Congratulations! You’ve decided to buy your own boat. No more ‘Other People’s Boat Club’. No more watching boats from the beach and knowing that the people on the water are having more fun than you. You are ready to take charge of your leisure time … to experience the freedom that boat ownership brings.
Lots of people own boats – it can’t be that difficult to turn a boat-owning fantasy into reality, can it?
Well … yes and no. Owning a boat is great fun. You can fish, sail, race, or just hang out with friends. You can day-trip to the closest bay or spend several days on neighboring islands. Tinkering with a boat can be an interesting hobby – it’s a great way to meet new people (who will wander over and tell you what you’re doing wrong), spend time outdoors (getting sunburned while cursing at machinery), and use up any spare cash you have laying around.
You can, of course, just run out and buy the first boat you see. However, it would be prudent to investigate the process before you buy. This series will provide you with some guidance, advice from experts, and places to find information about many aspects of buying a boat – some that you might not have thought about. Armed with knowledge, you will find a boat that you can afford and that is right for you.
First – and most difficult, I think, for a first-time buyer – is to figure out what you want a boat for.
Do you dream of sailing the seven seas and exploring exotic, far-away ports? There is nothing wrong with that … unless you are committed to a career that requires your presence five or six days a week. Do you want to spend your vacations camping on the boat – gunk-holing around the islands for a week or two at a time? Sounds great … how do your spouse and three kids feel about that vacation plan? A reality check may burst your bubble, but it will save you heartache, and money, in the long run.
Next, talk to boat owners.
I warn you that most boat owners have a love-hate relationship with boats, so be prepared. “Don’t do it. Don’t even go there,” says boat owner Jim Najvar of Texas. Owning a boat can be a time-consuming, expensive, and extremely frustrating ordeal. Boat owners will regale you with horror stories about every aspect of owning a boat – from buying to selling, from insuring to repairing. They will repeat the old saying that a boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money. They will say that BOAT stands for Bring On Another Thousand. Don’t be put off – remember that these people own the very thing they are griping about – they are just trying to tell it like it can be, as well as weed-out the faint of heart.
Get your boat-owning friends – or friends of friends – to take you out on their boats.
Boaters love to be on the water, and they love to talk about their boats. Offer to bring lunch and provide the beer; you should get plenty of invitations. Ask the owners why they decided to buy that particular boat, what they like and don’t like about it, and how they use their boat: Weekends? Daysail only? Racing? Cruising? A boat that is great for racing may not be very comfortable for a long weekend on the water.
No boating friends? Make some. Call local boating and yacht clubs, get the racing schedule, and then sign up to be a crew member. If the boating or yacht clubs offer social memberships, join and hang around with the boaties. Put a note on bulletin boards offering yourself as non-paid, inexperienced but willing-to-learn day crew. If you have any skills at all, even if it is just making great sandwiches, list them on your note. Visit marinas and don’t be shy. While sitting in a waterfront bar in Kemah, Texas, we saw a familiar boat come in – it was the same make as one we were thinking of buying. We tracked the boat to its slip, introduced ourselves to the owners and explained why we were there. They invited us on board, offered us a beer and told us everything about their Islander.
Don’t be picky. Take any rides your new friends offer to you – assuming that they are reasonably sane, sober-appearing people. This is especially important for new boaters. Racing is great fun – but after spending all day manhandling sails and being told to hike your ass out to weather, you might decide racing is too much work for you. Forty-plus foot sailboats are wonderful – but big sailboats require large lines and heavy-duty winches, and big gear is expensive. Gleaming teak looks beautiful – but it takes lots of time and/or money to keep it that way. I lusted after a wooden sailboat boat – but bought a low-maintenance fiberglass one.
Surf the Internet, which can be a great source for information.
Start with the websites listed in the sidebar that accompanies this article, and go from there. Don’t be afraid to jump on the bulletin boards or forums and ask questions. Just keep in mind what one of our contributing experts has to say about a grain of salt! Also, watch out for people who want your money. There is a “first boat buying guide” site that offers pretty good information … until somewhere around paragraph four when the author says he wants $95.00 for the rest of his advice. I’m not saying it’s not worth it – maybe it is – but there is a lot of good information out there that is free. Besides, if you are going to buy a boat, you’ll need to save the ninety-five bucks for the boat kitty (we’ll talk about budgeting in Part III).
Our Reality Check
We sold our 28’ sailboat when we left Houston. She was a great racer/cruiser, but everyone we talked to told us she was too small to sail in the Caribbean. We were used to light-air sailing in Galveston Bay. From our research, we learned that Caribbean winds blow between 15 – 17 knots on an average day – and there were long periods of time when the winds were higher. Since we had been considering purchasing a bigger boat anyway, we took everyone’s advice; we would purchase a 30-something sailboat when we got settled.
Once we got to St. Thomas, though, the realities of the type of boating we could do in the islands set in. Galveston Bay didn’t really have any destination boating sites. A few restaurants on Clear Lake had dock space for small boats, but that was about it. Most people went out on the bay to race, or dropped the hook for the day at Redfish Island, and then headed home.
Boating in St. Thomas was very different – there were so many places to go! We quickly realized that we could not work and still be able to explore our new “backyard” if we bought a sailboat. Reluctantly, but convinced we were making the right decision, we started looking for a power boat.