Establishing priorities can be difficult, especially for a first-time boater buyer. Unless you have unlimited funds at your disposal, you won’t be able to have everything you want in one boat. Accept that (1) your first boat will most likely be just that – your first, not your last; and (2) you will make mistakes the first time you buy a boat – and probably the second and third times, too. Mistakes will probably cost you money and most certainly get you laughed at (usually by people who made the same errors) – but they are not the end of the world. There is no perfect boat – just the best one for what you need and can afford right now.
What do you want to do?
Think hard about how you want to use your boat. Love to fish? Want to go racing? Do you plan to get away by yourself, or does your boat need to accommodate the whole family … including a 50-pound dog? Do you dream of sleeping at anchor under stars? Then your boat will need good ventilation – and comfortable sleeping quarters. But if you plan to pull into a marina at night, you will probably want air conditioning – or maybe you’ll prefer to check into the marina’s hotel. If, after careful reflection, you have conflicting activities that are equally important to you/your family, consider buying more than one boat. Two smaller boats – say an open power boat for fishing and traveling quickly from island to island, AND, a small sailing dinghy for the kids to play with – might be more fun than a bigger boat that only you can handle.
What can you do?
Fairly evaluate your physical condition, as well as that of your intended boating companions. It takes a lot of muscle to haul a 400-pound mainsail up the mast. If you can’t do it, then you’d better have the means – strong crew or electric winches – onboard. Do you know anything about engines? Machinery requires know-how and maintenance. Can you fix the engine if it fails underway? If the engine on a sailboat craps out – assuming there is a workable sail and rig onboard – I can get us home, or at least to safety. However, because I know very little about engines, I will probably never take our powerboat out alone, or if I do I won’t go far.
Where will you use your boat?
Blue-water sailors who plan to cross the Atlantic need a boat very different from the one that dinghy racers will buy. Okay, that’s an extreme example, but you get the point. Do you plan to keep your boat in the water and use it every weekend? Rack it and splash it once a month? Once on the water, will you drive or sail your boat for a couple of hours before putting it away, or will you be out long enough to need lunch, drinks and shade? I learned to sail in Michigan, where I was always cold; I’d never heard of a bimini. When I moved back to Texas and started sailing on the Gulf Coast, I quickly realized that we would fry without one.
If you are completely new to boating, now – before you get too caught up in the boat-buying process – would be a good time to take a public boating course. The basic boating courses offered by the United States Power Squadrons and the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, are open to the public. These education-oriented organizations have social activities – another great way to meet boaters. Get to know them and you’ll have a larger pool of boaters to help you draw up your priority list.
Our priorities: We loved our first sailboat, a Hunter 23, but she was small– we were getting bad backs from stooping over to keep from hitting our heads. When we went shopping for our second sailboat, our “must haves” were standing headroom under the bimini and in the cabin. If a boat did not have standing headroom under both – no matter how great everything else was – we kept looking. When we found an Islander 28 that did have room, as well as other things we liked, we bought her … and named her Headroom.
For our power boat in St. Thomas, the list was very different. We wanted a boat that was small enough for the two of us to handle, big enough for us take friends boating, stable enough to coax visiting family onto, comfortable enough for us to spend a week on, and capable of getting us from St. Thomas to Virgin Gorda and back for long weekends.
Next month: Figuring out your budget – Section A: Insurance.