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Yachts’ brokers do not sell boats, they sell dreams and from dreams, you know it, you can wake up very disappointingly. Buying a sailboat requires, in a way, an act of faith: the conviction that the winds will always blow in our favour and that the places we will travel to will be better than those we left behind or at least that the sailing experience will make us feel better than standing still.

The boat also is – and we know that very well – a challenging purchase and a source of traps and unforeseen events able to ruin something more than the pleasure of navigation. That is why it is important to be focused, especially if you go looking for your boat in one of the many boat shows: a true overdose of glossy chrome or fancy systems where emotion can overcome sense and reason. Here, a bit like in the land of toys, the frenzy of sales can show us a picture of idyllic sailing experiences that, in fact, do not represent the way you spend your time at sea.

With so many projects on the market, making the right choice is far from easy. Besides, few of us sail regularly on a very wide selection of boats, and even when sailing on a boat we are planning to buy, the time on board is often limited. So, what is the best way to use that time wisely and to find out what really matters?

This will be today’s style: I will not be dealing with strictly technical checks to deal with before the purchase of a boat (there are plenty of great articles about that). I will try, instead, to put the spotlight on the behaviour you will have to keep when buying a boat becomes THE, or at least ONE of your life projects.

On the market there is an offer that I will not hesitate to define overflowing, this is why it is essential to know as deep as possible the yachts in our short list, to figure out how will be the real boat, in the water, and not only the model presented at the boat show.

Use every available resources such as video, virtual tours and reports on the boat’s tests: compare specifications and numbers, try to visualize right from the start what your reality on board will look like. It is almost impossible to replicate the navigation you will do, even in a long test, so it is important to mentally separate from the artificial sale-event: how would life be day by day on this boat at sea? Focus deeply on your plans and stay realistic on the fact that it really meets our needs.

Get prepared, do your homework! A serious preparation can influence the boat’s purchase experience. Meeting the seller already prepared on the knowledge of the product will help you be taken serious. Set your “must have” before starting. The sellers, for obvious reasons, prefer the purchase to be an emotional process, set your priorities will help you to control the emotion: does the boat meet you speed needs? Is the layout suitable for every place you intend to explore? Is the tankage suitable for your cruises? These, are some of the numbers that will prevent you from buying a boat not capable of sailing like you had in mind.

Another very important aspect is the market “estate”: obviously, every boat loses its value the moment they touch water. After examining the initial depreciation over three years, also compare values at 10-12 years. In that moment, the yacht will really start showing how it resists the test of time.

Evaluating a newly built yacht, a tour of the building site can give you the opportunity to know more than you can gather from marketing materials. The time, the effort and the charge to reach the site will be worth it and you will probably see parts of the yacht you normally would not have access to. In addition to that, you would have a concrete idea of what your boat’s building site is like. A visit to the boatyard also allows you to see the furnishings and the structure you will probably not be able to see on a finished boat.

The relationship with the seller is essential: it is permissible to expect guidance from the broker and a deep knowledge from which draw from the first day. If their behaviour is to boost a boat in particular, that is a bad sign.

Over time, your broker should have an idea about you, your plans and what you really need. They could suggest boats that do not meet your needs now, but they would do it with a quality refitting. A good broker will also know people to make this process much less daunting, which eventually opens your search to many more boats.

It is still in the water that the true nature of a boat comes out. It is here that a creaking interior, a winch positioned carelessly or an inconvenient rudder position become clear. However, the majority of the sailing tests are limited in time, so what is the best way to best use them?

A test cruise is far from the reality of having a boat and living on board, so it is largely about visualizing how life on board would be. Put the boat at test under sail, for sure, but do not confine the evaluation to that. 

In my opinion, the ideal test would be a night cruise, to cook and sleep on board; this helps having a deeper impression. Walking in the cockpit, on deck and below beck while sailing and wondering: how practical is this layout? Is this shower room big enough for daily use? Is there enough storage space in the galley? How much noise can you hear in the cabin?

You should be doing test cruises right at the beginning of the search of the boat rather than after, however the majority of the buyers postpones until they take seriously a certain boat model.

Do not be afraid of negotiating with the agent to gain as much time as possible. A navigation test shared for a few hours with many other right after the boat show will not give the time and space to feel how could really be the boat. The sailing experience is important, but try to see beyond the fun factor.

Walk the boat, then go below deck and do every possible work in the cabin to see how it practically works. Same with the cockpit: can you go from the wheel to the mainsail or is there a hitch in between? It is something to consider especially if we will sail with an inexperienced crew.

Below deck, try the usability sailing the skid boat. How hard is it to move? Are there enough holds? Does that large living room suddenly become dangerous because of how big it is?

A boat that is physically comfortable on deck will be mentally comfortable. What I am saying is: if you cannot get to the main sheet from the rudder, you will not be able to weaken the mainsail quickly and this can cause anxiety. Good boats are designed around ease of navigation and logical design.

People are often tempted to do only the usual turning manoeuvres, jibe and so on, to see how well the boat sails at various speeds. Why avoid trying to stop the boat? Let the sails fly and see what it does. What does it do at wind? Try sailing only under mainsail or genoa; get it to cruising speed, let go of the wheel and see how it does.  

Bring a camera: film a complete overview with your phone or an action-cam for further studies and comparisons. When you are home, it will be very useful. After seeing some boats, it may be difficult to remember the details: filming allows you to relive the experience at a second time and compare different models in a retrospective way.

The concept is quite clear: approach the purchase of a boat with eyes wide open. Realism, pragmatism, eye on the budget and try to stretch your eye and address the experience to aspects that are – oddly – neglected, at least in the first instance. Some may find useful to classify or assign a score to their criteria to make a decision or even just to make a pre-selection.

One last tip could be to consider the idea of renting a boat that is the same or similar to the one on which you laid your eyes.

Actually, it could be the best way to determine if it is what you really need. In case of a new boat, the rental cost sometimes can be depreciated against a purchase. As for bigger yachts, which are often semi-custom, it is a good way to set how you wish to set up its own building, what works and what does not.

Therefore, given for granted that the right formula for everyone, try to decrease a little the share of heart that we put in the purchase and increase that of the brain.

It will not be ideal, it will not be too romantic but at least it will help you embark (literally) on something that after a month will not be yours anymore.

Fair wind, see you at sea.

Renzo Crovo