SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

What to Look for When Buying a Boat

April 28, 2014

The ad on Craiglist sounded perfect. A 30-foot boat with roller furling, stackpack for the mainsail, a running motor, a quarter berth for the wee one, a marine head, alcohol stove, foot pump for water in the galley, all interior cushions, and a 44 Bruce as part of the anchoring package. It looked nice in the pictures, the owner sounded knowledgeable and honest, and it seemed like a boat worth driving 4 hours one way to look at. But as we all know, looks can be deceiving.

Our youngest son and his family have decided it's time to get back to the water. While they plan their escape from Montana, we have agreed to look for a boat for them so that they are not homeless when it's time to move. We don't mind driving quite a distance, at least not for the right boat. But what this boat taught us is that boats rarely look like they do in the pictures, and while seeing potential is good, it's also necessary to look at a boat objectively and honestly before handing over cash. In an effort to help others who may also be looking for boats, I thought I'd share some of our newfound knowledge.


Lay down in the bunks to be sure you fit.

It has been 14 years since we looked for a boat. After we found Eurisko our search was over, and only within the past few months have we started looking again, for the kids. In those passing years, we lost some of our boat search skills, but after this particular failure, we reacquainted ourselves with them quickly.

First of all, before you even go look at a boat, as some questions that could be deal-breakers for you. Does the owner have a clear title in his name? Is the boat dry? What type of motor, with how many hours, and does it run? Has there ever been water above the floorboards? What type of keel does it have? Naturally, an owner can still be misleading in his answers, but asking may save you some time and hassle.

When you first look at a boat, take a few minutes to survey the outside. Are the sails covered? Was the boat stored for a long period of time with sails and canvas on? Neglecting to take care of these important details may give you an insight into how the boat was cared for in general. Pay particular attention to the decks. Are there soft spots when you walk on them? Bring tools with you and tap the deck in several potential problem areas: around stanchion bases, where rigging goes through the deck, around hatches and any other deck penetration. Familiarize yourself with the hollow sound that rotten wood and delaminated fiberglass make when tapped with a screwdriver handle.


Odd deck stresses

Check the rigging. Are there clevis pins and cotter pins at every connection? If not, this may be another indication of how the boat was maintained. Are the spreaders at the correct angle? Have the chainplates been moved or modified? This is a place where modifications can be a sign of potential problems or even bad performance. Look at the decks around the chainplates. Are they deformed, rotten, or otherwise compromised?

We knew we had driven many hours for naught when we asked the question that should have been a no-brainer before we hopped in the van. What type of keel does it have? "Well, funny you should ask..." Beware of any modifications that have been made to a boat. Be very critical: does it affect the performance or integrity of the boat? Chances are these modifications were NOT done by a naval architect (though everyone seems to think they know better than those trained to design boats) and were obviously not intended by the boat designer or they would have been done from the start. Generally speaking, you don't want to inherit someone else's problems caused by poor design or sub-quality work.

Once you go below, try to turn off your "cosmetic" eye and look at the boat structurally. Check the wood under all ports and hatches. Is there any sign of rot or delamination? If so, chances are good there is leakage. And we all know that a leak in a boat can travel the entire length, wreaking havoc all along the way. Look at all horizontal surfaces near hatches and ports to check for mildew and other signs of past leaks. Check the bulkheads. Are they still secured to the deck and hull or is there delamination? Next, look at the sole. One dead giveaway of past water above the floorboards is the telltale small holes that people sometimes drill in order to help the water drain. Water above the floorboards indicates a leak (either rainwater or saltwater) and if it has been going on very long, may point to rot.


An indiction of how it was built

Now, lift the floorboards and look in the bilge. Is there water in the bilge? Dip a paper towel in the water and see if there is oil and/or fuel in the water. Not only is this a sign of potential tank leakage or motor problems, it is also costly and difficult to clean. A boat cannot be legally moved with oil or fuel in the bilge. The problem would have to be solved and the bilge cleaned before moving the boat.

Next, check the motor. The ad says, "Runs great" but until you hear it crank and see the color of the exhaust and stare at it for a few minutes, there is a wide range of "runs great." Check that the exhaust is not blue or black and that the water does not leave a sheen behind the boat. Again, a dirty motor can be cleaned, but it is often a sign of how the boat was cared for in general.

When we first got back to Eurisko after she sat on the hard for a year and a half, I saw her through a stranger's eyes. She was filthy, no varnish on any exterior wood (there never is, we just don't believe in it), she was badly in need of a paint job, there were rust stains down her hull, and she looked a mess. But, if you looked at her with a potential buyer's eye, you realized that the decks and hull could be painted and that the mildew and rust would clean off the decks and hull in a few hours. What hadn't changed about her was that she was still a rugged boat. Her sails and canvas had been removed before she was stored, her rigging was sound, her decks were solid, her motor was clean, her bilge was dry, there was no indication of any leaks. She is still a tank, built like a brick shithouse, and I would still take her anywhere.

Just as a lack of cosmetic beauty shouldn't prevent you from seeing a boat's potential, don't let bright hulls and varnished teak blind you to potential problems. View a boat with a critical eye, looking at the problems that cannot be so easily fixed, rather than how shiny she may be. And ask all those important questions before you drive 4 hours. I know next time we will.

There are all sorts of ways to go cruising. MONDAY we'll share a piece I wrote for Mt. Gay Rum about a cruising couple who just DOES and GOES. Our favorite kind of people.

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