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How to Buy the Right Boat

Most yachters buy the wrong boat. This a fact proven by boating statistics (the average boat is owned less than 3 years) and a plethora of jokes such as “the two happiest days in a boater’s life are the day the boat is purchased and the day it’s sold.” There are two principal reasons why boaters buy the wrong boat. The first reason is that they haven’t analyzed in detail what they plan to do with their boat and then matched those needs with the different designs and models available. The second reason is that emotions instead of reason get involved in the buying decision and sales people are well trained and not bashful about selling to emotions that have been aroused.

Not long ago, a prospect called me about a 58 foot Bertram Convertible that was listed on YachtWorld. After speaking to him a few times on the telephone, he indicated to me that another 58 Bertram was for sale at the Ft. Lauderdale boat show and that he would go to the show to check it out. On Monday, the day after the show was over, I called him and asked him how he liked the show and whether or not he had a chance to see the Bertram. He said, “Yes, but it was too small, the cabins weren’t big enough.” He then asked me if I had an Ocean 53 and I said I had none listed, but I’d check for him. I called him back within the hour and I told him three were for sale in Ft. Lauderdale and priced in the high fours and low fives. I then explained to him that I knew of another yacht with the same cabin configuration, same year, better finish than the Ocean 53 and also with a small aft deck and side decks for better line handling. But, the best part, I told him, was that he could purchase this other motor yacht for $150,000 less than market and $200,000 less than the Ocean 53 Motor Yacht. There was a long silence on the phone… He had already bought the Ocean 53.

That $200,000 mistake is very common in our industry. I asked myself how could anyone consider a 58 Bertram Convertible with one of the largest aft cockpits available in production boats, and then buy a four stateroom hotel without an aft cockpit or even an aft deck? He obviously didn’t know what he wanted in the first place. He had not asked himself the right questions before he went out looking. But, the absolute worst error he made was to go the the world’s biggest love affair with boats with four bills hanging out of his pocket. A good salesman saw his target, took a shot, our boy was smitten, and the rest was history. But, there is a difference between infatuation and true love. And I’m afraid that within three years, one of my colleagues will sell that boat again. I hope that my advice will not lead to my own demise; boat brokers and divorce lawyers would starve if love lasted forever.

If boat buyers asked themselves the following sixteen questions, not only would they make our jobs easier, but they would also save themselves heartaches and money.

Sixteen Questions to Determine Hull Type, Hull Composition, Draft, Sail vs. Power, Engines, Layout, Instruments, Model, Age of Vessel, Electrical Requirements, and Addittional Equipment

  • Where will I cruise 90% of the time with this boat? (draft, hull composition, sail/power, tankage, instruments)
  • Will I routinely be obliged to cruise at night, in inclement weather, or limited visibility? (hull composition, instruments, emergency equipment)
  • How often will I line fish, troll, or tournament fish? (decks, transom, fishing equipment, instruments)
  • How often will I swim or scuba-dive? (swim platform, layout, engine options, ground tackle)
  • How many people will accompany me 90% of the time? (LOA, staterooms)
  • Will my guests be close family or friends? (cabin layout)
  • Will I routinely be cooking aboard or generally be dining out? (layout, galley equipment)
  • How far will I have to go without refueling on 90% of my outings? (tankage, engines, propellers)
  • How fast MUST I go to have enough time to enjoy myself on 90% of my excursions? (hull, engines, propellers)
  • What is the maximum amount of money I want to spend each year for fuel, repairs and maintenance, insurance, and dockage? (make, model, LOA, age)
  • How many years do I plan to own this boat and how much depreciation am I willing to incur each year that I own this boat? ? (purchase price, age of vessel, hull composition)
  • Do I plan to anchor out often or will I generally overnight in marinas? (ground tackle, shore power options, gensets, tender)
  • Will I ever be obliged to dock the boat on my own? (size, access to decks from helm, visibility from helm, steering equipment options)
  • What is the clearance of any fixed bridges that I will have to routinely pass under. (height of mast/flybridge)
  • What is the controlling depth of 90% of my habitual cruising grounds? (draft)
  • What are the variances in ambient air and water temperatures that I will encounter in 90% of my cruising? (hull composition, hull insulation, heating, AC, emergency equipment)

Knowing the answer to these sixteen questions does not mean that you can find your dream boat without the help of a professional– it only means that you can say yes or no to any boat that is presented to you. (In most cases, there are too many different types and models of boats that may fit your needs.) With answers to these sixteen questions, any boat broker should be able to find a boat for your intended usage. An excellent broker will be able to identify and find the one boat that fits your needs best. (Beware of the salesman who tries to fit a square peg in a round hole! Currently, there are 698 brokers advertising 20,944 boats on Yachtworld. That averages out to 30 boats per brokerage firm. Unless you’ve already done your homework and you’re calling up a broker because you know that the boat he has listed meets your sixteen needs, what are the odds that any broker has listed the boat that fits your needs best? Almost zero).

Okay. So, now we have our facts. We know which boat(s) we’re looking for and we are ready to go find that one perfect machine that will meet our needs. It’s time to visit boats, go to boat shows, travel to tropical marinas, meet charming sales people with flowered shirts and disarming smiles, and fall in love. Whoops. Hold it, not yet. There’s an old saying in sales. If you want to make a good deal, don’t fall in love before you buy. Think of buying a boat as an arranged marriage, like in the old days, when parents selected the spouse and love came later (by the way, there were far fewer divorces in the old days). The selection process in boat buying is where most buyers fall down and it’s usually because emotions override reason. Cast in concrete options such as full displacement hulls are compromised and become semi-displacement hulls because “sometimes it might be nice to go a little faster.” Engine horsepower maximums are exceeded for the same reason. An extra five feet of LOA, an extra stateroom, and an additional $100,000 are rationalized by, “But dear, what if I need an office cabin once in a while.” And it’s so easy. We are all tempted by a little bigger, a little more, because more of a good thing is better, right? Wrong. Every year, thousands of boats are sold because they’re too expensive for the amount of use that they get. (Average boat use is less than 150 hours per year) A boat that’s too big is just as bad as a boat that’s too small. In both cases, use will diminish and dissatisfaction will increase. Don’t compromise on your real needs. Be strong, be patient, be tenacious and don’t buy until you get exactly what you want at the price that you budgeted. If you need a boat right away, charter one–it will be cheaper on the long run.

Boaters are generally successful people who want to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In all walks of life, successful people had a goal, created a plan, and worked their plan to attain their goals. Boat buyers should follow the same rules that made them professionally successful. Buying the right boat not only brings pleasure, it should also be a good investment. To succeed in both areas, a buyer needs to match personal requirements with availability from thousands of boat builders. Afterwards, a search should be made throughout the world to find the one boat that fits best. (Limiting search to the United States alone is convenient, but in many cases, the best boat is in Europe or Asia). And, unless you’ve been falling asleep with a boating book on your chest for the last twenty years—find yourself a broker who knows boats, knows where to find them, and has your best interest at heart.


Josh Mango

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