Owning a Sailboat | Things to Consider

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Now you’ve caught the sailing bug and have decided you are ready and want to own your own sailboat. What next? How do I find the right boat for me? It’s very easy to get caught up in the moment and buy your “dream boat” only to have it turn into a nightmare. Here are some things to consider before pulling the trigger and buying that boat.

Reality vs Fantasy

Realistically, ask yourself, what type of sailing am I going to be able to do? Everyone has that fantasy of sailing off into the sunset and the cruising life. However, that is not a reality for most of us. Compromise is the order of the day. In fact most aspects of sailing, like life, require compromise. Work/life balance, time/money, family time/free time all conspire to have us rein in our fantasies and bring us back to reality.

Sailing into the Sunset

What type of sailing are we interested in? The type boat you will need will depend on the answer to this question. The boat that you would need to go voyaging or to cross an ocean would be very different to a boat just to go sailing on a Saturday afternoon with a friend or two. Do you like racing? Or just sailing around with nowhere to go and the whole day to get there? Are you going to be sailing with lots of friends and family? Or are you going to be single or at most double handing to get away from it all? These are just some of the many questions to ask yourself before deciding on what boat to buy.

The other factor that would get you back to reality quickly is your budget. To the majority of us, once we’ve decided what type of boat we want, now we have to see how we can afford it. New boats are more expensive than older boats. Smaller boats are generally cheaper than bigger boats. Buying the boat is also just the beginning for spending money. Maintenance and other recurring costs are often overlooked by new boat owners to their detriment.

Time vs Money

Generally speaking if you can afford to buy a newer boat you will have to spend much less time and money doing maintenance. If you are a hands on guy or a Mr Fix It then you can save money and buy a fixer upper. But, you will spend a lot more time working on it than sailing it. In my experience most of us boat owners fall into this second category. Working on boats is all part of the sailing experience.

Some boat owners’ time is money. Their jobs enable them to afford the boat but their free time is limited. They just want to step on the boat, go sailing and step off the boat when they return. If you fall into this category be prepared for higher costs in the form of maintenance, marina or mooring fees. Everything is a compromise.

Ease of Use

Boats at the dock.
Boats at the dock. Just step on and go…

Two things I’ve learned from boat ownership. 1) Boats work better when they are used regularly. It’s when they sit idle for long periods that problems start. 2) The easier it is to use the boat is the more often you will use it. This may sound obvious but it’s important. If your boat is sitting at a dock and all you have to do is step on and go sailing, you will use it a lot. However, suppose your boat is trailer able and at your house. You have to hook it up and tow it to a launch ramp, launch it, put up the mast and rig it before you can go sailing. I guarantee that you will use your boat a lot less.

Take into account where you will be keeping your boat and how easy it will be to use. Especially look at ease of use by one or two people. If it takes a whole crew of people to prepare and sail, it can soon become a hassle. Once boat preparation becomes too complex or time-consuming it takes away time and pleasure from actually sailing. Keep this in mind.

Also check that whatever boat you buy is within your capabilities to sail and handle. For example, if you are accustomed to sailing with roller furling sails then you should try to stick to that. Buying a boat with sails that you have to put up and take down every time you sail could seem like too much work and/or make you uncomfortable. Same applies to engines which change in complexity from gasoline or electric outboards to inboard diesel engines. If you are not mechanically minded this could be a recipe for disaster. Thankfully there are lots of online resources that can help you to learn just about anything there is to do with boats.

Size Matters

If buying your first boat try not to bite off more than you can chew. It can be tempting to go for the bigger boats with all the bells and whistles and comfort. Just know that the bigger the boat is the bigger the problems both in time and money. If the boat is too much to handle it will put you off and take away from the fun of learning and enjoying being on the water.

Some people like the freedom and ease of dinghies and small keel boats and never move up to bigger boats. Others jump in the deep end and start with a big boat and are happy to learn as they go. Just do whatever suits you. Take advice from everyone and learn as much as you can. But in the end make your own decisions based on what works for you.

Sailboat on mooring

In my case my first foray into boat ownership was as part of a syndicate of 20 people that bought 8 x SR 21 race boats. That was a great experience while it lasted. Lots of help working on the boats and learning to race them. Also, money from yearly dues was enough to maintain the boats with all the volunteer help. Like all good things this came to an end as people moved on to their own boats and the syndicate collapsed and the boats were sold to individual members.

The next boat I was involved in was a Melges 24 that I owned with 2 other friends. Again great fun for the years we owned and raced it before selling it. Finally, I bit the bullet and bought my own boat. This was a 30′ boat that was in a state of disrepair but well worth the price. In other words, a fixer upper. This was a size boat that I was completely comfortable with in terms of handling, finances and the amount of time I was prepared to put into the project. Here is the link to that story if anyone is interested. https://socasails.com/old-racing-sailboats-a-second-coming/

Buy the Boat

Hope this is all helpful to anyone thinking of buying a boat. Once you have the bug it’s very difficult to lose it. Boating and especially sailing is a great pastime and lifestyle for many of us. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone! Having the right boat for you is going to make sailing more fun for you. Choose wisely.

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