How to Choose a Starter Sailboat

June 23rd, 2009

by Joyce Deaton

Thinking of buying your first sailboat? The choices can be dizzying. Daysailer or cuddy cabin? Small and manageable or large and cruiseworthy? Pilot asked veteran sailor and instructor Capt. Chris Daniels of Oriental’s School of Sailing for some boat-buying tips for beginners. His first bit of advice: Do your homework.

“You need to do some thorough research before you buy,” says Daniels. “Talk to all the sailors you can. Find out why they chose their boats and what they like and don’t like about them. Ask them about dock fees, gas and other expenses so you can get a realistic look at the costs you’ll incur. All water sports are expensive, and sailing is even more so.”

Add first-hand experience by taking a sailing course and trying your hand at different size boats to see how you like handling them. Are you comfortable handling what you think may be the boat of your dreams? What does it entail to dock it? After you learn to sail, charter a boat of the size you think you want and see how it feels.

Daniels sees many of his students make a common mistake. “They learn to sail, and they go out and some salesman sells them a huge boat. They get scared, then they come see me,” he says. Far better to start small with a boat you’ll use a lot, then move up later if you want to.

Daniels recommends first buying a trailerable boat – from a Sunfish-type daggerboard to a 25-foot boat – that’s easily manageable by two people. “You can have the mast up and be under sail in an hour, and you can keep it at your house,” he says. Because a smaller boat will have either a very slight keel (the daggerboard) or a retractable swing keel, you can go more places and sail in shallower lakes than you could with a larger fixed-keel model.

When you’re ready to buy, take your time. Winter is a good time to shop, since there are more sellers than buyers. Ask around. Look on e-Bay. You can finance even a 24-foot boat like a second home, and for larger boats you can probably obtain a 30-year mortgage. Your bank and insurance company will require a survey – a stem-to-stern analysis of the boat’s condition – for which you will pay ( see “Marine Surveyors” on page 65 in the Service Index ).

“Be careful to choose a surveyor who is honest and who will be working for you. Most people in the boating business have connections and can recommend a trustworthy surveyor,” says Daniels. Use the surveyor’s findings of any problems as bargaining chips on the price you negotiate with the seller.

“Most of all, don’t rush,” he adds. “Make connections and look at lots of boats. There usually are more used sailboats on the market than powerboats. That means there are tons and tons of deals.” h