I’ve had quite a number of questions and comments about how we went about shopping for a new-to-us boat and how we apparently did it all so quickly. I’ve gotten several emails along the lines of “We’re looking for a boat, but there are just so many choices, and we’re afraid we’ll choose the wrong one and well, we’re overwhelmed. How in the world did you do it?”
Okay, maybe it was quick. Three weeks and a day from when we decided to get a boat to the day we closed on Barefoot Gal.
The Steps in Shopping For a Boat
Boat buying can be seen as a series of tasks:
- Decide where you want to use the boat. How do you want to use it? Knowing your cruising grounds, even if the answer is as broad as “around the world,” is imperative for choosing a boat.
- Research your cruising plans. Is draft an issue? Bridge height? Ferocious seas? Light winds? Cold or hot weather? Cruising guides are good for this (many are online, too) but blogs are a fantastic resource. Find several where people are cruising the area(s) you’d like to and read back a ways to see if there is something they’re always complaining about or always saying they’re so glad they’ve got. Don’t limit yourself to one or two — you probably need to see a half dozen if it’s an area you’re not familiar with before you know if a particular feature is one person’s idiosyncrasy or a common issue.
- Think about personal needs: cabins for kids or guests, single-handing, physical limitations of the crew.
- Develop a list of boat makes and models that would meet your needs.
- Develop your budget, both for the initial purchase and upgrades and for ongoing expenses. Be sure to include a reserve for unexpected expenses — there always are some! Figure out if you’ll need financing and if so, get pre-approved so you know how much you really have to work with.
- Use your budget to develop a shortlist of boat models, then research them as completely as possible. There are the obvious places to get info, such as cruising and boating magazines, but also dig out the owners’ groups, online forums, and even blogs by owners (blogs are a great source of real info, as it happens, with no sugar coating). YouTube is also a great place to get info both of fun times aboard and of many maintenance chores.
- At this point, you may have narrowed things down to just one model, or a handful. We found it helpful to develop a list of features we were looking for and mark each one as must-have or something that was a factor to compare in individual boats.
- Now it’s finally time to look at boat listings — YachtWorld, Sailboat Listings, Craigslist and any owners groups are good places to look. Fill in your chart or spreadsheet with as much info on each boat as you can, and call owners and brokers to get the remaining info.
- For any critical gear that a particular boat is missing, try to come up with an estimate of what it would cost you to put that on the boat or repair what’s there. It’s tough, but you’re trying to figure out how much each boat will cost when outfitted as you’d like it. But by the same token, don’t add in the cost of something that’s not important to you just because one boat has it (for example, we don’t plan to spend much time at a dock and hence we don’t care about air conditioning, so we wouldn’t add it to a boat that didn’t have it).
- Some boats are going to start looking better than others. Make plans to visit these.
- Investigate insurance and get some quotes on one or more of your top candidates, making some assumptions about the value (or just liability). You’ll learn a lot during this process — sometimes finding insurance that fits with your dream is the hardest piece of the puzzle.
- Learn at least the broad outlines of how the transaction will take place and any financing or insurance requirements.
- We listed things to look at on each boat so that we could make notes and compare them afterward — it’s amazing how they all become a blur. There’s a copy of our list (and lots of other things) in my FREE Documents for Boat Buyers and Owners.
- Look at boats. I printed copies of our list and took a clipboard and wrote the answers to each item as we looked at the boat. Get as much detail as possible on each item, particularly if it’s a boat that becomes a strong candidate (sometimes you know within 5 minutes you’ll never make an offer on a particular boat and while it’s still good to take a serious look at it to compare to the others, you may not want to spend too much time on it).
- When you think you’ve found the right boat, make an offer. How this is done will depend on whether you’re working with a broker or the seller, whether there is financing and the boat’s location.
- Survey and acceptance or rejection, sometimes with a renegotiation of the purchase price.
- Closing — again, how it happens depends on who is involved, whether it’s state titled or CG documented, whether there is financing, whether you’re comfortable handling the closing or want a title agent, etc.
Shopping for a Boat: The Reality
Whew! Seventeen items, some requiring detailed research. Did we really do it all in 22 days?
Not really. Dave and I had talked on and off for several years about getting another boat. For a variety of reasons, though, we didn’t.
During that time, though, we pretty well decided that if we did get another boat, we’d be cruising the Keys and perhaps the Bahamas. And with that in mind, we began researching necessary and desirable features. First was a large enough holding tank — it’s a no-discharge zone and we didn’t want to be tied to pump-outs every few days. And while boats with 6′ draft certainly transit the Keys, we learned that the shallower the draft the more out-of-the-way places we’d be able to go — and that’s very important to us. Bridge clearance can also be an issue in Florida. Since we’re not getting any younger (Dave is 76; I’m 54), smaller sails and a lighter boat would be good. I wanted a good work area for writing. Good ventilation was key, too, as was a boat that would sail and motor well.
We also figured out what we could afford for a boat and how we’d pay for it. On trips to Florida, we looked at boats, storage yards, cruising locales, mooring fields and marinas. All just theoretical, of course. We weren’t really planning to buy another boat and go cruising. But we kept notes and talked about how we’d do it. All just hypothetically.
Consequently, when we decided that yes, we really were going to buy a boat, we’d already done the first five steps and mentally narrowed down the list to a handful of small catamaran models. Dave and I both threw ourselves into reading everything we could find about the different ones that were within our budget and within a few days concluded that the Gemini was our first choice. TIP: If there’s more than one person researching and you’re using different computers/tablets, Google Chrome is wonderful to use on both as you can bookmark something on one and it immediately syncs to the other automatically if you’re logged in under the same account on both.
From there, I start looking at Geminis for sale in Florida. I checked out YachtWorld, SailboatListings, and Craigslist, in addition to the Gemini Owners Group and general Google searches. We called, got details, and set up a spreadsheet to compare the details. Admittedly, it helped a lot that we had previously cruised; we had a much better idea of what was important to us. We ended up with a list of 5 boats that looked like possibilities but were able to reach the sellers or brokers on only three of those.
I checked with BoatUS on insurance, getting quotes on two that were the most different. I knew that the details would change, but this gave us a ballpark estimate of the cost and availability of insurance.
Looking at Boats
Just six days after deciding we were serious about this, we threw some clothing, a computer and dog Paz in the car and headed to Florida for the great boat-buying road trip. The first boat we looked at showed us that we were right to be looking at Geminis, although it wasn’t the boat for us. On to boat number 2, which we liked and made an offer on. That deal disintegrated when the survey showed some structural issues (read more about surveys and deal killers). That was two weeks to the day from deciding to buy a boat.
That evening, I was able to reach one of the sellers I hadn’t talked to before. His boat had appealed to us the most on paper and as I talked to the owner, it sounded even better. We made plans to see the boat in two days, which gave us time to drive there and also a bit of down time to regroup after the failed purchase.
Buying the Boat
We spent over four hours on the boat, armed with our list of questions. Then Dave and I went for a late lunch and talked the boat over. We compared it to the other two boats we hadn’t yet looked at and concluded yes, it really was a better boat for what we wanted (the others had some different features, but some of those — air conditioning for example — weren’t things that were important to us). I ran a quick check on the boat’s documentation number to give ourselves a bit of assurance that we were dealing with the owner, then we went ahead and made an offer. There was no broker involved, so it was just a case of discussing it with the seller. After going back and forth a few times, we came to a deal we could all live with.
I next called for the survey; it was Thursday and the surveyor wasn’t available until Tuesday (three weeks from the “decision day”). With what we’d learned during the first survey, we felt confident this boat would pass. We used the time to arrange for summer storage, buy the supplies we’d need to ready her for storage (but saved those receipts!) and even went for a day of sailing in Charlotte Harbor with friends. Frankly, having a few days of downtime to plan was exactly what we needed.
On the way to Florida, I had researched how to make sure title was good and how to transfer title for a documented vessel and the associated Florida regulations. But I double-checked everything again during this time — and cursed myself for not having a printer with me! I found a UPS Store with internet, printers, copiers, a notary and a fax that could serve as the office for closing and contacted our bank to make sure I had the needed forms for a wire transfer of the purchase price.
On Tuesday, we had the survey and at least one of us was present the whole time. The sea trial was done on the way to the haul out, and we planned to leave the boat at that yard if all went well, so I had to drive the car so that everyone had a way to get back to their cars at the seller’s home. Consequently, I missed the sea trial but Dave knows more about the diesel and other mechanical systems than I do, so he was the logical one to be on the boat. We didn’t get the full written survey that day but the surveyor did discuss the boat in detail with us throughout the day and summarized his findings at the end. The survey only found minor, repairable issues and we accepted the boat.
We set the closing for the next morning and I went back to the motel to prepare the documents for closing (the seller had the Certificate of Documentation and a Bill of Sale, too). We met and went to the UPS Store, where we signed, notarized and copied documents and faxed off the wire transfer request. Then I faxed off the Coast Guard “exchange of documentation” forms (what most of us would call the transfer of ownership). Next stop was the county courthouse, where we did the Florida registration at the nicest DMV office I’ve ever been in — not only did they allow Paz in the office, they gave her treats! Lastly, I called BoatUS and purchased the insurance.
Or just beginning?
Are you preparing to cruise? Check out my free mini-course for help with all you need to learn: