailingdog; 07-16-2007 at 10:41 AM.
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Old 07-16-2007
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Thanks for the book tip, looks great and I just orderd it...that book is probably the best answer I could have hoped for with my very general question. We are used to sailing an Albin 42' sloop, a sweet boat but she's not really set up as a liveaboard, nor is she mine to sail away with. We're hoping for something slightly bigger, outfitted for cruising and capable of operating safely offshore (though not likely across oceans). We are actively trying to get experience on different boats, though it's been slow going and bareboat charters seem to be very expensive. I feel a little hesitant to start asking brokers to show me their boats when I'm truly not ready to buy for at least 1-2 years, as I don't want to waste their time (I'll need their help later) or torture myself with goods I can't have now, but I'm hoping I'll learn a lot by looking...

Thanks for your reply...
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Old 07-16-2007
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Jak...Obviously there is a lot to look at when evaluating a boat. My assumption is that your question refers to the CONDITION of the boat you are looking at rather than the SUITABILITY for your cruising needs.
One thing you might look at for guidance is an actual survey report like this one..
http://www.floridasurveyors.com/Samp...vey_Report.pdf

This will let you see what a pro covers and give you hints about where to look and what to look at. There are all sorts of survey samples on the web and reading a few will give you a better feel for things as well as convincing you that you still need a good surveyor once you've eliminated the "dogs"!
Good luck!
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Thanks Camaradarie, you're absolutely right, my question refers to determining the condition of the boat, not suitability for my needs which I have to figure out for myself. Sorry if I didn't make that more clear. Your sample survey was very useful as well. Have contacted a dealer to look at a 1986 Tayana. I suppose she's old enough to have major problems, but also young enough to have avoided them if her owner treated her with care. I've got a lot of reading to do on this stuff...

Thanks!
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Good question and I would approach it the same way as when I look at doing a survey on a boat. It doesn’t much matter to me if the boat is new or used but let me describe how I look at a used boat in particular. Part of a successful survey is a way of thinking and a good dose of common sense. It’s also researching the history of the model and the particular boat. It’s gathering information from the boat and all the other sources that you used and fitting it into an overall picture of the boat. Try to look at some others of the same model so that you have a base for comparisons. The bump in the hull might by in the mold and not distortion from the bulkhead at the mast for instance. Talk to other people in the boatyard and see if they know of the boat or others like her. Talk to the yard manager and the man at the parts counter to see what they know about the boat. Find out what work the yard has done, talk to the man who did the work. If you go into this with a preconceived notion of the boat you will not get as much out of the process then if you look at everything and actuality see what you are looking at.

Make sure the owner or broker can spend the day and take the boat out for a sail. If after the first look you are still interested get the boat hauled for inspection. If this survey is for someone else I start with a spreadsheet that has all the bases covered and begin the walk around. I start two hours before the broker or owner is scheduled to appear and just walk around the boat and see if you can get on overall impression about the use and history. Make a note of the owner added equipment so that when you get inside or sound the deck for delimitation you can pay particular attention to the right places. Very often the owner will mount hardware that weakens the boat with holes in the wrong place or he will add junk that needs to be removed. I have seen holes for the masthead wind indicator drilled so close to the backstay pin that the truck fitting needs to be replaced. Discovering something like that at sea in bad weather is not the best plan.

Get a feel for if the boat has been ridden hard and put away wet. The same thing will happen to a boat as with a horse that gets that treatment all the time. Very often you can see things from a distance that will need further investigation when you get into the detail on the boat. Areas of damage not only show something of the history but also will point to areas that will need to be checked very carefully. Is the hull pulled out of shape at the chain plates for instance?

Move every thing that moves and turn everything that turns, open up everything and look behind everything. Walk in the cabin and shake everything, if something should be solid is it and if it should move does it move freely and have the full range that it should have. Does everything make sense and does the layout allow you to do everything that needs to be done when sailing the boat. Sit in the cockpit, does everything look right, also check the hardware and equipment, does everything work or are their parts that will need to be replaced.

It’s easy to say that you need to look at the swage fittings for cracks, but you will also need to look at the spreader root, the tip, the turnbuckles and toggles and of course the chainplates and chainplate bolts. I could list everything on the boat and tell you that you need to check the condition of it. A survey is more then just listing the specifications and the inventory of hardware. You need to make a judgment call about the choice of gear and the condition of everything. You even need to know something about sail making and the types of cut, hardware and design of sails.

The survey of a boat for myself has become a very casual thing, I will just walk around the boat and if she is what I want, then I already have a feel for what I am willing to pay, keeping in mind that I will be changing and fixing things to suite me and a formal survey is surely not needed. If I am looking at a boat for a friend of mine then I have to be more careful about it. Not only must I be able to tell him the condition of the boat and how much it will coast to fix everything in a way that is appropriate for his use, but I have to be able to answer questions about the boat and what she is capable of doing or sometimes more importantly what she should not be used for.

This is an outline of how I think when it comes to looking at used boats. I would approach the problem of a new boat much the same way but without looking for worn or damaged parts quite as much.
Good luck with the search and all the best,
Robert Gainer

Last edited by Tartan34C; 07-17-2007 at 04:38 AM.
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