How to Buy a Sailboat or Yacht - Guide to Assessing

Sections: Evaluating Sailboats for Sale Evaluating Yachts for Sale

How to buy a sailboat guide

If new to sailing and determined to own a sailboat before knowing how to sail, avoid buying a large one. Calculate the maximum outlay figure before approaching a broker's office and take into account that the annual upkeep of a sailboat is about 10 % of the purchase price plus mooring and marina fees. How to buy a sailboat requires careful evaluation of the sailboat or yacht class and how it suits your needs now and into the future. Having chosen a sailboat class, it then requires a decision on whether to buy new or second hand. When ready to buy a sailboat second hand, professional assessment by a marine surveyor or a current owner is needed to avoid vessels which are defective.

A Guide to Choosing a Sailboat

Evaluate your family's enthusiasm for dinghy sailing as guide to the extent of investment and what type of vessel. If you do not find an interest amongst your family, buy a single-hander or if sailing with a crew suits you, ask friends if there is any interest and if they are willing to share the purchase price.

The most appropriate type of dinghy, when you are first learning to sail are the general-purpose sailboats. These boats are inherently stable and any sailing mistakes can be rectified simply, then graduate to a sensitive high-performance sailing dinghy. Sailing clubs and schools use general-purpose dinghies for teaching as they have space for an instructor and two students.

Once you have progressed and are sailing confidently, you will probably consider buying your own sailing dinghy. Draw up a detailed shortlist of specific requirements.

  • Decide where you intend to sail and the type of dinghy sailing that suits you. High-performance racing boats are exciting to sail, but unsuitable for family picnics or for use with an outboard motor.
  • If intending to race, choose a sailing dinghy that is popular at the dinghy sailing club where you intend to join and observe what class of sailboat is most sailed.

Assess sailing dinghies when they are in action on the water at the dinghy sailing clubs and popular rigging beaches. Check out other people boating by studying problems of handling boats in and out of the water and the process of rigging them. This gives valuable comparative information as well as asking questions of boat owners. A sail maker, too, will probably advise on rigging and tuning the sailboat.

Many general-purpose dinghies have enthusiastic racing fleets and are a good option to start racing. As a test as to whether you want to race your own sailboat, consider crewing for another sailor to gain experience and develop skills.

Joining a Dinghy Sailing Club

If you intend to race it is well worth joining a dinghy sailing club before buying a sailing dinghy, as it will enable the meeting of experienced sailors who have sailed in a range of dinghies.

Crewing for other sailing club members in a variety of sailing dinghies, adds to your dinghy sailing experience at low cost.

Sailing Class Associations

Class associations keep price lists of second-hand sailboats for sale and such lists provide a good idea on current prices. Check the boat's racing history and the hull weight because if over the maximum for the class, it will be slow. When buying a class sailing boat, obtain a registration certificate ensuring that it measures up to class rules as this also improves resale value.

A Guide for Assessing Sailboats to Buy

Make a list the boat types that are suitable and arrange a trial sailing session to assess their qualities when looking at sailboats for sale. If the manufacturer is unable to do this, contact the class association who may help in arranging a sail with an existing owner. The profile of the stern of the hull indicates the design purpose of the dinghy. A flat, shallow, usually rounded hull shape indicates the dinghy is used for high-performance sailing and racing. Deeper and heavier hulls are traits of general-purpose sailboats and are ideal for beginners.

If considering secondhand sailboats for sale, ask an experienced boat class owner to check and advise on its condition. Fibreglass sailboats do, hold their value, and are relatively easy to assess. Expect scars from normal wear and tear. These are easily filled with the colour of the fill matched to that of the surface gel-coat. The gel-coat colour may be faded with small surface crazing marks or chalking but a paint coat will fix this.

Look for repair marks shown as separate colours with extra layers of fibreglass matt reinforcing on the inside. Assess that the repair is of good quality and the patch is adhering and there is no water penetration from the weakened surrounding structure.

When assessing a second-hand plywood hull, look for signs of the veneers parting along the exposed end grain. On clear-finished boats, dark stains indicate serious water penetration. Signs of rot should be checked at all joins between stringers, frames and the ply planking by using a thumb nail which will sink suddenly into any rot-sick wood.

Inspect the join between the centre case and the keel, a common source of leaks, and along with the mast step. With the boat ashore, run water into the hull and watch for leaks and be suspicious of a freshly-painted second-hand sailing dinghy. Don't dismiss the boat when it shows signs of wear and tear, but seek the advice of a boat builder to assess to see whether an effective repair can be made.

Be wary of bumps in the outer skin of moulded plywood sailboats indicating that the glue has broken down inside the laminate and a veneer has lifted. This can be repaired but if there are a lot of lifts, it indicates a general glue failure. Surface cracks in the hull may indicate that it has twisted and it is wise to inspect the lines of the whole boat carefully.

The wide variety of sailing dinghies are categorized on the following web pages:

A Guide to Choosing a Yacht

Be realistic about everyday commitments and the reality is that career and family prevents us achieving no more than a few weeks cruising every year intermingled with weekend cruising or racing. Small cruising yachts represent a considerable investment, both in purchase price and in maintenance and running costs. Decide what sort of cruising or cruiser-racing that you prefer before looking for yachts for sale and the areas in which you plan to sail.

Whether your boat is kept afloat or ashore is decided by the nature of your home port. Give consideration to where it is moored because it determines whether it’s a fin keeler, a bilge or lifting keel because at low tide the boat may rest on mud flats. Is a tender required to row out to it or is there a launch service available and whether the boat is accessible at all states of the tide?

Novices to sailing would be wise to choose a yacht which have simple rigging; easy manoeuvrability and can withstand the inevitable knocks experienced in the first season of sailing. Seek an expert opinion to the type of rig and how it should be reefed, and avoid one-off and experimental rigs. Choose used production cruising yachts which retain their original specification, and have not been modified.

Consider how many people will be on board most of the time as cruising yachts sail with a crew of only two or three so there is no need for a large sailboat to enjoy cruising. When starting to cruise keep things as simple, as a small boat equipped with only the basic gear is less expensive to buy and maintain and is cheaper on mooring and insurance costs.


The area and conditions where most of the sailing is done determines the type of cruiser yacht. If planning to sail in shallow waters the option of a cruiser yacht with bilge keels or a centreboard should be considered. If undertaking long offshore voyages, standard production cruising yachts are adequate with a little modification. Unless experienced, it is wise to select a well-built production boat from a reputable builder, rather than having a boat built.

Before choosing a yacht get experience in the type of cruising that you hope to do. Arrange to sail aboard as many different cruising yachts on both short and long passages. After deciding on your ideal boat, arrange to assess how it handles under power and sail and ask an experienced sailor to advise you.

Yacht Charters

It is not necessary to buy a boat to enjoy cruising, with crewing on boats and chartering different boats will allow comparisons. It is a cost-effective way of attaining cruising experience as well as the opportunity to sail in cruising areas away from home.

Yacht Racing

When mixing cruising with club or regatta racing consider the sorts of boats that are raced at local yacht clubs. There may be one-design racing fleets for popular types of racing cruising yachts at the yacht club so consider whether that type of sailboat would suit your sailing needs. More crew are required on board for racing than for cruising so ensure the boat is equipped with appropriate safety gear for all the people on board. Racing adds to the cost of equipping and maintaining a boat especially if taken seriously.

The various categories of cruising yachts are detailed on the following web pages:

A guide to evaluating and assessing when buying a sailboat