The Pace is Picking Up!

Also, the nonprofessional’s guide to boat shopping.

We’ve spent the last month or so mostly in a holding pattern. I’ve made it a point to being intentional in enjoying family time without the pressures of jobs, school, projects, and tons of tasks. A few more items have gone out the door, we are getting close to having the garage done, we sold our Islander 36, and we got my son settled in at his dad’s house for the start of the school year. It’s been a tough transition into my new role as the “weekend parent.” I have certainly run a spectrum of emotions such as guilt, inadequacy, feeling like society looks at me poorly because moms tend to be the primary caregivers, freedom, loss, and the list goes on. Big changes and transitions are always hard, but I feel assured that we all thoughtfully made the decision together, and it pretty well meets everyone’s needs.

Michael giving Ian a marine biology lesson on the Oregon coast.

The biggest step we’ve made so far–I suppose other than deciding to go sailing in the first place–is we have made a short list of boats we are interested in and have booked flights to go see them. After much research and talking to some folks (shout out to Megan and Nick O’Kelly,, for spending an afternoon with us!) we’ve settled on a few good basic tips when boat shopping:

  1. Know your shopping budget, and understand it needs to include initial expenses such as travel, survey (like a home inspection), initial repair/upgrades, and outfitting (tools, living necessities, spare parts, etc.). We have figured about 25% of the boat purchase should be left aside for things other than the actual boat purchase price. This figure will be much higher if you decide to buy a “project boat;” it’ll be a little lower if you are buying new.
  2. Pictures on Yacht World and other boat marketing sites are ALWAYS old and NEVER show the ACTUAL condition the boat is in. Go see the boat; even if it has to be done virtually with someone FaceTime-ing (have we made that a verb yet?) with you.
  3. Get a buyer’s broker, and make sure he/she/they understands you, your experience, and your mission. It is not enough that the broker is a boat expert. That skill alone is probably fine when the broker is selling, but the broker also needs to be part psychologist and part mission specialist when handling the purchase end of the transaction. Ignore the rest of our advice if you wish, but DO NOT ignore number 3.
  4. Speaking of mission, take time to understand what your mission is going to be. Are you an experienced or novice sailor? Are you living aboard full time? Is this a sabbatical or a permanent/indefinite timeline? Are you planning to stay in the Caribbean or circumnavigate the world? Are you single-handing, a couple, a family with younger kids? Do you value performance over living comfort? There are also many other questions to consider. Figure out what matters to you, and look at boats that make sense within your budget. One type of boat may be great for a sailing couple looking to check off a bucket list item, but might be terrible for a family of six looking for a lifestyle change…none of whom have sailed before. A good buyer’s broker will help you find the right boat to fit your mission (see #3).
  5. Understand that every. single. boat. is a compromise. There is no such thing as the perfect boat. However, certain boats will be a better fit than others. Prioritize and triage your needs and wants as they apply to your mission and budget.
  6. Do a boat shopping practice run or two in an easily accessible location, even if the type of boats available to look at are not really what you are considering. A “dress rehearsal” of sorts is invaluable experience before devoting a lot of expense to traveling further away.
  7. DO NOT be swept off your feet by a clean and pretty boat. Windex and decorative pillows are cheap; transmissions and engines are not.
  8. Finally, take a deep breath–literally and figuratively. When you enter the boat for the first time, actually take a deep breath in. If it smells like a moldy forest, about-face and head on outta there unless you want a project boat. Be calm and objective as you look, and don’t be rushed. Ask to see all the nooks and crannies, make notes of things that will need fixing or replacing. Know what you are (a) willing to handle, and (b) able to handle. This will also inform you on what you should offer to buy the boat for…if you reach that step. A well-prepared amateur shopper can competently survey a boat for the basics. You will save yourself thousands of dollars in paying for surveys when you find the more obvious stuff on your own and walk away early from the “wrong boat.”

This is, of course, a very basic and non-exhaustive list of things to keep in mind when shopping for a boat. This is also not a replacement for doing your homework and getting educated in all the things involved with a boat purchase. It can be quite complex, and feel like drinking from a fire hose. A good buyer’s boat broker is essential if you are a novice, and while perhaps not essential for an experienced buyer, a broker will make the process hugely less stressful and cumbersome.

Ed and I are excited to be heading out soon to go boat shopping, and I will continue to post more information as we get to later steps in the boat buying process. For now, some parting thoughts:

The two happiest days in a boat owner’s life: the day you buy the boat, and the day you sell the boat.

-Every boat owner.

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