When Is A Sailboat Too Old To Purchase (Sailors Answer)

A new sailboat can cost you thousands of dollars depending on the size. If you choose to buy a used sailboat you can save so much money, but how old can you go?

As a general rule, if the sailboat has been appropriately maintained over the years it is never too old to purchase. When purchasing an older sailboat, ensure the hull is in optimal condition. The minor parts on a sailboat can be replaced but the hull cannot.

I see so many older sailboats than I do new ones. New ones are usually over a hundred thousand dollars and that’s way too much for most people. Older sailboats have character and are built to last. When purchasing an older boat there is a lot to consider. This article will address things to consider when purchasing an older vessel.

What Should You Check When Buying A Used Sailboat? 11 Items

This list will talk about 11 major items to check when looking to buy a sailboat.

1. Leaks

Leaks are something you should always check for when buying a sailboat. One of the most common places for leaks is around the windows or any mounting hardware from the deck equipment such as handrails. Common leak signs are dirty stains around the area. If possible, maybe look at the vessel right after a rainstorm. Fixing leaks can be manageable, but just use your best judgment on how big of a problem the leak is.

2. Spongy Deck Or Blisters

A spongy deck is never a good sign and I always say avoid those boats if possible. A spongy deck means severe water damage to the fiberglass and probably a very expensive repair cost. Anywhere on the deck is a possible spongy area but be sure to check near items mounted on the deck that could have let water seep in over the years. Blisters are another item to look out for on the boat’s hull. A lot of times they are simple to grind out and repair but that’s not always the case. This is another situation to use your best judgment on how much time and money the repair will take.

3. Engine Issues

This is a very big thing to consider when purchasing a sailboat. The engine is an essential part of the boat and repairing one can cost thousands. If possible, always make sure you can run the engine and test it out before the purchase. I would never take the word of the seller. If it is an inboard diesel engine and it doesn’t run, come to find out, you could be in big trouble. Especially if you had to replace the engine altogether. If it is an outboard engine and it ends up not working for you, that is much easier to replace than an inboard. Check out this article about mounting outboard motors to your sailboat for more information.

4. Rigging

The rigging of the sailboat is a very important part to inspect. There is standing rigging that holds up the mast and running rigging such as halyards and sheets. The standing rigging is more difficult to replace than the running rigging and should be double-checked. The last thing you want to happen is your mast falling over while you are out sailing. Check for any kind of wear and tear on the shrouds and stanchions and make sure they are secure. If the boat is smaller and the mast is not raised, be sure to raise it and inspect everything with the mast in the up position.

5. Keel And Rudder

I cannot express how important these two items are. They are essential pieces to sailing your boat and replacing them could be impossible. A keel can weigh 5000 pounds and the only way to work on it is to take your vessel out of the water. If you are considering a boat that is currently in the water, I highly recommend diving down and inspecting the keel and rudder. Blistering can be a common sight on these items, but usually, it can be repaired by grinding them out and using epoxy to refill them. Just make sure there is no major damage to these two items.

6. Sails Sails Sails

Sails as you know are necessary to sail. If the boat has no sails, I recommend not getting it. You could buy new sails costing you thousands of dollars, or you could try to track down some old ones that fit your boat which would be very difficult. I don’t mind buying a boat with older sails as long as there is no major damage to them. They may be stretched out a little but that doesn’t mean they are no good, it just means you won’t go as fast. The two sails to check are the main and fore sail. If it comes with extra sails be sure to check them as well, but I would base my decision on the two sails I will use consistently.

7. Winches

Winches are an interesting subject. They are a very big part of sailing and they can get expensive. I personally have sailed without them though. I had a Catalina 22 and never used the winches on it. I do recommend using them now, I am just saying if one is bad or won’t spin. You could sail without it for the time being. I still recommend testing them out and if one is broken, see if you can use it to your advantage and talk down the price some. If you want to read more about winches, check out this article here.

8. Electronics

Electronics are expensive to replace, we all know that, but they arent always necessary. It depends on where you will be sailing and what equipment you will actually need. I sailed on a lake for one summer and did not need any depth finders or GPS plotters. I did have a swing keel which made it easier to manage those shallow depths. If you are going to be sailing in large open blue water, I highly recommend testing all the components of the electronics on board. There should be some components in the cockpit and a few more at the navigation desk.

The electronics section also includes general electric components as well, such as bilge pumps, refrigeration, lights, etc. Please be sure to check out the wiring and fuses of these items and make sure everything is in tip-top shape. Bad wiring can lead to those pesky boat fires.

9. Cosmetics

Cosmetics are not as important as the rudder or keel, but to some people, looks might be very important. When I purchased my first boat, the boat did not look that great but almost everything was in good condition and that was all that mattered to me. If you want the boat to look beautiful from the start then take that into your consideration. Cosmetics are also something you can fix-up over time and I personally don’t think it needs to be perfect from the start. I also think cosmetic fixes are the least fun to do. I like learning about boat parts and how they work, not applying 6 coats of gel paint to the hull. This section is completely personal and you should do what makes you happy.

10. Plumbing

Plumbing can be a difficult and messy fix. If you have to change out the plumbing to the holding tank, you can expect to be dealing with some disgusting smells and parts. It’s best if all of this is in working condition from the time you buy the boat. Some boats may just have a porta-potty on board which is very easy to replace, but a new toilet flushing system can be difficult. If you want to learn more about toilets on sailboats read this article. There is a lot that goes into a plumbing system and you want to be sure there are no major issues when purchasing.

11. Everything else

This item is a catch-all obviously. I am not saying check every single thing on the boat, I am just saying check the things that you are concerned with. If you are getting this boat to live on, check the v-berth and make sure the bed is comfortable enough for you. Make sure the water tank holds enough fresh water for your needs. If the boat comes with a trailer be sure to check it out and make sure it is solid and free from rust and corrosion.

These 11 items will help you make a better decision when buying your first sailboat.

There are a few other tips I have when purchasing a sailboat.

Tips For Purchasing A Sailboat – My Experience

When purchasing a boat there are a few things I want to mention that helped me when I was looking for my first sailboat.

A boat surveyor will definitely help you avoid making a big mistake. They will inspect the boat for you and point out any costly defects. It is the same as getting a home inspection before you buy it. You just want an expert to look things over and see if there is anything you missed during your own inspection of the boat.

A boat survey will cost on average, $15 to $20 dollars a foot.

When shopping for a boat, location is a huge factor in price and availability. If you want a very specific boat at a very specific price point you will need to expand your search area. Just keep in mind if the boat comes without a trailer, hiring a truck company to ship it can be around 10,000 dollars depending on the distance and size of the sailboat. If possible consider sailing it to its final destination.

A simple tip is to keep a log or notebook with your notes. This will make it easier to write things down and reference them when you are actually on the boat inspecting them. You will be able to compare all the boats you looked at in one place. A flashlight will also be a huge help when looking in those dark compartments for any signs of trouble.

My last recommendation is to check out the cushions of the boat if they come with any. A lot of sailboats will not come with cushions. Cushions can cost you thousands of dollars to replace. Check out this article for pricing out new sailboat cushions. If you don’t really care about comfort and just want to get sailing then worry about this at a later date.

Good Sailboats For Beginners – 3 Options

If you are shopping for sailboats and don’t know which one to get this section may help you. There are a ton of different sailboats out there and picking a good one can be difficult.

Depending on your skill level I recommend 22-30 feet for the size of your first sailboat. This is a very manageable size for beginners. If you have never sailed, I would recommend some lessons before you purchase. Check out this article for guidance on lessons.

Option 1 – Catalina 22

My first recommendation for a beginner sailboat is the Catalina 22, my first boat as well. This is a great beginner boat. It has a swing keel making it easy to manage shallow waters and the size is very easy to handle in tight situations. This boat taught me a lot about sailing and helped me practice my skills. I do think it could be a little small if you are trying to cross the Atlantic. Find out all about this boat and my journey of owning one in this article here.

Option 2 – Catalina 250

The second recommendation for a beginner is a Catalina 250. This is one of my favorite Catalina models. I love how the cockpit has extra room and the cabin still has plenty of room for living below deck. It is only 25 ft long making it a great size for solo sails. If you are looking for a good weekend boat, I definitely recommend this one.

Option 3 – Hobie 16

Now the third recommendation is for someone that is just looking to play on the water and have a good time without any maintenance. The Hobie 16 is a super fun day sailor. It is a super common boat and it is seen all over the world. Some people race these professionally and others use them recreationally. They are great for kids and adults alike. If you are ever at a resort you will usually see these on the beach for rent.

The Hobie 16 has a weight of only 320 lbs making it easy to flip over when needed. When the rudder is in the up position, the draft is only 10 inches. It fits up to four people, but you might be able to fit a couple more if needed.

This boat is all about fun! Don’t sail it across the Atlantic unless you have a death wish.

If you would like to see some more options check out my article here, What Sailboats Can Be Sailed By One Person (Complete List)

I Bought A Sailboat, Now What? (Next Steps)

If you just purchased a sailboat, Congratulations! This is a very exciting time. There is no better feeling than buying your first sailboat. The adventure awaits.

Now that you have a boat you may be asking yourself what now. There are definitely some next steps to take after purchasing your first sailboat.

Make sure you have all the safety equipment aboard before taking it out for the first time. If the coast guard stops you and you don’t have enough lifejackets for everyone, that will be a ticket on your first day. I also recommend, a fire extinguisher and first aid kit for any accidents.

Boat insurance is also necessary when owning a boat. Do not take the boat anywhere without it. You should have your insurance set up before you take ownership of the vessel. Anything could happen at any time and you need to be ready. I had to tow my first boat from the owner’s house to my storage space and I made sure I had my insurance policy in place.

The last very important step, that probably should be accomplished before you buy a sailboat is location. Location is where you will store the boat. You need to have this ready to go before you have a boat. Finding a slip on the water can sometimes be very difficult. Some areas in the country are very limited in what’s available. If you are going to slip it on the water I recommend reading this article here about boat slips. If you plan to keep it on the trailer, finding a storage yard will be much easier.

Final Thoughts

This article talked about sailboats and when they are too old to purchase. The answer is never, as long as they are properly maintained. The main thing to check is the 11 items mentioned above. This will help you know if the boat has been maintained well over the years. The article also mentioned some good options for first-time sailboat owners, the Catalina 22, 250, and the Hobie 16. These are great options if you are just starting out. The last section talked about the next steps after buying your boat. These steps are essential and should be planned out before purchasing your boat. I hope this article helps you on your journey to buying your first sailboat!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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