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Old 08-02-2001
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Dan Dickison is on a distinguished road
The Family's First Boat

I am going to be buying a sailboat next spring. There are three of us in the family. We will be sailing on Lake Ontario and occasionaly sleeping on it overnight. I think I would like to keep it under 26 feet as this is our first boat and we are beginners. A few boats have been recomended including a C&C 25, a Mirage, a Tanzer, and a Grampian.

I am totaly confused and intimidated as to what to buy. What could you suggest? What is a good make? Are inboard engines better than outboards? Should we get a boat with a tiller or a wheel. And is 26 feet too big for a beginner? (We will all be taking lessons.) Are there any books that rate sailboats like they have for cars? Any and all advice will help me out. Thanks so much for your time.

Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your questions. Don't worry too much about feeling overwhelmed, it's pretty natural given that there are a lot of different boats on the market and no shortage of people to champion or deride each.

The good news is that you and your family are approaching boat ownership in the proper way, by taking lessons, asking around for information, and taking your time. Since you've got until next spring, I'd recommend that you take some time to experience the sailing characteristics of several types of boats. If you can, rent, charter, or borrow any of the boats you've named and try them out. After doing so you'll begin to develop an appreciation for the various qualities that distinguish one boat from another.

Some boats have more cockpit space (usually tiller boats are favored in this regard over those with wheels), and that can be a nice feature for families. Other boats provide a little more room down below, and since you plan to overnight occasionally, that's a factor you want to compare from boat to boat. Inboard engines usually take up more space in the interior of a boat than outboards, but inboards are more easily integrated into your boat's electrical system should you want to use lights, etc., on board.

Other factors also enter the equation. Will you store the boat on a trailer, or keep it in the water? Not all boats are easily trailered, so keep that in mind. Of course you'll want a well constructed boat that will keep your family safe. The make and model of a particular boat can often give you a good idea about how the boat was constructed. But for more details on these aspects, you'd be best off with some specific professional advice. Because the sport of sailing really doesn't have an equivalent to the automotive industry's consumer reports, you'll have to look in a few places. To get good professional feedback on particular boats, begin by hunting up some designer's reviews of the boats you think you're interested in. You can find a good many reviews on line here at SailNet. Just log on to Bob Perry's archive of boat reviews that were originally published in Sailing Magazine: http://www.sailnet.com/sailing/perry.htm.

You can also get feedback on different designs by querying current owners of a particular boat. To do that you can join the E-Mail Discussion Lists here at SailNet. Simply log on to the homepage and click on Join E-Mail Lists, which is one of the options listed under "Members' Center" on the left hand rail. Once you've taken the time to become a registered SailNet Member, you can post your query on any of over 100 lists (arranged by boat model and manufacturer).

You might also want to use the BoatCheck feature we offer to get other SailNet users' opinions of a particular boat. That feature is also listed on the homepage on the left hand rail under "Popular Features."

Once you've begun to collect information on the boats that appeal to you, I'm sure you'll beging to favor one or two, which will move you much closer to the ultimate decision of which one to buy. After you've completed your research, check out some of the boats listed on BoatSearch, you might find a good deal there.

Regarding 26 feet, I think you've set a good maximum length for yourself with that. I wouldn't buy anything that's much longer simply because it's easier to learn the sport aboard a smaller vessel. I'd also make sure that this first boat is a stable vessel that's not overly lively. In general, lighter boats will be a little more tippy and sensitive to waves and wind while heavier boats will provide you with a more stable feel. That can make a difference in helping you build confidence. A year or two later you might find that you're ready for something a little more lively. 

Here's wishing you the best of luck. Remember, once you've gotten your boat and begin sailing, if you find that you need additional information on sailing techniques or boat mechanics, we've got reams of material here at SailNet with articles written by some of the most authoritative people in the sport. All of it is free for the reading, just log on and search for it. We bring you informative articles every day and we also have an on line Store to support your sailing activities with everything from clothing to masts and booms.

Here's wishing you the best of luck in your search for a sailboat.

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