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To buy a boat or not to buy a boat? That is the question.

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When sailing is beautiful it’s really beautiful. Early morning near the island of Porquerolles in France. Leica M9 21mm Asph.

You’ve probably noticed by now if you are a regular visitor to this blog that I like to do things differently to most people especially when it comes to advice on buying a boat whether you are a first timer or an experienced sailor. There is a lot of good info out there if you can sift your way through the dross. I’m going to offer something no one else does and rather than explain about the technical stuff I want to discuss the philosophy of buying a boat. You might find this more helpful in the long run.

This is a very complicated subject indeed. How can I give you my 25 years of sailing and boating experiences in one blog post? Even if I could, everyone is different and everyone’s needs are not the same and in any case they change with circumstances and age. What I can share with you are some of the things that you won’t read anywhere else. Since I am not trying to sell you something, I have no reason to mislead you.

Many people at some point in their life will want to up sticks and sail away and you can be sure that when that moment comes there will  be no shortage of companies and individuals waiting to take advantage of you. They will gladly sell you ‘The Dream’ and you’ll fall for it because they will tell you everything you want to hear.

Sailing can be idyllic. It can be magical, awesome and incredible. It can be relaxing, educational, fabulous and fun. You only have to take a look at any charter company’s advert in a yachting magazine. The perfect young family, all smiling, the boat gently heeled, the sun shining, kids behaving, no other boats in sight. You’ve seen the ads. They are selling the dream. There is no mention of the cost or any of the other boring realities of a boating holiday.

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Anchored in a secluded bay in Croatia. Leica Digilux 2

Sailing can be a total nightmare. It can be frightening, cold, wet and nasty. Nature is not always your friend. When it’s rough and shitty at sea, you need to be in the right head space with people and a boat you can trust. It can be hideously expensive too. I don’t want to frighten you by harping on about the negative aspects of sailing but I am not going to bullshit you either. A full understanding can only help you.

So let me share some realities with you. I’m not trying to put you off but when you want to live the dream it’s all to easy to ignore that nagging conscience of yours.

Boats are expensive. Boats are very expensive. B.O.A.T. or Break Out Another Thousand. The marine environment is one of the most hostile ones on the planet and because of this, anything that goes on a boat has to be able to withstand it. Anything electronic must be waterproof. Not just simply water resistant but it must be capable of being submerged. Only truly marine equipment can handle this kind of abuse.

Take the Dana 24 as an example. A very expensive boat for its size. Personally I don’t think it’s expensive, I think that is the price you have to pay to get a quality boat. There are many people out there who just don’t get this. It is especially true when talking about boats. On a forum recently someone pointed out that for what I paid for my new 24 foot Dana, I could have bought a new Bavaria 35 footer. This is true. But I would like to explore this a little and hopefully by the time I am finished you will understand why I still chose to buy the smaller boat with my hard earned money.

This is not a small is beautiful diatribe although there is a huge amount to be said for buying smaller than you think you need. Maybe I will write about this on another post. This post is about doing the most logical thing. It is a post about decisions made clearly, without emotion and thinking long term.

Lets consider the basic costs as that is ‘the bottom line’ and people seem to think this more important than any other issue. And it is true that the first time buyer will have a figure that he/she can afford to spend on their ‘dream boat’ and they will also have a (probably fatuous) idea of the size of boat they would like. A quick browse through the classified ads in any yachting magazine will soon change that.

For some reason most couples think they need anything from 40 to 50 feet for their dream boat. This is partly because of a fear and ignorance of the oceans and the belief that a bigger boat is automatically safer than a smaller one. It also has something to do with status. The bigger the boat the more successful you are etc. But this is a stupid road to go down as there will always be someone with a bigger or better boat than you.

So they look in the boating mags and are shocked that a 50 foot yacht, even second hand can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds so they lower their expectations. But why are boats so expensive? There are lots of reasons but mostly they are expensive because they are hand made and all the parts that are put onto a yacht have to be of a very high quality to withstand the rigours of a life at sea.

There is a serious dichotomy with boats. There is the dream on the one hand and the reality on the other. It is true that sailing, when it’s good can be totally awesome and just like the dream. There is nothing like a family of frisky dolphins playing under your bow as your yacht laps up the sunny miles. But these days are rare, maybe this is one of the reasons why they are so special. I reckon that only 1 in 10 of sailing trips is like this, the others can range from boring to terrifying or be simply miserable.

How often will you actually use your boat? If I didn’t live aboard I very much doubt that I could afford to keep a yacht. The more you pay for a yacht, the more you have to work to pay for it. It’s a classic catch 22 situation. Some people are so wrapped up in the idea of owning their own boat that they don’t think about other solutions. If you want to throw money away, buy a boat and leave it sitting in a marina for 50 weeks of the year.

No matter what you think, if you have family commitments and a job then you will NOT be able to get down to the boat as often as you think. Often a mooring cannot be found near to where you live so you’ll spend much of your days off simply travelling to and from the boat. Then when you arrive, the boat will be filthy and will need a good clean. The time left over for sailing will be reduced still further by this. Then you may find that your neglected boat will show you its displeasure by going wrong. If you can’t do the work yourself, you’ll have to call in an expert and that will cost. So you’ll probably have to work more to pay for it reducing available boating days still further.

Then after all this effort you may find that the weather is terrible. How will the family cope cooped up in a damp boat for days on end? I’m not trying to put you off the idea of owning a boat but what I have just described is a VERY typical situation that I have seen many many times. The marina I am moored in now is literally full of neglected boats and broken dreams.

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Who knows the story behind this long abandoned boat? There is lichen growing on the deck and it clearly hasn’t moved for years. There are boats like this on every pontoon in every marina.

Before you even think about buying a boat you would be well advised to charter one. Obviously if you are planning to sail off around the world, you’ll need your own boat but there is a lot to be said for chartering first. If you do not have much experience sailing then you will learn a lot from chartering. The best bit is that you don’t have to concern yourself with anything except filling the boat up with water and food for the duration of the trip.

The best advantage to chartering is that you are not stuck in one place and in fact you could charter a boat anywhere in the world. If you own your own boat and have only a few weeks holiday a year you will find yourself seriously restricted in where you can physically get to. Remember too that you’ll have to get your boat back too and NOTHING upsets a voyage more than a deadline that cannot be missed. All sense goes out the window and when this happens you are putting yourself at risk. I’ve seen it a thousand times. If you want to have a miserable (or possibly dangerous) time, set yourself a deadline and stick to it no matter what.

Another great thing about chartering is that it can give you an opportunity to try different boats with different layouts before you commit to buying for yourself. Without experience it is hard to know what you will need from a boat. You can imagine that you need certain things but in fact you might discover that you didn’t need them after all but it may bring to light issues that you hadn’t considered.

If you are not convinced and still want to buy your own boat you will be faced with a huge host of logistical issues, the biggest (apart from finding a large sum of cash to actually buy it) is finding somewhere to put it. Boating is becoming more and more popular these days and there are simply not enough marinas to go around. What this means is that you may find it impossible to find a berth for your boat near to where you live or your desired cruising ground.

If you do find somewhere then you may be shocked at the cost of an annual berth. Berthing is normally charged on the length of a boat and usually the marina wants a full years payment up front. You may be able to pay monthly but it will be more expensive.

Here in the Med it is almost impossible to find an annual berth anywhere as all the places are taken. You can probably get a monthly berth at a higher price but even this may not be available in the height of the summer when marina berths are at a premium. If your boat is more than 10 metres long it is even more difficult.

Here we get back to that 24 foot versus a 35 boat. If I had of bought a 35 footer I would have to pay almost double just to moor it and there would be no guarantee that I could find a place.

An important point which is often overlooked is the fact that boats go up in size exponentially, that is to say that although a 35 foot boat is only about a third as long again as a 24 footer, it is actually twice the size. It will weigh twice as much, the sail area will be double and thus all the things you need to buy for it will cost twice as much as a 24 footer. This is boats for you.

So now that I have explained some basic stuff lets get in a bit deeper. The 35 foot Bavaria that I could have bought has already lost about 20% of its value as soon as I commissioned it. Why is that? Well the Bavaria is a popular boat (because it is cheap and mass produced) and there are a lot of them for sale. I do not know why people feel the need to buy a brand new boat when there are so many second hand ones for sale out there but maybe it’s status again. But there are a lot of very good reasons not to buy a new Bavaria (or any other mass produced similar yacht for that matter).

As a boat builder I have seen some horrible things over the years and these cheap mass produced boats are among the worst. They will inevitably have problems, some more serious than others. They will probably be sorted out under warranty so if you buy a nearly new one you will be saved the stress and hassle of a new boat with problems that need sorting out.

I saw one new 37 footer a few years ago, it was in the yard having some warranty work done. The owner had the boat delivered in April so he had the whole summer ahead of him to enjoy his new boat but the problems were so many and so serious that his pride and joy was in the yard until August and he missed the best part of a season’s sailing because of the problems. Suffice to say he was not at all impressed. Sad to say, I have seen this all too often.

So asides from the depreciation and the fact that the boat will be hard to sell as there are so many exactly like it to choose from that it really is a buyer’s market. Another mistake that many buyers make is to spend a small fortune on electronics and suchlike with the misguided idea that they will recoup their money when they sell the boat. This never happens. The reason it doesn’t happen is because not everyone will want the same kind of chart plotter or radar that you fitted and add to this the fact that electronics evolve so fast that they are soon superseded by better equipment very quickly.

As far as I am concerned a huge inventory of equipment like diesel heaters, chart plotters, radar and instruments does not impress me at all. I am far more likely to buy a boat with very few of these things and fit them myself. The problem is that you have no way of knowing how well, or badly, the equipment was fitted. Most marine equipment is very reliable these days but only if it has been well installed. When it fails it is usually because whoever fitted it didn’t understand what they were doing or because the owner failed to understand the importance of maintenance.

And here is another important factor and that is that for some reason modern plastic boats are sold as being low maintenance and owners take that to mean that the boat just needs a wash every now and then. This is complete nonsense. Every boat needs looking after and all the systems on the boat need maintaining. It’s true that a plastic boat needs less maintenance than a wooden one but don’t be fooled into thinking that they can look after themselves or never go wrong.

It is hard for me to explain why I chose to buy a quality 24 foot boat over an average 35 footer because it goes so much more than skin deep. I think what it boils down to is that I do not believe that you should take to sea in any boat that has been built to a price. The sea can be a hostile place and while it’s true that you may never experience truly awful weather, if you do you will not want to be in a flimsy mass produced cheap boat.

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Another common sight in most marinas, yet another unwanted yacht for sale.

I have read too many stories about failures on these kind of boats and I’ve seen with my own eyes the crappy way they are constructed. I will attempt to show some of the differences so you can see for yourself.

Lets start with the layup of the hull. The Dana is made with alternating layers of fibreglass cloth with the resin pressed through by hand by experienced builders. This creates an incredibly strong structure. The mass produced yacht is most probably made by a large resin gun that sprays chopped strand into the mould. It is a very fast way to lay up a hull but in my opinion not a good one. It’s just one of the ways a yacht manufacturer cuts costs to stay competitive.

Lets then look at the rudder. On the Dana it is a web of stainless steel with a fibreglass cover moulded over it. On a mass produced modern yacht the entire thing is made of fibreglass. There have been far too many tales of rudders falling off for me to have any confidence in a system like this. Most boat yards will have at least one yacht in for repairs with a smashed or broken rudder. It’s all very well if you are not far from help but what happens when you are mid Atlantic and your rudder falls off?

As well as the actual quality of construction it’s worth understanding the shape of modern boats too. Yachts have evolved incredibly in the last 50 years. Back in the post war years, most boats would have been made of wood but then fibreglass came along and it must be said that it is probably the best material to make a boat from. It is strong and resilient but best of all it can moulded into almost any shape whereas wood has physical limits.

Once yacht designers were relieved of the restricting properties of wood they were able to make much more efficient hull shapes. Wetted area was reduced and things like keels and rudders separated. This does make for a much more efficient shape but at a cost. Everything ever done on a yacht comes at a price, and I’m not necessarily talking about a financial one. The modern yacht might be more efficient sailing to windward but  the rudder is no longer protected by a keel so it is more vulnerable to damage. Maybe you will be lucky and never hit anything but do you want to rely on luck to get you from A to B?

I think what I am trying to point out is that for most people buying a boat is the second biggest investment they ever make in their life so it really does amaze me that people are so flippant about it, so ready to blindly listen to the so called experts. As I said earlier, a broker will only point out the good points when selling a boat. If you are a novice, you are easy meat.

There is a lot of nonsense talked about boats, and a hell of a lot of common misconceptions as well. It is hard for the novice to sort out the genuine good advice from the false. Boats are very expensive so mistakes tend to be costly. Just look at the hundreds of practically abandoned boats in every marina all around the world. What makes you think you will be any different?

Unless you are able to use your boat for at least one quarter of a year, it just doesn’t make any sense to own one. If you don’t mind spending your hard earned cash on something that you hardly use then go ahead. But you will lose money from day one. You have heard the expression, ‘the two best days are the day you buy the boat and the day you sell it’. There’s a reason for that.

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yet another abandoned boat. Click on the image to see more detail.

We haven’t even considered the impact that yet another plastic boat has on the environment. A lot of materials go into a boat and a lot of energy was used to build it. To just leave it sitting and rotting away in a marina for most of the year is criminal.

So, what can you do? As I said, I would recommend charter as you can choose your sailing area and you have no responsibilities, you can take it back and walk away and not give the boat one moments more thought. You will gain experience and you will get to try different boats to see what works best for you. It might seem expensive but believe me, compared to owning your own boat it is much cheaper.

If you really want to own a boat then seriously consider sharing. There are many people who do this and it is a very sensible and good way to own a boat. You can share the cost of purchase, mooring and maintenance. This can make a colossal difference to the costs, if it is shared between four owners for example. Obviously the down sides are that you need to find like minded reasonable people to share with and you may not always be able to use the boat when you want.

If you don’t want to share and you still want a good boat then find someone competent you can trust to look after it for you when you are not around. That way when you do come down, you can just hop aboard and go off and enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about paying good money to have someone look after your boat, it’s money well spent.

NOTHING will devalue your boat quicker than neglect.

If you still want to buy a boat then I recommend buying a second hand one. Most of the yachts depreciation will have already happened so you will save money. Listen to me, what a hypocrite! I did exactly what I am telling you not to do. I did buy a new boat and not a second hand one.

Why did I do this? Well, there are many reasons. The fact that I do not plan on buying another boat for many years and I also live aboard had something to do with it. Also that the Dana 24 holds its value very well and in fact a new one was only 25% more expensive. Also, the logistics of buying a second hand boat from the other side of the Atlantic was somewhat complicated and potentially expensive.

But I mainly bought a new one because I did not want all the things that everyone else deems so essential on a boat, such as electronics and radar etc. I wanted a simple boat. It’s true that I could have bought a second hand one and removed the stuff I didn’t want but then I would have holes everywhere and I HATE holes in boats. I also have a lot of sailing and boat building experience. I was able to choose the boat that I needed knowing 100% that it was the right choice for me.

What it boils down to is simple mathematics. Just do some sums. Be honest. Add up the total cost of the boat. If you are taking out a loan, take this in to account as well. Don’t forget to add maintenance costs, servicing and especially mooring. The boat has to come out of the water every year to be painted and cleaned so cost this in. If you plan to do this work yourself consider that it will eat into your holiday.

Consider how often you will realistically use the boat and divide the total by the number of days you will actually use the boat. You might be shocked. What follows is a break down of the annual costs for an average 10 metre yacht. Despite what you think, very few people with job or family commitments EVER manage to use or even visit their boat as much as they would like. Not even close.

Cost to buy an average 5 year old 10 metre yacht. Prices in Euros.

Price 100,000

Loan over 5 years, total interest paid on loan could be as much as 70,000.

Annual mooring (if you can find one) will be about 3500.

Taking the boat out of the water every year and cleaning and antifouling will probably cost about a 1000.

Servicing and other miscellaneous costs could easily be another 1000.

No doubt you will be tempted to upgrade old systems or buy some new electronics but we’ll ignore this for now.

We shall also ignore the fact that you will probably need new sails at some point and the inevitable repairs that arise from using the boat. We shall also ignore fuel costs which could be substantial.

Lets add this all up. One year of a loan and interest 170,000 divided by 5 = 34,000

Annual costs for a 5 year old 10 metre yacht:

Boat Loan     34,000

Mooring           3500

Boat out          1000

Servicing         1000

The total of this lot comes to about 40 grand a year in real terms. If you keep the boat 5 years and decide to sell after this time obviously these costs will be reduced. Your boat will have lost about 40% of it’s value so you will have lost about 100,000 Euros or about 20,000 a year on the boat alone. The other costs never go away even if you don’t use the boat so we can easily say that an average 10 metre yacht will cost about 25,000 a year or a staggering 500 Euros every week whether you use the boat or not!!

Despite what you think, you will not manage to use the boat for more than 30 days a year (and frankly that is generous) so even your second hand 10 metre yacht will cost you a shocking 800 Euros every single day you are on board. Or about 5000 Euros a week. For this kind of money you can hire a 40 footer in the Caribbean!

So that is the real cost of boat ownership. Shocking really especially when you further consider the responsibility of ownership. Is it really worth it to be able to say that you own a yacht? Even if you share this boat with 3 others it will still cost you 200 Euros every single day you are aboard!

Remember that we are talking about a small yacht of just 10 metres length. Boat costs rise exponentially so a 12 metre might cost 50% more and so on. Then also consider that I have not even discussed those surprise repairs that can come along at any time. If you do want to buy a boat you must be prepared for some serious expense.

Of course you could buy a boat and not do any of the necessary work but then when you come to sell you will lose out badly. The bottom line is that yachts are very very expensive. Will anyone reading this take any notice? I doubt it. Sadly, for some reason buying a boat blinds people to the realities, they just don’t want to know.

That’s fine. So long as you know that your boat is costing you 30 Euros every hour you are aboard come rain and shine and you don’t mind the constant worry of ownership then go ahead.

I read somewhere that the average French boat gets used for 15 minutes a year on average and if that is true that you have to wonder why anyone would own a boat at all. Mind you there are about 60 boats on the pontoon where we are moored and there are about 10 boats that have certainly not moved for years if the plants growing on them is anything to go by. That’s about 15% of all boats in this marina never go anywhere and the others spend the majority of the year doing nothing. At best they are used for a couple of weeks in the summer and an odd weekend. So maybe it’s not so far from the truth.

If I did not live aboard there is no way I could justify owning a boat. Never mind the cost, there is something quite wrong about such a luxury item that you hardly use when there are so many homeless people in the world. Then consider that every marina built is a burden on the environment so to buy a boat and not use it is completely ridiculous.

All this just so people can say they own a boat. I just don’t get it. No one is fooled though. To these people I ask. ‘ How many days a year do you get to use it then?’ At which point they usually try to change the subject.

2 replies on “To buy a boat or not to buy a boat? That is the question.”

Hi, a great piece of writing, thank you. I would like to ask your opinion. I am 26 years old and have been professionally sailing for 8 years as a Cruising Instructor. As I have been working for many companies around the world (mainly the Mediterranean) I thought it is about time I did the same thing but on my own yacht. I am looking to buy a 50 ft yacht with 5 cabins and 5 heads. I will be living on it every day and working. As you said in your blog, it is expensive but I think I am nervous and excited at the same time. I am looking for some words of advice whether to do this or to put my money in things like a house. I know how much work it will be and i am ready to put my all into creating this small charter business.

Look forward to hearing from you,

Regards,

Ben

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