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Custom-Built Boats

I am looking for a 30 to 35-foot liveaboard, but most of the boats I have seen don't combine all the features I desire, so I'm considering a custom-built boat. What are the cost differences between a factory-made boat and a custom job?

Khane Goodson

Jon Shattuck responds:

Most boats are built on a production basis because it is the most efficient means of production. There are only one set of molds and a large number of boats are built from it, reducing the tooling cost per boat. They generally have a limited number of options in order to make assembly-line production most cost efficient.

Once you leave the ranks of production boats, there are actually several types of custom construction. There are those built on a limited budget, many of which are home-built by amateurs (some good and some not so good). Other than building the boat yourself, the next level is what many sailors refer to as a "semi-custom" boat. Semi-customs are generally built by small to mid-sized professional shops out of one set of molds so that the hulls and decks may be identical. But these builders allow the owner to spec out the interior and other options to his or her personal tastes. This approach enjoys some level of efficiency because of the common mold tooling, but has increased cost over a true production boat because of the low to medium number of boats constructed. Semi-customs also usually require some design work, and require individual attention and finishing which adds to the cost.

Finally, we arrive at the true custom, or "one-off" vessel, specifically designed and built from scratch for one customer with an unlimited budget. A true custom boat is a one-of-a-kind project, is the epitome of inefficiency, and is therefore relatively expensive.

Before launching onto the route of a custom boat, I recommend that you give the used market a good once over. After all, the people who built custom or semi-custom boats in years past do put them on the market at some time. Perhaps you can adapt an existing custom, semi-custom, or production boat to your needs at less cost than new construction. If you can’t find what you want on the used market, there are quite a few custom builders who build every conceivable type, size, and quality boat you can imagine. Again, researching the used market may help direct you to an appropriate custom builder who works in the style and level of quality you desire.


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