Is a Project Boat a Good FIRST Boat? (BR Podcast 35)

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First-time boat buyers are often seduced by fixer-uppers, aka "project boats." Unfortunately, it takes a considerable amount of experience to evaluate the possibilities and do the work.
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Is a Project Boat a Good FIRST Boat? (BR Podcast 35)

If you’re in the market for a boat, sooner or later you’ll be intrigued by some really low-priced boat you see. Hmm, you think, with the money I save on the purchase, I can turn it into exactly what I want.

The reality is that project boats can give you exactly the boat you want, but are generally not a good deal financially and most times the work takes considerably longer than expected. Many never end up in the water. Want to hear more? Listen in!

Prefer to read? Take a look at Project Boat for a First Boat?

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  • John Fox
    Posted at 23 June 2017 Reply

    In May of 2016, we bought a Hunter that needed some TLC for about half what a ready-to-go boat sold for. It had sat unused for three years, and some serious mildew issues, and a few issues the survey pointed out. However, the engine worked, it had sails, and looked ready to go. So, to your point, it looked like something we could at least sail on the weekends after a a few months on the hard, a good cleaning, fixing a few things on the survey, and then putting her in the water.

    It took us 6 months instead of 3 to get her in the water. Mostly because I took more time to do the work because it just took longer and I didn’t spend the time I could have. Six months later, we are still working on her, but just a week or two away from starting to sail.

    For us, we thought this was ‘project boat lite’. It may not needed as much as some, but we knew it wasn’t ‘move-in ready’.

    Using my 20-20 hindsight with my first boat/project, I offer up these thoughts.
    1. I have spent almost as much money for my project boat after 12 months as I would have if I bought a ‘move-in ready’ boat today. That includes all insurance payments, marina and yard fees. And we haven’t sailed her yet except for the sea trial. The main and jib were rotted, so we bought a new main thinking we could sail on the genoa. Unfortunately, it turned out we had a 170% deck sweeper that was in good condition as far as a sail goes, but practically unusable for this boat. Plus our furler couldn’t be reefed (by design). We discovered all of this the first time we let it out in 10 knot winds and had to immediately furl her back in because we couldn’t see a thing to port and the sail was far to large for the winds.
    2. Survey told me several things that were wrong that I knew I had to fix, but they didn’t tell me the lift pump would fail the day I bought it and the disadvantages of the furler. And a few other surprises.
    3. I have several brand new things that I won’t have to worry about, including thru-hulls, sea cocks, batteries, mainsail, furler, headstay. As you noted, not even ‘move-in ready’ boats are problem free. Some of things will probably need to be addressed over the next few years regardless.

    Since I now have a boat and am pretty comfortable with most aspects of the internals, it is doubtful I would seek a project boat for my next one. However, in perfect 20-20 hindsight, I believe I made the right decision for these reasons:
    1. First and foremost, it would have taken me another 12 months to save up enough money to get a true ‘move-in ready’ boat. I now have 12 months more experience than I would have if I had waited. One can watch videos and read books all day about fiberglassing and diesel engines and electrical wiring, but nothing replaces actually doing it. If the choice is to buy nothing and wait, or buy something and work on it, my choice still would be to buy something and work on it.
    2. I enjoyed working on the boat. There is nothing like getting down and dirty working on electrical or engine issues, and then sitting in the cockpit with a beer and watching the sun set. People spend hundreds on hobbies without even thinking about it, I treat this the same way. If someone already enjoys working on home projects or their car or building cabinets or just about anything that involves working with their hands, it’s an enjoyable activity to work on a project boat. Yep .. sailing would be a lot more fun. But, as noted above, my other option would have been to sit at home and watch YouTube videos until I could have afforded a boat that was ready-to-go.
    3. I met a lot of old salts that offered a lot better advice specific to my boat than I ever would have gotten watching YouTube. And listening to their stories on a boat with a cold beer is much better than watching YouTube. It’s a lot easier to meet boat people while working on your own boat, whether it’s on the hard or docked.

    By all means, if someone has the funds to purchase a boat that’s already in regular use and they can sail it off the mooring and start enjoying it, go for it.

    But. like with many things, if one has to wait to get the money to do so, I feel it’s better to buy something now and put all that extra money and time into it than to wait 12 months and watch YouTube videos.

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