What to consider if you plan to buy a sailboat
I’ve always loved listening to stories about great sailors crossing the Atlantic or circumnavigating the globe. However, growing up near the sea, I had a healthy respect for the ocean and was worried about what might happen once I was out of sight of the shore. I’ve heard horror stories of people not buying the right yacht for them, or the type of sailing they intended to do. So, I devoted weeks to research how to choose a boat for ocean cruising, and found that the right boat is different for everyone.
There are a few pieces of critical information boat buyers need to know, such as the differences in building materials or types of rigging, that can help inform their decision. I think this ultimate guide for ocean cruising yachts can help other potential sailors pick the right boat for them.
“Hull my!” What material to choose?
Most yachts these days are built with fiberglass hulls. Fiberglass is strong, light, and cheap to manufacture, which makes it ideal for boat building. These boats are also very easy to maintain, as fiberglass can be patched and reinforced as needed. However, the flexibility of fiberglass hulls means that they can hide structural trouble below a flawless finish.
Fiberglass is one of the safest boat building materials. If you’ve ever seen the old advertisements of someone cutting a Boston Whaler in half, you’re familiar with how safe fiberglass boats can be. Ships like the Beneteau 54 have a hull made of a fiberglass-styrofoam sandwich, improving the vessel’s buoyancy.
When considering buying a second-hand boat with a fiberglass hull, it’s essential to have the vessel surveyed for hidden troubles. Sometimes, collisions with objects can disturb the inner framework of the boat while leaving the hull undisturbed. A marine surveyor can detect these problems and inform the buyer ahead of the sale.
Boatbuilders have used wood to make their vessels since the dawn of the industry. Wooden boats are still popular to this day because of their timeless appearance and reliability. Hulls made of wood are strong and flexible and can withstand accidental collisions with submerged objects or coastlines.
One problem with wood-hulled boats is that some marine life can bore into the wood, causing trouble with long-term maintenance. In the past, boat builders reinforced the outside of wooden ships with copper to prevent pests from damaging the structure. This process has since been discontinued due to the fact environmentalists have found copper is actually a marine pollutant.
Maintaining a wooden boat hull can also be expensive. A skilled shipwright is required to evaluate imperfections in the hull and create a flawless patch. Sometimes, they can repair small leaks and holes with a compound called mastic. However, for more extensive repairs, a boatwright will need to install a patch that is a perfect match.
Today, several manufacturers pride themselves on continuing the tradition of building wooden sailboats, including Fairlie Yachts, Rockport Marine, and Spirit Yachts.
Yachts with steel hulls are strong and able to hold up to a lot of abuse. While most sailors don’t anticipate interactions with unidentified floating objects or running aground, these things occasionally happen. Having a steel-hulled boat provides great peace of mind knowing that it can stand up to unplanned circumstances.
The biggest concern with steel is that it corrodes quickly when exposed to saltwater and must be maintained diligently. Routinely painting the boat with water-resistant paint is essential.
Gebroeders van Enkhuizen is a leading Dutch yacht builder using steel hulls.
Boats with aluminum hulls will often have the same benefits as steel, in a much lighter package. Aluminum can cost a bit more for the raw materials, but it’s much easier to work with due to its flexibility. As a result, labor costs for building and repairing aluminum boats are cheaper than those for steel vessels.
Aluminum corrodes a little differently than steel when exposed to saltwater, so it’s still essential that it is sealed appropriately below the waterline with an epoxy paint. However, topside, there’s have a full range of finishing options.
Allures and KM are boatbuilders that are leading the charge with making high-quality aluminum hulls.
Ferrocement is an old boat building material that uses rebar and wire mesh as a substrate for a cement-like mixture. The combination of the metal structure and strong concrete makes these boats very strong. They also can be maintained easily, with problem areas patched with mortar.
There are a few troubles with ferrocement boats. Because cement absorbs water, the rebar and wire mesh inside the hull can rust, causing a loss of rigidity. Further, because it’s easy to patch a ferrocement boat, it’s hard to see previous troubles in the boat’s construction or maintenance.
Many manufacturers have stopped building with ferrocement; however, there are still many ferrocement boats available on the second-hand market.
My favorite boat building material is fiberglass.
While I will always admire a wooden ship’s look, I prefer to own fiberglass hulled boats. The low cost of maintenance and wide variability of designs in the fiberglass boat market make it hard to turn away. I love how a lightweight, fiberglass hull cuts through the water, making sailing effortless and dynamic.
Today’s boat designers are taking advantage of fiberglass’s flexibility and are rethinking classic boats’ shape. With aggressively sloped shapes and harsh angles, modern sailing yachts have more design elements in common with sports cars than old fishing sloops.
What’s better, one hull or two?
After considering what kind of hull building materials worked best for the kind of boating I like to do, I then started researching the different hull options available. Sailboats are generally identified by whether or not they’re a monohull boat or a multihull. Monohull vessels are some of the most common ships, the construction of which is a time-honored tradition. However, Multihull catamarans offer significant improvements in handling that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
When someone sees a monohull boat, they immediately know what they’re looking at. It’s a timeless silhouette. As manufacturers modernize, they’re constantly innovating on the monohull boat’s shape, making it more angular to appeal to a new generation of sailors, but the overall profile is still as obvious today as it was years ago.
The most significant trouble with monohull boats is that their shape is prone to body roll, or turning on it’s long axis. To combat this, boat builders try various solutions, like weighing down the very bottom of the boat with a heavy piece of metal to keep it upright. This weighted structure is often called a keel, and it is instrumental in the stability of a monohull boat.
Despite the keel’s weight, the monohull will still dig into the waves and lean a bit when turning. That pitch of the boat is often called “heeling.” The movement of a boat under sail, either by heeling while turning, or having a bit of body roll when hit by broadside waves, can make living aboard for extended periods a bit of a challenge. This movement is also responsible in part for seasickness of some passengers.
Despite the propensity to heel and roll, monohull boats are incredibly stable. They are unlikely to capsize during average storms. Additionally, for sailors who like to feel connected to the ocean when they sail, the action of a boat under sail can’t be beat.
Multihull boats, normally called catamarans, usually have two or three hulls connected by a bridge structure. These types of boats have many advantages over monohull boats, such as an easier ride when cruising over rough seas, and more storage space. If you’re looking to do a little work while at sea, a catamaran might be a great fit as it’s more than stable enough to operate a computer while under sail.
Because multihull boats also tend to be very wide, they are able to accommodate a considerable amount of cargo in a relatively short length. Generally speaking, multihull boats have the same amount of interior living space of a monohull vessel that’s 1.5 times the length.
By spreading the weight of the boat over two hulls, catamarans sink into the water, or draft, less than monohull boats. Drafting less water means that they tend to be a bit faster than monohull ones. That means these yachts have quicker transportation times and the ability outrun bad weather should it occur. Lagoon makes some of the most popular open ocean sailboats on the market today.
My favorite hull shape is the monohull boat.
Despite the advantages of a multihull boat, I always prefer a monohull vessel for my personal watercraft. I tend to feel more comfortable around monohull boats because I’m familiar with how they react in different situations (such as heavy seas or high winds.) More than that, I feel safer in monohull boats because they tend to draft deeper than catamarans, giving a sense of stability when cutting through the water.
My favorite thing about monohull boats is leaning over the side and driving my hand into the ocean spray during a deep heel. There’s nothing like the speed and athleticism of a monohull boat. The stability of a catamaran feels sterile in comparison. That’s why I selected a monohull yacht.
Where will you keep your boat?
This section has less to do with the construction or features of a yacht, but the practicality of keeping one. I figured I’d mention it this early in the article because it can impact how a buyer approaches their boat’s construction and layout.
Picking a marina is an essential part of becoming a boat owner. The marina is where your boat will be most of the time. Generally, marina mechanics and staff do maintenance on the ships that rent slip space. Most sailors will relax on their yachts while at the marina, either during the time between long voyages, or before and after day trips. This means owners of neighboring boats have an impact on how peaceful, or enjoyable your time is on the boat. In a lot of ways, being at a marina feels like being in a small neighborhood.
A more significant concern than your neighbors and the staff is the space available at the marina. Generally, it’s easier to find space for a monohull boat than it is for a multihull boat. Multihull boats can take up two or more slips along a dock, limiting how many can share a marina. If you can find an available space, rent for a multihull boat is often more expensive than that of a monohull boat because it takes up so much slip space.
Marinas are often one-stop shops for boat owners, providing a place to keep a boat during the season, and winterization and storage solutions in the off-season. Some marinas also have contractual obligations stating that boat owners have to have all of their maintenance and repair work done at their in-house repair shops. That’s why it’s essential to know how comfortable the staff is around sailboats.
These days, marinas often have more powerboats and motor yachts than sailing vessels. Most of the mechanics will be comfortable working on basic equipment, like engines and bilge pumps, but might not have experience fixing masts, sails, or other unique parts of a sailing yacht. Make sure to ask the staff what kind of boats and boaters they cater to.
It’s also possible to ask to visit the marina to get an idea to see how the boats are maintained, and whether or not the community is a good fit. I did this a lot before selecting my personal marina, and I was thrilled that I did so. The first few marinas I saw had some boats out of repair, or that weren’t kept in the best shape. I waited until I found the perfect marina for me before I went any further with my boat-buying process. No one wants to buy a nice expensive yacht only to keep it at the dealership or in their driveway until they find a place to keep it.
When buying a new boat, one way to ensure that your boat will be in the best hands is to make sure the marina is certified to work on your ship’s engine or hull. That way, all work done in-house is protected under warranty. This certification also guarantees the staff is experienced with the specifications of the vessel, and that the work will be done quickly and up to manufacturer standards.
To sea, or be seen?
Evaluating whether or not a boat is seaworthy is based on a variety of factors. However, it’s essential to realize that the newest ships often have features driven by what marketing and brand executives “think” boaters want, versus what they actually need.
If you go to a boat show, you’ll see a lot of shiny new innovations. Things like excessive onboard lighting (such as underwater stern lights,) cup holder overload, and expensive sound systems might seem like the leading marine technology. However, what makes a boat comfortable for a sunset cruise around the harbor doesn’t make it seaworthy.
When evaluating whether a boat is seaworthy, I like to consider fixtures that are important if something goes wrong. One really important thing to think about is whether or not the bilge pump can keep up with water entering in the boat, either due to a collision, or bad weather. I consider if there’s one pump, or two, and whether or not it can be turned on manually. Some bilge pumps only have automatic switches, which can become damaged in case of electrical issues.
Are all of the fittings of the boat finished in a way that prevents leaking? New boats shouldn’t leak, but used boats may have gussets or rubber pieces that are dry rotted and need replacing. I like to check and make sure all weather stripping around the windows and doors is in good condition to prevent leaks.
One thing that’s really important to me is being able to operate the ship in poor weather. This is particularly important in sailboats, where the driver’s seat (or “helm”) might be outside and unprotected from the elements. I always want to make sure how the boat can handle in bad weather, in case I’m stuck in a pop-up storm during a long voyage.
Finally, I make sure that all the utilities of the boat are easily accessed through doors and ports. Some boats will conceal these wires and pipes for a cleaner look, without providing access hatches. That means you have to cut away fiberglass to access them. In this same vein, I like to go near the engine and generator to make sure I can work on them if something fails.
These scenarios are not the most exciting things to consider when it comes to buying a new boat, but they help you decide whether or not the ship of your dreams will help get you across bluewater in one piece. When selecting my yacht, I prioritized safety over flash, and made sure that the boat I chose could accommodate a long voyage both comfortably, and safely.
Understanding the rig
How familiar are you with the different sails in the yachting world? Coming from a background of powerboating, I was familiar with the term “sloop” and “gaff” rig, but couldn’t have identified them without a little help. However, now that I’ve sailed for several years, I’m more familiar with this critical part of the sailing yacht.
In layman’s terms, the “rig” is the name we give to the type of sail configuration on a sailboat. There are countless types of rigs, each with its own benefits and takeaways. Here are some of the most common rigs used today, and which one I picked as my favorite for my personal bluewater yacht.
Sloop or Bahamian Rig
The sloop rig is the most common type of rig in sailboats and yachts. It features two sails coming off the mast, a mainsail aft of the mast that runs the mast’s entire length, and a smaller headsail forward, which runs from the mast’s tip to the bow. This rig is popular because you can catch the wind and sail in almost any direction, save for straight into a headwind. It’s also popular because it’s easy to operate with one or two people, meaning you don’t need a full crew to sail safely.
This rig is just like the sloop rig, except that it has two forward sails instead of only one. The addition of another headsail allows for more options for manipulating the wind, meaning that you actually can try to direct your boat into a headwind. Because the two headsails are smaller, they are more comfortable for a small crew to manage.
Ketch rigs have two masts, often smaller than you’d see in a sloop or cutter rig. The foremast is generally much larger than the aft mast, which is called a mizzen mast. The sail coming off of the mizzen mast is also often called a mizzen sail.
Ketch sails usually have a single sloop headsail or two cutter headsails. The wide variability of this rigging means it’s popular with many boaters because it gives you plenty of options regardless of the elements.
Most boat owners will opt for a gaff rig based on its look rather than for its performance. This rig looks like ancient sailing vessels, with a 4-point sail rather than the 3-point sloop rig. To raise the sail, the crew must lift a large beam that comes off the mast at a 45-degree angle. This beam is often heavy, meaning that gaff-rigged boats require a small team, unlike the other rigs lifted above.
The gaff sail was designed in the past to improve upwind performance. However, these days it doesn’t quite compare to more modern sloop or cutter rigs.
A cat rig has one sail that’s on the bow of the boat. Because they’re so far forward, these masts tend to be unsupported by cables; or unstayed, which keeps them small and minimizes the performance you can get from this sail. Most yachts with tall masts will generally have multiple stays, including a forestay, which runs from the top of the mast to the bow, and an aftstay, which runs from the mast to the stern. These stays provide extra support to a tall mast so that it doesn’t snap from pressure from the sail.
It should also be noted that because there’s no headsail in a cat rig, they can’t sail into a headwind.
Another negative aspect of the cat rig is that it’s often far from the center of mass in the boat because the sail is so far forward. This imbalance can cause the sail to drive the ship unpredictably in high winds. When heading out to sea for a long voyage, it’s important to have a rig that will perform predictably in all conditions, not just ideal ones.
Junk rigs, like gaff setups, are inspired by past sailing rigs and feature four-point sails. It’s rare to see a junk rig these days, as they struggle with upwind performance because, like a cat rig, there is no headsail. However, the junk rig’s flexibility is that they’re relatively self-tacking, meaning that they can be an easy option for sailors with smaller boats. To power a large ship, a large junk rig would be necessary, which could be very heavy to hoist and challenging to manage in the range of situations that could occur when open ocean sailing.
My favorite rig is the sloop rig
Having total privacy on the water is one of my favorite parts of sailing. When I’m taking my boat out, I don’t want to worry about needing too much help to control my boat or get it underway. The ease of operating a sloop rig means that I don’t need to rely on another person to sail safely.
When you think about the rig that’s best for you, consider the type of sailing you want to do. Maybe you want to entertain onboard, and you want your guests to be able to come aboard and relax. A sloop rig might be best so you can manage the sail without needing a crew.
What if the wind comes to an end?
Sailboats are only powered by the wind, right? Not exactly. Most yachts have a small engine designed to help get in and out of the marina without being under sail. Some boats have more capable engines that can help when the wind dies down, or turns against your favor. Here are a few reasons why it’s beneficial to have a yacht outfitted with a more capable motor.
Using a gas-powered engine in a yacht helps with tight maneuvers in and out of a marina, or a tight harbor. Wind can be fickle and unpredictable, making it hard to rely on in very delicate situations. However, the best part of having an engine onboard is that you don’t have to rely on good weather for transportation. If the wind switches, or dies completely, it’s possible to just tie up the sails and continue towards your destination.
Another benefit of having an engine onboard is that you don’t need to worry about feeling your best to use them effectively. Sailing can be physically demanding, especially so when you’re feeling sick. Operating an engine is a lot less taxing than having to tend to the sails, meaning that if you fall ill, or get injured, it’s possible to still operate the boat. Having an engine provides insurance in these situations and I find that peace of mind invaluable.
One important thing to consider is that, depending on the length of the voyage, relying on an engine for locomotion can lead to trouble. Most larger sailboats and yachts use gas at three or more gallons per hour. Compared to some motor yachts, three gallons an hour is relatively gas-efficient. However, this consumption rate might not be sustainable for some boaters, especially if the trip is particularly long.
For example, the 60 foot long Beneteau Oceanis features a 264-gallon gas tank. At a conservative estimate of three-gallons-per-hour draw, you’ll get 88 hours of driving at a speed of 10 miles per hour or less, giving you just under 900 miles of maximum range.
The other concern with gas engines is storing fuel onboard. Large yachts have many tanks, including gas, freshwater, and wastewater tanks. Carrying liquids aboard is heavy, and needing to set aside space inside the boat for a gas tank takes up space that might be more valuable if used for a freshwater tank or storage.
Flexibility and adaptability are two priorities to me when it comes to long oceanic travels. That’s why, as I consider a yacht purchase, I make sure that it has a capable engine so that whatever happens during a long journey, I’m prepared.
Storage space is one of the most important things to consider when buying a yacht. But, it’s not as much of a virtue as you might think it is. The biggest thing to remember when planning a long sailing trip, is make sure to pack the essentials, and don’t sweat anything else.
When new sailors buy a boat, they’ll usually opt for one with plenty, if not too much, storage space. That then compels them to make the most of it, sometimes overburdening their boat with unnecessary supplies. An overweight ship is slow and handles unpredictably, creating a potentially unsafe situation.
However, it’s possible to make the most of the cargo space available on a boat. When I think about how much storage space I need onboard, I first try to figure out what I need, versus what I want. I don’t want living on the ship to be a hardship; it should be comfortable, without being lavish.
I’m able to reflect on my past boating experience to figure out what I need while sailing. Outside of mandatory safety equipment like life jackets, signal flares, and emergency tools, I think about how I want to live onboard. One thing I always bring with me is a coffee maker, because there’s nothing I love more than waking up early on a day at sea, and drinking coffee on the bow of my boat while the sun rises.
Using your imagination to envision your life at sea is a great way to think about what you need onboard. Let your imagination run wild, and think of both good and bad situations so you’re prepared for whatever comes up.
The most important part of having enough storage is that everything on a vessel should have a place that it’s stored when not in use. Being on a boat is a great way to become a very tidy person. Items left out on tables, counters, or on a bedside table can become hazards in rough seas.
Multihull yachts are a favorite for those who require a lot of storage. Because these boats have two hulls worth of storage, there’s plenty of space to put supplies or luggage. These boats also distribute weight from cargo over a larger area, meaning they’re less likely to become overburdened.
I’m a minimalist boater. While I love having storage for everything I need on board, what I need is usually limited. Going out on the water is an opportunity to get away from all of my stuff, get out of cell phone range, and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
New or used, what to do?
There’s nothing like something new; however, it’s not as default in the world of yachts as you might think. In the world of assets, regular logic suggests that it’s always best to avoid investing heavily in a depreciating asset. As is the case with most luxury assets, boats go the way of cars, motorcycles, and planes; they depreciate very quickly.
One example of this is the Beneteau Oceanis 60. The latest version of this yacht, the Oceanis 62, is currently valued at over $1,000,000. However, a four-year-old model of the Oceanis 60 from 2016 can go between $500,000 to $750,000, a total depreciation of 25-50%.
Buying used can give a boat owner access to a level of luxury that they might not otherwise be able to afford. Buying a second-hand boat is one way to get excellent value for your money.
There are a few positives to buying a new yacht. One thing to consider is that dealerships often provide better financing options than those offered through banks. Good loan terms can make it easier to sell or trade in your boat for a new model after 10 years, which is a great advantage.
Like most cars, new boats also come with a warranty that protects the owner in the event of manufacturer defects or unforeseen troubles. Buying a new boat from a dealer entitles the owner to those arrangements. This purchase also builds a relationship with a known parts reseller and drydock, which can help if there’s any maintenance required on the boat.
As boats age, they do require more routine maintenance to keep them running in perfect shape. A new boat should have very little maintenance costs outside of yearly oil changes and winterization processes (if you live in a cold climate.) However, older boats might need repair work done as they age. This is another reason to consider buying a new boat.
Sometimes it’s hard to trust a boat seller during a private sale. You have to make sure that they did all maintenance work on the boat properly, and that the boat was kept well. As with any large investment, there’s a whole industry of professionals designed to ensure your yacht purchase is protected.
A marine surveyor is a person who surveys a boat before purchase to guarantee that the purchasing price is justified. It’s best to think about getting a marine survey getting a home like you’d think about getting a house inspected and appraised before buying. A survey protects both the buyer and the seller, ensuring that everyone gets what they’re promised in the deal.
I’m comfortable with buying a boat second-hand, as I know what to look for when inspecting a used boat, and have a connection to a great marine surveyor. I also am friends with a mechanic who can help me evaluate maintenance that will need to be done on the boat as it ages. However, if you’ve not yet made these connections, you might be more comfortable buying a brand new boat.
Now that we’ve discussed all the different intricacies of yachts, including shapes, construction materials, rigging options, and buying methods, you’re probably wondering – what is the best boat for ocean cruising?
After much deliberation, weighing the pros and cons, I decided to go with the Beneteau Oceanis.
The Beneteau Oceanis line is quite possibly one of the best bluewater yachts currently available, and checked all of the boxes for me. From the fiberglass monohull, to a capable engine that can last for 10 days, it combined everything that was essential for me in a yacht purchase in a vessel that’s absolutely affordable. Getting a slightly used Oceanis for half of the cost of a new one is a great way for me to get the luxury of a million dollar yacht without acquiring a million dollar mortgage.
I also liked the versatility of the Oceanis. It’s great for sunset cruises around the harbor, to trans-oceanic voyages. I was absolutely thrilled to see that The Oceanis is one of the most popular yachts in both the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and the Caribbean 1500, which are long races designed to put recreational sailors to the test. I hope to be able to compete in one of these races one day, and this yacht will be the perfect boat for it (I’m particularly excited about the Atlantic Rally, which goes from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia. It sounds like a stunning trip.)
An added bonus is that Beneteau’s popularity means that there’s plenty of resources available for a new owner of this line of yachts. They have a robust network of over 400 dealers worldwide. This network can provide the support you need to get your boat in the water as fast as possible and keep it operating at its best. While I’m not hard on my boats, I don’t baby them either. I think they’re intended to be used to their full potential, and have a lot of comfort knowing that I can easily find a repair shop or parts dealer to make sure I can keep my boat in the water for as much time as possible, without needing too much extensive maintenance.
While the Oceanis is the best boat for me, it might not be the best for everyone. I have close friends who swear by multihull boats, and others who value the history of travelling on a wooden ship. The ship that’s best for you is out there, and I’m sure that this ultimate guide can help you figure out what it is.