How Not To Buy a Cruising Boat


When you have owned and sailed boats for as long as I have, it’s easy to forget what a minefield the marine industry really is:

  • Incompetent, rapacious boatyards.
  • Brokers who make used car salesmen look like saints.
  • Surveyors who actually facilitate ripping off the buyer, instead of protecting them.
  • Rampant conflict of interest at every turn.
  • New boats that are totally inappropriate for the tasks they are sold for.
  • Gear specifications that are marketing-driven fantasies.

The list goes on and on.

It’s so bad that I would venture to guess that the vast majority of those who have bought an offshore boat have been badly screwed at least once—I know I have.

There are many reasons for this deplorable state of affairs but two main contributors are:

Not Telling

We all have a very human desire to hide that we have bought a boat, piece of gear or service that did not meet the claims made for it.

For example, when we published the story of the $55,000 we lost on a mast that didn’t meet our written specification and was uninsurable, at least half a dozen people wrote to us to relate their similar experiences—pity they waited to bare their souls until after we were out the price of a nice new car.

By the way, Jeff and Karen Siegel, who have already dramatically improved marinas with their crowd review site Active Captain, are, as I understand it, working on bringing the same crowd-based scrutiny to other areas of the marine industry—something we should all support.

Confusing Boats With Cars

For most of us, our only experience of buying large capital items before purchasing our first boat is a car. And, while I know there are plenty of horror stories, by and large cars actually work pretty well, even older second-hand ones, at least when compared to boats.

This car experience programs us with a set of expectations that we tend to apply to boats:

  • That a boat, new or used, can be bought and then sailed and cruised without the expenditure of tens, often hundred of thousands of additional dollars, pounds or Euros, and months, often years, of frustration and work.
  • Assuming that when we pay a boat yard to install a new piece of gear or fix something, that said work might even be successful more than a third of the time.

But the sad fact is that acting on expectations like this around boats, and particularly offshore boats, will often lead to disaster, although there are a few shining exceptions.

What to Do?

This situation should not continue. Here at AAC we are trying hard with the Adventure 40 project to develop a boat that will break the terrible cycle of broken dreams.

And we try to be honest about the huge mistakes we have made, like our first offshore boat.

Allies in The Fight

But on our best and most honest days we have hardly scratched the surface of raw confession compared to Deb and TJ Akey, authors of How Not To Buy a Cruising Boat.

While much of the book is full of standard technical advice—most of which we agree with, some of which we don’t—the real payoff is in the chapters where the authors bare their souls and tell all about how two intelligent people with deep mechanical and engineering experience (aviation, cars, and motorbikes) got simply screwed to the wall in their quest to retire to a live-aboard cruising boat.

And what makes the story even sadder is that Deb and TJ did most things right:

  • Read and researched a huge amount.
  • Bought and learned on a small starter boat.
  • Took some good sailing school courses.
  • Sailed offshore with John Kretschmer.

And still they bought the wrong boat for their needs, endured a brutal refit, and spent a boatload of money that they shouldn’t have needed to.

There is one piece of great news in all of this: Deb and AJ are finally out there cruising.

We recommend reading this book if you are thinking about becoming a voyager or coastal cruiser. We even stick by this recommendation for you experienced boat owners who have been on the water from childhood (like me).

And if you are contemplating buying an old boat with a view to refitting it, this book becomes compulsory reading.

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