The Complete Guide to an Old Boat

My best friend is an investment broker who needs everything in his life to be brand spanking new. New clothes, new phone, new car, new credit card, new boat, the list goes on and on. He buys a new car every year, and invests in a new house every other year like clockwork. Why do the laundry when you can buy new clothes, he says. I once suggested stopping by a second hand store when I needed to buy a tie for a speaking engagement and he almost crashed the car. 

Me, I’m a used stuff kind of guy. I get enjoyment out of keeping things in good working order as long as possible. I love searching through my grandparents basement for old books or magazines from the early 1900’s. I like to wear my shoes until they have visible holes in the bottom and I have only gone shopping for new shoes twice in my life. 

When it comes to boats, the new, plastic toys that are built these days don’t do it for me. I like an old boat. When I walk down the docks I find myself stopping to check out the Falmouth Cutters or 70’s era Nautor Swans, not those brand new boats that all look the same. 

Thus, it may come as no surprise that when it comes to choosing a vessel for myself I tend to favor older boats. After all, why dump 300 grand into a just out of the box Beneteau when you can buy a far more seaworthy vessel of the same size built in 1990 for 30 thousand dollars? 

There will always be a certain percentage of buyers out there who are wed to the idea of a new boat, but for the vast majority of cruisers it makes a lot more sense to buy an older vessel. Older boats are often better looking, built from stronger materials, tend to be more seaworthy, and most importantly are much cheaper than the boats being mass produced today. 

Of the cruisers that I have met over the years, only a small fraction of them bought new boats and even fewer built their vessel themselves. The vast majority of cruisers out there end up buying an older boat, and for good reason. 

Of course, buying a used boat is no simple matter. There are a lot of considerations to be aware of – from the possibility of the vessel suffering water damage to the hull and deck, to corrosion on metal hulls and equipment, among numerous other serious issues. 

Sometimes, all these concerns can seem like too much to a first time buyer, so we wrote this guide to make the boat buying process easier for you. In the following sections, we will cover some of the most important considerations when making the decision to buy a used boat. We begin with the advantages and disadvantages to buying an old boat as opposed to a newer vessel, answer the common question “how old is too old”, and move on to some tips on how to find an excellent deal on an old boat. If you are considering investing in an old boat for the first time, then read on – this is the guide for you!

Why Buy an Old Boat? The Advantages to Older Vessels

Many of the production yachts being built today just aren’t the same quality as they used to be. As the cost of building materials and labor goes up every year, it becomes more and more expensive to build a new vessel with the attention to detail that was expected from a quality boatyard in the 70’s and 80’s. 

Since most builders ultimately have to make decisions based on the bottom line and profit, only the most expensive luxury yachts built today are constructed with the quality of craftsmanship and fine materials that were used for the common cruiser a few decades ago. Some of the woods that went into boats last century simply aren’t around anymore – like many exotic hardwoods that have all been cut down and used up. As a result, many modern production vessels seem more like plastic toys than pieces of working art, despite their high price. It’s really a shame. 

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Newly built modern race boats are truly amazing in their own way – they push the boundaries of what is possible to achieve with modern design and boatbuilding, some of the vessels being built are capable of sailing faster than was ever thought possible. But new racing concepts are of little use to the average cruiser, who just wants a beautiful boat that is safe and comfortable to cruise aboard with their friends or family. 

Of course, there are plenty of examples of new cruising boat designs that are exquisite – beautiful boats that both sail incredibly well and look great at the same time (And are priced accordingly). But the trend for too many modern boatbuilders is to prioritize profit over quality. As a result, many of the boats that sell at the big boat shows are ugly, poorly built craft that should never be taken anywhere near the open sea, but that happen to have comfortable and spacious accommodations down below. 

The other trend in new boats is for them to be bigger and bigger. Sixty years ago, many sailors felt that a 30 footer was too big to be easily handled by one person. Now you see couples sailing sixty or seventy foot catamarans themselves. As the average cruising vessel grows in size, so does the price, leaving less wealthy aspiring boats stuck on dry land. 

A quick look at the evolution of a national boating magazine over the years clearly demonstrates this trend. In the 1980’s, magazines like Cruising World were directed towards young or middle aged families cruising on a twenty or thirty something foot boat. Now they cater to wealthy retirees on progressively bigger and more expensive yachts. 

Most of the well known names in the boat building industry – Beneteau, Lagoon, Jeanneau,  and Hunter, among others – now focus on selling larger boats. The small boats being built these days are mostly designed for day sailing or coastal races, not cruising around the world. This forces the average boater who cannot afford a massive yacht to look to older boats for an affordable seaworthy vessel for serious cruising. 


Another serious issue for boat buyers is that some of the newer boats that are being marketed as safe for blue water cruising are downright dangerous. One classic example is the 44 foot, fresh from the factory cruiser that I helped deliver from an island in the Caribbean to Hawaii a few years ago. 

If a new buyer wasn’t familiar with yacht construction and didn’t know what to look for in a seaworthy boat, I could easily see how they could be swindled into thinking this was the vessel of their dreams. But beneath the fancy looking surface was a boat that had a lot of potential problems waiting to happen.

The topsides featured a large lounging area on the aft deck and a fully enclosed center cockpit that was situated high enough to have a clear view over the bow of the vessel. Stepping inside, you first walked down a spiral staircase into a spacious main cabin with a high ceiling and a chandelier hanging off the cabintop a few feet aft of the mast. The aft cabin had a circular king size bed, a walk-in closet with more stowage space than any I have ever had in an apartment ashore and a heart shaped bathtub to the port side. 

There was a full sized washer and dryer hidden underneath the companionway, and the boat was equipped with a galley that would rival some professional kitchens, complete with fridge, freezer, microwave, and a four burner stove with oven. There were three different TV’s down below, as well as two fully functioning navigation stations. 

Down below one had the impression that you were in a decent sized condominium, not onboard a 44 foot sailboat. 

But it was a deathtrap at sea. The boat was perfect for living aboard at the dock, but as soon as we headed out of the marina and hit a few feet of chop in the outer harbor the boat began to roll like a barrel. Once we hit the open water with decent sized swells, the motion was so bad that you couldn’t move anywhere without hanging on tightly and stepping from one handhold to the next.

Inside that gorgeous cabin, it soon became apparent that the fiberglass hull was dangerously thin. When the sun came up in the morning, you could actually see the sun rise from inside the boat – not through the portholes, but through the fiberglass hull itself. 

As the boat moved violently with each swell, the crew were thrown around the cabin. The open interior that was so pleasant at the dock now meant that a simple slip could mean falling fifteen feet and hitting your head on a marble countertop. That almost happened halfway between Panama and Hawaii, when a crew member was holding on to a handhold that ripped off the cabin top. Thankfully another crew member grabbed hold of her before she tumbled across the cabin and hurt herself. 

The chandelier constantly swung wildly from side to side, threatening to decapitate anyone who stood within five or six feet of it. Leaks sprung up from many of the windows, creating a steady stream of water that ran along the floorboards and into the bilges. For most of the passage, the bilge pump set itself off every fifteen or twenty minutes due to the rising water from the constant leaks. By the end of the passage, some of the furniture was beginning to delaminate after several weeks of being constantly wet. 

Once the wind reached fifteen or twenty knots, the rig, which had no backstay, started to sway with each roll of the boat, and it was possible to see the mast bending with the naked eye. In strong winds, the forestay swung violently from side to side but there was no way to add tension. I was surprised that the boat was never dismasted, despite the fact that the wind never hit thirty knots on the entire trip.

Worst of all was the rudder post, which worked itself loose after a few hours in the open water and creaked loudly for the remainder of the voyage. I later heard stories of numerous instances that the same exact model of boat lost its rudder at sea – in at least one incident leading to the vessel being abandoned at sea and later breaking apart on a remote reef. 

We survived the voyage – just barely – but I never again looked at that model of boat in the same way. 

It’s interesting to note that a Valiant 40 built in 1985 has much better odds of surviving a hurricane than a Hunter 45 built in 2021, and yet most new boat buyers would pick the Hunter over the Valiant. Sure, there are plenty of newer boats that are capable of taking on a storm at sea and making it back in one piece, but the trend in newer production vessels is to be lighter and faster, with strength and seaworthiness of less importance to the builder than comfortable accommodations and cheap construction. 

Old Boats Are More Affordable

Seaworthiness and other factors aside, the primary reason for most boaters to choose an older boat over a newer one is the much more affordable price. While some older boats do often hold on to their value for a long time, there is no question that if you are looking for a well built boat, the cost of a factory new vessel is going to be many times the price of a similar size and design that was built a few decades before. 

An excellent example is that friend of mine, the investment broker from San Francisco who likes to buy everything new all the time. A couple of years ago he decided that he wanted to buy a medium sized racing boat to participate in some offshore competitions like the Newport – Bermuda race and the Transpac from California to Hawaii, as well as go on short coastal cruises with his family in the Caribbean and along the coast of Maine. He made up his mind on the design that he wanted and set out to obtain quotes from the best boat builders in the business today. 

At first, he had his heart set on building a new Open 40 at one of the prestigious boatbuilding facilities in France, the kind of place that builds some of the IMOCA 60’s that compete in the Vendee Globe round the world yacht race. After exchanging a few emails back and forth, my friend flew out to their facility to meet with their top designers and builders and agree upon a price. 

After touring the yard, the time came to ask for the quote. When the director told my friend the price, he almost had a heart attack. 

My friend had been prepared to pay a large sum of money to build his dream boat, after all, these were some of the best boat builders in the world. But the amount of money that he was quoted was far beyond his means. He returned to the USA disappointed but still determined and eventually he reached out to me for advice. 

I had some experience in the used boat trade, so I offered to see if I could find him a boat that was similar to what he was looking to have built, but for a more reasonable price. Before his trip to France, my friend hadn’t seriously considered the option of buying a used boat because he firmly believed that no boat out there met his criteria. And of course he never bought anything used – ever. Eventually he swallowed his pride and told me he’d consider a used boat, if I somehow found the perfect one. I told him I’d call back in under a week. 

The very next day, I located an older Open 50 that had been converted into a cruising boat located in the South Pacific. It was bigger than he had been hoping for, but the boat was in very good condition for her age, had excellent accommodations for four or five sailors to live aboard full time, and she clearly sailed like a dream. With this boat, my friend could complete the Transpac in eight days and then cruise the Hawaian Islands in comfort with his family after crossing the finishing line. Not too many boats can do both. 

There were also some bonus features that he hadn’t planned to incorporate into the custom boat, like a sliding bulb keel that made it possible to land on a beach and explore shallow waters – unlike most open class boats that are forced to keep to deep harbors by their long bulb keels and extremely restrictive draft. 

The best part of all was the price – my friend was able to buy the boat for less than a hundred thousand dollars – a tiny fraction of the price he had been quoted to build a new boat. He even hired me to sail it back to San Francisco, so in the end everybody won. Last I heard he was getting ready to sail to Bora Bora. 

There are so many reasons that it makes sense to buy an older boat. One of the most important, especially in the 21’st century, is due to environmental concerns. 

Old Boats Are Better for the Environment

Boaters are the luckiest people in the world because we get to enjoy the most beautiful environment on the planet. We have been blessed with this most incredible of natural environments, and most of us feel that it is our duty to keep it pristine for our children and grandchildren. After all, what’s the point of witnessing this incredible beauty that life on the water provides without preserving it for future generations to enjoy. 

I have been lucky enough to get to spend far more time on the water than most in my life – thousands of days and nights at sea or anchored up in some isolated cove. But as I marvelled at the beauty of the oceans I have also witnessed horrible destruction – like a wasteland of garbage that was so wide it took more than a week to cross it, even when we covered almost 200 miles a day, or  school of dolphins surfacing and trying to breathe in the middle of an oil spill off Southern California, or thousands of tons of plastic covering miles of once pristine beaches in Southeast Asia and Latin America…the list goes on and on.

I have also seen the effects of a changing climate, like the time I saw tropical animals like flying fish and sea turtles a few hundred miles off the Oregon coast. Or that time I was in a heat wave in Alaska with temperatures higher than in Miami. 

Most of us boaters try to do the best we can to take care of the environment, of course. We keep to the waste disposal guidelines and we pick up cigarette butts when we see them on the beach. But not everyone gives as much consideration as is deserved to the environmental effects of the boat that we choose to sail. 

Of course, the mode of propulsion has a large impact on our environmental footprint. Sailboats or boats equipped with electric propulsion have less negative impact on the environment than a similar sized vessel propelled by a combustion engine. A human powered boat has even less effect. But of even greater importance than the mode of propulsion is the make and age of the vessel. It’s much easier on the environment to “recycle” an older boat than to build an entirely new one – especially for larger vessels. It takes a whole lot of material to build a forty or fifty foot cruising boat – fiberglass, aluminum, wood, epoxy, resin, paint, foam…many tons of materials that must be taken from the earth. For most boaters, the one decision that we make that has the greatest impact on the environment is the boat that we buy. Choosing an older boat significantly reduces your environmental footprint and keeps an older vessel from ending up in the scrapyard.

Old Boats Have Personality

Another reason to buy an older boat is for the classic looks and “feel” that older boats often have. For most sailors, a boat is as close to a living thing as you can get from an inanimate object. Like a musical instrument, a boat has a personality and character of its own. Perhaps that’s why boats are one of the few objects that are commonly assigned a gender. Even when I sail solo, I think about the voyage in terms of “we” and “us”, not “me” or “I”. The voyage is made by the boat and I together, not me alone. 

If you take a walk down the docks at a nearby marina, you will find boats with a wide range of personalities. Some vessels, like a tugboat or pocket cruiser, resonate the feeling that they are some kind of cartoon character. Others, like a sleek race boat are almost like a kind of weapon, a knife that slices through the water. 

In my biased opinion, many new “plasticy” boats lack any interesting character at all. They all look the same, with a similar “made in China” kind of feel to them. On such boats, when you step down below, you typically find white walls or even bare fibreglass in all directions, as opposed to the warmth of fine woods like teak or mahogany that have traditionally been used in older vessels. Materials like that aren’t as affordable as they once were (and they never were cheap), so modern boatbuilders tend to use more composites and less wood. 

This kind of construction undeniably has its benefits, such as cheaper cost and less maintenance. But you sacrifice a lot with regards to beauty and style. Personally, I prefer a boat with no bare wood on the exterior and lots of it in the cabin. Then you have less sanding and varnishing to do on the deck and topsides, but you still get that old timey warmth when you climb down below. 

How Old Is Too Old? The Hidden Dangers to Look Out For With Older Boats

Despite the many advantages to buying an older boat, there are also some red flags that are very important to keep an eye out for. The marine environment has been known to wreak havoc on electronics and other gear – older boats can take a real beating over the years. If the boat you are considering hasn’t been properly maintained, then you could be taking on a major project. As old crusty salts have been known to say, “the most expensive boat is the boat you got for free”. 

Boats are like people, if you take care of them and use them regularly, they will stay fit and will be prepared for the task at hand. A human who has been going to the gym every day is ready to run a marathon, while someone who has been living on the couch eating junk food isn’t likely to make it very far down the track. Boats are the same. A boat that is sailed regularly is much more likely to safely complete a challenging voyage than a boat that has been sitting for years at the dock. 

A common misconception for new boat buyers is that a vessel that has been kept out of the water or which has logged few hours of use is a good thing. Boats that sit tend to break down over time – the engine gets corroded, the sails rot, the bilge fills with water and then the bulkheads start to become compromised. A boat that is sailed regularly may suffer breakages, but they are usually fixed right away so that the boat can be out sailing again the next day. 

In the same way that you don’t expect your car to start right up after leaving it in the garage for six months, a boat that has been sitting for an extended period of time will likely need some serious attention before it’s ready to cruise safely. 

There are a number of important issues to be on the lookout for with older boats. Because the vast majority of boats on the market today are constructed from fiberglass, I will begin with a common problem for old fiberglass boats – blisters under the waterline. 

Blisters on a glass boat are a result of the type of epoxy that was used on older vessels before the recipe was improved in the 1980’s. If you are considering purchasing a boat that was built before 1980, it’s a good idea to haul it out of the water and have a surveyor examine the hull, rudder and keel for blisters. 

I once bought a beautiful older fiberglass boat that developed blisters. She was built in 1979, so she was one of the last vessels to suffer this fate. For a long time, the boat was totally fine, and I had no reason to suspect that blisters would develop on the hull. Then they slowly started to appear – just one here and another there. At first I was able to ignore them because there were so few, but after a couple years they began to spread like acne, as if the boat were a teenager going through puberty. Eventually they covered much of the boat under the waterline including on the keel and rudder. 

To the unknowing eye, blisters don’t look like much of a problem to the strength or structural integrity of the boat. But if they are ignored long enough, blisters can compromise the hull and cause serious problems down the line. 

In order to totally eliminate the blisters, I gathered together a team of friends and family and we began by removing the blisters one at a time. It soon became apparent that we would need to sand off the entire first layer of fiberglass underneath the waterline in order to remove all of the blisters. We did just that and then applied two new layers of new glass to the sanded area. It was a long, tedious process that I certainly never hope to repeat in the future. If you buy a boat from the early era of fiberglass boatbuilding, keep in mind that this could easily be your fate. 

Water Damage

Another serious consideration for older fiberglass vessels is the potential for water damage to the deck or hull core. Most fiberglass boats are not constructed solely from fiberglass but use a sandwich of two layers of fiberglass with a core in between, usually made from balsa wood, PVC, or a closed closed cell foam like divinycell. When you build a fiberglass boat with a core, you end up with a lighter, stronger, better insulated boat than if you built the same vessel out of solid fiberglass. While a small handful of traditionalists still construct the hull from solid fiberglass, the vast majority of fiberglass boat builders today use a core of some kind, and essentially everyone uses a core to construct the deck and cabin top. 

The issue that can arise from cored construction is that over the years water can find its way in between the layers of fiberglass and damage the core inside. That’s the reason that so many older vessels have problems with rotten decks. A boat with a rotten deck or limited amount of damage to the hull can be repaired, but it is usually a serious project – not a lot of fun for a first time boat owner to have to deal with. That’s why it’s critical that you have the entire hull and deck checked over by a professional for water damage before making an offer. 

Boats built from steel or aluminium often develop problems of their own as they age, potentially even more serious than blisters or a rotten deck. The greatest problem for these boats is a bad word among metal boat owners – corrosion. Sometimes the corrosion can become so great that large portions of the hull must be cut out and replaced – or the entire vessel has to be scrapped, in some cases.

I am a great fan of steel boats. More than once my life has been saved by the strength of a solid steel hull, like the time the vessel I was delivering was hit by a rogue wave and flipped end over end in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean. I am convinced that few fiberglass or wooden boats would have survived long in those kinds of conditions. Almost every day during that voyage, I gave thanks to God that the boat was built of steel, and I would jump at the opportunity to sail a steel or aluminum vessel today. 

But despite my great love for metal boats, I don’t think I would consider buying one built more than twenty years ago. I have seen far too many metal boats rusting away in ports all over the world to ignore the fact that they tend to have a shorter lifetime than fiberglass or even wood, in some cases. 

Even aluminum boats, which are widely considered to be far more resistant to corrosion than their steel sister ships, can really take a beating after a few decades in the salt and sun. I have seen beautiful aluminum boats, built for hundreds of thousands of dollars just a decade or two before, scrapped because the electrolysis got out of hand and nobody was able to fix it in time. 

If you do end up seriously considering a used metal boat, make sure to hire a professional who is extremely knowledgeable about metal boats in particular to go over the vessel and check for corrosion, rust and electrolysis. It could save you from discovering you made a bad investment a year or two down the line. 

Electrical and Mechanical Systems

Finally, if the hull and deck are solid, the next important step is to check out the electrical and mechanical systems onboard (as well as the rig, if it’s a sailboat) and make sure that you won’t have to replace too much of the gear. 

For almost all mid size to larger vessels today, the most important piece of equipment onboard is the engine, but it’s also the most likely part of the boat to break down. For me, a reliable engine is definitely a deal breaker when I’m considering buying an older boat. I would highly recommend having a professional mechanic (separate from the main surveyor unless they have a background in combustion engines) thoroughly examine the engine and determine if it still has a long life ahead or if it’s nearing the end of its years. A new engine can easily be a twenty thousand dollar investment – that’s a lot of coconuts!

Once you have determined that the engine is good to go, it’s time to move on to the onboard electrical system. After the engine, your electronics are the next most likely thing to fail at sea. Check out the batteries and make sure that they are working properly. I like to disconnect the vessel from shore power for a day or two and run everything off the house batteries just like I would at sea. You will soon learn if the batteries can keep the electronics running for a decent period of time without charging, or if there are any other issues that need to be dealt with. 

Old Boat Rigging

Finally, if the vessel is a sailboat, it’s very important to inspect the rig, especially the standing rigging. Generally speaking, the standing rigging on a cruising boat needs to be replaced after ten years of normal use or five years of heavy offshore sailing. If it’s been much longer than that, you may want to hire a rigger to examine the rigging and chainplates to make sure that there are no unseen cracks or wear developing. One broken stay can lead to a dismasting, so it’s really critical to examine every wire and fitting for corrosion and wear. The running rigging (the sheets, furling lines, etc.) can easily be replaced without too much expense, but it usually costs five to ten thousand dollars to replace all the standing rigging on a 35-45 foot boat. 

All these potential problems clarify the advantages to buying a used boat that is in the water sailing, or that has been recently sailed – not a boat that has sat in the jungle for the past twenty years – as well as the importance of arranging for a serious survey and sea trial before signing off on the deal. 

The survey should give you a professional’s opinion of the condition of the boat, as well as some recommendations on what needs fixing, according to the surveyor. It’s helpful at this time to get as many additional opinions as possible – as long as those opinions are based on experience rather than “armchair expertise”. Bring together all your knowledgeable boating friends and show them the boat you are considering, or even better ask them to come along on a sea trial. Most boaters who have spent a lot of time on the ocean can determine the seaworthiness of a particular boat pretty darn fast. 

Age Limits for Buying an Old Boat

So how old is too old to buy? Well, that depends entirely on the material the boat was constructed from, how well it was taken care of, and how hard it has been sailed. Personally, I would set my age limit for buying a used boat to the following general guidelines:

  • Fiberglass Boats – not built before 1970
  • Wooden Boats – not built before 1980
  • Steel or Aluminum Boats – not built before 2000

How to Find an Amazing Deal on a Used Boat

Even in 2021, with yacht sales through the roof and boat life enjoying a worldwide popularity boost from pandemic era social distancing practices, it’s still very much possible to find a great deal on a nice boat if you are willing to do a little searching around. In this section, I’m going to share with you some techniques that I have used to buy an amazing used boat for a fraction of the price of buying a new vessel. 

Where are the cheapest boats found that are still in decent condition? Well, a great place to start looking is in major ports along the popular world cruising routes. Places like Mexico, French Polynesia, the Virgin Islands, Greece and New Zealand are full of well equipped cruising boats that are being sold far below their market value. 

The reason for this is simple. Many people buy a boat, outfit it for sailing to the South Pacific or around the world, and then discover after a few months of cruising that life at sea isn’t for them. Maybe the owner finds that he gets hit hard with bouts of seasickness every time he hits the open ocean. Or maybe he realized after five or six months away from home that he really needs to see his pet cat. Perhaps the hard work that the cruising life demands turned out to be too far from his dreams of easy living in paradise. 

Whatever the reason, these people usually want to get home ASAP. Oftentimes, a cruising family pulls into port after their first long ocean crossing, and they are at each other’s throats. All that frustration from being cooped up together in a small space with nowhere to go, along with the stress of bad weather and maybe a little fear combines to push them over the edge. All they want to do is get on a plane and fly back home to the life they had before. 

The only problem? They have this boat that they spent years preparing for cruising the world, probably spending hundreds of thousands of dollars along the way, that they have to do something with. 

Sometimes these guys are so desperate to get the boat off their hands that they will accept even a ridiculously low offer to get rid of it. I have seen people take ownership of truly amazing boats this way for pennies. The longer and rougher the passage, the cheaper they will sell the boat. All you have to do is clean things up a bit and sail her home – or continue the world cruise from where the previous owners left off, if you like. 

That’s why some of the best locations to buy a great offshore cruising boat are ports that fall at the end of long ocean passages, like the sail from Mexico or Panama to the Marquesas, or from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. Below, I will list some of the best ports for finding used cruising boats:

Top Ports for Finding Cheap (But High Quality) Cruising Boats:

  • Balboa, Panama
  • Shelter Bay, Panama
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • La Paz, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, México
  • Tahioe Bay, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
  • Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia
  • Vavau, Tonga
  • Pago Pago, American Samoa
  • Suva, Fiji
  • Noumea, New Caledonia
  • Opua, New Zealand
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Brisbane, Australia
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Majuro, Marshall Islands
  • Phuket, Thailand
  • Port Louis, Mauritius
  • Saint-Denis, Reunion
  • Durban, South Africa
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Salvador, Brazil
  • Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain
  • Horta, Azores, Portugal
  • St. Georges, Bermuda, United Kingdom
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Georgetown, Bahamas
  • Charlotte Amalie, US Virgin Islands, USA
  • Tortola, British Virgin Islands, United Kingdom
  • St. Johns, Antigua
  • Fort de France, Martinique, France
  • Kingstown, Saint Vincent
  • St. George’s, Grenada
  • Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

In any of these ports, you can find dozens of boats of all shapes and sizes for sale, many of which have been refitted and proven for long distance voyaging. Most of them are priced far lower than the same boat would be back in North America or Europe – despite the fact they are usually better equipped. If you find the right deal, you should ultimately save yourself a boatload of money, even after accounting for the extra costs involved with getting the boat back home from a foreign port. 

Cost of Equipment for an Old Boat

Another important factor to consider when buying your next boat is the cost of equipment. Anyone who has bought a new boat in the past is well aware that factory new vessels are usually delivered with a minimum of equipment. If you are on an unlimited budget, this can be a good thing. Instead of replacing all the gear that you don’t like, you can simply install the equipment that you want. 

But if you are like me – working with a limited budget – then the cost of outfitting a barebones boat for long term cruising can be a daunting, and extremely expensive, prospect. Consider the typical costs involved with outfitting a 40 foot sailboat for a one year cruise around the Atlantic. I’ll list basic items and a few common luxuries such as a watermaker, but leave out real extravagant purchases like an Inmarsat satellite internet system or an in-boom mainsail furling system.

Cost of Purchasing New Equipment for a Typical 40 Foot Cruiser

  • Anchor Windlass –  $1,200
  • Backup Anchor and Chain – $1,400
  • 250 Watt Solar System – $2,000
  • Wind Generator – $2,500
  • Extra House Batteries – $750
  • Ten Foot Dinghy and Outboard Motor – $4,000
  • Electric Autopilot and Wheel Adapter – $1,600
  • Monitor Windvane – $6,500
  • Extra Sails for Offshore Use (Spinnaker or Gennaker, Storm Jib and Trysail) – $3,800
  • Sea Anchor and Drogue – $1,500
  • Refrigeration Unit – $2,000
  • Spectra Watermaker – $9,000
  • Liferaft – $5,000
  • Ditch Bag with EPIRB – $1,400
  • Survival Suits – $800
  • VHF Radio with AIS – $350
  • Chartplotter with Electronic Charts – $1,600
  • Radar – $2,000
  • Harnesses, Tethers and Jacklines – $850
  • Custom Dodger – $4,000
  • Mast Steps – $1,000

            Total cost for outfitting, not counting labor and boatyard expenses: $53,250

As you can see, the cost of equipment adds up fast. All of these items are typical equipment that most long distance cruisers have onboard their boats today, but that is not usually standard gear included with a new boat coming out of the factory. This list is by no means exhaustive, many boat owners find themselves spending many times this amount of money on equipping a boat of this size. 

Of course, if you buy a bigger boat, these same items usually end up costing exponentially more. 

One of the greatest advantages to buying an older boat that is already prepared to cruise is that they usually come with much of the gear already installed and working. In many cases, the value of the gear onboard is significantly higher than the value of the boat itself! Especially among boats out cruising overseas, it’s possible to find a vessel that can save you tens of thousands of dollars on gear alone. 

By looking far from home, it’s possible for many boaters to find deals that are far better than we ever would come across in our home waters. There are numerous yacht brokers who make heaps of money by taking advantage of this fact – buying yachts in the Great Lakes and selling them in New York City, buying boats in Panama and selling them in Australia. I have done this a number of times myself. 

Another technique is to buy boats seasonally. Naturally, a boat on the market in Alaska will sell for less in November than it would in July. The same applies to areas in the hurricane belt, where boats sold during the tropical storm season go for much lower prices than they would at the height of the charter season.

If you do end up searching for a boat in the Caribbean or the Med, keep in mind that many of the boats being sold in these areas are retired charter vessels. You can find some great deals among the old charter boats, but they take a beating over the years, especially if they were used for bareboat charter (without a licensed captain). Generally speaking, a boat that has been chartered for ten years would have the wear and tear of a typical ten year old vessel, and a boat that’s been chartered for ten years would be similar to a boat built over twenty years ago. 

One last tactic that has worked well for me over the years is to reach out directly to owner’s associations for the specific design I am looking for. I simply put together a short email that explains who I am, why I love this particular boat design, and that if they ever consider selling to please feel free to reach out to me any time. Every time I have tried this, I have gotten replies from owners who hadn’t actively listed their boats for sale, but were already considering putting their boat on the market. I bought my last microcruiser this way, sailed her for ten years, and sold her for twice what I paid a few months ago. 

As you can clearly see, there are many ways to find a great boat for a very reasonable price if you are willing to think outside the box, and outside national boundaries. If you take your time, and embark on your boat-buying journey with a spirit of adventure, there is no reason that you can’t have fun along the way. After all, boats are awesome, and the possibilities are endless!

Final Thoughts on Older Boats – Are they Worth It?

So, all things considered, is it worth it to buy an older boat? I believe the answer is a resounding yes! Right at this moment, there are thousands of older boats on the market that can safely take you and your family anywhere you want to go for a fraction of the cost of having a new boat custom built. By choosing an old boat, you can forget about spending months or years on some fancy builder’s waiting list, anxiously awaiting your turn to finally sail the boat of your dreams. 

It’s much easier on the environment to keep an old boat sailing than to build a new one, and you can enjoy your time on the water with the knowledge that you are doing your part to keep the oceans clean and healthy. 

Of course, there will always be a place for new boats to push the limits in innovation and speed. But for the average cruiser, buying a used boat is the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to get started with your life on the water. 

The summer is in full swing and the sailing is great, so what are you waiting for? Buy yourself an old boat and go sailing today. A lifetime of adventure awaits. 

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about older boats, don’t miss our followup articles “Four Great Older Boats That Can Take You Anywhere – A Review ” and “Frequently Asked Questions About Older Boats”.  

Nothing is more exciting than buying your first boat, but taking the leap requires a solid understanding of boats and the sea. was created specifically to answer all your questions about boating, so you can spend less time worrying and more time on the water enjoying the cruising lifestyle. The best way to keep up to date with all our boating news and content is to sign up to our newsletter, so don’t forget to subscribe today. You’ll get all our latest articles sent right to your inbox, and it doesn’t cost a thing!

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