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.
Negotiating a deal
“We’re very busy and there’s good confidence both in the UK market and elsewhere, but it’s price sensitive,” says Grant. Her latter point is an important one. Owners have to price realistically or be happy to negotiate a worthwhile discount. Nevertheless, the best deal is one that works for both sides. “You’re better off maintaining a good relationship with the vendor,” Grant says. “It can help enormously if they spend time with you at handover to go through the systems.”
There’s no magic formula for how much less than the asking price you should offer. A well-presented boat that’s sensibly priced may sell quickly at, or very close to, the asking price. A boat that’s clearly not being used and has been on the market for a long time will invite lower offers.
Peter Thomas cautions buyers not to get carried away with how many thousands they can get knocked off the asking price, saying this can lead to buying the wrong boat. “There’s no advantage in being tempted to buy a boat that’s not right for you, just because it’s offered with a better percentage discount.”
Tim and Jane Griffin, Elan 434
Tim’s previous boat was a Princess V40 powerboat, which he replaced with Instinct earlier this summer. Longer-term plans are to sail to the Med and cruise there, maybe also with visits to the Canary islands.
Instinct appealed as it has the owner’s layout, but still with room for a multigenerational family. It has a safe cockpit, with sail controls that are easily reached from the helm, plus a lot of neat touches. Although it’s a cruising design it’s quick and sails well, which were also important factors.
“We first saw this boat a few years ago,” says Tim, “but the owner decided to keep her. In any case we had not sold our previous boat.” Instinct had one owner from new and had been little used, especially in the last couple of years. “She had been very well looked after, with a really good service history from new,” he adds. “That was a deciding factor in the end.”
“She came out of the survey really well, needing new skin fittings, a new saildrive gaiter and some work on the standing rigging and sanitation pipes. Beyond that, the couple have added radar and a 32in flatscreen TV in the saloon, which they plan to interface with the navigation system.
Tim Hammick, Amel Maramu 46
Hammick, who has a long-standing background in performance sailing, bought Marindina in July 2012 and has since sailed around 25,000 miles, including four Atlantic crossings.
He drew up a shortlist of four or five Maramus across Europe, then, to save potentially wasted travel before viewing, he asked the owners detailed questions about each boat, including the condition of equipment on board, age of standing rigging and so on. He then took a risky approach, making a low offer on a boat in Lanzarote that had been on the market for several years, only commissioning a survey once he had completed the deal.
“I wouldn’t have done that with most boats,” he says. “The Maramu’s heavy scantlings and thick single-skin construction gave me the confidence.
“Having that offer accepted meant I had a better budget to refit the boat with everything overseen by a surveyor. That gave me tremendous confidence in the boat. Marindina got a mostly clean bill of health in the survey, with the only real unexpected thing being scattered blisters in the forward part of the hull that the local yard dealt with. They also replaced the standing rigging and installed a satellite phone.”
Mark and Jo Downer, Grand Soleil 46.3
Mark and Jo bought a little used but well maintained GS 46.3, in Holland early last year, having thoroughly researched the market over a two-year period and cast a wide net. They wanted comfortable accommodation and a boat that would sail well and easily with just the two of them on board.
“It was important for the boat to look lovely and be well built,” Mark says. “But it also had to be new enough for decent kit, which pointed to a model of around 10-12 years old.” They have made few changes, replacing the 140 per cent genoa with a 100 per cent furling jib and Coppercoating the bottom.
“It’s worth working out exactly what you want from the boat and being choosy about it at an early stage,” he adds. “It’s a very expensive mistake to buy the wrong boat, and you won’t enjoy it as much.” He also recommends having a test sail if possible. “Even if you’ve already sailed a lot of different boats, you’ll learn from it.”
He says it’s important to check the sails carefully, and ask whether the equipment that’s on board when you view is included in the sale. Boats with minimal gear often sell for nearly as much as well-equipped boats, so you get that gear for less than it would cost new.
The true cost of external woodwork
Large amounts of external timber have a big effect on running costs and depreciation. Teak looks great at boat shows, but what happens as the boat ages? Modern glued decks last longer than their screwed-down forebears, but replacing them is expensive. There are plenty of performance cruisers that look great without external woodwork, including the Amel range, mentioned on p45.
Personally, I have a foot in each camp. Over 15 years of ownership I’ve removed almost every item of external woodwork from my cruising boat in the Mediterranean, yet in the UK I have a boat with a full teak deck. It’s indicative of the compromises inherent in choosing a boat: everything else about the UK boat was right, so the wooden deck was the one compromise we had to make.
Size and complexity
The larger and more complex the boat, the more time, money and hassle it will take to maintain. My boats are simple to fix, which allows more time for exploring, or relaxing in the shade with a refreshing drink. But for others the main point is to entertain family and friends in a high level of comfort. If you fall into the latter camp, stick with brands that offer support for owners wherever they are in the world. Many builders retain full documentation of the systems and equipment for each boat they make, enabling them to assist with solving problems in remote locations.
The arguments for buying new
- Benefit from the latest design thinking
- Can choose exactly the boat and specification you want
- Cosmetic appearance
- Total price can be quantified in advance
- Systems will not need replacing or updating for many years
The arguments against buying new
- Higher price
- Possibly longer lead time
- Greater depreciation
- A snag list of problems is almost inevitable
The arguments for buying used
- More boat for your money, particularly if there’s recent new gear on board
- Previous owners may have tried, tested and improved systems
- Can make a top-quality yacht affordable
The arguments against buying used
- Older systems may be in need of replacement
- When will an expensive refit be needed?
- Missing out on recent design and construction developments