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The Two Biggest Lies Yacht Brokers Tell

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OK, that was a bit of a clickbait headline. I really don’t think that all, or even most, yacht brokers are liars.

Having said that, have a look through Yachtworld some time. You will see the following text, or something like it, a lot:

  1. Just back from a circumnavigation and ready to go again.
  2. Completely refitted and ready to go.

Since we see these statements so often it’s logical to assume that they work at getting people to buy the boat in question. And that’s pretty disturbing since in many (perhaps most) cases believing these claims can be seriously bad for your financial health, your sanity, and even the safety of you and your family.

Let’s look at why I say that and at how to call “bullshit” on the broker (without being too much of a jerk) so you can inject some reality into the negotiations.

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More Articles From Online Book: How To Buy a Cruising Boat:

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  3. Buying a Boat—A Different Way To Think About Price
  4. Buying a Cruising Boat—Five Tips for The Half-Assed Option
  5. Are Refits Worth It?
  6. Buying a Boat—Never Say Never
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  10. Easily Driven Boats Are Better
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  18. Cockpits—Part 1, Safe and Seamanlike
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“The average survey means not a lot”?. This has to be the understatement of the year. It must be the Christmas spirit. 😉


Good post and although I thought I was viewing a complete boat I was lucky enough to have Colin look appraise it. As such I was able to negotiate on many aspects that the surveyor did not pick up on and now have a good fundamental base to work on for future trips to higher lattitudes.


Okay, better just let me know how that Adventure 40 is coming along. In my fourth year with this nice Cape Dory 36 and I’m still finding things that make me mumble about the broker.


Funny to run across this now as Skylark is under contract and I search for my next home. We need more room and have looked over the favorites I.e., Ta Shing, Passport, Hans Christian, Pacific Seacraft ….. I find myself trying to hunt down one of the three Cape Dory 45 ketches. As with any endeavor, I hope the lessons I’ve learned will serve me well.

Mike h

Thank you for the effort you put into your invaluable website.

Is there a maximum age, given a reasonable design and builder, that a boat can still be deemed seaworthy for offshore cruising without an extensive refit as you have described?

Thank you

Mike h

Thank you John. That is valuable information, as it gives me a ballpark search area.

I hope to retire in 8 years and buy in 6, so we are starting to put concepts together, and your myriad resources are proving to be very valuable.

Looking forward to more Adventure 40 (42) news.


juan luis

I wish I could be so perfect!


I think that a big problem in refits is that a complete and correct diagnosis of what needs to be changed or repaired in a 20 years + typical composite sail boat is very expensive, even if the boat is in fact in perfect order.
– Keel bolts can not be inspected without pulling the keel from the boat, which should cost several 1000$ or more for a 40′ boat.
– All stainless stuff are very much subject to fatigue (chain plates, rudder shaft, turnbuckles…) and are extremely difficult to test for that, so even if they pass visual, and perhaps x-ray, tests, they might be defective because of load-cycles. It might be appropriate to change some of them because of load-cycle calculus even if they look perfect, which means that those calculus also need to be done as part of the survey.
– Composite hulls are subject to delamination and osmosis. A complete and serious check-up after 20 years should involve serious ultrasonic imaging of hull.
– Diesel engines and mechanical inverters can also be surveyed (oil analysis, engine compression etc. …) as well as boat plumbing/cooling systems, electricals & electronics….. Serious survey for all that is not free either.

The grand total for all that might be quite high when compared to current value of 20 years + old boats, even if said boat proves to be in perfect condition and passes all those tests with flying colors (rare but it might happen…). So it is not surprising that surveyors rarely do all that, and that surveyors’ customers rarely ask for that. Looking back at sailing yachts in the 1900′, they had no: stainless, composite, diesel engines etc…., and accurate surveys could be done for a fraction of today’s time and cost for that (check wood components decay, and steel or iron components oxidation and you are almost done..). Perhaps today’s boat are hard to maintain the professional way because they are built to be discarded, not maintained for 20 years +.

Matt Marsh

Re. keel bolts.
On a well-designed boat, you should be able to remove, inspect and reinstall keel bolts, one at a time, without dismantling the interior and without removing the keel from the hull. (I know a lot of boats don’t permit this. I consider those boats to suffer from a well-understood design flaw.)

Re. metal items and fatigue.
Fatigue is a problem with elements that are repeatedly loaded to a substantial fraction of their yield strength, and then unloaded. This is true of standing rigging, for example, which is why such parts are often replaced on an “every X thousand miles” basis.
A chainplate or rudder shaft, though, can only be damaged by fatigue if it is grossly undersized in the first place. Rudder shafts, for example, are designed to withstand loading scenarios more than an order of magnitude worse than they’ll see on 99% of sailing days.
Stainless steel in particular has several subtle, insidious corrosion modes that are sometimes confused with fatigue. A surveyor worthy of the title would certainly be expected to know, and check for, these odd types of corrosion. And yet it’s often missed.


-re keel bolts:
on most (or nearly all ?…) bolted-keel composite boats built in the last 30 years, you need to remove the keel from the hull in order to inspect keel-bolts.

– re stainless chainplates:
some fine composite boats built in the last 30 years are known to be subject to chainplate failures (i.e. Wauquiez…). I didn’t get detailed reports on known incidents affecting those boats, but I was told that on older Prétorien or Centurion, in case of complete high-sea refit, it is getting common practice to replace chainplates on a preventive basis, even if they test ok. I have every reason to believe that those chainplates are subject to fatigue and that corresponding load factors exceed the no-fatigue level for stainless.

Frans Botman

Hello Laurent,

being in the process of buying a Centurion 40 from 1993 I find your comment very interesting. Any other issue about the Wauquiez Centurion you heard of?

Thanks, Best


Frans Botman

Hello John’

Thanks for getting back to me. Already read the article you refer to. His comment about the older centurions and prétoriens with chainplate failures caught my attention. Was wondering where Laurent got this specific information.

Happy easter,



Concerning old wooden boats, I think that 1900′ carpenters were more efficient at finding and changing rotten parts in old boats than today. First because wooden boats were never refitted after about 60 years (it was considered not economically viable. In those days 60 years + old boats were generally not considered as precious relics of the past…). Then, because those carpenters probably used some tricks that have been forgotten today.
Some time ago I did some work on a 100 years + old sailboat. After this boat was put on the dry and before work began on its (many…) obviously rotten wooden parts, I got the impression that the transom had bent very slightly downward. I told the restoration shipyard that I suspected the sternpost was rotten (didn’t look so at inspection…). They drilled some small holes in it to check and concluded it also needed replacement….

Bill Attwood

Hi John.
Your post needs a wider distribution than just the AAC website!
One simple test for a stainless chainplate is the “ring” test. Remove chainplate and suspend from metal rod (eg screwdriver) through bottom bolthole. Strike lightly with hammer and expect a clear, bell-like tone. Reverse chainplate and suspend from rigging attachment hole, repeat strike with hammer. If there is corrosion present in that area where the chainplate passes through the deck, there will be a dull clunk instead of a clear, bell-like tone. This will also indicate if welding repairs have been done on that area, for example to build up areas of visible corrosion. Although it is beyond me to understand why anyone would do this, I have come across it.
Yours aye

Colin Speedie

Hi John

just an aside – anyone buying a second hand boat needs to know who is on their side.

The broker acts for the seller, and simply put it’s his job to get the best price for the owner, and as sales are commission driven, fair enough.

The surveyor is paid by the prospective owner, and may well assume that the surveyor is on his side. But on a number of occasions (and probably driven by fears of litigation) I’ve heard surveyors comment that ‘they act for no-one’ in any deal.

So who acts for Poor Old Bob? Caveat emptor…..

Of the last two surveys I’ve reviewed, one was excellent value, prepared by a clearly competent, honest surveyor, who had done a thorough, objective job. The other was absolutely farcical to the extent that it really wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Any prospective buyer should really do their homework and select the best surveyor they can track down.

And if the buyer is really keen on a boat costing serious money, then they should pay for a proper survey – and that isn’t just a brief overview of how many winches there are. A really thorough survey costs proper money – remember the old saying ‘you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!

Best wishes


Steve D'Antonio


Much like the surveying post you made last year, this one strikes a chord with me. By coincidence, I’m working on a column for my website on the definition of a refit.

As a consultant who assists folks who are looking for the right boat, and one who thoroughly inspects these vessels prior to the sale (or delivery for new vessels), I am routinely appalled at the creative writing that goes on in listings. A few years ago a brokerage house was called to task for this, having listed a sport fishing vessel as a go anywhere, ocean-capable boat, or words to that effect. The buyer purchased it in Florida and took it home to NY, after arriving it was riddled with serious structural flaws. He sued the brokerage and prevailed, claiming the vessel was falsely advertised as a blue water vessel. Interestingly the surveyor failed to pick up on the flaws, yet, he was released from the claim early on, I suspect because he was judgement proof. The “sea trial” took place on that blue water sea known as Lake Worth.

One of my many pet peeves with the brokerage industry is the loose use of the word “refit”. Indeed, your list is an apt one for what should constitute a full refit, however, in most cases it equates to far less. I agree, as well, most surveys are of limited value. Not to bore the group with war stories, however, I’ve seen surveyors inspect rigging using a telescope (I did ask him how he could see through chafe gear), and I’ve encountered surveyors who had to be helped aboard the vessel they were surveying, from a wheelchair.

While confronting the broker with these revelations early on in the process may be satisfying, it will rarely, in my experience, result in a reduction in price. No seller is going to drop a keel or split a rudder for an inspection, and as you said, that’s not part of any survey. What will often result in a price reality check are hard facts, which can often be revealed during a cursory pre-survey inspection. I’ve conducted these “pre-offer” inspections for my clients on many occasions, to good effect. A two hour walk through of a vessel will determine whether she has truly been refit, or well-maintained, or simply received a paint job. Doing this before the full survey will save time and money, and it is more likely to soften up the seller.

Erik de Jong

Hi John,

In my experience, less than 5% of the ‘refit claims’ can actually be called a true refit. Only coming from a handful of shipyards, which in turn you can trust blindly without needing a surveyor. But those yards work at such a price that you’re in almost all cases better of buying a new boat built to good standards.

Although I think that splitting a rudder and rebuilding it, or stripping bottom paint is overkill and I would never do it, I do agree with most John is listing here if he is talking about 15 year old/50.000 NM boats. From the text I initially understood 5 years/40.000 NM, which is a bit overkill as well for requiring a refit.

What I would do before I purchase a potential boat to refit is look for the following:
– Accident/failure history of the vessel or her equipment. Often hard to get, but can be very valuable if you can get your hands on it.
– Maintenance history of the boat. Also hard to get, but if it exists, it will show how a previous owner took care of the boat.
– Testing of electrical wiring/replacement of wiring.
– Breaker and short circuit analysis plus load test of electrical system.
– True survey of the engine, depending on the situation, this might be compression testing, water brake test, oil analysis, part authenticity check, alignment, mounts etc.
– Same for a Generator that might be installed + load test of the generator.
– Load test of anchor gear.
– Stability test, safety survey and weight survey. (You don’t want to know how many boats have been altered in awful ways that reduces safety of the original design) .

A lot of these tests can be done in as a few days, but give you an enormous amount of information of the status of the boat before. It might cost several thousands of dollars to do so, but it gives a good indication of the status of the boat.
In average, roughly half of all the costs of building/maintaining/refitting a boat goes into the systems, and systems are things that can be tested quite easily. This is done on a regular basis, required by law, on most commercial vessels and (very)large pleasure/super yachts, but is almost never done on smaller yachts for reasons unclear to me.
I know of very few yards that deliver their yachts fully tested and therefore debugged as good as reasonably as possible.

I personally replace barely anything for age sake, I test things that can be tested (almost everything) and will re-use parts that are still good to go. Which includes standing and running rigging.

Marc Dacey

My 41 year old Merriman bronze turnbuckles, now attached to one-year old new standing rigging on my 33 footer, concur with your observations. All the original toggles, etc. tested fine, to which I attribute the benign freshwater environment in which I sail this boat. In salt water, however, I would hesitate to exceed 10 years without a rerig if we were more or less sailing all the time on passage.

Erik de Jong

Hi John,

Maybe a few clarifications from my point of view.
– Checking for water ingress in a rudder does not require splitting. If a rudder is dry, just put it back, if it is leaking, you’re better off at lower cost to build a new aluminium or stainless hollow rudder on the existing shaft. That is a structure that will never give you problems anymore. The reason all composite rudders with metal shafts will leak sooner or later is because the difference in mechanical properties between metals end composites, close to impossible to prevent leakage on the long term.
– Regarding many layers of paint built up, you’re completely right of course.
– Stainless Standing rigging can be tested by loading it up on a test bank, if it doesn’t fail at 125% of maximum workload, it will not fail during sailing. Such tests can be done at a fraction of the costs of rig replacement. They do how ever need to be repeated every 4-5 years to make sure that they stay well. Properly dimensioned stays will not suffer from fatigue. What leads to say that a check for proper rigging strength needs to be done as well.

Erik de Jong

Hi John,

Testing does not require anything fancy, let alone a laboratory. All you need is something you can attach your stays to (can even be between two trees), a good scale to read the force and a little hydraulic device to generate the required tension.
All these tools can be bought for less than the price of shroud replacement. It is more work to remove the mast and stays from the boat and put them back than it is to do a test like this.

Steve D'Antonio


None of the data contained in a listing should be taken as gospel. I routinely encounter errors in the basic vessel stat’s and gear lists. My suspicion is these occur as a result of lazy brokers simply copying previous listings for the same vessel, including mistakes or outdated information. Some errors are glaring, including steel vessels listed as having had osmotic barrier coats applied.

Another brokerage myth…the same broker can effectively represent the interests of the seller and the broker. I am simply amazed at how many buyers are willing to accept this as reality. This is not to say every buyer needs a buyer’s broker, it simply means buyers must be wary of such pronouncements, keeping in mind that no one will vouchsafe their interests better than they will.

Just as there are a select few competent surveyors, there are honest brokers who refuse to craft fanciful listings, filled with equally fanciful accolades. I’m privileged to work with some of them from time to time, however, regrettably, they are in the minority.

David Lyman

My suggestions, after owning and refitting 4 sail boats,m 32 to 57-feet, over 40 years. First, ask to see the most recent survey. Was it for insurance, or a “buyer’s survey?” This before you put down a deposit. If you are serious about the boat, you’ll have your open survey done. Be there when the surveyor is on site, and ask questions. Brokers, yard managers, equipment suppliers are not impartial judges of what may or may not be the condition of a boat or what needs to be done to bring a boat up to snuff. People new to boat owning might hire a pro to manage a refit, someone who is watching the new owner’s wallet, and getting the best deals on gear, labor, contractors, and especially the yard. They can save the owner twice what it cost to hire them.


The marine use of the term ‘Refit’ has become a catch all for any large or small refurbishment or restoration of a boat. It can mean just new upholstery, or electronics, or it can mean a major ground up rebuild. I don’t believe anyone is necessarily misusing the term, and a buyer looking at a boat will soon figure out to what level the boat was maintained or upgraded.

Speaking as a Yacht Broker – if any buyer is using the criteria outlined in the article above as the benchmark level of rebuild a used boat must have undergone, then I think they will be spending a lot of time trying to find a seagoing holy grail!

I have sold many boats that have circumnavigated, one boat has gone twice round with two separate owners but I know of no boats that have split the rudder open for just for inspection. Same with dropping keels for inspection purposes.

My personal boat shopping criteria would be;
Does it come from a reputed builder (you may as well start with a good baseline)
What was the history and usage of the boat. (some that have been around the world maybe better suited and better equipped than a sistership that was just daysailed – even though the former has more miles on it)
What upgrades has it had, and when.
What expensive items are looming. For instance; if rod rigging is over 10 years old, the engine has highish hours, teak deck condition, and so on.

With the high cost of labor in the US (and many other parts of the world) then replacement of an engine (for example) instead of rebuilding, is generally the more sensible option in the long run. Its certainly better and easier to sell a boat with a newish engine than a rebuilt 20 year old one.

But when you start thinking “Sails cost $15000, engine $30 000, electronics $20 000, rod rigging $20 000″… on a 45 foot boat, then its not long before you have mentally spent $100K. (Perhaps Johns point in the beginning) All buyers or owners have budgets, and inevitably when preparing a boat for an offshore passage most people will have to at some point make a choice as to which item is higher up from a safety or needs factor than something else. For Example for me, if it came to a choice and I could only afford to do one – I would replace standing rigging before I dropped the keel to inspect keel bolts: The chance of the keel falling off is less than the rig going over the side.

That all said – there are still plenty of good value used boats out there of all types and ages. Everyone has different needs/wants/desires/financial abilities, and one guys ” I wouldn’t go to sea in that thing” may very well be just perfect for someone else.

A final note. I wish this industry would recognize that a lot of boats have now simply reached the end of their economic productive life and are endlessly being sold on the cheap, donated, or are parked unused, clogging up boatyards, marinas and moorings. Its high time we develop an active scrapping and recycling process as per the auto industry.

In the end, I believe it would put supply and demand more in balance, help reduce excessive depreciation, and possibly reduce overall ownership costs.

Best Regards



Hi John;

I guess to me, (and many others, I suspect!) the approximate definition of ‘Refit’ is anything beyond what would be considered normal, routine maintenance. Because its a pretty liberal description, then of course it should be postfaced to a buyer with list of what that refit included.

A couple of years ago, on my own Najad 390, I added a swim platform, replaced lifelines, added a lifeline gate, reupholstered the entire boat, added AIS, LED lights, new plotter, electric toilet, painted the stripes and so forth. I was comfortable referring to that as ‘a refit’, and of course was happy to give the buyers a list of everything I had done.

On the keel versus rig discussion. Assuming that the boat in question was of the type most (here) would consider well made strong offshore capable boats , such as Hallberg Rassys, older Swans and so forth, then a careful visual inspection for hull/keel cracks, grounding damage, visible corrosion, and of course leaks will tell you where or not the keel really needs to be removed for further inspection.

Yes, a keel falling off can be fatal, but in Cheeky Rafiki’s case – the boat was a heavily used race charter boat, with a deep, short chord keel and while no one will ever know what truly failed, it appears to me from the photos of the upturned hull that the grid structure failed, and the bolts pulled through the hull. Perhaps the boat had been grounded at some point.

Dropping the keel on a modern performance hulled boat such as that Beneteau is generally a far easier proposition than dropping it from say, an older Swan. I know from experience that those keels ‘are ON there’ – which is perhaps telling in of itself.

Keels falling off Swans , HR’s and similar well made boats is rare to the point of almost being unheard of. Rigs, however – do come tumbling down on them, just like on anything else.

So my point is – sometimes you have to prioritize based on the statistical likelihood of something bad happening. You can with good and prudent preparation, reduce the chances of a failure or catastrophe on an offshore passage – but , of course, you can never make it zero!




about 20 years ago, I crewed a Swan 36 off Corsica where we met a tornado that listed the boat about 50 degrees (we were close hauling with 1st reef on main and N°1 jib, no time to reduce further…). We heard a loud noise in the keel area, as if something had moved. After a few minutes, the tornado disappeared and we went on cruising.
A month later after the boat was on the dry, the owner found a crack at the keel-hull joint, and he found that the keel was moving sideways a few degree because of leeway in hull’s bolt-holes and corroded bolts.
That was a well maintained Swann, and owner was very knowledgeable and was seriously worried about the noise we heard. I understand that many boat owners would have been much less careful inspecting their boats.


Two years ago I expressed some upfront interest in a boat that was offered in Italy, the broker sent some featureless PDF about the boat. When I replied with some more detailing questions, and the request for a floorplan, I got this reply: “the owner is now back from holidays and so glad of the boat who told me that if you do not buy it, take it away from the sale. The boat is in very good condition to be able to navigate.”

Obviously I didn’t buy after that 😉

Regarding keel bolts – wouldn’t it be a proper compromise for a thorough survey to remove the bolt nuts, one by one, and check the bolt health just where they emerge from the hull into the bilge? I know this wouldn’t reveal any crevice corrosion but you get to check the condition of the bolt sealant, and if by all means you detect strains of rusty water…

Just my thoughts on that as it wouldn’t be an easier intervention compared to dropping the keel as a whole.


Most boats have the keel/hull joint faired with some kind of epoxy filler, dropping the keel would mean to break this and the need for have it redone – being a destructive test. In most circumstances I suppose this wouldn’t be done for a pre-purchase survey as when you “damage” the joint fairing you would be either responsible for redoing it, or you would need to buy the boat regardless of the outcome.

Regarding the broker story – the boat is still on the market (just had a look today). 10k EUR more (!!) expensive than at the time I asked…

Steve D

Seems as if everyone has a broker (and surveyor, and boat yard) story, which is perhaps telling. As John said in the opener of the article, not all brokers are nefarious, I work with a handful who are very honest, care about their clients’ interests, want repeat business, and are concerned about their reputation. However, even they will tell you, with a straight face, that they can properly represent both a buyer and seller of the same vessel; I have more of a problem with that than any other broker issue, the goals are diametrically opposed, among other things the seller wants to sell the vessel for the highest possible price (and so does the selling broker, as it affects his or her commission), while the buyer wants to buy the boat for the lowest possible price.

Two interesting articles on broker disclosure…

And one that is surprisingly frank about selection of a broker

Again, there are good, honest brokers out there. All you have to do is ask the right questions to find out if you are working with one of them.

Dropping a keel for a pre-purchase survey would be extraordinary, I can’t think of a case where any seller who has allowed that in my experience, however, the interface between an external ballast fin keel and the hull typically isn’t faired per se, it’s simply filled with PU sealant and then painted over. External keels do move under normal conditions, and when hauled, so any rigid fairing would crack and fall off pretty quickly.

Having said that, if you are buying a vessel with an external, bolt on keel, and there are “tea” stains running out of the stub joint, the prudent skipper will have the keel dropped and studs/bolts inspected.

Steve D


Right, understood, that response was directed to Ernest.

Michele Del monaco

After nearly 50 years I think it was time to check my sailboat chainplates. As I started looking at them I discovered that they are glassed between two bulkheads, so no way to extract them from the deck hole and the only alternatives are demolishing the main bulkhead ore cutting them and replacing them. I enclose some photos of the latter intervention.
A couple of questions:
1. What do you think of this kind of intervention?
2. One cut a hole in the upper part of the bulkhead do you think it’s possible to examinate the chainplate status and if good just leave eveything as is?


Michele Del Monaco