Is now the right time to make the leap? If the arguments for and against your next boat are equal, just do it says Rupert Holmes
Identifying the right boat
For many, a change in employment, family or financial circumstances is the trigger to upgrade or change boat, but there is nothing wrong with change for its own sake. While it’s possible to modernise an existing boat, it can be an expensive and arduous process with no guarantee that the boat will end up easier or more fun to sail. Also, moving to a different brand of boat can open up new social opportunities, such as organised regattas or long-distance rallies.
While owners will obviously start with a wish list for their new boat, being too prescriptive can be counter-productive. “A common mistake is to come with preconceived ideas – for example that the boat must have three cabins, a watermaker, or a freezer,” says Sue Grant, managing director of Berthon International. “It’s better to have an open mind. Look more at where the boat will take you and what you can do with it. Start by looking at lots of boats and don’t bid on a boat you haven’t actually seen.”
Used boat shows can be a great way to compare features across a number of different vessels. “Before you start looking you need to identify what you want the boat for,” advises Tim Griffin, who bought an Elan 434 earlier this year (see his full story on page 45). “If it’s long distance sailing you’ll need lots of storage and seaworthy accommodation, but for local sailing a smaller boat is a lot more fun.”
Budgeting for new or used boats
Buying a brand new boat means you can nail down the up-front cost before you buy. For an older boat, upfront costs can be more difficult to quantify, particularly if the boat needs refitting. The best advice is to allow a contingency fund of about 20 per cent of the boat’s price.
Depreciation also needs to be taken into account. Some can afford to take out finance and will therefore focus more on monthly costs than longer-term depreciation. However, for others, resale values are a fact of life. “Yachts of any age are a depreciating asset,” says Grant. “We saw big falls in value after 2008 and boats are still depreciating annually. But buyers understand that and see it as an inevitable cost of the enjoyment they will get from the boat.”
In the longer term, maintenance costs are harder to forecast. Scrimping on expenditure is a stressful experience, so if owning a slightly smaller yacht means you never need to worry about the repair and maintenance bills, it will be a lot more fun than owning a larger vessel where every major bill makes you wince.
The value of your existing boat is also a key part of budgeting for its replacement. But how do you figure out how much it might fetch? Yacht brokers will typically have access to databases that reveal the actual selling price of numerous boats and the length of time each one took to achieve a sale. This is exactly the data you need to make an informed decision.
“A brokerage yacht is someone else’s project,” says Kate Porteous of Oyster Yachts. “If you want a yacht to your own specification, the only option is a new boat.”
One of the strongest parts of the market, even for mainstream production builders, is in the 45-55ft sector and upwards. Peter Thomas of Hanse dealer Inspiration Marine says he has seen a significant change in the past five years. “Younger owners, typically in the 40-55 age bracket, with substantial incomes, are buying a brand new boats because they can choose exactly what they want.
“When we sell a new boat, the extras specified often add 20 per cent or more to the price. From the Hanse 455 upwards buyers also increasingly want customisation beyond factory options. Recently one wanted seven networked TV screens, while another specified the exact varnish for the teak cockpit table.
“A new boat can also provide more modern features. It might be as simple as MFDs on pods at each wheel, or something that can only be incorporated at the design stage. The Hanse 575, for example, has space for a Williams Jet Tender in the stern garage, which has proved incredibly popular.”
Much of the customer base for boats of 45ft and above is people who have chartered extensively but have not owned a yacht before. Thomas says more than half the boats he sells in this range end up in the Mediterranean within a year or two. Buying in the UK means owners can get used to sailing the boat, while attending to any snag list items.
It’s increasingly common to sell tuition packages with boats of this size, which often turns into a longer-term relationship with a skipper. In some ways this blurs the distinction between smaller vessels that are owner operated and those, typically over 60ft, that have a full-time skipper and crew.
If you’re buying a used boat, some degree of wear and tear is inevitable. Once a vessel reaches 10-12 years of age there may be a number of items that are close to the end of their life. Standing rigging, sails, spar paint and dated electronics are probably the most important elements, but teak decks, sanitary plumbing, hull paint and generators may all need attention.
Paradoxically, Sue Grant of Berthon says boats that have been well used – and therefore continuously maintained – are often in better shape than those that spend long periods neglected on their moorings or ashore.
“If buying a used boat, find a quality yacht and get a good survey. The price then comes down to value,” says Oyster’s Kate Porteous. “Make sure you find out how the yacht has been used, owned, where it’s been, how many offshore miles it has sailed and look at the service record.”
When it comes to the survey, it’s wise for the vendor to avoid unnecessary surprises and declare any known problems and repair history. As a buyer it’s important to get along with your surveyor. “To choose a surveyor, call several and chat about the boat and about your plans, then go the one you get on with best,” says Grant.
Above all, don’t become obsessed with a defect list. While there are likely to be items that need attention, it’s unlikely the boat is intrinsically defective. “Don’t just read the report,” advises Grant. “Go and see the boat with the surveyor and talk through what needs doing. Work out the ‘must-haves’, the ‘nice-to-haves’, and the items that can be left for a few years.”
At first glance, used yacht sales may look like a buyers’ market, with declining prices and some boats sticking for years before being sold at deeply discounted prices. In reality, there’s a shortage of good second-hand craft under ten years old, and there’s still healthy demand for older, high quality yachts that have been well looked after.