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huguley3 09-30-2007 09:55 AM

Custom vs Mass produced
I have been cruising the for sale sites looking at boats and had a question about custom built boats. I have run across several where I go to try and find a review on it and it turns out to be a custom one off or something like that. They are usually priced pretty low.

Is that because there is only one so there are no statistics about when parts of it will fail or other design faults?

Are boats like this just huge headaches from a maintenance perspective?

Out of curiosity how much does it cost to have a boat entirely custom built? What would you be hoping to accomplish but doing that?

Idiens 09-30-2007 10:05 AM

If it is custom built, then the builder and designer reputations are the ones to ask about. Nominally, only really rich guys can afford boats to be custom built for them, so their boats could be very good indeed, or they were when new.
However, watch out for boats from companies like Colvic. They made the hulls but others finished them, sometimes very well, sometimes not.
Then there are all the home made boats, especially in ferro-concrete. You need a really good surveyor to judge them for you.

huguley3 09-30-2007 10:13 AM

Some of them are pretty scary and you only need to look at the first picture to run away. Others have pictures that don't seem to show semi important things like the cockpit or have very detailed listings of some things but are missing the holding tank capacity. I was going to ask about whether there was a specialty in surveying for custom boats so thanks for answering that. :)

CapnHand 09-30-2007 10:28 AM

It's a bit more work to evaluate a custom boat. Low buying price usually means a low resale price when you eventually sell. Try to consider that differential when comparing boats. On the other hand, less investment up front means less exposure to market fluctuation on the back end.

The boat may be custom but the major components (engine, head, galley, electronics, spars) will usually be off the shelf.

Look at the age of the boat, what shape it's in, any maintenance records, how it was used. If the boat is 20 yrs old in continuous use and in great shape, chances are it's solid.

Consider the designer and the builder, what reputation is there on them?

One advantage is that you're never going to see the boat derided in a forum like the Macs or Hunjenbenacats.

nibiruwayne 09-30-2007 12:12 PM

One off or custom boats
We purchased a one-off custom built cutter out of Muiden Holland ten years ago. She was lofted and completed for an individual owner at a yard in Hamburg Germany which had done the Kaiser's yachts in the early 1900's. Our boat is steel and is as solid as the day she was built, 1986. I am replying to confirm one comment made on this blog that custom/one off boats are much more expensive than production boats (when lofted by a professional yard with a great reputation and not someone in their backyard). In northern Europe, ie- the North Sea, many sailors prefer steel due to its strength and other factors. We sailed our boat across the Atlantic and she has been on the East Coast of the US the past ten years.

I share this because many who are in the 'hunt' have questions to which the answers are not readily available. Everyone you talk to has his or her biases. We first had our boat surveyed by a local surveyor where the boat was located. We used him as a test driver. When we got serious, we brought our own US certified surveyor over for an out of the water survey as well as a wet sail in the boat. We identified her shortcomings, which were few, and we struck the deal. We used a professional captain and crew and myself for delivery. If anyone is contemplating a one-off boat , the first question to ask is who designed her and who built her. With the internet, we have all this information at our fingertips.

From our experience, production boats offer a 'standard' up or down, and a reputation, thus comparable sales. This may create a confidence factor in a buyer or a wariness, depending on the manufacturer. Most production boats are not customized and can be more affordable because the builder has a mold and can utilize semi-skilled labor to loft the hull, etc. This is not the case in a one-off lofted by an experienced yard. The construction is usually accomplished by experienced people.

Most sailors who would have their own boat custom built have spent a lot of time on the water and have refined what they want in a boat. This can allow the buyer to pick up a quality boat which cost a great deal of money for a great buying price.


Faster 09-30-2007 12:17 PM

We owned a semi custom 40 footer that started out as a pure raceboat, pipe berths, open head etc. But construction was high quality even if the finish was originally quite spartan.

By the time we bought her, someone had done a reasonable job of adding a real Vberth, enclosed the head and enlarged the galley. There was plenty of teak and the boat was quite attractive below, and we had the added advantage (over most production boats) of having absolutely top notch, oversized deck gear including 3 speed winches, full hydraulics etc)

During our tenure with the boat we further modified the interior (something almost impossible to do with a production boat with fiberglass liners) and then added amenities like a deck accessed anchor locker and a cockpit hatch to access the transom/lazarette area. Here when we cut into the deck for these mods we found excellent workmanship, tight laminates and coring, all evidence of good construction.

We paid a fraction of the price for an equivalent production boat, sailed her for 12 years, and sold her (admittedly upgraded) for about the same as we paid 12 years earlier. So whatever money we put into her we considered a user fee... over 12 years it wasn't a lot of money (maybe $10 - 12K total not incl moorage and insurance) Upgrades included new dodger, a major repaint, engine rebuild and some mods as described above. btw we are ardent DIYers.

Use of a GOOD surveyor is especially important here, as there will be no history like a high volume production boat. This is especially true if it's a first boat, and you don't really know yet what to look for yourself.

In the end, quality will tell regardless of the maker's name on the hull

Jeff_H 09-30-2007 12:37 PM

As the above seems to susggest, custom can mean very high quality, but the reality is that the term custom means nothing about the quality of the design or construction. It merely means that it was not production. Custom boats generally are built by the wealthiest sailors who can afford to indulge in their whim of the moment and by the poorest of sailors who feel that they can coble together thier dream for less money than a used production boat. They are designed by some of the top designers of all time or by some guy who has some design idea and either couldn't find or refuses to pay for plans to pursue that design. Some of the most beautiful yachts I have seen or sailed were custom, some of the worst pieces of junk were also custom.

It is a mistake to rely on either the builder or the designer as a source of build quality or sailing ability. Owners will often ask for a boat that is unusual for a particular designer and ask for a build quality, above or below the norm for that designer or boat builder.

Used they are not necessarily cheaper than equal quality production boats, but most times they are a little cheaper, because the buyer is being asked to take a leap of faith with regard to build quality.


sailingdog 09-30-2007 07:30 PM

I'd have to agree with Jeff H's summary. Custom built really doesn't say much about the quality of the boat's design or build. Similarly, professional doesn't mean good either... all it means, IMHO, is that the IRS knows you do something for money. I've met "professional" electricians that I wouldn't trust to plug in my Christmas lights. I've met amateur electricians I'd have wire life support equipment. :)

Custom built boats are just that... boats built to a customer's specifications, and if the customer had bad ideas about what a boat required, it can result in some awfully ugly and unseaworthy boats. If the customer was financially able, knowledgeable and meticulous, you would probably have a boat that is of higher quality and construction than a production boat of the same size and general use.

However, it really depends on the customer, the designer and the yard doing the building... all three can be points where the quality of the boat can be lost.

An Idiot customer, Bad Designer, and Bad Yard will probably result in an ugly, unsafe and shoddy boat. A Smart customer, a Good Designer and a Good Yard will probably result in a beautiful, seaworthy and solidly built boat. Or any other combination, with with a result in-between these two.

Sailormann 09-30-2007 10:09 PM

"Custom" is usually brokerese for home-built or home-finished. Sometimes not...but usually....

CapnHand 09-30-2007 11:28 PM

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