Buying a Used Sailboat: The Real Costs

The old adage is that the best two days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. Having gone through only the former (thus far), I can say that the day one buys a boat IS a fantastic experience, filled with wonderful emotion and joy and happiness and excitement.

But as with every high, there is the inevitable comedown afterwards. In the case of buying a boat, that typically comes in the form of boat assuming its well-known role as a money pit. Caveat emptor, indeed.

I had read over the years that the buyer of a used sailboat should plan on spending about 50 percent of the purchase price AFTER buying the boat. The money is typically spent on repairs of old equipment, upgrades and adding personal touches. And in the case of Further, I’m finding out that what I read is true. I’ve also found out that there’s one other source of money-sucking in the case of Further: false advertising.

I started dealing with yacht brokers in late 2011, after my return from a summer of crewing aboard Polar Bear in the far north Atlantic, when I started looking for a sailboat of my own. And in those seven years, I’ve dealt with three brokers. I can honestly say that only one of them I would trust as far as I could throw a horse. The other two were little more than glorified used-car salesmen. The most recent example, the one who represented the seller of the boat that became Further, was so full of shit, and his listing for the boat even more choked with feces, that if I ever see him again I cannot be held responsible for my actions.

Buying a boat is not unlike buying a house: you make an offer, go back and forth with the seller, and when you come to an agreement the boat/house is inspected by a professional. Then you haggle a bit more based on what you learned.

Further passed all the tests. I took a couple of grand off my offer after the surveyor said there was an electrical smell in the engine. There were a few other, mostly minor, things but nothing you wouldn’t expect from a 32-year-old boat.

A more in-depth exploration of the engine failed to turn up any electrical issues. In fact, the engine got a pretty good bill of health. But so many other things have come to light in the six months I’ve owned Further that it’s starting to get downright disheartening.

The electrical system was a complete disaster. I should have known something was up when I asked the previous owner, an electrical engineer who owned his own company, about a mysterious dial in the cabin ceiling. He said he’d tried to trace it but didn’t know what it was. Though that dial remains a mystery, the electrical panel had to be completely redone, and you don’t want to know how much that cost.

If only the dinghy I bought held air like it did in this listing photo…

Similarly, the dinghy that came with the boat turned out to be beyond repair. I should have explored the dinghy more thoroughly and taken another couple of thousand dollars off the price but it’s too late now. The outboard for the dinghy needed work but it has been saved.

The canvas on board — a dodger at the front of the cockpit to keep things protected in stormy weather and a sail cover — also turned out to be so old that it turns to dust if you look at it too harshly (let alone put your hand on it when you stumble; in that case, your hand goes right through).

And the electronics suite — radar, chart plotter, VHF — are all so outdated that when the first two gave up the ghost, there’s nothing to do but buy all new equipment. And in the case of the VHF, it’s such an old model that it can’t be reprogrammed to transmit my information in the case of an emergency but rather still transmits the old owner’s data. Result: need to buy a new VHF.

There were other decrepit items on board as well (the water heater was rusted to the point of uselessness, the refrigerator is a complete P.O.S, the hatches leak a bit, etc.), all of which have to be dealt with in one form or another. But you can be sure the form typically involves an expenditure of money.

Now, canvas and electronics are not necessary for safe and happy cruising. Neither is a fridge or a water heater. But they are ingredients that I enjoy and wanted and, I thought, had paid for. Nope. Instead, the expenses have built up beyond what I expected. Not to the point of abandoning the dream but at least to the point of discouragement. When I’m ashore or even just tied up to the dock, the gremlins get into my head and whisper all sorts of disheartening things, sometimes sending me into a funk. Thankfully, that funk dissipates when I head out onto the water aboard Further, proof that, as Isak Dinesen wrote, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”