how to find the right sailboat to liveaboard

Now that I have your attention. Let me tell you that this isn’t professional’s take on buying a sailboat. This is an inexperienced person’s experience from chatting and talking with a few owners, experienced sailors and different surveyors. This is what I’ve learned so far in the process of buying a sailboat. To avoid bad boats, you’ll want to get the best surveyor in your area to view the boat you’re interested in. If the boat is floating, you like how it feels inside, you’re going to want to get a survey done. Yes, $600+ dollars plus can be quite expensive but when you know how much a boat can cost you in the long run, it pays for itself. In my area, one of the best surveyors charges $23 dollars a foot and that includes a sea-trial. Trust me, I want to skip it too but it’s not a smart decision to do that. The information below will go into what you can do to make sure you like the boat before you start contacting surveyors to haul the boat out.alberg

Now, we know the best thing you can do before purchasing a boat is getting the BEST surveyor in your area. This means looking at reviews, asking around, and asking for sample surveys. I would not get a surveyor who can’t supply a sample survey. You can really look into the thoroughness of a surveyor by viewing the report they provide. Well, enough about surveyors, let’s jump into what you can do before picking up the phone and breaking out your checkbook (do people still use those?).

Disclaimer: You’ll want to read up about what makes a good boat for your intended purposes. If day sailing, simplicity, and overnight camping is your objective maybe a dinghy will do. If you want to cruise around the world, a coastal cruiser or race boat might not be the best option. If you’re strictly just looking for a liveaboard that can float, you may not care what condition the sails are in. Research types of rudders, keels and fin systems, types of sailing configurations and more. There are a ton of books out there. Look at the bottom for a few suggestions.

What should I ask the seller to provide and what should I look at during the initial viewing?

  1. THE NUMBER 1 RULE – A good friend and an experienced sailor (thanks Laura!) told me that one of the most important things when buying a sailboat is getting a feel for the boat. How does it feel to you specifically? Is the inside too cramped? Does the cockpit seem small? Is the boat too large, too small? The boat could be a great buy but it may not feel right to you. Check out the boat, sit in the cockpit, sit in the head, take a number 2, wait, don’t do that last part, the boat owner probably won’t appreciate that but you get what I mean. Sit in the bed, make sure it’s big enough. Stand up in the kitchen and move around the boat. Especially if this is going to be a liveaboard.sailboatinside
  2. After you’ve checked out the boat or before you’ve checked out the boat, ask for the most recent survey. Typically the boat owner will have one but sometimes they don’t. If the boat has switched multiple hands in the past 10 years, I’m a little weary if they didn’t have a survey done. Maybe the seller doesn’t want to provide it or maybe they didn’t keep track of the paperwork, either way, I don’t like it.  In this survey you should be able to see recommendations for work that should be done on the boat and you can ask the seller if those issues were ever addressed. If it’s less than a year old, maybe you don’t need a survey but if it’s older than that, understand that a lot can happen in a few years.
  3. I thought this was a good question that was given to me buy another forum poster. If you were to keep the boat, what work would you perform? In my case, the seller said that he would address the teak issues as the wood is very dried out and hasn’t been addressed in at least a couple years.

But really, a survey is the way to go.
Make sure you like the looks and make sure you’ve done your research on the best designs for your intended purpose. If you like the feel of the boat and there aren’t any huge red flags, go get that survey.

When creating a contract before the survey, there are plenty of examples out there. Make sure that it provides a way out depending on survey findings. You may have to make an offer before the survey but that offer is not locked in. The survey allows you to negotiate or back out of the deal.


Resources, DIY Surveys, and Checklists

A Great List of What to Bring and Buy to Complete Your Own Survey

BOATUS – Buyer’s Checklist (PDF)

DIY Survey Checklist from Practical Sailor

Marine Survey 101 – Port Credit Marine Surveys

Recommended Books

Get Real, Get Gone: How to Become a Modern Sea Gypsy and Sail Away

20 Small Sailboats That Will Take You Around the World by John Vigor


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