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Go Back   SailNet Community > Contributing Authors > Buying a Boat Articles
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Old 04-20-1999
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How to Choose the Right Boat

Last month I promised to share what I think is an appropriate approach to the question: What boat should I buy?

First-time boat buyers who know me only through my books and articles often ask me for a list of the boats they should consider, and perhaps a list of those to avoid. The assumption, I suppose, is that I must know more about boats than they do. And perhaps that is fair if we are talking about quality or performance. But it overlooks suitability, about which I know nothing.

No single boat does everything well. If you want a boat that inspires confidence in a blow, don't expect it to also shine in light air. A boat that is fun—make that exciting—to sail on weekends is not likely to also be the ideal boat for an ocean passage. Don't expect quick acceleration and load-carrying capacity in the same boat. You can buy a boat to club race now, then sail around the world in later, but it will only do one or the other-or neither-well.

It would thus seem logical that the first step in determining which boat you should buy should be to determine how you are going to use the boat. But sailing is more epiphanic than rational, more spiritual than practical. To overlook this truth is to risk making the wrong decision despite sound reasoning.

So … for me the first consideration is beauty. Much of what attracts me to sailing is aesthetic, whether it is the graceful curve of white sails against blue sky, the rest that sailing's soft sounds grant my abused eardrums, or the unexpected warmth of a light spilling from a porthole at night. Consequently, I find beauty in a boat more satisfying than speed or space or innovative design. When I dinghy away from my boat, I find my head cocked in much the same way as when I admire a piece of art. I feel privileged to own such a beautiful boat. That sense of pride has sustained our relationship for 25 years.

A Sampling of Don Casey's Words of Advice on Boat Choice

  • You can buy a boat to club race now, then sail around the world in later, but it will only do one or the other-or neither-well.
  • Whatever your idea of a fine-looking boat is, that should be the starting point in your search.
  • If speed is not already important to you, don't let someone discourage you from buying a boat you like because it is "slow."
  • Decide how much you can comfortably spend on sailing- the operative word here being comfortably-then hold yourself to that amount.
  • Limit your aspirations for that first boat to how you will use it now.
  • Seaworthiness is relative. The boat you buy should provide a high level of safety for the way you use it.
    • Of course, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But whatever your idea of a fine-looking boat is, that should be the starting point in your search. You can find a boat that is fast or blue-water capable or with the cabin space of an apartment, but if you don't feel a little puffed up at being the owner of this particular vessel, you are already on your way to looking for your next boat.

      If you race rather than cruise, then speed becomes the prime consideration. And some cruising sailors cannot be happy unless their boats are fast. If leaving other sailors in your wake is all-important to you, limit your search to boats known for their performance. But where sailboats are concerned, fast is a relative term. On a typical day sail, the fastest boat in the fleet, given equivalent waterline lengths, will still be setting the anchor when the slowest boat arrives. If speed is not already important to you, don't let someone discourage you from buying a boat you like because it is "slow."

      On the subject of speed, allow me a small digression. I see over and over the claim that fast boats are correspondingly safer passagemakers. The rationale is that you are out there a shorter period of time, so your exposure to bad weather is reduced. Fine. So when you hit the freeway tomorrow, crank the old Buick up to 90 to minimize the time you are exposed to the risks of freeway driving. Same logic.

      I like to bury the rail as much as anyone, but the faster the boat goes, the more risk of damage from collision,

      Grand River Raider likes this.
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