Choosing a boat

Choosing a boat is a time consuming and complicated process that needs to balance both love and logic. Making a purely emotional decision based on looks or size alone is silly and impractical. You may think you’ll look great at the helm of a restored 52 foot wooden Chris Craft, but you may end up with more boat than you bargained for in terms of size and maintenance.

You might buy the boat that looks the most pleasing to the eye, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be happy with it when you discover it doesn’t have what you need. And in order to find out what you need, you should sit down and analyze your requirements for comfort and practicality. Since you’ll be spending all your time onboard, your new home needs to match your lifestyle. You must know yourself before you can choose what kind of boat you need. Budget often helps us make this decision. And there are lots of boats to choose from; the internet has created a huge marketplace where you can compare prices, styles and sizes online.

An old Chris Craft is pleasing to the eye, but be prepared for lots of maintenance and wood work

Where will you use the boat?

You might daydream about endless sunny skies and calm waters when choosing a boat, but unless you plan on living full time in dreamland, ideal conditions are the exception and not the rule. What kind of waterway will the boat be used on? Will you be in a protected harbour, an inland lake, a river or the open sea? Does the boat need to travel great distances or simply sit in the water? When you purchase a boat, take into consideration the size of boat and what kind of performance is necessary depending on the environment where you’ll moor and sail. There’s a big difference between small inland lakes and the Great Lakes. The latter have weather and water conditions comparable to oceans. Sailing in the South Pacific is a lot different than sailing in Puget Sound. And Florida generally has dryer weather than the Gulf Islands. Ask yourself, will you be boating around the world or around a small lake? Will you be crossing the Atlantic or puttering down the canals in Amsterdam. Do you plan on leaving the dock at all? This takes us to the next category…

To Cruise or Not to Cruise

If you want to live on a boat at a marina and never plan on leaving the dock, a boat that floats is all you really need. It doesn’t matter if the engine runs or not. This kind of boat is meant to provide a cheaper form of waterfront property; a kind of floating cottage. For instance, some houseboats have a cement hull and no engine because they aren’t intended to move around at all. If you plan on taking extended trips through the Great Lakes or across the ocean, you’re going to need a boat with a mechanically sound engine and sturdy systems. Accessories that you can add on later aren’t as important as the condition of the hull and deck when you’re buying a boat. You also want to make sure your electric, plumbing and septic systems are in good working order as they are the most vital systems aboard a boat. Other things are pretty much cosmetic, but if you have to replace your electric or plumbing, be prepared to spend some money.

What’s your Budget?

It’s tempting to spend your whole budget at once to get the most bang for your buck. Ask anyone whose ever owned a boat and they will tell you it’s always a good idea to have emergency funds available. Don’t spend all your money at once! There’s a reason people call boats a hole in the water that you throw money into. It’s tempting to over finance a boat, but you might get in over your head trying to make the payments and fork out for ongoing maintenance and other costs that come up. And the bigger the boat, the bigger the financial commitment required by its owner. From a financial standpoint, it’s smarter to buy a boat that’s large enough to meet your needs without breaking the budget. You can add the bells and whistles later. If you’re inexperienced but plan on circumnavigating the world one day, get a smaller boat until you learn the ropes. Once you hit early retirement, you’ll have the experience and financial wherewithal to invest in a 48 foot offshore sailing yacht. Until then, keep it real.

You’re pretty much living the dream on a 54 foot Jeanneau. Only big budgets need apply

Does Size Matter?

When buying a boat, think quality not quantity. You want a boat large enough to live on comfortably but small enough to be affordable. The bigger the boat, the more it costs to maintain and moor. (And let’s not forget fuel.) If you plan on living aboard with a family of four and a dog or cat, space will be at a premium. And if you plan on extended cruises, space will become even more important. Storage and privacy are big issues that often require a bigger boat. Because you want to be comfortable, you need a large enough boat to meet all your needs. Everyone living on the boat needs their own place to sleep and store their stuff. If you’re living alone and you can live with a smaller boat, you can splurge on bonus items like fish finders, GPS, solar panels and flat screen televisions! Also, depending on your experience, ask yourself what size boat you can safely handle. You can certainly learn how to captain a larger boat, but it’s a better idea to start small and trade up as you become more experienced.