If you’re looking to buy a pre-owned boat, working out how old to look for is a key decision. Will Bruton speaks to brokerage and refit experts to find out why 10- to 15-year-old yachts can be a sweet spot for diligent buyers.

With new build waiting lists growing at an unprecedented rate, buyers are turning to the second hand boat market to get on the water without the wait. But if you’re looking for a pre-owned yacht, what’s the best age to aim for?

Ten to 15 years in the life of a yacht is a key juncture where some spending will often be needed to maintain value, but initial depreciation has levelled out. It’s also a part of the market with big variations in price. Two identical-looking prospects can sometimes be seen listed for very different prices; making it hard to determine the true value.

Broker Alex Grabau suggests it’s an ideal age to buy at, however. “We have 10- to 15-year-old yachts listed now that are either extremely well maintained from new or have been upgraded ready to go on an adventure with all of the major jobs taken care of; they don’t stay on the market for long though.”

Buy a second hand boat to upgrade

While the prospect of time in a yard straight after taking ownership is offputting for some, for others it’s an opportunity to get exactly what they want. Specialist bluewater broker John Rodriguez has seen more clients than ever looking for a dependable hull to bring up to date.

An Oyster 725 in refit, including deep services of engine and generator, plus new lithium-ion battery bank. Photo: Calum Tait

“Buying at the 10-year-plus mark can be the path to the right boat in less time than a new build,” he explains. “A good survey, followed by surrounding yourself with the right people to deliver the work needed is essential though; it needs to be carefully managed with an aim to what you are trying to achieve.

“Quality boats like Hallbergs, Oysters, and Moodys are a bit like a solid Victorian house; if the bones are there, you can bring it right up to date and make it yours while modernising at the same time.”

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Alex Grabau also highlights how younger yachts can be easier to upgrade. “A lot of the yachts we are now selling around the 10- to 12-year mark are already equipped with digital wiring. This generally makes even putting the latest generation of instruments in easier.’

Calum Tait is overseeing the refit of the 2012-built Oyster 725 Intrepid, which has been purchased for the Oyster World Rally. The refit, undertaken in Palma’s STP yard with support from Oyster’s Palma service centre has been a blend of essential maintenance and improvements to bring the boat up to ‘as new’ standards for her second owner.

“The batteries needed replacing so we have upgraded to a massive lithium domestic bank, which will allow us to run the air conditioning without running the generator – something that wasn’t possible in 2012 when she was new,” Tait explains. “The engine and generator have both had deep services, hoses have been replaced, including new hydraulic lines, and we added a fuel polishing system.

Teak deck replacement can be expensive so is worth checking carefully

“It was also an opportunity to customise. The most significant addition was a solid carbon fibre bimini with solar panels and upgraded speakers, which was custom made in Palma by BMC Composites. The refit has taken a very busy five weeks, but it is now feeling new.”

Second hand boat costs

For insurers, the age and condition of rigging is a crucial opening question when quoting. “It is quite common for an owner to say there’s nothing wrong with their standing rigging, even when it is 20 years old. In the case of rod rigging, some parts need changing every five years; this is often ignored too. Insurers know this and won’t offer cover, so if you’re looking at a boat over 10 years old, assume the rigging needs replacing as a cost you’ll have to meet,” explains marine surveyor Ben Sutcliffe-Davies.

Most yachts built after 2010 will have digital systems, making electronics upgrades easier

The following are worth considering early on when trying to establish value of a second hand boat:

• Teak decks. With teak prices higher than ever, replacement is now extremely costly.
• Seacocks and stern gland. Seacocks are exposed to the marine environment constantly. Replacing all of them at once will save time and money at this age.
• Technology. Many yachts sport an aging hard wired satellite phone, SSB radio or outdated navigation technology. Spares can be hard to find, so consider the cost of replacement even if you are happy with what is already on board
• Sails. Are they fit for purpose, or do they need replacement?

Manketti was a rare find in a fast moving market. Photo: Will Bruton

A second hand boat buyer’s experience

Emily and Dave Birch were in search of a yacht to take them on a sabbatical with their seven-year-old daughter. “We were looking for a yacht that would look after us and hold value if we looked after her. It put us into a market with big variations in price, but also usage. Some bluewater yachts have been lived aboard full time, regularly crossing oceans, while others had been sitting in a marina despite their ocean-going credentials.

“Each scenario presented different challenges in terms of keeping seaworthy. Due to the pandemic, we also found ourselves in a period of unprecedented demand; we weren’t the only people wanting to sail off into the distance,” Dave recalls.

They found Manketti, a rare 2005 Sparkman & Stevens-designed Hylas 49 berthed in Vigo. “The broker’s proposal was clear: definitely priced at the top end, but in turn-key condition. A conversation with him reassured me this was genuinely the case, so I started to work through the inventory to build up a clear picture. I was looking for indicators of what we still might need to spend.

“There were lots of receipts, which was promising. The owner, an engineer by trade, had lived on board for several months and taken it upon himself to sort niggles he was aware of, so the systems were all being used regularly. What he was upfront about was that he was not prepared to replace the rigging, which was original, as he believed it to be sound. We made an offer not far off the asking price, subject to survey. We also priced for rigging replacement early on.”

Dave travelled to Vigo with his surveyor. “The boat presented beautifully, even better than expected. However, the owner was surprised by what the surveyor determined was a saturated section of balsa core in the foredeck. It would need a comprehensive structural repair.

“We found a middle ground in the negotiation, factoring in only the significant repairs. The owner also decided after speaking to the surveyor that he would replace the rigging before sailing back across Biscay to deliver the boat to me. We’re happy with the boat we now have and the few things that need upgrading are an opportunity to get to know her better.”

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