Buying a Boat—A Different Way To Think About Price

Given that we have serious interest in Morgan's Cloud from potential buyers, Phyllis and I have been thinking and talking a lot about which boat we will choose to buy after she sells.

So I'm thinking it's time to share this process with you, our members, for two reasons:

  • Our process will be of use to those of you who are also considering a new-to-you boat and will make a good addition to our Buying a Cruising Boat Online Book.
  • It would be easy for us to get set in our thinking and thereby miss a boat that is a good fit for our needs. So putting it out there will, we hope, bring a fresh view in the comments that will also be of use to all of us.

So let's start off with defining the mission for our new boat and then use that to come up with our (maximum of ten items) vital capabilities list using the process I defined some years ago in this chapter, and then relate that to our budget. (If you have not read that chapter, please do so now, otherwise what follows will not make sense.)


As I have explained before, after nearly 30 years and well over 100,000 miles, Phyllis and I are done with live-aboard full-time cruising. And, further, it's unlikely that we will make any long-distance offshore passages in the future, although a shorter passage, like Bermuda and back, might be on the cards for me and a buddy...should I have a sudden rush of blood to the head. Phyllis is done with multi-night passages. (Don't panic, this is good news, not bad, for this site, see Further Reading.)

Given that, the mission for the new boat is:

  • Daysailing from our Base Camp here on Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, in mostly flat water (in the Bay) and generally good breeze, at least when the land heats up in the afternoons.
  • Several four- to seven-day coastal cruises each season, requiring a relatively seaworthy boat, since once we leave the bay we are offshore in the North Atlantic (in the lee of Europe), albeit with shelter close to hand.
  • Once a year or so, a longer cruise of up to a month's duration and about 1000 miles distance, but all within easy reach of replenishment.

Vital Capabilities

To perform that mission we want a boat that has all of the following:

  1. Great (not just good) sailing performance upwind and down. Our next boating phase is all about sailing. For you technical types, think sail-area-to-displacement ratio (SD/D) greater than 20, length-to-displacement ratio under 180, and/or PHRF handicap less than 70—none of those numbers are carved in stone, but they do give us a useful filter.
  2. A deck layout, rig, and cockpit optimized primarily for sailing.
  3. Reasonably well built and seaworthy from a reputable builder.
  4. No more than 22,000 pounds displacement, and lighter, even much lighter (read smaller) is fine, too. We loved our bigger boat for living aboard and long passages, but now we want a boat that's easier to get underway, layup and commission. (By the way, boat size is much better defined by displacement than overall length.)
  5. Easy to sail, and easy to sail fast, including setting and striking light air sails. This does not mean a lot of gadgetry. For example, we have no interest in roller reefing mainsails (in-mast or in-boom) or even electric winches—we manage fine without them on a 24-ton boat, so we sure don't need them on a 7 to 12 tonner. Rather, we are looking for a boat with an efficient deck layout and most likely a small foretriangle. Fractional rig might be cool, too.
  6. Simple gear and equipment well installed. We don't want a bunch of complex gear to maintain and fuss with. No interest in complex stuff like bow thrusters, etc.
  7. A livable, but not live-aboard interior. For example, most of our food will be pre-cooked and frozen at home, so we don't need a full-on galley or huge storage.
  8. Good deck-accessible storage. We don't want to be stowing the cushions and the light air sails on top of a berth.
  9. Good looks: Life is too short to own an ugly boat.
  10. Ready to go without a refit—no project boats.


Originally, when we talked of buying a new boat, we set a budget of US$200,000, but given the above criteria, particularly #10, it's quickly becoming apparent that we were being optimistic.

So after some thought, Phyllis and I are coming at this differently: Rather than setting an upper-end number, and potentially missing a near-perfect (there is no perfect) boat for us, we have set the maximum negative difference between the buy and sell price over say 8 years at US$150,000. Let's call that spread the delta.

I think this is, for those of us later on in life who have been fortunate enough to accumulate some savings, or cash from selling another boat, a better and even arguably more financially safe way to look at this.

Three possible example scenarios illustrate what I mean:

  1. We buy a 30-year-old boat in need of a lot of work, but not a total wreck, for US$80,000. Spend at least another US$100,000 on a refit—we are not willing to do this DIY—and sell her at the end of 8 years for US$80,000. delta=($100,000)
  2. We buy a 20 to 30-year-old boat that has been regularly refitted and upgraded for US$180,000, and sell her at the end of 8 years for US$100,000. delta=(US$80,000)
  3. We buy a 5- to 10-year-old quality boat in good shape for $US300,000, and sell her at the end of 8 years for US$150,000. delta=($150,000)

Note that the sell number and delta are in present dollars. For example, in scenario two we might sell for say $125,000 eight years from now but, accounting for inflation, our real delta might still be (US$80,000) measured in today's value of money.

Of course, all of the above examples contain a bunch of estimates...OK, wild guesses...but I still think there are benefits to looking at a boat buy in this way, even if the actual numbers for boats we end up considering are very different. And of course, each of us will have different ownership period expectations. Eight years seems a reasonable guess for us, given that I will be 70 this year.

Let's analyze a little deeper:

  1. The Right Way to Buy a Boat…And The Wrong Way
  2. Is It a Need or a Want?
  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
  7. Five Ways That Bad Boats Happen
  8. The Two Biggest Lies Yacht Brokers Tell
  9. Learn From The Designers
  10. You May Need a Bigger Boat Than You Think
  11. Sail Area: Overlap, Multihulls, And Racing Rules
  12. 8 Tips For a Great Cruising Boat Interior Arrangement
  13. Of Cockpits, Wheelhouses And Engine Rooms
  14. Cockpits—Part 1, Safe and Seamanlike
  15. Cockpits—Part 2, Visibility and Ergonomics
  16. Offshore Sailboat Winches, Selection and Positioning
  17. Choosing a Cruising Boat—Shelter
  18. Choosing A Cruising Boat—Shade and Ventilation
  19. Pitfalls to Avoid When Buying a New Voyaging Boat
  20. Cyclical Loading: Why Offshore Sailing Is So Hard On A Boat
  21. Cycle Loading—8 Tips for Boat and Gear Purchases
  22. Characteristics of Boat Building Materials
  23. Impact Resistance—How Hull Materials Respond to Impacts
  24. Impact Resistance—Two Collision Scenarios
  25. Hull Materials, Which Is Best?
  26. The Five Things We Need to Check When Buying a Boat
  27. Six Warnings About Buying Fibreglass Boats
  28. Buying a Fibreglass Boat—Hiring a Surveyor and Managing the Survey
  29. What We Need to Know About Moisture Meters and Wet Fibreglass Laminate
  30. Offshore Sailboat Keel Types
  31. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 1, How We Shopped For Our First Cruising Sailboat
  32. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 2, The Boat We Bought
  33. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—How It’s Working Out
  34. Q&A, What’s the Maximum Sailboat Size For a Couple?
  35. At What Age should You Stop Sailing And Buy a Motorboat?
  36. A Motorsailer For Offshore Voyaging?

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for 25 years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 20 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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