A Buyers Guide to the Used Sailboat
Hello, greetings all!
What I want to do here is to post some helpful information for those of you actively searching the market for used sailboats. I am really trying to focus on the below $25,000 dollar range so for all you deep-pocketed individuals out there you should just shell out the bengys for some other professional to do it all for you. If however, you are not able to just go and spend money like its in style this will hopefully provide you some insight on to what you need to look for and at in a potential boat. Also, I will try to give an idea of the costs associated with whatever I discuss.
Without further ado...
First things first--- Is she nice to look at? If she is not ask yourself if its just because of some dirt and grime? Or are you looking at a boat with its toe rail hanging in places, crazing and stress cracks around every corner, stanchion, port light and hatch? Is the boats deck discolored and the non skid no longer non skid? Do the stanchions look serviceable? Grab a hold and if they rock back and forth this is a bad sign. Look for rusts- sometimes rusts means nothing but other times it can be a big warning sign.
Ok. The boat is not going to look brand new so you have to start with the individual desire now: What sort of boat do you want? A boat that needs TLC, a project boat, or are you looking for a boat that was maintained like new and is ready to go sailing with no work done? This is an individual decision. I will, for the sake of the readers, choose the middle ground in this post.
The boat we are looking at is a 28' Bristol from the mid 70's selling for $5500. This boat includes a working (so it says) Diesel engine, main sail, Working Genoa, Storm Jib, two Danforth Anchors, a variety of mostly worthless nick nacks, a head, a two burner alcohol stove and an insulated Icebox. The boat is not equipped with shore power, has no Instruments and while the cabin lights and fans work as well as the starter the rest of the boats electronics are suspect and probably need replacing. The plumbing is original as well as the standing rigging and the majority of the electrics besides some odd-over the years "improvements". The boat has 4 cabin portholes, two portholes that open in the head and two light vents above the V-Berth in addition to a Solar Vent between those two. The boat has a tiller, is beamy for its size and provides 6"1 standing headroom.
At this point you are still standing on the dock just looking around at the boat. You have not stepped foot on it yet. Look through the portholes... Are they foggy and crazed? Or are they clear and clean? No discoloration around the edges to insinuate leakage or cracks in the glass to indicate structural failure? Do you see a dirty dinghy looking boat interior that is piled with rubbish?
Ok! Lets get started.
You hop on the boat. You are in the **** pit. The instruments mounted in the dash obviously do not work and a third hole is taped over from where another instrument has been removed.
Stop--- Not a big deal most of the time if you are not a big tekky. Most instruments such as Tachometers, compasses and depth finders can be had first hand for relatively cheap (150-300$ avg). If you are more thrifty and like to get secondhand stuff slash those prices way down. I recently got a new tachometer for my boat that cost 25$--- I saved over $125! Instruments depend on what you want and think are important. You can spend as little or as much as you want so I will move on now-- This is individual choice with much too many variables to try and cover any broader.
Okay, you are still in the **** pit. You look left and right around you and see stowage compartments that open up. Check the hinges and gasket seals--- Is there loads of dirt and grime or obvious water intrusion? Leaky compartment doors,portholes and hatches are not a major concern but CAN be costly and also are quite time consuming. For each leaky hole you have to remove the old hardware, (I recommend filling the old holes with epoxy and re-boring but this is not critical), rebed and reinstall the new hardware. Every leaky hole on a boat is a possible half hour or more in repairs. Again, ask yourself what kind of boat you want. If you are looking for perfection these little things will be enough to drive you mad.
Open the compartment box--- You should see your battery and a seacock. Examine the battery and the terminals for signs of corrosion. Are the battery cables old and rusted at the terminals? Is the battery sitting in a box filled with water? Battery cables alone will run you about $100 and a new deep-cycle marine battery will run you another $125-250. Make sure that the battery has points for latching--- Batteries must be securely latched down for safety. Flying batteries are a big safety risk.
Look at the seacock behind the battery... Probably a drainage seacock from your sink and icebox. What is the seacock made of? Bronze? If so check for pink corrosion which implicates electrolysis. Any Bronze seacocks over 15 years old are suspect. Also, to replace Seacocks requires your boat be hauled out and the old seacock and thrul hulls removed. This is a time consuming and expensive job to pay someone else to do. If you do it its just time consuming..still expensive if you go Bronze. Bronze seacocks are easily averaged at $200. Add the thru hulls and other fittings and to replace six seacocks and thru hulls with Bronze quickly becomes a $1500-$2000 dollar job. If the seacocks are plastic look at the maker. If they are Forespar or Marelon you should be ok. If they are not you need to replace them. Older plastics are crap for seacocks and are dangerous.
Make a point to examine EVERY seacock on the boat. Is the seacock gated or flanged? Gated (Like most house water spickets) Are dangerous and rust and corrosion often leave them prone to failure at the worst times. Flanged are much safer but if rust is present around the handle be wary--- The only way to close a seacock one the closing valve is removed is with vice grips. As a rule if the seacock looks bad, the thru-hull is bad. Examine the seacocks closely and if you do replace them I recommend Marelon composite plastics. Cheaper, no electrolysis, and subsequently no worries of corrosion.
Ok. So the battery looks in good shape but the positive terminal cable is corroded away and barely attached to the battery terminal. You will need to replace this-- probably with 7-9' of Marine tinned battery cable. figure $70-100 for this job. Also, the seacock is Bronze and obviously corroded--- It needs to be changed.. The rests probably will need to be changed as well.
Before closing the hatch look around... Is it spacious below with room to get down and work around? Or is it claustrophobic and impossible to get down inside? Examine the hoses and lines that you see. You should notice an Exhaust hose from the engine, A discharge hose for the bilge and another possibly for any hand pumps. You should see a fuel tank or the platform where the fuel tank is supposed to rest with metal latches of some kind for securing it down. You may also see electrical wiring from the starter system going down to the engine. Take a minute to visually inspect all of these things. While not expensive to replace hoses and wiring, it is time consuming. Also, in the case of electrics, if you have no idea how to rewire bad electrics then you will have to pay someone to do this. Figure $50 per hour for the help of an electrician. Add in the equipment (Crimpers, connectors, heat shrink, fuses, wires of differing gauges, volt meters, ect ) and you can get up to the hundreds of dollars pretty easily depending on the amount of electronics in the boat. The more gadgets (AC, refrigeration, auto-steering) The more money will need to be shelled out for this type of thing.
Okay so the hoses look old and opaque but otherwise they are fine. The wires themselves look okay but the connections to the starter panel are suspect--- Some black sticky substance seems to have been leaking out from some of the instruments on the starter panel (Oil, overheating alarm).
Lets recap. You have so far discovered you will need at least three new instruments (Compass, Depth finder, Tachometer) to replace what was mounted in the boats dash. You also noticed one of the terminals on a battery cable is corroded and needs replacing. In addition to this the first seacock you have seen is old and shows signs of electrolysis and needs to be replaced. The starter is now suspect too because you have seen black tar type substance on the wires leading out from the oil sensor and overheating alarm.
The seacock is the biggest concern here. The one is bad so the rest most be close or bad as well. This is a sizable job and investment right off the get go. The rest of the stuff can be fixed in a timely fashion and presents much less challenge so far as money is concerned. As the potential buyer, I decide this is not a deal breaker and so I will continue through the rest of the tour.
You close the storage lockers in the cockpit and take one last look around before you climb out and begin walking around the boats deck. Looking around you see some cracks and holes in the gelcoat. Upon closer inspection (By poking with a screw driver) you find the surface underneath the holes to be hard and strong- This is simply cosmetics. Most older boats will have some stress cracking or voids somewhere. While repairing these holes and cracks is not expensive it IS time consuming to do properly and also can become a problem job if colors are involved. Yet, this is a skin deep cosmetic flaw on an otherwise stout boat- so far.
***Note- If upon prodding you feel the material prodded to be soft or spongy then you need to figure out how deep the damage is. While gelcoat repairs are not a big deal if you have water intursion into the woven fiberglass layers the job becomes much bigger. You will need to grind out all of the damaged material, bevel out an area 12:1 around the repair, and the relay fiberglass and epoxy until you reach the gelcoat layer. Then you will be able to do the gelcoat repair as usual. If large areas of boat are damaged in this way (water intruded) consider carefully what you are getting into. Large areas of fiberglass repair can be dangerous. You have to know how to provide correct strucutual support in some instances. Proceed at your own risk.
You decide to keep going. One quick look at the rudder and tiller shows the rudder to be covered in growth below the waterline but otherwise everything is good. No play between the tiller connection and the rudder- the arm of the tiller is strong and inflexible and the base is not rotten. No problems here but a looming questions now persist---What does the rest of the boats bottom look like? It is simply slime or could it be the signs of bigger problems? Barnacles? Blisters? Pox????
You take a look at the back shroud coming to the transom and you inspect all of the fittings closely. Examine the turnbuckles for tiny cracks around the connection points. Look at the stainless wire close for any signs of fraying. Some rust is expected on rigging older than 5 years old-- the real problems are down at the deck-to-rigging hardware. Since you are still in the **** pit you examine the y-bradle closely and see no signs of concern. The chain plates look shiny and new (from the two inches you can see).
****To replace the standing rigging on a 30' sailboat will run you from $1000-2000 dollars depending on factors such as wire gauge, equipment selection, and how much you do yourself and how much you pay others to do. However, standing rigging is CRITICAL to a boat. Any suspect rigging should be replaced. If you examine a boat and see rigging suspect then EXPECT hundreds of dollars to be needed to fix the problem.
On our boat so far so good- Out of the **** pit we go.
You take a step up and are now between the stanchions and cockpit bulwarks. Looking down you note a metal toe rail with evenly spaces holes the entire length. Not cracking around the toe rail but around the bases of the rear stanchions appears significant stress cracking. You pull and push on the worst one and feel it give slightly... The holes have been widened that bolt the stanchion to the deck. While it is not REQUIRED is is RECOMMENDED that you fix this. To do this job will take tight fits and small wrenches, but not too much money. Stanchions themselves are very expensive though as well as any bracing support structures you may want to add. If you do see a boat that needs new stanchions figure at least $75 per stanchion. turning towards the mast you now examine the portholes. The portholes are foggy and crazed from the outside edges. You can see hairline gaps around one of the corners-- A sure sign of a leaky porthole. You also notice the four cabin portholes are fixed- they do not open up.
****Now, some thoughts: To replace portholes is expensive. Varies widely depending on if you use Aluminum or plastics, opening or fixed, dimensions and sizes. However, figure the costs to replace a porthole to be around $300-$400 per porthole if you are buying new. If you are getting second hand then figure $50-225 per. This boat has six portholes. If they all leak the costs to replace them will be between $1500-$2250.
You decide a boat this old is bound to need some new portholes and you want some that open for more air circulation. You know the costs of the job but so far you like the boat. You continue. Before you reach the bow you stop and examine the chain plate connectors for the side stays. The chain plate is covered at the base but the attachment points between the shrouds and buckles appears good.
***Note: If you discover this area to be loose then you know chain plate failure is imminent. Chain plates hold up your boats mast. If one fails most likely your mast will fall down bringing all of the rigging with it. This is a huge failure and huge expense. Avoid this problem by doing the following: Even if the chain plates look great find out how old they are. If they are over 15 years old it is STRONGLY recommended that you take one or two out and examine them. Most times chain plates fail in the 1/4" to 1/2" they are bedded through the deck where you CANNOT SEE. The only way to be sure beyond knowing the age of the chain plates is to actually take one out and examine it closely. Any signs of rust or corrosion mean replacing is required.
However, when buying an older boat it is often impossible to be sure of the chain plates short of inspecting them. I will say most chain plates are not that expensive ($150-300) range for brand new fancy ones. You can get them made for MUCH cheaper if you do some leg work. I recommend if you do not know the chain plates age or condition that you do not let it be a ruling factor in your boat buying process unless you simply do not want to deal with the job.
As was said however, all looks good so for now the tour will continue.
You make your way to the bow and examine the pulpit. Stress cracks around some of the base but otherwise very sound. Shiny attachment points and sturdy foundations leave you with little concern. Only some minor gelcoat repairs will be necessary here. A quick look in the anchor locker throws no concerns except that the anchor rode chain has been kept moist for some time and has significant rust. The anchor its self is fine but new rode will probably run you $50-100.
Closing the locker you turn and take two steps forward to the light port holes. The covers are crazed and opaque. A solar vent in the middle looks new and shiny. The deck is sturdy and the non slip is still very good.
***Note: This boat has not had bad core. However, a MAJOR concern of any potential boat buyer should be the deck. Always take a hammer or other tool to use as a percussion instrument to test the hull. When you walk around lightly bang on the deck every few feet for any sounds out of the ordinary. Any spots discovered should be thoroughly inspected. What kind of core is this? Balsa? That is a problem. Soft spots in the deck are big jobs. A rotten deck core is a big red flag--- If the deck of a potential boat is not sturdy and stiff then I recommend you keep looking. Often times it is just not worth the trouble especially with so many other good boats out there. Check the deck vigilantly.
Now you approach the mast and look up--- The rigging looks good but its impossible to know for sure without going up the mast. For most people buying a boat in the condition we are looking all of these little tests and inspections are often impractical or unaffordable. If the rest of the rigging around the deck has looked good and you see no visible signs of warning (oxidation, bends, cracks, rusts) then an educated guess can be made. While never 100% usually if the rest of the rigging has looked good the mast rigging will be no exception. I say this for buying a boat not sailing it. You should ALWAYS inspect every piece of rigging standing and running BEFORE you take a boat out the first time.
This post is already too long to add stories of new happy boat buyers who went out on their maiden sail only to have a mast snap in two from a failed chain plate or turnkey.
Continuing down the other side of the deck you examine the blocks and other pieces of hardware. Some of the blocks plastic wheels are deteriorated: New blocks will be needed. Blocks are other type hardware are often not too expensive (except fiddles!). I would figure $30-100 for most types of blocks and related hardware. Examine the block shivs-- are they V-shaped? If so this means that your boat uses portions of wire for its running rigging. This makes rigging your boat a bit more expensive. Once again any blocks or other related types of rigging hardware are not red flags- These are items that are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. You climb up on top of the companion way hatch and examine the Boom to Mast attachment points. Check all the pins and gear that are involved here. Look for cracks, worn parts (elongated holes on one side insinuating uneven pressures) rusts or anything else of that nature. On this boat we note the boom to be in good shape. However, every bit of running rigging is rotten. The lines have been sun rotted from years of exposure. You will need to replace every portion of your running rigging.
Figure $.40 per foot for proper rigging line and you will have some estimate of the costs associated with this job. On this boat, figuring you will be remnants from a secondary supplier, you figure it will costs about $400 to re rig your boats running rigging.
*** Blocks running rigging and sails should all be closely inspected. Old sails that have lost their shape will leave you motoring your boat more than powering it by wind. New sails are often quite pricey. For a boat this size figure $800-$1200 for a new Dacron Head sail. What about the rest of the sail inventory? Inspect all your sails. Are they in good condition? If the boat you are looking at has a roller furler system then know that those sails will not have the same life expectancy as traditional rigged sails. Examining the reefing points and all clues and battens for signs of damage. A new inventory of sails can quickly run you $2500++ . For this boat the Head sail is suspect but the Genoa and working Jib are still good. You are not sure if you can get the main sail repaired or if you will have to replace it. You continue on.
Before making it back to the **** pit to start the inside tour you need to examine your winches and traveler lines. Twist the tops of each winch and listen for equally measured click-clickl-click sounds. If they sound disorganized or fail to click the winches may need to be cleaned or they may need to be replaced. If the winches do not sound good you need to decide if you will open them up and examine them for a root cause or simply ask the owner to lower the price. New winches, depending on the mode of action, vary in price greatly. From $150 to $1000. This boat has four lewmar winches. Three of them click in unison but the fourth does not click at all. You decide to take off the winch cover and after a few minutes of cleaning the winch turns good as new-- It pays to check before you write a check!
One last look at the traveler lines shows some deep stress cracks around the bolts but this is to be expected on a boat of this age. No red flags. You do note the fiddle block is corroded and old-- Thats a $150 part.
Back down into the **** pit now. Your brooding, recapping all you have seen. As you do this you hop off the boat and take another walk around noting the hull. It lacks its glossy finish but no signs of impact damage or deep gouging. A couple of spots you notice the fender going around the base of the toe rail to be a bit warped--- Probably from some less than stellar dockings. You cannot see below the water line but you are plagued with a site of thick vegetation.
**** Growth will happen on the bottom of boats. Many factors determine its damage possibilities. First, the boats maker. How is the hull finished? How was it made and laid? Check other forums about the boat you are interested in. Are they known to be prone to pox or blisters? De lamination? The only way to know the condition of the boats bottom for sure is to haul it out (figure about $200). Once hauled yo can scrape all of the growth off the bottom and examine for any blisters or signs of delamination. Bottom paint has a lot of influence on the prevalence of barnacles and other types of potential damaging marine growth.
In a perfect world you should get the boat hauled out and inspected, the mast taken down and examined, and a professional mechanic to come run diagnostics on your diesel engine. For you and me we live in reality. A choice needs to be made based on what you have and what you dont. If you have the money for a haul out I strongly encourage you to do so. If you do not have the money for a haul out I would check the sea cocks VERY closely. If the seacocks all look in good or great shape then while still risky I would consider buying a boat without having it hauled first. If however any of the seacocks are suspect you will have to haul the boat anyway to replace them so you really should make sure you have the money set aside.
So far on the boats exterior we have discovered the following:
Corroded Battery terminal cable -$90
Broken Tachometer- ($25-250)
Broken Depth finder- ($65-350)
Broken Compass- ($25-300)
Rotten running rigging- ($350-700)
Disintegrated blocks and shackles- ($200-600)
Structurally deficient portholes- ($1500-2500)
Structurally deficient light vents- ($50-250)
Minor Gelcaot cosmetic issues- ($50 + TIME!)
Corroded Seacock- ($150-350 per for Bronze, $65-150 per for Marelon Plastics)
Built up bottom growth - (???)
Worn main sail- (Repairs $75-200$, replacement $800-1100)
The owner of the boat is asking $5500. You have yet to step inside.
Do not negotiate until the whole boat has been looked at.
For now I will say this--- Those wanting a perfect boat, you left a long time ago. Those wanting a boat in the middle-- You are wary. Project boaters? Your all ears!
I will make a follow up post to this one for the inside of this boat later tonight or tomorrow perhaps. This is the exterior edition on what to look for and what to expect. I hope this helps some. Leave any questions or comments.