First Time Buyer’s Guide To Buying A Boat

BUYING a boat for the first time isn’t like buying your first car. Back then your old man usually rocked up with a wad of notes/credit card and handed over some folding after kicking the tyres, checking the engine had yellow liquid in it and giving it a test drive – and that’s if you were lucky.

I’ve been trying to buy a boat for the first time since Easter and I can assure you if buying cars was anything like the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through to buy a boat there would be no cars on the roads.

I live on the south coast of England and the sea around our town is littered with no less than three marinas stocked to the high water mark with expensive craft. How they got there is beyond me, because in the last six weeks I’ve tried to buy two boats and both have turned out to be a crock of, well you get the jist.

So what’s involved then? Well, you can’t simply turn up at a boat dealer and say ‘I want that one’, hand over your credit card and be done. Oh no. There’s a process you need to go through that’s much like buying a house.

Firstly you need to put an offer in. This is a bit more formal than some haggling with a used car dealer and involves the broker (boat dealers sell other people’s boats for them just like estate agents) going back and forth with the owner and yourself to agree a price. This can take a while.

Once you’re agreed a price you sign a contract to agree to buy the boat subject to an engine inspection, survey and sea trial. All of which it needs to pass with flying colours otherwise you, the buyer, can demand a few more quid off the price.

The problem is the boat is normally in the water at a marina and it’s up to you, the buyer, to pay to have it lifted out. This costs around £200. Yep, it gets worse.

Above, Dark ‘N Stormy with surveyor’s marks where hull needed attention

Once out of the water you can arrange to have the boat surveyed. For a hull and structure survey of a boat the size I was trying to buy (24ft) that will cost you around £300.

I used a chap called John Cherry who is based in Hayling Island and he was very good. His report stretched to 10 pages and uncovered a number of nasty problems on the Four Winns 248 Vista I was looking to buy called Dark ‘n Stormy. This was up for sale at Ancasta’s Haslar office.

With this report in hand you can then go back to the owner and negotiate on fixes. Dark ‘n Stormy had problems with the hull where some minor cracks had appeared as well as some ‘delamination’ on the side.

Quotes from craftsmen are then needed to ascertain how much it will cost to fix and this is used to negotiate a price with the vendor. Dark ‘n Stormy’s owner agreed to knock off £1,000 to cover the cost of repairs.

But then you move on to the engine. It is well worth having the engine checked out thoroughly by a marine mechanic. This will cost you around £45 per hour and you need to budget for two hours for a proper job.

Engines can cost upwards of £10,000 to replace – in Dark ‘n Stomry it was a Volvo Penta V8 – so the last thing you want is problems with the engine. Motortech Marine in Gosport carried out the work and when the engineer called it was bad news.

The Four Winns needed £2,200 worth of parts alone to get the engine ship shape and that was before labour. They couldn’t either guarantee that the costs wouldn’t increase further when they set to work.

After an engine inspection you can then go back to the owner again and ask for a reduction in the price. Unfortunately in this case – despite the mechanics categorically warning against putting the boat in the water before repairs – the owner of Dark ‘n Stormy still denied the work needed doing.

It was at this point I pulled out of the purchase and had my deposit refunded.

Pirate’s Princess, the first boat I tried to buy which turned out to have a poorly engine

So if you’re thinking about buying a boat don’t think for one minute it will be and easy and quick affair. That’s two boats that have both fallen at the first hurdle now and the second one cost me £460 just to find out it was broken.

I think the process of buying boats is inherently wrong – the liability of costs for inspection should not fall on the buyer. The owner should have it up to standards and be open and honest if they suspect problems.

I’m sure no one would begrudge paying the asking price if they knew the boat would pass the subsequent inspections with no problems. As they say, boat ownership is a costly pastime and it starts long before you even manage to get on the water…


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