Top Ten Tips for buying a boat (+ 5 bonus tips!)

Buying a boat takes a lot of time and energy – it is also a lot of fun!

I wrote this a few years back on – it all still applies.


1) Research research, research

With over 60 years combined professional and personal knowledge and thousands of ocean miles, we still spent two years searching on the internet  (while working onshore) before viewing boats (in San Francisco) and purchasing our second boat, Pyewacket II. Join groups in FB, cruising web-pages, and read blogs that are relevant to your situation – ask questions, keep asking questions. Read, read, read.

On a Dutch Barge in The Netherlands - we almost purchased this one
On a Dutch Barge in The Netherlands – we almost purchased this one

2) Which material?/ What size.

Already discussed in previous articles on my personal blog. Click here.

But, usually, the longer the boat the more cost involved, more antifoul, heavier/longer rigging., etc, but with care and knowledge, it doesn’t have to be too much more. Owning and maintaining a boat that is already in a seaworthy condition is pretty much a full-time job. If you want to go cruising sooner rather than later, you do not have time for a major fixer-upper.

How much work do you want to do before you GO cruising?
How much work do you want to do before you GO cruising?

3) Is it better to buy a boat from a broker or privately?

You may not have a choice. We purchased both our boats privately and sold them privately too. In the past, we thought that brokers charged a lot for their service. However, we sold our friends’ sailboat on their behalf and quickly found out that doing a good job of selling a boat is an incredible amount of work. If the boat you want is for sale via a broker, do some research on the broker – be prepared. But, try to form your own opinions on the broker and remember when you are buying, the broker will be looking out for the seller (who is employing him). If you are buying privately carry out relevant checks (see below).

4) If a boat seems cheap, ask yourself why?

Is it just circumstance? Is it the market? Or is there a problem that needs addressing. Keep this in mind when viewing.

5) Verification of details

If you are buying a boat, research and verification of all details is extremely important and if it is all new to you, ask a friend who has some knowledge to help. If you are buying privately, we recommend that you hire the services of professional document advisers/escrow agent.


  • What equipment is being left on board?
  • Who is paying for what during the survey? (paint, additional work that is necessary while on the hard) – make sure this is ALL clear
  • There is no money owing on the boat
  • The owners ARE the owners
  • Timeline for everything to happen succinctly (booking haulout, surveyor etc.)
  • Can you have your deposit returned at the survey stage if you are not happy for any reason?

6) How do you view a boat?

We viewed many boats and we were always startled by so many differences.

  • There is never a foolish question, Ask, ask, ask – research, research, research.
  • Check everything works
  • Start the engine, watch it working
  • Try the bed, enough room for you?
  • Stand at the sink – are you comfortable?
  • Find the reason why there is oil under the engine or water in the bilge.
  • Do the heads flush properly?
  • Sample the water on board, it is a good indication of the state of the tanks.
  • It is imperative that you choose your own surveyor

Is it seaworthy?

7) Technical specs

Ask lots of questions about the boat. Some of the most important things to know are:

  • Its condition, is it seaworthy?
  • The length overall (LOA)
  • Displacement (weight)
  • Draft (how deep the water must be in order to sail)
  • Age of the vessel
  • Number and types of sails on board
  • Be sure to ask if there’s any equipment that is presently on the boat that will be removed by the owner prior to the sale. For example, some owners will remove electronics like televisions, GPS systems, and even radios.
  • How regularly are the batteries charged/maintained
  • Is there a maintenance logbook available for the engine?
  • At survey, you could have an engine oil analysis done (if available).

8) How many viewings? A test sail?

We always arranged a second and third visit to boats that interested us. You must spend time on board, you are not wasting people’s time if you are genuinely interested in the vessel. If we felt rushed when looking at a boat (or were constantly distracted by the broker/seller) – we viewed this as a red flag and thought there were problems that were being hidden. When we purchased our boats and when we sold our boats, the agreement was:

  • A test sail was arranged after the deposit was received (usually 10%)
  • The deposit was refundable if the test sail didn’t ‘work’!
  • The deposit is a good faith payment that helps filter out time-wasters wanting a day on the water
  • The deposit made the potential purchaser responsible and not so gung-ho!

9) Keep Track

If you are viewing several boats, take pictures of each. Start with the name and a full picture, then take pictures as you go through the vessel, otherwise they will all blend into one. An organised notebook helps too. Jot down what you liked and disliked for later reference.

Finalise the test sail detail prior to going... how long, how far, deposit?

Finalise the test sail detail prior to going… how long, how far, deposit?

10) Buying the right boat

Try to restrain your emotions. While you should listen to your heart, you must follow up with your brain and acquired knowledge or your bank balance could get hurt and your safety may be compromised. Do thorough research. However, eventually your emotions will play a part.

Be broadminded and prepared to look at something you hadn’t considered previously. We started looking for something in the mid 40ft range and ended up with a 51 footer.

Cost considerations should span out to marinas or moorings. Do some research on this if you are interested in a boat in a specific area. You will need to haul it out for a survey (at your expense). It is quite likely you will have to update safety equipment: Fire extinguishers, EPRIBs, safety equipment, life jackets etc.,

Don’t forget registration will have to be transferred, this can be a sizeable expense at times.

11) Surveyor

We had all our boats surveyed. A surveyor will help verify the value of the boat and the potential expense involved in any restoration. AND highlight problems.

12) International purchase

If you are purchasing a boat in another country, research the import duty for taking it home and any tax implications in the country you purchased the boat.

13) Make an offer

Brokers will pass on any offer, it is not up to them to turn it down, they are obliged to pass it on. Put a value (you know what it is with all your research, and start low. You can go up, but not down!) The process is similar to buying a house.

14) Checks!

Check and double-check all paperwork, official numbers, licences etc. Make sure each engraved or painted-on registration number matches the paperwork.

15) Lastly

Don’t forget that boats can vary wildly – an acceptable 34 footer in one design may be too small in another design… good luck!

If you haul out for survey (and all goes well), you may as well anti-foul while you are there.

If you haul out for survey (and all goes well), you may as well anti-foul while you are there.

1 thought on “Top Ten Tips for buying a boat (+ 5 bonus tips!)”

  1. It was nice that you suggested asking a friend who has some knowledge to help you. As you said, research and verification are important if you are buying a boat. My sister and I are planning to shop for a boat for our father. He will celebrate his 45th birthday soon, and we want to surprise him with something that he’s been wanting to own. Since we want to make sure that we will find a boat with no issues at all, we will consider all your tips.

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