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61’ Hatteras. Photo Courtesy of Bayport Yachts
61’ Hatteras. Photo Courtesy of Bayport Yachts

How to Buy an Older Boat

The best day of your yachting life should be the day you buy your boat. In buying that boat though, you want to be sure you’re not going to become one of those unfortunate boaters for whom the second happiest day of your life is the day you finally sell it. Recognizing the values and pitfalls of choosing a newer or older boat is one way to avoid that.

Before beginning your search, you need to assess — objectively — your needs and those of your spouse or significant other.  Write down your “must haves,” and “don’t wants,” and price point.  Head to one of the many online research tools like www.yachtworld.com or www.boattrader.com and do a quick search. Should you discover that an older boat is going to best fit your needs and budget, the next step is to recognize and map out the upkeep of that vessel. Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you have two Hatteras yachts of comparable size, built more than 30 years apart. The new yacht retails for approximately $3 million, but the older boat, priced at 10% of that cost, has really held its value.

“While there’s no question that price is a huge deciding factor, there are other considerations that can make an older yacht a really good choice,” says David Lacz, owner of Bartram & Brakenhoff Yacht Brokerage.

There are certain brands, years and models that become classics, like a Corvette.  The key is to do your research to find those models. If a person buys an older boat with good bones and has the passion and ability to upgrade, that boat can be as good, if not like new condition to that particular buyer. “

For those who intend to cruise, the risks of having interrupted voyages and costly repairs is exponentially greater with an older boat. If your car breaks down along the highway, you can call AAA. If your yacht breaks down, you may be in trouble before TowBoatUS, SeaTow or the Coast Guard can reach you.

“Some buyers are gun-shy of buying older yachts,” notes Eric Horst, owner of Bayport Yachts brokerage, which specializes in used yachts. “We sell both newer and older boats, but we stay away from older boats we don’t feel are built for prolonged use.”

“It’s as important to assess the buyers as it is the boats they’re considering,” he adds.

“While some people think they don’t mind undertaking extensive refurbs and yacht repairs, it’s our job to make them aware of the consequences in terms of time and money.”

If you are not an electronics wiz, a competent plumber and a good electrician, think carefully before buying an older boat. Be realistic about what you are willing to take on, and spend over time.  It’s also important to find a competent boat yard that will either let you work on your boat (many don’t) or one that you can trust to implement repairs in a timely and cost-effective manner.

You also need to do your homework to make sure you aren’t buying someone else’s problems unless you are looking for a project yacht.

For example: a lot of boats were severely damaged in Hurricane Sandy. Others were badly grounded or sunk. Learn the boat’s provenance. It’s always safer to purchase a boat if the owner has kept receipts or, even better, a detailed log of service records. You also want to know if the boat was used in fresh or salt water, as saltwater boats are subject to far more corrosion.

Just like a car’s VIN, a boat manufactured after November 1972 has a 12-digit hull identification number located in the upper right corner of the transom. This tells you manufacturer, model, hull number and date built. You can go online to research the boat with services such as www.boathistoryreport.com. This tool is great to find out about previous accidents, groundings and hurricane damage.

Finally, choosing a competent surveyor to perform a detailed pre-purchase survey can save a lot of money and heartache down the road. My partner, Capt. Mike Wright, who’s surveyed yachts up and down the East Coast for a couple of decades has seen too many buyers get burned. His condensed advice to anyone looking to buy an older boat:

  • “Deals can be had, but not for free. If a boat looks shoddy….it is.”
  • “Unkept means not maintained. Use your nose. Smelling bad usually means bad.”
  • “Dirty engine spaces and rusty parts are a bad signal. Take the oil filter off, and if there is cream colored gunk, back away. Drawers full of parts and rusty tools may mean lots of piecemeal work has been done. This may not be a good sign.”

New or used, there is no perfect boat. Find what works best for you then go out and have fun.

Questions to ask when buying an older yacht:

  • What is the real condition of hull, engines and other critical systems?
  • Will this boat be safe for my intended cruising grounds?
  • Older vessels are harder to insure. Can I get this vessel insured?
  • Can I buy or extend a warranty?
  • What is the reputation of this manufacturer, year and model? A good resource is  www.boattest.com.
  • How does resale value compare to similar vessels? Check out www.yachtworld.com or www.boattrader.com
  • What is this boat’s history? A great site is www.boathistory.com
  • Has the owner kept good logs of maintenance and cruising? If so, ask for them. If not, beware.
  • Where has the yacht been, i.e., salt versus freshwater, offshore versus local?
  • How is this boat equipped? Will you have to buy new electronics, engines, running gear or refurb the interior? Even docklines and fenders, life vests and throw rings should be factored in if they aren’t on the boat.

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