Photo credit: taduuda
Part 3 of 6: Young & Salty “How to Buy a Boat” series
Congratulations you think you may have found your next boat! Now what? Time to take a closer look.
Viewing a boat for the first time can be an intimidating prospect, especially if you’re a first time boat buyer. There are so many areas to inspect, questions to ask, and lists to check. Just the excitement of being on a boat can be enough to fog our judgment.
When we are looking at boats we usually make two visits; a mini-survey and a full survey. The initial visit is focused on looking for indicators that will tell us about the things we can’t see. We have a list on our mini-survey that we have found to be particularly well correlated to larger problems. Generally, they indicate a level of maintenance and care and also the signs of major issues. Depending on the result of our mini-survey, we’ll decide whether or not to invest more time on a second visit and money hiring a professional surveyor.
When we approach the boat we note the general feeling we have. Sometimes the subconscious mind picks up on things that it neglects to tell the conscious mind. Somewhat related, I remember coming home one day to my cabin in the bush and thinking “something isn’t quite right.” I stayed in the car and waited for a moment. A black bear and her cub came strolling out the front door of the cabin. Later I realised that my unconscious mind had seen some garbage strewn about on my way up the driveway.
We check this area for cracking. If there is a crack or discoloration between the keel and hull it suggests significant full deformation, grounding or a loose connection. Any of these issues suggest serious damage. If you see any of the above, you’re likely looking at dropping the keel. This is a HUGE job, expect it to take 100+ hours plus specialized knowledge. Furthermore the boat may be structurally unsound and unsafe.
Bottom paint and blisters
Too bad bottom paint can only be examined when the boat is out of the water as it is a particularly good indicator of how well the boat has been maintained. If the bottom hasn’t been properly prepped (i.e. scraped and sanded) before painting, it will have a topographical look caused by large swaths of paint peeling off and then being painted over. If there is a large build-up of paint, it is likely that the rest of the boat is equally unmaintained. If the bottom paint is in good condition are there any blisters? This is also an indication of poor maintenance. If it’s in the water, we tactfully ask the owner what the bottom paint is like. To give you an idea of what’s involved with fixing your bottom paint, we brought our Dufour 35’s bottom back to gel coat and it took 4 people two weeks full time just to scrape and sand the old paint off. It was another week for 2 people to get the barrier coat and paint up plus $2,500 in materials. We also found and remedied about 100 small blisters that were hidden under the build-up of paint.
According to professional riggers, rigging should be replaced every 10-15 years in the Pacific North West and every 7-12 years in warmer, saltier climates. We always ask the owner or broker when the rigging was last replaced and conduct a visual inspection. In most instances the rigging has never been replaced and it’s probably fine, but it’s always a good idea to check. We check the deck for softness around the chain plates and the chain plates themselves for corrosion or deterioration. Replacing these is a major job. The rigging where it connects to the chain plates also gives an indication of larger issues. A little superficial rust should come off with a cloth and fresh water and is not a big deal, but deep corrosion, cracks in the metal or frayed wire are a big red flag. We hired a professional rigger to replace the standing rigging on our Dufour 35 to the tune of $9,000. Unless you know how to swage, try to avoid rig replacement or deduct the cost from your offer.
If the ropes are stiff and sun bleached the owner isn’t taking good care of the boat. Running rigging is also pretty expensive to replace. We also spin a couple of winches to see how well they have been maintained. They should spin easily and sound like a Swiss watch ticking over.
How many sails are there and what condition are they in? While a baggy sail doesn’t necessarily indicate neglect, it is a significant cost to replace down the road, and is a consideration when making comparing boats. Budget $4,000-$10,000 for a new head sail and genoa on a 28-42 foot boat.
A dry bilge is a great luxury and not realistic for most older boats. But it should still be clean (no oil) and the bilge pump should be working and well installed.
If the engine is very clean we breathe a little sigh of relief. This is so often a neglected aspect of the boat and a clear indication of poor maintenance. Engine hours are also a good thing to check because replacing/rebuilding an engine is incredibly expensive. We also ask when the heat exchanger zincs were replaced. If the owner doesn’t know that’s a bad sign.
The owner might be surprised that we start by checking wiring behind the dc electrical panel, but we have found that it is a good indication of the condition of the rest of the wiring in the boat. If it is very messy or at all corroded, you can be sure that the rest of the wiring is the same or worse.
We check the opening and closing of the locker doors. Deformation in the deck or hull usually translates into the locker doors not closing properly. This could indicate particularly hard sailing, a racing history or collision.
Do the thru-hulls show signs of corrosion and can you open and close them? Frozen and leaky through hulls are a sign of lack of maintenance and replacing them is a pain. Not replacing them can be dangerous.
We ask a lot of questions of the owner, keeping in mind that they might be lying through their teeth. It also gives the owner a chance to brag about keeping their boat well maintained. If they are honest the most telling questions are:
- Has the boat ever run aground?
- What are the next three things you would do to the boat?
- What have you done in the last year?
Usually the results of the mini-survey are obvious. If there is a question mark, we give ourselves a couple of days to mull it over before booking a longer visit with the owner. We don’t want to waste their time or our own. In the event that we want to go back for a longer visit, we prepare ourselves to get dirty. A mini-survey is like skiing down a powder filled run. It can be fun and exhilarating. A full survey is like being caught in an avalanche.