How to choose models of boats,
especially large used sailboats

Galleon Contact me.

This page updated: January 2012

Intended Use
Implications Of Intended Use
General Choices
Choose Boat Models
Frequently-Asked Questions

My Specific Models of Boat page

"A good boat is a boat that can be enjoyed in all conditions it's likely to encounter, and can be properly maintained by the owner."
- Bruce Cranner


A surprisingly good book about types of boats, how to choose, and how to sail:
"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Boating and Sailing" by Frank Sargeant.

Good book: "Living Aboard" by Janet Groene and Gordon Groene.
Emphasizes the "living" part, and is not about sailboats exclusively.
Sections on lifestyle and pets and kids are good; sections on money and business are not good.

Dated (1983) but good book: "How To Live Aboard A Boat" by Janet Groene.

Well worth reading:
"Boating for Less" by Henkel.
"Choosing Your Boat" by Roberts and Mann.
"How To Buy The Best Sailboat" by Chuck Gustafson.
"Boating Without Going Broke" by Walter Sheldon.
"The Dollars and Sense of Sailboat Ownership" by Jeff Spranger (not just about costs).

From "The Cruising Life" by Jim Trefethen:
The boat isn't as important as you might think.
Successful cruisers are on an incredible variety of boats.
The most important factor is you, and your skills and attitude.

Brian O'Neill's "Selecting The Cruising Sailboat"
David Pascoe's "How to Decide if Buying An Older Boat is Right for You"
David Pascoe's "Keeping the Pleasure in Pleasure Boating"
SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Choosing a Cruising Boat"
SailNet - Randy Harman's "Choosing the Right Boat"
SailNet - John Kretschmer's "What Boats Are Really Out There?"
Chris Caswell's "The Lloyds Standards"
"Looking for a Boat" articles by Hal Roth in 4/2001 and 5/2001 issues of Cruising World magazine
"How to choose a boat" articles in Nov/Dec 2001 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes magazine
Several boat-buying articles in 9/2003 issue of Sail magazine

From SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Choosing a Cruising Boat":
"no single person can concretely define what constitutes a good cruising boat for someone else"

From Rick Kennerly on IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
Rick's Rules for boat buying and ownership:
  1. A small boat and a suitcase full of money beats a 40-footer tied to the Bank every time.

  2. Cruising boats are bought by the pound, not the foot.

  3. You gain more live aboard space for every foot of beam added than for foot in length purchased (there are some older narrow CCA-style boats that are 50 feet long, but with less usable interior space than our Westsail 32).

  4. While boats are linear, their maintenance, time and equipment costs are exponential (it costs three times as much to maintain a 40-footer than a 30-footer).

  5. The view of paradise is exactly the same from the cockpit of a small boat as that from a gold-plater.

  6. Any fool can sail a 45-foot boat downwind in nice weather. On the other hand, it is very easy to buy more boat than a couple can handle during a blow on a lee shore.

  7. Pay attention to the basics -- hull, engine, rigging, sails -- rather than to amount, quality or age of gizmos; a few grand held back at purchase can replace (or add) GPS, VHF, wind and depth instruments, and creature comforts -- cushion covers, propane stove, etc. A bum engine, a rigging failure, or a bad case of blisters can easily set you back three or four times that.

  8. Charter fleet boats were designed for two or three couples living out of duffels and eating ashore most of the time, not live-aboard and cruising -- you'll be offered hundreds of badly used former charter boats at very attractive prices but you can't afford them.

  9. "Go simple, go small, go now." L & L P

  10. Finally, always purchase a boat in which you will be proud to be seen arriving.

From John Dunsmoor:

You know there are so many sh*t production vessels out there that it is truly depressing to see some of the crap put out by boatyards claiming to do the right thing. Garbage, and you're going to get stuck with one ... pick your battle.

On the other hand, they can carry you around the world, and sailing anything is better than contemplating the perfect boat.

I have to have abused you with my Buccaneer story:

I am in the Bahamas with four students, and there, anchored some 200 yards away, is a 25-foot Buccaneer. This has to be the worst piece of crap boat ever built. Looks like a football with a mast. Like someone took a normal boat and installed an enema air-line and pumped it up, extending in all directions. This twenty-five-foot boat was marketed for internal volume and the number of berths that it had. Good thing too, because it has no other good qualities, none.

So a pair of the students started to remark about what a piece of horse dung this vessel was, how ugly, what a poor sailing boat, built like a toy, and how we should go urinate on it this moment and maybe do the owner in, so that he would not have to suffer any more, this embarrassment in his life.

I joined in with the ribald banter, waiting for my moment. Hey, I'm the salt, can't let a moment pass, can I? So after twenty or so minutes and when quiet befell the cockpit, having got to the goal, no one having anything else to add. I recognized my moment and remarked: "You know there is one point we shouldn't forget." They looked at me with tilted heads, waiting for the next utterance. "Come this Friday, you guys are all going to be headed home, to wives, jobs, all the pointed minutia of life, and this guy, and his sh*t boat, is still going to be in the cool, clear, aquamarine waters of the Bahamas ... something to think about."

The silence was thick and still. The thought being pondered, which one of these students, young yuppie professionals that they are, would be willing to trade their life for that one.

Never lose focus: the goal is going sailing. And no matter what vessel you decide on, the goal is the same. I know of so many would-be cruisers who seem to hang out for years at the dock trying to get the boat just right.

From "Your First Atlantic Crossing" by Les Weatheritt:
An adventure like this can get off to a bad start over the type of boat needed. I'm very pleased with my choice of boat, since I already owned her and didn't have to find another. My Petronella was not ideal, not by any means, but she was a good compromise. More to the point, I could easily have lost all momentum by trying to sell my old boat or gone broke raising the money for a new one. As we travelled south we came across all sorts of boats making this trip. There was so much variation that I began to think that it barely mattered what the boat was, just so long as it was well cared for and the crew were good enough.

Intended Use

Intended use is first thing to figure out.

"Buy the Right Boat"
Patrick Dines' "Sixteen Questions Before You Buy"

Here are my intentions:
  • Full-time cruising live-aboard.
  • With me (6'2" tall) and maybe my girlfriend living aboard.
  • In very warm areas (Florida, Caribbean).
  • In fairly shallow areas (Florida Keys, Bahamas).
  • In areas with lots of coral (Florida Keys, NE Caribbean).
  • Singlehanding most of the time.
  • Occasional visitors or crew.
[Ten years later: girlfriend is long-gone, and only one overnight visitor twice, and never any crew. Rest of it was accurate.]

From Jeff Halpern on Cruising World message board:
If you ask two sailors about almost anything, you will get at least three opinions. There is no more controversial a question than what is a perfect first boat. To begin with, all boats are compromises. They are compromises between optimum sailing ability and the need for accommodations or shoal draft. If a boat gets wider it gets more stable up to a point but then it has less reserve stability to right itself if it goes over. If a boat is too wide and blunt, it has a lot of drag but lots of room down below. If a boat is too narrow it has less drag, but won't have much stability or room down below. Too much weight and the boat is slow and hard to handle, too little weight the boat is fast, fun, and easy to handle but at some point takes greater skills and athletic ability.


The key is to figure out where you are going to sail, what your abilities are and what your real needs are. Different sailing venues favor different types of boats. ...

From Brian Woloshin on Cruising World message board:
I see many posts "what boat should I buy?".

A better question would be: What characteristics do I want in a cruising boat?

There are far too many designs out there that are viable cruising boats to limit them by model, especially if you are looking at used ones. First make a list of what you want from your boat. Do you want fast, light and less comfortable ride or heavier more stable slower boat? To get fast and comfortable, size has to go up. Lighter fin-keel boats point higher and go faster, but are harder to steer and bounce around more than heavier full-keel boats. Multihulls are still lighter and faster (if you don't load them down), but have a totally different motion.

Do you want creature comforts like refrigeration, separate shower, a lot of electronics, etc? These fit better on larger boats and also create higher energy demands. Are you comfortable doing your own work? Half the cost of adding equipment to a boat is labor. Do it yourself and you have an instant 50% discount.

Decide what you want in a boat, and then look to the marketplace to see what fulfills your requirements. You may just find that a lesser-known or one-off boat meets your needs for a lower price just because it is lesser-known.

Just over ten years ago I bought a lesser-known design for a very good price, much less than the smaller well-known boat I was initially interested in. Same well-known naval architect, same build quality, much more boat for much lower price. Never regretted it for a minute.

From Larry:
After 24 years of owning a boat, the thing that surprises me the most is the very high number of boats that are essentially never used. For whatever reason, lots of boats are never seen by their owners. It is not often talked about, but it is real. Go to any marina on a nice day and see all the boats in their slips. Go next weekend and it is the same. My kid asked me why. She said, "Dad, why are there no signs of life here?"

From Dwight Yachuk on World-Cruising mailing list:
Re: Choosing a cruiser

Before we can give you answers you'll have to answer some questions:

Where are you and where are you planning to sail (probably the same place, but it could be two different places)?
- salt water, fresh, lake, river, ocean, northerly with cold weather, east coast, west coast, etc.

How much sailing experience do you have?
- never been on a boat, a few years, many years, only day-sailed, only sailed on the local river, chartered in the BVI's, etc.

What are your long-term sailing goals?

How much do you want to spend?
- make that: how much can you afford to spend, and look for a boat 1/2 that price.

How many are there of you?
- one, couple, family, pets, friends, etc.

Are you handy?
- if no, then you should have lots of disposable money, buy a new boat, or you should consider chartering instead of buying.

Do you want to buy your final boat (never recommended) or will you consider trading up as you learn more about what kind of sailboat you will eventually want?

Answer all these questions and your perfect boat will drop in your lap (you hope).

Some thoughts:
  • Be honest and realistic. Don't plan to full-time cruise soon if you need to keep a job, have lots of commitments ashore, etc.
  • Don't get pressured into shooting for the most ambitious goals (full-time cruising, circumnavigation, remote destinations, etc). Day-sailing or coastal cruising is lots of fun too.
  • Don't be stopped by lack of knowledge. There are lots of resources available. The learning process is part of the fun.
  • Don't be afraid to re-evaulate and change direction.
  • Write down your list of intentions and read them over from time-to-time. If you have a spouse or family, have them help make the list, or have them write their own lists and compare. Show your list(s) to other people.

From Capt Teach on Cruising World message board:
As people are always asking what boat they should buy, I have put together a little list of questions to help narrow the search:

1) How much sailing time do you have?
2) Where will you be sailing? BE REALISTIC.
3) How far away do you live from where you will be sailing?
4) Do you have a place to keep a boat, either wet, dry, or both?
5) If you are lake sailing, does the boat you are looking at have a trailer?
6) How much boat can your current tow vehicle handle?
7) Do you really know the area you intend to sail?

Answer those things, and I will now give you things to think about to help with those answers:

1) If you are a non-sailor, I would suggest a smaller boat up to about 22 ft; I470s or I520s are great dinghies that teach you more than you can imagine - they have just about every sail-control line, and with a boat that light you will see what effect each control has on the boat instantly. Other race-oriented boats are great for learning too, such as beach-cats. Racing in general is a great way to learn to sail, and of these groups the Beach-cat crowd is more accepting of newcomers. Racing is a fast-track approach to learning: you will learn more about boat-handling and sail controls in a single race weekend than you can learn in months of teaching yourself.

2) Are you planning that World Cruise already? SLOW DOWN!! There are tons of great sailing areas right around the corner. If you live in a coastal area it is easy to look out over the ocean and think 'One Day', but should your first boat be a world-cruiser? Probably not. Your first car was probably not a new 8-series BMW either. What water is close to you? A good-sized lake? Maybe the Mississippi Sound? A large bay? What boats do you see sailing in these areas? Have you tried to get a ride on any of those, or to at least look at one with an owner?

3) How far away from your sailing grounds do you live? 10 minutes, an hour, or do you need to plan a trip to the boat? How much more would you sail if you were closer to the boat? A small trailerable boat can increase your sailing time a ton without killing your bank account. If you live close to a large lake but really like to sail on the coast, a trailerable is your ticket. Something that you can take out on the lake and then haul to the cruising grounds of your choice on longer weekends or vacations.

4) Do you have a place to keep your boat once you buy it? Having a parking spot for the boat in the yard is one thing for a trailerable, but what about during the season - a slip makes it even easier to run to the boat for an afternoon sail, and if you are jumping head-first into a cruising boat then a slip or mooring is a must. If you find a slip, you will need to know how deep the water is, and not just at the slip but in the approaches - having a slip with 6 ft of water is no good if the only approach has a 3 ft depth, especially if that is at high tide.

5) People who live on lakes that are developed tend to buy a boat and not give any thought to a trailer - this is a HUGE mistake. For one it limits your sailing to that body of water only, and while that may not be an issue for you, it also limits your potential buyers when you get ready for the next boat.

6) If you do buy a trailer-sailor, can your current tow vehicle really tow it - if not a used truck may also be in your future, or at least finding a good friend who has a truck.

7) Knowing the water where you plan to sail is a huge plus - there are lots of boats on the MS Gulf Coast that are stuck to the shipping channels until they get past the barrier islands due to the shallow water. If you are looking at boats that have a draft that is deeper than most of your sailing area, you won't have fun once you have it in the water. How deep is the water right off that nice little beach you've always wanted to picnic on - or the one where the party is always going on? Having a four-foot-deep fin-keel boat in a body of water that has only 3 feet of depth 200 yds from the shore makes for some long hikes to the beach, or sailing all day in a limited area. If you are not sure about this then a good topo map of the lake can tell you a lot, or going out in a dinghy and taking soundings will get you the information you need to see what type of keel configuration you need to look at.

Local knowledge is the key to getting a boat that will not only suit your needs but the needs of the area you are in. Take your time when getting that ultimate boat - your First boat is just that: your FIRST boat, and while it may be your last boat it probably won't be. Getting a small boat can add to your sailing pleasures - even if you have a cruiser, a beach-cat or dinghy is a great way to explore areas the big boat won't go or is too time-consuming to get to.

From "The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat" by Mark Nicholas:
Choice of boat is paramount for liveaboards: This is not a temporary location where you will be spending your time. You don't get to cook your meals somewhere else, or sleep somewhere else, or host friends somewhere else. If you are a cruising liveaboard, you need to be able to adequately store everything that you will need during your excursions while still being safe and comfortable. Boats are designed and built with the normal recreational boater in mind, not the very small number of liveaboards, and you should be careful to match your needs, wants, hopes, and dreams with that of your investment.

Implications Of Intended Use

From Zeb on Latitudes and Attitudes Cruisers Forum:
"The stages of life are: Sailboat; Motorboat; Motor-home; Rest home; Funeral home!"

Boat Types:
Sailboat is better because:
  • Prettier, more graceful, more traditional, more "cachet", more elegant, more challenging.
  • Lower fuel costs, if you sail instead of motoring a lot, or often even if you do motor.
  • More of a community; sailboaters seem to be more friendly. Maybe because they're forced to rely on each other more than powerboaters, who rely more on marinas and money ? Maybe I feel this way because I have a sailboat ? I have met some very nice powerboaters.
  • Two forms of propulsion == more backup.
  • More in tune with nature; less environmental impact; slower-paced life.
  • Greater range; more self-sufficient.
  • Slower speed actually is an advantage in some ways: you see more things, and you have more time to avoid trouble (go aground slower, more time to realize you misread the chart, etc).
  • More stable, especially in ocean, because of deep ballast keel.
  • Tend to be better equipped for anchoring (two bow rollers, wider side decks for going forward).
  • May have less complicated drive train (always single-engine, usually no bow thruster).
Powerboat is better because:
  • More living space per dollar and per foot LOA.
  • Simpler: fewer parts and fittings, less to learn and maintain. And many sailboats spend most of their time motoring anyway, so why have the rigging and sails ?
  • Less draft (but exposed propeller can be trouble).
  • Less height (don't have to wait for bridges to open, can get under power lines and trees).
  • Faster (convenience and safety).
  • Bigger market; easier to sell.
  • Easier to trailer or truck-transport.
  • Probably easier to repair (engines and drive train accessible under aft deck).
  • Houseboat is better because:
    • More space and livability per dollar.
    • Very cheap if in freshwater and use standard house parts and have small engine.
    • Very shallow draft.
    Trawler (displacement boat) is better than planing boat because:
    • More seaworthy.
    • Less windage.
    • Less fuel consumption (but slower).
    • Better materials == more durable.
Summarized from "moving from sailboat to trawler" article by Bob Doyle in 1/2004 issue of Southwinds magazine:
  • While cruising on sailboat, less than 25% of time was sailing. Rest was motoring or motor-sailing.

  • Especially for older person in bad weather, closed pilothouse of a trawler is more comfortable than open cockpit of a sailboat.

  • Handling a trawler is quite different from handling a sailboat. Trawler rudder may be much smaller, HP/displacement ratio much higher. If single-engine, probably need a bow thruster to dock it.

From George Sass in "Gently With The Tides" edited by Michael Frankel:
Switched from sailboat to trawler:
  • Trawler has a lot more room. The cabins have much more headroom, and feel like rooms, not cabins. Space is more square; fewer intrusions of sloped hull surfaces.

  • Main cabin has a "below", limited-visibility feeling in a sailboat, and an "above", "on the water", 360-degree-view feel in the trawler.

  • "... if we realistically consider how much we as sailors really motor, it's not such a big switch to cruising a la trawler style."

  • Advantages to trawler-motor-cruising: more predictable travel time, easier to handle (takes less crew effort than sailing, so can do chores or relax while motoring).

  • "We've seen a lot more of the Chesapeake Bay in the past 4 years (on trawler) than in the previous 10 years of sailing."

  • "Now that we are experienced in both sail and power cruising, I find the differences between the two to be more imagined than real. After all, the common denominator, the reason for any boating, is to be out on the water."

From Skipper Bob on Great-loop mailing list:
Sailboats are great for "blue water" cruising and I wouldn't buy anything else if my dream was to go around the world. Engines are just too unreliable for that and fuel too expensive for my limited means.

However, if my cruising plans involved the Coastal US and Bahamas and nothing further afield, the trawler is the way to go. I retired in 1978 and moved aboard a sailboat with my family with the idea that we would cruise around the world and live the great life. Reality soon set in and we realized that while we loved quiet anchorages, neat little coastal towns, visiting many places, enjoying the company of the greatest group of people in the world (IMHO - boaters), and all those great features of cruising and living aboard. What we discovered is that we ran under power on our sailboat 80-90% of the time. There were many times when we couldn't go where we wanted because we were too tall or too deep. We also felt very cramped on our 35' sailboat. Finally, we hated overnight cruising (open water cruising) and vowed never to do that again. So worldwide cruising was out for us.

With time we came to the realization that we could buy a trawler (36') with less draft and less mast height that had a lot more room, which would fit in more with our cruising plans. I also knew enough about "hull speed", "full displacement", etc to realize that if I bought a trawler with big engines I would not be able to afford to move the boat on my small fixed retirement income. Thus, we bought a single engine diesel trawler, which burned 1.3 GPH at 6.3 knots and cruising 5,000 miles a year burned about 900 gallons of fuel. This was within our budget. For 8 years we did just that and our fuel consumption was just about as forecast. In 1992 we paid an average of about $0.90/gal for diesel or $810. In 2003 we would have paid an average $1.35/gal for fuel or about $1215 per year.

The above figures bring up two points. Do sailboats use less fuel? Are trawlers fuel hogs? The answers are "yes" and "can be". Sailboats generally use less fuel than slow single-engine trawlers of the same length. However, sailboats usually end up paying close to about the same for fuel going the same distance. Sailboats usually have small fuel capacity. Thus, when they fuel up it is rare that a 36' sailboat would take on more than 100 gallons of diesel. Unfortunately, a large number of marinas penalize anyone who buys less than 100 gallons of diesel fuel. In some locations by as much as $0.30/gal. What this means, if you are a sailboat and pull into a pump and take on 35 gallons of fuel you might pay $1.65/gal. If I pull up to the same pump and take on 200 gallons I might pay $1.35 per gal. I didn't say it was fair. That is just the way it is. The next problem is cruising range. On our trawler we could go 1200 miles between fueling up. Few sailboats can do that. If the cruising range under power is less, you will stop more often to fuel up in a sailboat and you won't be able to pick and choose where you take on fuel. We, on the other hand, selected our fuel stops by cost and only stopped where we got a great deal. Thus, even when the average fuel cost on the East Coast was $1.65/gal for diesel (June 2004) there were still places where you could get it for $1.30/1.40 per gal. We would plan our stops and only fuel up where it was cheap.

By the way this penalty of not being able to pick and choose the place you stop for fuel also applies to "over powered" diesel trawlers that are fuel hogs. I just took a 34' single engine trawler from the Chesapeake Bay to Florida for the boat owner. I cruised at 20 knots on that boat and believe me it was not a "displacement" boat. I had to fuel up every single day and had no choice (for the most part) what I paid. When you need fuel, you stop where you are and buy it. I paid more for fuel on that trip south than I ever did in my life before. In fact, I paid more just for that short 1200 mile trip than I normally would pay for fuel to cruise for a year and go 5000 miles.

This brings up the second point. Are trawlers fuel hogs? The answer is they can be. Many manufacturers of trawlers are responding to the cry of the buying public for "faster" boats that "can get where I want" or "can get in when bad weather hits". This means a lot of trawlers out there on the market will get very poor fuel economy. The good news is that this is not a given and if you look around you can find a trawler with small horsepower, which equates to good fuel economy. If the 36' trawler cruises at 6-7 knots and "can do 8" it is probably fuel efficient. If a 36' trawler cruises at 8-10 knots and "can do 15" it is not fuel efficient and will cost a lot more to operate than either a sailboat or slow trawler. In fact it may cost as much or more to operate than a gasoline boat.

The final point is cost. You are correct, in general used sailboats in the 36' range cost less than used trawlers in the 36' range. On the other hand when you sell the boat, as some day you will, you will generally get more for your used trawler than you would for a used sailboat. For that extra initial investment you get more room and the ability to visit more harbors and go on canals that is difficult if not impossible for a sailboat of the same length. Your operating costs will not be significantly more with a slow trawler and you need not stay in a marina any move with a trawler than you would with a sailboat. That is simply a choice you make based on your lifestyle and budget.

From John Irving on Great-loop mailing list:
Sailboats and powerboats (trawlers) are so different that a direct comparison is difficult. However, here are some points to consider:

Trawlers are great if you are staying near shore. They have more room inside, and they have an inside steering station that can keep you out of sun and weather. You don't have the problems associated with sail handling, and there's no tall rig that has to come down at certain points along the loop because of height restrictions. Sailboats also typically draw more water depth because of their deep keels. If you'll be doing the loop and motoring 90% of the time anyway, then why not have the comfort and convenience of a trawler? You can anchor out just as much in a trawler as you can in a sailboat. If your trawler relies on shore power, then you'll want to stay at marinas or else you'll need to run a noisy generator with the risk of annoying other boaters who are seeking some peace and quiet at their anchorage.

For going offshore, I would only consider a medium to heavy displacement sailboat. The recent Atlantic rally crossing of a group of the larger expensive trawlers highlighted (what is to me) an unacceptable reliance on mechanical devices such as active fin stabilizers to keep a boat safe and the crew comfortable. I've also heard stories of attempted trawler crossings from Florida where 10-15K of wind has sent a fleet of trawlers heading back for the coast in what would be great sailing conditions. On a sailboat, the sails help stabilize the motion of the boat, and the heavy ballast keel will ensure the boat lands upright in the event of a capsize. IMHO a used $25,000 sailboat can be safer offshore than a trawler costing over 10 times that much. But that $25K sailboat will give you a wet ride, will be far more cramped inside and won't have the luxuries of home. That's why the comparison is difficult.

Finally, there is the question of the kind of boat you like. For some people boating = sailing and they quickly become bored in a powerboat. One person I talked recently described power boating as "cheating." Others would gratefully tell you that the days of sailing ended last century when the internal combustion engine made those obnoxious sails obsolete. You could finally just point your boat where you want to go and go there. No more of that zig-zagging back and forth to get to your destination. What's your philosophy? How fast do you need to go? Do you need to keep to a schedule?

If you have a limited budget, there are some excellent deals to be had in the used sailboat market. If you have limited funds and you're going offshore, the decision is pretty obvious. If you have lots of money, you'll be staying close to shore, and you value a comfortable steering station, a trawler is for you!

From Bill Schleuse on Great-loop mailing list:
I have owned 30' and 38' foot auxiliary sloops (one mast, auxiliary engine) and a 40' full displacement, single-engine trawler-type power boat, having come to the auxiliary sailboats from smaller (racing) one-designs. I do love both sail and coastal power cruising.

First, the issue of sailors switching to power boats and seldom vice versa. (I have known of a couple cases of couples who moved back to sail). The simple reason is that as sailors get older they feel a little less nimble, their desire for comfort tends to increase, and rigging and unrigging a sailboat gets to be a less fun activity. In addition, people tend to have time to do longer range cruising after retirement, and it is a "dirty" little secret that auxiliary sailboats run their engines a surprising percent of the time when cruising, even when sails are up ("motorsailing"). It may be a most pleasant thing to sail across the local bay at 3 knots with a light breeze going nowhere in particular, but if you are trying to get to a marina or anchorage before dark, it may be less idyllic.

As to comparing costs, a typical 40' trawler is a much larger boat than a typical 40' sailboat. By that I mean the volume and surface area of the hull is larger, and there is more room for accommodations. Displacement may be close, but only because the sailboat will have a ballasted keel; the powerboat will have less ballast, often none. If you look at boats with similar accommodations and of comparable quality, and with comparable systems, they will be in the same ballpark in (new) price. The cost of the larger engine in the trawler will be offset by the cost of the rigging and sails on the auxiliary. Also affecting the apparent price differential you are seeing is that trawlers tend to be more heavily equipped and have more complex systems than sailboats; also if you are looking at the used market, demand for sailboats may be softer. As to maintenance costs and fuel costs, I would say that fuel cost should almost certainly not be the deciding factor. Assuming you are talking about a diesel-engine auxiliary cf. a single diesel-engine displacement trawler, or even a semi-displacement hull operating at displacement speeds with an appropriately-sized engine (i.e. not too large), the difference in fuel and maintenance cost will not be huge, and may be offset by other expenses. I.e., in doing a given cruise, you will burn more fuel in the trawler, but you will probably comfortably make longer runs in a day if you choose and if you are stopping at many marinas, a few fewer nights would offset a lot of fuel savings. Also slips tend to rent by the length, and your longer sailboat for the same accommodations will take a pricier slip. Over a long period of ownership, replacing sails will be a very significant expense. As to anchoring out, that is a personal choice, and may be a matter of age and pocketbook as much as sail vs. power per se. As to service, most single-engine trawlers have fairly accessible engines. Many sailboat engines, though small, are a bear to get to and service.

I would say you can't make the sail vs. power decision in the abstract. It comes down to what you like and what you plan to do with the boat. You mention both the great loop and southern latitudes. On strictly "mission-based" criteria, a power boat is a more logical choice for the loop, while the Bahamas, Virgins and the Caribbean constitute one of the premiere sail-cruising areas in the world. BUT as you know, people cruise each area in the "wrong" type of boat and have great fun doing it.

From JoeShoes on BoaterEd forum:
I got rid of my sailboat 8 years ago and bought a powerboat when I stopped racing my boat. I would be motoring here (NY) 50 percent of the time due to lack of wind and another 25 percent of the time when I wanted to go in the same direction that the wind was blowing from and I did not want to tack for time reasons. Add in the fact that sometimes you are in a hurry and need to power, you are sailing at best 15 percent of the time.

Also, I wanted to be able to do 15 or 20 knots if I wanted to. For these reasons I went power. The upside is that I usually putt-putt along at 8 or 10 knots, having been used to 4 knots in the sailboat. But I still prefer the smoother ride of the sailboat.

About friction between sailboaters and powerboaters, from Bruce on BoaterEd forum:
There are some common behaviors, maybe misbehaviors is better, that are the basis of some stress between the two groups. Power boaters are known for throwing wakes, running noisy generators, having noisy parties and an indifferent attitude toward those around them. Sail boaters are known for hogging the mid-channel, not monitoring VHF, demanding a non-existent right of way, allowing their halyards to clank against the mast all night and a generally unwarranted superior attitude vs. power boaters. Powerboats and sail boats may swing differently at anchor as well. As with many things it is lack of courtesy that is at the root of the animosity today.

From Dave Barry:
... Fortunately, the boat we rented had a motor in it. You will definitely want this feature on your sailboat, too, because if you put up the sails, the boat tips way over, and you could spill your beer. This was a constant problem for Magellan. ...

I decided to get a sailboat, so the rest of this page is more specific to sailboats.

I ended up getting a "motor-sailer": a trawler-like sailboat. Big engine, bulky hull shape, slightly small sails, full keel, shallow draft, with a doghouse (pilothouse open at the aft end). Great for living aboard, great for motoring, but barely tolerable performance under sail. I've done lots of ICW and river cruising so far (plus the Exumas). I find I motor or motor-sail 98% of the time. With better sailing performance, that might change to 95%. Many cruisers I've met with better-performing sailboats still motor 80-90% of the time. I think I made the right choice for me.

Want > 30 feet for safety and comfort, and to cross ocean.
Want < 50 feet for cost and single-handling.
If > 40 feet, need anchor windlass.

Bigger is better because:
  • Smoother motion (comfort, safety, reduced fatigue).
  • Faster maximum hull speed (utility and safety benefits).
  • Handles rougher weather.
  • Affected less by wind when docking ?
  • Can carry more stuff (for more comfortable living, for cruising farther from civilization, for stocking up in cheaper locations, tools and materials for doing your own repair work, bicycle, safety stuff such as lots of ground tackle and a powerful dinghy, etc).
  • Can stow dinghy on deck instead of towing.
  • More interior/storage space (important psychologically as well as practically).
  • Less sensitive to loading more and more junk on board.
  • Easier to host visitors (for happy-hour or longer).
  • Sleeps more people.
  • More privacy (important even if just 2 people on board).
  • Can stand up inside: more comfortable, affects your attitude about living on the boat.
  • Easier to single-hand because more stable.
  • More flexible (e.g. galley still usable while major engine work is in progress, can empty aft cabin into forward cabin to do repairs in aft cabin, more choices for mounting solar panels, etc).
  • More redundancy (e.g. two heads, two cabins, multiple sinks, etc).
  • Higher freeboard may discourage thieves.
  • Bigger engine (more cylinders) runs more smoothly.
  • Probably easier access to engine.
  • More visible to other traffic, especially when anchored at night.
  • Less affected by additions such as adding a pilothouse (everyone cruising seems to want one, and I love mine), solar panels, heavy ground tackle.
Smaller is better because:
  • Cheaper in every way.
  • Less muscle required.
  • Fewer things to go wrong, less to maintain.
  • Can go to more places (less draft, shorter mast).
  • Easier to get a slip or find space in an anchorage.
  • Sails better in light air ?
  • More maneuverable.
  • Less effort needed to cast off and go sailing.
  • Less of a target for thieves and overcharging.
  • Easier to single-hand (especially when docking/anchoring) because less distance, more maneuverability, fewer parts ?
  • Easier to maintain (less of everything to maintain).
  • Lower freeboard makes it easier to get back aboard.
  • Lower value makes you more comfortable about going without insurance (if you choose).

Smallest practical size for a cruising boat is "a boat large enough to carry a dinghy on deck"
- John Alden

Article in 8/2000 issue of Sail magazine: "Moving On Up: Should You get A Bigger Boat ?" by Beth Leonard.
Makes some excellent points, including:
  • Forces on sheets go up exponentially. Have to winch everything; operations get slower and more complicated and more dangerous.
  • Sizes of anchors, bagged sails, etc get bigger than one person can handle easily.
  • Height of boom, amount of freeboard, etc may get inconveniently large.

"For boats 30 feet and over, each additional five feet in length increases the interior space by 50%. Thus a 35 has 50% more space than a 30."

From John Dunsmoor:
Displacement [maybe minus ballast ?] is more a guide to size than length. Displacement is directly proportional to interior volume. So a 25-foot boat with a displacement of 4000 lbs is one third the size of a 33-foot boat that displaces 12,000 pounds. Also a certain amount of vessel is cockpit and bow and stern which leaves the rest as interior. So a 25-foot vessel is 7' of cockpit, two feet of transom and stern, aft locker etc., then another three feet of bow, bow deck, anchor, chain locker, etc., so what you have left is 13 feet long by eight foot of beam or 104 square feet.

On a 33-footer you have about the same measurements for the bow, stern and cockpit and have left is 21 feet and now the beam has increased to 10 feet which gives you 210 square feet.

Out of this interior space you have to deduct a toilet, stove, hanging locker, berths and such. All of which is the same size on either vessel. So in reality you may very well have two to three times the space on a 33-foot vessel than you have on a 25-foot vessel. The same is true for a forty-foot vessel, the space, volume and cost goes up geometrically.

Reality: my wife and I lived aboard a 26-foot Columbia for seven years. We used the forepeak for storage and our actual living space was about eight feet square. Which was tolerable when we were sailing, but not tolerable when we were at dockside. One person could be comfortable, two persons at a dock, trying to live shore life, it was torture.

I would suggest no less than 30 feet. It is a good compromise and the truth is at a marina in south Florida they will charge you a thirty-foot minimum rate anyway.

From a friend (paraphrased): "At first, as a student, a 45-foot boat seems impossibly huge and intimidating. But if you work up to it, it is little harder to handle than a smaller boat."

"I've never known anyone to make a mistake by starting too small, but I've sure seen folks bite off more than they could chew in a first boat."

From SWamp on Cruising World message board, in reply to a "how big should I buy" question:
The difference between living aboard and camping out. I started with a 37 and now have a 50; no comparison. I love sailing so much that I would have could have cruised on the 37. By way of example, just spent 4 months on 50 and only spent 3 nights in a marina. Would have been difficult on 37. My opinion a mid 40s ideal.

From SailNet - Sue and Larry's "A Used Boat to Stay the Course of the Cruising Life":
... We enjoyed the virtues of space, sea-kindly motion and speed of our 46-foot Beneteau, and were determined not to go any smaller and not much slower. There are many different theories but you'll never make us believe that speed does not enhance the enjoyment of cruising in making passages more comfortable, and much safer in being able to get out of harm's way should bad weather be approaching. So many times we saw how we were able to handle bad conditions and keep on trucking, when our friends in smaller or slower boats either turned back or endured many more uncomfortable hours. For this reason we set our size criteria at 44 to 50 feet. I'm really not sure when a 43-foot boat became too small for us, but apparently it has. It's funny how your perspective of what a big boat is changes over time. ...

From Colin Foster on Cruising World message board:
My wife and I have been cruising on Yandina for 12 years (off and on). She is 71 feet long and weighs 75 tons. All the comforts of home - it is home ! And on occasion I have single-handed her. Having sailed and owned boats from 25 feet to 71 feet, the bigger they are the easier they are to handle. Things happen much slower and they are much more forgiving. When the unexpected 40 kt gust hits you, you heel over 2 degrees and pick up another 5 knots. ...

From Tim on Cruising World message board:
[Re: singlehanding a bigger boat:] ... It's really only a matter of planning your work, and developing processes that help you handle the extra loads involved. In some ways, it's actually much easier because we're dealing with a substantially more stable platform. ...

From Steve Dashew:
... invest in waterline before anything else. Sometimes by keeping most of the boat simple you can have a much larger vessel for the same budget as a smaller, more complex package. Bigger is always better.
... buy waterline first, second, and third - this is the most important factor for comfortable, fast (and safe) cruising. A funky looking but sound 50-footer is going to be a much better boat for cruising than a more modern tricked-out 40-footer with 8-feet less waterline.

From Donald Logan on Cruising World message board:
My boat is 31 feet on deck and 8.5 feet in the beam. She is damned small in harbor and just right at sea when either of us can essentially single hand her and everything is easy to use and reach. It's a trade off. The smaller boat is cheaper to run and will get you out cruising sooner if you really want to get up and go.

From Gary Elder:
I'm sure you are aware that it costs more money to run a big boat than it does to run a smaller boat. Just for fun I looked up prices for a few things that are considered expendable, in West Marine's 2000 catalogue. The sizes are what is recommended/accepted as correct for a 40-footer vs a 50-footer.

Bruce 44 anchor = $280; Bruce 66 anchor = $667
CQR 35 anchor = $500; CQR 45 anchor = $540
3/8" BBB anchor chain = $3.19/ft x 100ft = $319; 1/2" BBB anchor chain = $5.99/ft x 100ft = $599
5/8" x 250' anchor line w/thimble = $161; 3/4" x 250' anchor line w/thimble = $269
1/2" x 50' dockline w/eyesplice = $29; 3/4" x 35' dockline w/eyesplice = $43

Obviously, sizes vary with personal taste, etc. All of these items will either wear out, get damaged, or get lost. The list goes on and on.

Also, many 40-footers have engines that are half the size of engines in many 50's; that can double fuel consumption. The bigger boat sure makes a nice platform though.

From William Sellar on Yacht-L mailing list:
> it is a mistake for a relatively novice
> sailor to buy too big a boat.

I really wonder about this, I know it's conventional wisdom. I have owned lots of dinghies, a Catalina 22, a Tartan 27 and now a Southern Cross 39. The Southern Cross 39 is way easier to sail than the Catalina 22. The Southern Cross is so much more stable at sea than the Catalina, one is much safer walking around the deck, almost everything is easier. An accidental jibe in the Southern Cross is nothing; it would lay the Catalina 22 on its side, as it was so light in comparison.

I think if one knows exactly what one wants in the final boat, then there is no point in buying something else as a stepping stone. Moving from one boat to another costs a lot of money as one buys stuff for the intermediate boat only to sell it later. If one is not clear about what they really want, then a smaller boat to figure this out makes sense.

From "Voyaging on a Small Income" by Annie Hill:
... a very small boat will stop you from being independent. ... If your little ship is large enough for you to carry plenty of stores, spares, tools, and miscellaneous bits and pieces, this means you will be able to take care of your boat or any problems that crop up, with what you have on board. The capacity for carrying a reasonable amount of cargo will allow you to take advantage of bargains ...

A very small boat, although initially cheaper, may end up making for a more expensive lifestyle, particularly as it is less likely to be a comfortable home in which you will be happy to live in harbour, thus subjecting you to the temptation of going out at nights and spending money. ...

From interview of John Kettlewell in Ocean Navigator magazine online:
Another factor I feel is very important is the ability to manhandle your boat and the systems on it. Many older voyaging couples now sail in boats in the 40- to 50-foot range, and they depend on things like electric windlasses and electric winches to do so. If you have a 65-pound anchor on the end of 200 feet of heavy chain, the average man and wife crew will not be able to pull that in by hand when the wind gets above 20 knots and the engine isn't working. Picture pulling more than 100 pounds straight up from the bottom in a 40-foot deep anchorage. And electric windlasses are a high-maintenance and high-breakdown item. Here in Cartagena there seems to be at least one or two boats rebuilding windlasses at any given time. Yes, you can carry a spare motor, but that won't help you at 3 a.m. when the anchor is dragging and the motor has packed it in.

So, I think there is still a very strong argument for the "go small, go now" philosophy made famous by Lin and Larry Pardey. Smaller boats with simpler gear can be more easily manhandled when things go wrong. I think our 38-footer is nearing the maximum I would want with a two-person crew. Many will disagree, but I see a lot of older cruising couples out here who basically motor short hops to the next port, but only when there is no wind, so they can avoid having to do anything physical on their big boats. They have too much boat to handle. In my mind, a good way to decide is by trying to imagine yourself waking up one night with a sudden wind switch making your harbor a dangerous lee shore. Of course, both the motor and the windlass are not working, but you have to set heavy air sails, get them up, get the anchor up and beat out of the harbor to safety, and then you have several days of ocean voyaging to get to the next protected harbor. This is a real scenario that presents itself to many voyagers in the Pacific Ocean.

My experience:
I ended up buying a 1973 Gulfstar 44 motor-sailer ketch as my first boat.

I think I made the right choice, going big. It's stable, easy to handle, lots of room, etc. The biggest disadvantage is that it has a lot of equipment I didn't want: genset, AC air-conditioning, old AC freezer. And (partly as a result of size) it doesn't sail well. But it's great for living aboard and motoring.

I don't stay in marinas, so that avoids some of the cost penalty of a big boat.

[Refrigeration: I've met several single-guy cruisers living on small boats without refrigeration. One friend is constantly searching for, paying for, and hauling ice for his ice-box. Another eats canned and dry food. Both end up eating in restaurants far more than I do.]

[Fuel: with my huge fuel-tank (230 gallons), I can wait until I'm in a cheap area to fuel up.]

From Kirk on the SailNet Caribbeanislands-list:
[In a discussion about refitting costs:]
I'm not sold on the generally accepted mantra that a small boat is that much less than a larger boat. The problem if you go too small is that it takes the same planning time, similar labor costs and all you wind up with is something that is nice - but too small. I say get the boat of your dreams (design and layout) - they all cost lots of money and blood, sweat and tears and you better really like your boat and plan on keeping it forever otherwise you've really wasted your finances!


I find that many people underestimate the proper boat size and waste lots of time and money trading up a couple of feet every couple of years.

SailNet - John Kretschmer's "You've Bought the Wrong Boat"
SailNet - John Kretschmer's "What Boats Are Really Out There?"

From Christian Lonjers:
... In my opinion standing headroom is very important for any sailing adventure that lasts more than a few days. If a person was really into "roughing it" you might get away with less, but you would never get a woman to stay long. My first real boat was a Coronado 27, which had headroom as well, but they accomplished this by adding more freeboard to the boat. I am not comfortable sailing on a boat with a high freeboard. ...

From John Dunsmoor:
Not being able to stand up in one's home is a bitch. Tie a sheet across a couple of rooms at 70 inches and see how long you can live with the abuse.

From Stuart James:
My boat [Liberty 28 cutter] has 6 ft 1 in headroom. As I am 5 ft 7 in, I myself have no problem standing in my boat. By the way, my brother has been living on his 20 ft Schwill for the past four years. He is about the same stature as I. The boat has 5 ft 4 in headroom. He rents out his house, so he could move back to the house any time, but he doesn't. He says he loves the lack of complication of living aboard, and doesn't care about the headroom, as he is sitting down if he's below anyway. He can still stand enough to put his pants on. And he doesn't have to mow the yard. Also, the guy I had as first mate was 6 ft 4 in, and he never bitched about the headroom, though he did about everything else. All told, I don't think standing room is essential. If you conclude otherwise, consider a boat like a Flicka 20. 6 ft 4 in headroom, and built like a brick. People sail those to Hawaii from California. Or perhaps a Dana 24. High headroom isn't exclusive to big boats. Look around. Both those boats are by Pacific Seacraft, who doesn't know how to build a half-assed boat. PS builds true bluewater boats. But there are others. ...

From Heather / Paradox:
> what is the standing headroom of your boat (1978 Allied Princess 36 ketch) ?

Roomy, about 6'2" or 6'3" at the centerline all the way to the V-berth. That made a HUGE difference to the feeling of space, especially for my husband.

> How important is it that you can stand up inside ?

If there are two of you, VERY. Possibly less important if you were solo, but we needed a place where we felt at home as well as at sea, if you see what I mean, and otherwise, you'll always tend to bottleneck at the only spots where you can actually stand, such as in the companionway, and you'll get much more serious cabin fever in rainy season. ...

From Captain Hugenot of SFSailing:
... Unfortunately most sailboat manufacturers avoid listing their headroom dimensions in their literature; this is because they usually don't have anything to brag about. ...

Much of the problem is that there is no single headroom number for a boat; the headroom varies from spot to spot all over the interior. I guess you could write to the owner or broker of a boat and ask for headroom measurements at specific key places: when standing at helm, when standing in front of galley sink, in front of head sink, at bottom of companionway.

From Dave Foster on SailNet's Gulfstar mailing list:
... There's nothing you can do about the size of the boat once you buy it. Everything else you can change and you can do most of it as time goes forward and your priorities shift.

Second, and this is painful experience talking, buy big to save your back and head. I'm 6'5" and my wife is 6'0". Once we got away from the Hunters and such we found that we had to get hull length to get headroom. You don't notice it on a cruise or short charter, but after living aboard for a time I resent every nook of this boat that I can't stand up in. ...

Lots of people say "buy a smaller boat now, then move up to bigger as you gain experience".

I hear them, but this would mean:
  • Going through the painful/costly/time-consuming search-buy-refit-adjust-sell cycle several times. (And selling seems to be extremely painful: takes long time with boat unused and in one place, probably in a slip, and never get the money you want.)
  • Starting with a lifestyle that is not what I want: limited-range cruising, cramped living space, maybe more time in marinas.
  • Starting with a less-functional boat: slower, more motion, less comfortable, etc.
  • Getting too old by the time I get to the lifestyle/places I want.
Instead, I want to gain smaller-boat experience through my sailing school, then plunge right into a large boat. Maybe I can get some experienced crew for my first months on the large boat.

A dialog I had with Peter Hendrick:
> I'm curious about how casually you say "we switched boats".
> Isn't selling a boat often a long, painful process ?

Yes and no. We lucked out; within 10 days we had two offers [on their Tayana 42] so we accepted the higher! As a general rule, if you buy well, then you will have an easy time on the sale side. Of course, you have to be realistic on price and it helps if you dock the boat in Ft Lauderdale for easy access to the max number of buyers.

> People have recommended that I start small (27-foot) and work up,
> but I'm very leery of multiple buy-and-sell cycles.

I see those recommendations too, but I view them as the difference between theory and practice. It's excellent advice if given to a 12-year-old who has ample time to start out in a 14 ft sailboat and work their way up to the ideal cruising sailboat. For myself starting out at age 50, that option was totally unrealistic. We started in a 42-foot and learned by 6 weeks at the Ft Lauderdale library and the rest at sea. As they say, 'necessity is the mother of invention'! It's not the ideal strategy, but it worked for us and we'd do it again in a heartbeat! Of course, we were totally dedicated, had self-confidence, practical skills, and lots of common sense to fill in the gaps. Many people lack some or all of these characteristics and need a more 'spoon-fed' approach! Also my wife and I were a team dedicated to cross-training (i.e., capable of doing everything on the boat should one of us become incapacitated). You wouldn't believe how many cruising couples can't meet this basic criteria after cruising many years.

I've asked what lessons people learned as they went through several boats, and got this:
  • Sailing performance matters a lot (for safety, and to get through boring stretches).
  • Buy on quality, not price (low-quality boats may have intractable problems).
  • Buy newer, not older (to avoid constant repair/replace work).
  • Sometimes smaller is better (less to repair).
  • Look for storage not "space" (often a less open feeling inside means lots of storage behind and underneath the accommodations).
  • Make sure the main berth is big enough / ventilated / REAL comfortable (you'll be sleeping there every night).
  • Headroom matters.
  • Be honest about how you are really going to use the boat and get a boat that fits your needs, not your imagination.
  • From Peter Hendrick:
    As a brief history, my wife and I started cruising in 1995 (ages 50 and 46) primarily in the Caribbean. The first year we sailed a Tayana 42. After one year we sold her and bought a bare 1986 Wauquiez Hood 38. The reasons for the change might be of interest:
    1. higher performance: sailing is a lot more fun now esp in light breezes i.e., 4-6 knots.
    2. shallow draft: centerboard/keel (4-6 vs 6-2); now we see a lot more of Belize.
    3. smaller: everything is cheaper and easy to handle, but still adequate, unfortunately less storage and tankage.
    4. quality: Wauquiez is much higher quality than Tayana; very strong and well-built.
    5. outfitting: With one year experience under our belt, knew exactly what we wanted and didn't want.

Some people say "charter a boat for a month to see if you like the lifestyle". I hear them, but for a large boat this would cost $8K or more, charter companies would want me to charter slightly smaller boats first, and I'd have to push out my schedule a bit. And I expect it will take a while to adjust to the lifestyle anyway; I don't expect to get comfortable with living aboard right away. I might still do the charter, or I might take some week-long live-aboard classes at Ocean Masters.

From John Dunsmoor:
About an interim vessel: you are almost correct about the cost and effort. But the truth is there does not need to be so much cost and effort. Any small boat will do, 30 feet is a good size, a grand in supplies and navigation tools, charts and such. Most of the items you can take to the next boat and GO SAILING.

This is less of a waste than to spend $200,000 and four years to find out that you are not up for the task, don't like the adventure, having no fun, too hard, boring, what have you. I speak from experience, I have seen individuals at the end of their four years, totally lost, they have invested so much for their dream and it just didn't measure up ... NOW WHAT ? If you enjoy sailing on the thirty-footer then think how much fun and enjoyable life will be on the forty-five-foot vessel with all the toys.

Logic: you have three options at the end of one year on the thirty-footer:
  1. You love this and you want to do it more, you sell the current vessel and move on to the next. You have ten grand in the 30' and you quickly sell for eight or live aboard it till you find your dream boat and give it away, who cares.

  2. You find out that this is not for you. You don't have to spend the next three years living on a boat that you do not want because you have $200,000 in that boat that really isn't worth $120,000 blah, blah, blah. Think it can't happen, I know a woman who sailed around the world with a boat that she spent eight years selling, starting at $250,000 and finally escaping the vessel with $70,000 and damn lucky at that.

  3. The middle road, you like sailing, but have decided that you like other things too and while you want a boat and want to spend a lot of time sailing you also have other desires. So you keep the thirty-footer, or move to something a little larger, but it has moved from being your dream boat to just a boat. The costs drop accordingly and you have the second vacation waterfront home, love sailing and live aboard for four months a year in the islands and store the boat for hurricane season and rent a cabin in the mountains while doing some consulting work and traveling to Europe for a few months during the summer.

  • Sturdy, comfortable, safe configuration (medium-to-heavy-displacement, medium-to-full-keel, deep-V ?).
  • Aids for single-handling (should auto-steer well).
  • Capacity for ocean-crossing.
  • Decent light-air performance.
  • Simplicity.
  • Space.
  • Usability and low maintenance over frills (e.g. prefer no wood).
  • High performance.

From Colin Foster on Cruising World message board, about how much draft affects cruising in the Bahamas:
Once you get over 6 feet in the Bahamas, you limit your range severely. While most of the main harbors have access for drafts over 6 feet, you will be confined to those channels and many of the shortcuts and gunk holes will be unavailable. If you don't mind the nervous tension and bumping a lot, you can do most of the areas but be prepared. ...
More from Colin Foster on Cruising World message board:
6 feet seems to be the cut-off point for both the ICW and the Bahamas. More than this and you start to become restricted, less than this and you are pretty free to roam. Our 71 ft ketch draws only 5.5 ft with the centerboard up so we were able to gunkhole into many small harbors that much smaller boats could not enter. ...

From Heather / Paradox:
... > How important is shoal draft for travel in Bahamas, Keys, ICW ?

Very. There are places in the Bahamas very difficult for a 6' draft to go. Crossing the Banks and checking in at Green Turtle was easy with a 4.5 ft draft, would have been more alarming with a 6' draft (channels supposedly dredged to 6' (same for ICW) are not always currently 6 feet). Storms, the dredging cycle, etc. can mean the effective depth is much smaller. Even at 4.5' there were places "in the channel" on the ICW south of Beaufort (starting at Beaufort NC, actually) where we went aground... as did many others.

> Are there times when the shoal draft is a problem (you wish you had MORE draft) ?

There never was one ... but we had a lot of lead in that keel. ...

From Gary Elder:

If you are really planning to cruise Florida, The Keys, and Bahamas, consider that draft greater than 5 ft is considered quite deep and will keep the cautious sailor out of some of the best anchorages in those areas. The water on the Florida west coast and the Keys is quite shallow, but beautiful.

My home base is in Southwest Florida, and my coastal cruising ranges from Tampa to Key West. With my 4 1/2 ft draft there are places where I must watch the tides carefully, and a few places I just can't go at all. Another consideration here and up the East coast are fixed bridges, get a boat that is too tall and you can cause yourself a real route planning problem. My boat is 56 ft tall and if I am very careful with the tides, I can squeeze under most 55 ft bridges without running aground (remember the shallow water).


More from Gary Elder:
... I feel privileged to have been able to help quite a few people get acquainted with this area when they 'retired' and relocated to SW Florida. One of the major mistakes I have seen people make, is that when they chose a boat for SW Florida, The Keys, and Bahamas, they bought too much draft. Frequently they focused on some feature of the boat they liked, and rationalized that the draft is "only a little too deep", or "how much difference can 6 inches make?", or they listened to some salesman who wanted to make a sale.

As an example, one of the nicest 'undiscovered' places in the Keys is charted at 5 ft. Most local knowledge thinks it is less than that. My personal knowledge says that 5 ft can get through there at high tide (depending on wind direction). I would be very happy to lead you through there when you get your boat, I know my boat will make it through, will yours? What if we don't arrive at high tide, can you get through? Draft is very important. The old Morgan Out Island 41 was designed with a draft of 4'2" for a very good reason.

Having a draft of more than 5 ft doesn't necessarily mean that you can't visit these places, but you may not be able to go everywhere you would like. Once you decide on a max draft, you should be able to shorten your 'list' considerably. Additionally, I would suggest that you make the max draft decision before you get serious about which boat you want.

More from Gary Elder:
Here's one to avoid: You find a boat that is just about right, everything about it fits like a glove except for the draft. The broker says, "It's all right, it's only about a foot or so deeper than you said you wanted - it won't make any difference at all." WRONG! This is a very easy trap to fall into, and realistically one inch too much can make a huge difference. The brokers will say just about anything to make a sale, and most of them know how to prey on your emotions to do it.

The last time we were in Marathon we anchored near G19. The chart shows 11 ft, but we were right next to an unmarked shoal that was about 2 ft deep. Take a look at Sister Creek. The chart shows 5 ft mlw, but often it is impossible to get a 5 ft deep boat through there. At the RH end of Boot Key Harbor, in the general area where the chart says "7 ft rep apr 1983", lots of shoaly areas where you would be lucky to find 5 ft.

It's not uncommon for the wind to reduce water depth here by as much as a couple of feet. Obviously, if your draft is already marginal, you could have a serious problem.

This is typical of the Keys in general, so when the broker says "I know boats with 6 1/2 ft draft that cruise there all the time" be careful.

Need shallow draft for going up rivers and mangrove swamps to tie up during hurricanes.

Want shallow draft for ICW.

Tom Neale says much of the Chesapeake is shallow-draft territory.

From Antolin Rivera on Cruising World message board:
You could go 10 feet draft in the Caribbean without being limited to your choice of anchorages. You will be ok with 7 feet draft and trust me, you will love having it once you start going to windward against trade winds and refuse Atlantic swells. Been there done that!!

From JeanneP on Cruising World message board:
We draw 7'2", fin keel, love it.

We did the Intracoastal Waterway from Virginia to Florida - no problem. Did the Bahamas, including Andros Island, which we were told was inaccessible to boats with a draft over 5'. Did all the Caribbean except Barbados and Jamaica. No problem. San Blas Islands, through the Canal, across the Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Australia (most difficulties because of river shoaling), Indonesia, S.E.Asia. We tend to go where other people don't - i.e., new, unusual, or where somebody tells my husband we "can't" go (if you tell Peter he "can't", his eyes glaze over, a little steam comes out of his ears, and that's just what he's going to do). Maybe three anchorages in 14 years where we really couldn't go.

Boat goes to weather really well (we sailed from Solomon Islands to Vanuatu and then to Fiji - maybe we're nuts to do that much distance to weather, but what can I say? They told my husband we shouldn't, so we did). Disadvantage in our boat - she does not heave to very well - we're better off sailing. So we sail. Don't heave to.

From Jim Taylor:
... My draft was 4 feet with the board up but even then there were many, many places I would have liked to have gotten into during my cruises thru the Bahamas over the 13 years I lived aboard and cruised the islands. If you make the mistake of getting a boat with 5 1/2 feet of draft ... you will be a very frustrated sailor indeed. Every time you turn around, you'll be going aground ... even if you just stay in Florida or the intracoastal. ...

From Doug King on newsgroup:
Anything over about 3' is a draft issue in the ICW. The last boat I ran the ditch with drew 4' and there were places where we bumped and had to pick our way. The Pungo-Alligator River section and the stretch just north of Wilmington are often shoaled up. And that's just the parts in NC!

Less draft == worse leeway, and less storage.

My experience: I bought a boat with 3.5-foot draft (1973 Gulfstar 44 motor-sailer ketch), and have cruised Bahamas (Exumas), east coast ICW, and Tenn-Tom and lower Mississippi so far. While the shallow draft makes everything easier and gives more options, it is really critical only on the Gulf side of the Florida Keys. There you will find 5 feet in the channel at low tide, and 3.5 feet going into some of the marinas. Also, many canals in Florida are silting in and dredging is forbidden, so draft is a major factor if you plan to slip your boat behind your house.

From Captain Hugenot on SFSailing:
I like to see a displacement weight of at least 12,000 lbs for a 36 ft boat, if you want to go coastal cruising and offshore.

I have been in 25 ft seas and 45 knot winds which come up often on the Northern California Coast. In a 36 ft hull with 12,000 lbs. I handle them very well.

In an Ericson 27 at 7000 lbs I roll like a ball. It is a matter of how much sea sickness do you want.

In my experience of 30 years and over 110,000 miles offshore, I like heavy keels and lots of horsepower. When the wind is adverse I don't bother flogging to windward, I motor. Good up wind sailing characteristics are valuable in a racing boat, but in real cruising I avoid beating.

I prefer schooners, because they reach at 20% faster than sloops, and I find lots of onshore and offshore winds for reaching along the California, Baja and the Pacific Northwest coasts.
Next time you are caught out in 45 knots and a light boat, you will be calling the coast guard to rescue you. In a heavy cruiser there would be no need.

Mast Height:
Typical mast height from waterline == 1.5 x LOA ?

Want short mast for ICW.

Ketch/yawl usually has shorter mast than sloop/cutter does.

From Gary Elder:
... The two most common fixed bridge heights here [SW Florida] are 65ft above MHW and 55ft. The glitch here is that the Okeechobee Waterway that crosses the state at Ft Myers on the west coast and just north of Miami on the east coast has a fixed bridge with a clearance of only 49ft. This is a very handy route when one wants to get from one coast to the other, but unusable for many sailboats even though some people successfully heel their boats to reduce their height. ...

From Jim Taylor:
... Be sure you don't get stuck with a boat with a 55-foot mast height: take time to check on the clearances of the bridges in the intracoastal waterway ... you'll find a "bunch" of them with barely 50 feet of clearance. ...

I met people in Ft Walton FL who said everyone there cuts their masts down to 47 feet because of the bridges there. And I met people in the Caribbean who didn't even know their mast height because they've never been under a bridge.

Livability / Comfort:
From "Living Aboard" by Janet Groene and Gordon Groene:
"The boat you like for boating, and the boat that will make the best home are often different."

From Jim and Diane:
Personally, I would choose a boat more for its 'livability' than 'sailability'. You spend more time living than sailing. ... I would look for an older boat without much equipment. That way you can add what you want and not pay for someone's inflated idea of the value of what they had added. ...

Summarized from Tom and Mel Neale:
  • They are sailing to live well and have fun. Comfort, storage space, privacy rate higher than sailing performance.

  • Lower-regarded boats (Catalina, Hunter, Beneteau, etc) can be perfectly safe for coastal and Caribbean cruising.

From John Dunsmoor:
> Went to a seminar by Tom and Mel Neale (they've cruised the Caribbean and
> ICW for 20 years), where they said "we sail to live on the water and have
> fun", meaning that they don't care much about performance, at the moment
> they don't even own a spinnaker or storm sails, they don't see a need to
> buy a bulletproof ocean-going boat, etc.
> Then I went to the Pacific Sail Expo, where I saw new Catalina's and
> Beneteau's that were quite nice. Some things I liked: no "interior
> ceiling" so all backing plates are easily accessible, entire cabin sole is
> screwed down so it can be removed for complete access to the bilge, almost
> no exterior wood so lower maintenance.
> I don't plan to buy new, but what do you think about older Catalina,
> Beneteau, Hunter boats ? Given that:
> - I probably won't be crossing oceans any time soon
> - I realize you have to evaluate ex-charter boats carefully

Most sailors don't go far or as hard as they thought they would. Ocean passages are a pain, not always, but they always have that potential. Some sailors like it, most don't, twenty days of ocean sailing. You get into a rhythm, hard to describe, not a routine, but true God inspired, calm to the core of your spirit, rhythm. I would imagine that if you could not find this space you would certainly go nuts. The fact is that it takes a week or more. For the first few days you are just being jostled and busy and trying to get everything in order.

Of course this is ignoring lousy weather. If you are being assaulted by the sea gods with wind and rain and large seas then a calm rhythm is out. The thrill of survival punctuated by fatigue is the path of the day.

Cruising means different things to different folks. Most boats are somewhere, and not always in-between. Most boats spend most of their life docked or anchored, which is as it should be. A mobile home with a spot of adventure. So maybe a fifty-foot house boat would make a better live-aboard vessel than a sailboat? For some, maybe. The reason a sailboat is applicable is for sailing and going places. Since you have already made a large initial investment in propulsion you might as well use it.

When I was twenty, the ideal of sailing to me was the ability to sail off to the Bahamas for a few weeks, make a left turn and go to Europe for the summer, then as the fall approached maybe head down to Africa or to South American for six months. This was unrealistic, due to a number of personal reasons and as I grew older I found a different sailing world that worked as well and was even more satisfying.

Just to go to a new town or village and stay for a while, meeting people, seeing new things, eating different food and the after a few months moving on to a new locale. Sometimes it would be urban, other times it would be isolated from the busy human hustle and bustle. This week our residence might be a small island in the Bahamas where no one else is around and days were for walking the beach and snorkeling. Next week it was visiting friends and all the excitement of Fort Lauderdale, living right downtown on the city docks within walking distance of a million or so people. The week after we were anchored off Key West, a charming community of Conch's with a different kind of excitement and adventure.

I would suggest that the vessel you end up with will be one of a just a few that is available. The sliding scale of value, price, seaworthiness, size, location and condition will eliminate most of the possible choices and the boat chosen will not be the ideal, but close enough. At the same time you are doing this from a position of ignorance so some of your parameters will not have the same importance six months after the purchase. Do not be depressed, because in the end most of it doesn't really matter that much.

Do not purchase an unyielding whore that drags you into the gutter, abusing you with so many complications that you can not have any fun, FUN is important. Simple is usually less expensive and easier to manage.

Specifics, don't buy a Hunter under any condition, they are crap. Old Catalina's can be OK boats, but they are a C grade production craft, Beneteau's are B grade. Fairly solid but junk for equipment and hardware. Hatches suck on all these boats and all of them leak terribly with age.

I would never, never own a boat without a proper bilge and drainage, and a proper sump. None of these fin keeled production vessels have a proper bilge, sump or drainage. I would never own a vessel with an iron keel if I could help it. Not that they will ever completely rust away, but rust never, sleeps.

I would never suggest purchasing a new boat, for any reason. Waste of resources.

I would suggest looking over custom, one of a kind, older boats. Some are very well-suited, having been modified over years of actual use, by sailors that are using the boats.

Paraphrased from "Modern Cruising Under Sail" by Don Dodds:
Activities in an average year of cruising:
  • 10% passage-making (50% of that in light air).
  • 10% day-sailing (almost all of that in light air).
  • 13% cooking.
  • 33% sleeping.
  • 34% other.

From Russell on Cruising World message board:
What is livability in a cruising boat ??

I say that few boat reviews really pay much attention to livability. This might be a surprising view, since every review talks about layout, has pictures of the fine interior, etc. So let me begin by explaining what I do not mean. I do not mean size. Both a thirty-footer with four berths and a fifty-footer with eight can be livable. It's not clear to me that the number of berths is that relevant. Fifty-foot boats rarely have more people sleeping on them than thirty-foot boats. They just have richer people. Second, I do not mean built-in amenities. It's easy to add a TV, stereo, microwave, and hair dryer to a boat. When builders design these into the boat, it is more a marketing gimmick than a livability issue. Third, I do not mean a woody interior. This is simply a choice of interior decor, and different sailors will vary in their taste. Personally, I prefer a light Herreshoffian interior. Fourth, I do not mean layout, at least, not in the sense of how the boat is divided into cabins. Three-cabin boats are not more livable than two-cabin boats. Some owners might require a three-cabin boat, if they have high requirements for privacy and will frequently have guests.

A lot of boat reviews confuse all these things with livability. I read in some magazine that the interior has three cabins, built-in TV, and is rich in mahogany paneling. And yet the review has said nothing useful about livability. Having eliminated some distractions that are often confused with livability, let me make a stab at what I mean by this term.

(1) Livability is comfort in a variety of weather. Weather changes, and those who cruise must adapt to it. Insulation helps in heat and cold. Opening ports and hatches are crucial to living in hot weather, and can be closed when it's cold. Too many designers think if they put a hatch in the forward cabin they have solved the problem. Cross-ventilation is important, so side ports are needed. And the hatch should be over the middle or forward part of the V-berth, otherwise the forward part becomes an oven in summer nights. The galley, head, settees, and guest berth must be well-ventilated, both for forward air and cross-breeze. Newfound Metals and other port casters now have ports with built-in scuppers, so that rain water flows out rather than in. This not only removes a nuisance when opening ports after a rain, but makes it easier to leave ports open in gentle showers, without getting rain in the boat.

(2) Livability is part of the core design, not an afterthought. The careless naval architect shrugs off the problem of hot summer nights, thinking that this can be solved by AC if the owner desires. Many architects do not give a thought to biminis or cockpit screens, leaving these as opportunity for creative awning companies. Where should the tender go? The designer doesn't care, unless this is a 60-footer with garage. In my opinion, few naval architects really think about livability. They leave all these issues for the owner to solve, after the boat is built. That is reasonable for an architect designing a race boat. It is egregious when designing a boat that has cruising as one purpose.

(3) Livability is design tested against common functions by ordinary people. Where do you put the wet foulies when you step below? Are the berths long enough? Everyone who is more than 6' tall knows that a berth needs to be at least 6'6" long. Or more. The truth is, even those of us who are not 6' tall prefer longer berths, so that our feet and arms can flop into their usual position. Can short people see over the cabin trunk when seated in the cockpit? Are all through-hulls easy to reach? What is required to change the oil or top off the batteries? When you shower, what gets wet that shouldn't get wet? Where does the shower water go? How hard is it to remove the sump for weekly cleaning? Can the helm easily talk with other crew? How hard is it to pass things from belowdecks to cockpit? The principles of ergonomic design are well-known. For some reason, a lot of designers for cruising sailboats seem to ignore them. Again, this is understandable if you are designing a boat solely for racing. It is egregious practice, when designing a cruising boat.

(4) Livability is storage. Given the expected crew, the designer should figure out all the things they likely will bring on aboard for two months of cruising, and should then figure out where it will be stowed. Where do the engine spares go? Where does the spare line live? Where does the laptop go? Where the forty books? The fenders? The docklines? The dirty laundry? Guest's linens? Where's the trashcan for used tampons? (If you don't want them flushed down the head, then you damn well better plan a trashcan in the head!) Where goes the beer, dry goods, paper towels, and toilet paper? Where is the Cetol, paint, and other volatiles stored? What about the interior cleaning supplies? Now comes the important part: the designer should verify that the weight of these items and crew is less than his designed payload. He should figure out how these items, when stored, change the boat's center of gravity and distribution of mass, and use these figures when calculating stability and performance parameters.

(5) Livability is balance of energy and water economies. Given how the boat is designed, and the number of people expected to cruise on it, you can figure out the energy, water, and holding tank demands for each day of cruising. Boats with AC (or requiring it for livability in southern waters), with pressure water everywhere, with electric winches, with electric halyards, etc., will have higher energy consumption than those that don't need AC, that use foot pumps for most faucets, and whose winches and halyards are manual. Similar considerations determine water and holding tank use. Battery capacity and tank size should be appropriate to the boat's expected use. If the boat is more than thirty feet, the expected crew should be able to live on it for at least five to seven days between refills and pump outs. The architect should design appropriate auxiliary charging source, whether solar panel or generator, so that the boat can go weeks before being plugged into shore power.

(6) Livability is simplicity and independence of systems. OK, this last really is more about my own preference than about livability, per se. A luxurious megayacht will have multiple generators, powered everything, and professional crew to keep everything working. Those of us who have to maintain things ourselves would prefer that the head and sink still work when we're trying to figure out why the electrics are on the blink. My ideal boat has a diaphragm pump head, foot pumps on all faucets, and manual winches, halyards, and windlass. Electricity for electric devices only! The designer figured out where to mount solar panels that generate enough juice to supply normal use of lights, radios, computers, fans, bilge pump, and fridge. There is enough battery capacity to run these things for a rainy week. (That may be unrealistic with a fridge, so maybe it gets turned off after two days of rain. Bad choice for the northwest, but here in Texas it would work well.)

Is livability expensive? I don't think it has to be. Some of the requirements carry a cost. Storage, biminis, and solar panels are all expensive. At least the last two could be options. But the primary requirements are a matter of design rather than construction. Design is a one-time cost amortized across all hulls. ...
From Linda Campbell on Cruising World message board:
Over 7 years liveaboard, and 10,000 miles ... I know about liveability.

The points you make are excellent, and something for the buyer to study. I am always getting questions from wannabes on what kind of boat to buy. They don't have a clue as to what to look for. It is such a different lifestyle, that if you haven't done it before, you are starting at ground zero for basic living ... and then you add cruising. I got lucky. I didn't know what to look for either, but I ended up on one of the best. To me, it is more simple.

A. Get the biggest boat you can afford comfortably ... the rest of the bills will come later. THEN:

B. Buy the one with the MOST STORAGE.

C. Buy the one with the GREATEST ACCESSIBILITY to engine, thru hulls, etc.

D. Buy the one with the most SENSIBLE LAYOUT for your needs.

E. Look for strong construction, dry cockpit, big engine, usable deck space, and good ventilation.

THEN ... imagine living on it at a 30 degree heel angle.

AFTER THAT ... everything else is icing on the cake.

Rick Kennerly's "Definition of a Blue Water Boat" and "Rules for Boat Buying"

From "Second Thoughts" article by Tim Murphy in 6/2004 issue of Cruising World magazine:
Collected from various cruisers:
  • First-time cruisers may focus on buying storm sails, but later find that they've never used them, and want good light-air sails.

  • Probably choose different boats for Caribbean (good wind, very hot, lots of boat services and provisioning), South Pacific (less wind, fewer boat services and provisioning), ICW (motoring, full services and provisioning).

  • Things such as a big bed in the aft cabin become more important as you spend more time living aboard.

  • More space around the engine is always better.

  • For wives, and for older cruisers, an electric windlass is wonderful. And it lets you handle a bigger boat than you could otherwise.

  • There is no consensus on bigger versus smaller. Some people love the comfort and capacity (headroom, cabin space, tanks, engine room, etc) of bigger boats, and others love the simplicity (less maintenance) of smaller boats. But there does seem to be a bias toward "bigger".

  • Many people over-provision before starting out; food is available in other countries.

  • An inverter is really essential: some things just require AC power.

  • How people use their boats is an important factor: some sail long distances, others hop between harbors and then stay for months.

  • Many people wish the engine had more horsepower (to push through swells), and wish for a feathering propeller.

  • Most people use or want to use HF email.

  • Cruisers in the south Caribbean or South Pacific usually upgrade to a hard-bottom inflatable dinghy with a 15+ horsepower motor. They go longer distances and through more chop than cruisers in north Caribbean or USA.

  • There is no ideal boat.

From "The Dollars and Sense of Sailboat Ownership" by Jeff Spranger:
  • No part of the boat is more a test of comfort than her cockpit. Most sailors spend more time in the cockpit of a boat than in the rest of the boat combined.

  • The most consistently valid complaint about modern boats is in their builders' penchant for stuffing berths into their interior as if the number of people the boat can sleep is a testimonial to her livability. ... If enough crew members were aboard the boat to need all those berths, it isn't likely the galley could feed them, the water supply would last more than a day or two, the icebox could hold enough beer, or there would be enough space to stow their gear.

General Choices

New versus Used:
Depreciation curves on new boats are as bad as those on cars; you lose a lot of market value in the first year or two. Then there is another dip as you near the time to overhaul/replace certain equipment (engine, sails).

From elp2000 (Eddie) on alt.sailing newsgroup, about buying new versus used:
... I've learned there is about a hundred years difference in boat design from 1985 to 1995. Trust me, the new boats are designed with ease of maintenance not true on the older boats. Newer boats are built with better quality assurance standards ...

"... gel coat formulation and polyester resin has made giant leaps in about the last 10 years ..."

From Keith on The Live-Aboard List:
Yea, I promise you that you get an entire set of problems with a new boat. My first boat was used, a few minor problems fixed within a couple of weeks. My second boat was purchased brand new. It took 4 months to get the chartplotter working. The list of things that needed fixing was several pages. Some still were not fixed after ONE YEAR, when the mfg's full warranty ran out. It was so frustrating, I vowed never to purchase another new boat again. My most recent is a 15 year old trawler. Lots to do to it, but mostly upgrades and "normal" maintenance like replacing all the hoses from thru-hulls, etc. Sure was amazed at how many problems came out of the factory with a new boat. Ideally, I would purchase a 1-3 year old boat that was well cared for if I could find something in the price range.

From Mark Richter on Great-loop mailing list:
Boats are not cars. Fiberglass is not steel. Marine diesels are not gas auto engines.

Boats don't wear out. A well-made fiberglass hull is forever, if you can just keep it off the reefs. Any boat needs maintenance, but I don't think there is a great deal of difference in the maintenance needs of two boats 8 and 28 years old, if both have been kept up. Of course, if you buy a neglected beater, you will have a lot of work to bring it up to good condition first.

Many marine diesels are still running strong 20-30 years old. A major cause of the demise of older diesels is when the manufacturer no longer supports them with parts, so be careful which engine you choose.


My experience:
I bought a used boat (1973 Gulfstar 44 motor-sailer ketch), and I'm glad I did. It's built like a tank, has a great engine (Perkins 6.354), and previous owners added lots of things that are great for cruising (a pilothouse, davits, roller-furling). It shows its age a bit, mostly in water-stains on interior woodwork, and chalky gelcoat. I got it (including an expensive dinghy) for mid-$70k's in 2001. I spent about $10k on replacing through-hull valves, lots of new DC electrical stuff (solar, charger, batteries, alternator, etc), and some engine stuff (heat exchanger, oil-cooler, exhaust riser) over the first 2 years. All of this while cruising the Florida Keys, Bahamas, and east coast ICW; I didn't sit in a boatyard refitting. Great boat ! Probably would have cost three times as much to get new equivalent ?

From S/V Sunny 30' Islander Bahama on the SailNet forums 7/2010:
I agree with the "a newer boat is not necessarily problem-free" sentiment. I have a friend who bought an 07 because he was tired of fixing things on his older Ranger that he had forever. The warranty company for the new boat went into bankruptcy and was taken over by the state and he had to try to get reimbursed for the problems and he had nothing but problems. The electrical system never functioned properly. The AC had to be replaced and then the boat nearly sunk in the Atlantic with his family on board after something with the shaft log broke.

Also the money they are asking for new boats is pretty staggering and I don't like the styling of them. They just seem plasticky and gimmicky. But that is a personal opinion.

IMHO you are better off doing as much of the work yourself and learning as much as possible about everything on the boat. At some point something is going to break and you will need to get it working on your own or find a workaround. If you have a new boat then you are not going to have much incentive to poke around and see how things work.

If you refit an older boat you can put whatever you like into electronics and systems and have an intimate knowledge of how it works. You may end up spending as much as buying a boat with all the same things but at least you know something about it.

Monohull versus Multi-hull (Catamaran, Trimaran):
SailNet - Kevin Jeffrey's "A Case for Multihulls"
SailNet - Kevin Jeffrey's "Catamaran or Trimaran?"
SailNet - Kevin Jeffrey's "Affordable Multihulls"
BoatSafe's "Sailing - Monohull Vs Multihull"
SailNet - John Kretschmer's "Reality Check on Cruising Catamarans"
Andrew Burton's "From Mono to Multi"
Good multihulls survey article by Charles Kanter in Sept/Oct 2000 issue of Good Old Boat magazine
Catamaran article by Alayne Main in 1/2001 issue of Blue Water Sailing magazine.
Catamarans special section in Mar 2002 issue of Blue Water Sailing magazine
A couple of trimaran articles in 10/2003 issue of Sail magazine
Several catamaran articles in 1/2006 issue of Sail magazine

Catamarans and trimarans differ in significant ways: catamaran has more room, trimaran will heel a bit, trimaran usually has one engine, drive train and rudder.

Catamaran better:
  • No heeling.
  • More comfortable (less rolly) at anchor (very important).
  • More stable / safer (less heeling/rolling, smaller rig).
  • More space above and belowdecks.
  • Shallower draft (can find better anchorages, go more places, ground less often).
  • Buoyancy and redundancy and no ballast; won't easily sink if holed.
  • Easier for a novice to steer (car-like helm station; no heeling).
  • Autopilot steers very well (hulls give good tracking; two rudders).
  • Faster as long as not overloaded.
  • Faster as long as wind is not light.
  • Can use smaller rig.
  • Less wake while motoring (can go much faster through no-wake zones).
  • Better maneuverability while docking (two propellers).
  • Going aground usually not a problem (little damage, no leaning).
  • Easily beached for hull maintenance.
  • Easier and safer to cradle and work on in boatyard.
  • Probably big windows and good view from main cabin (easier to see if anchor dragging).
  • Probably more shade in cockpit while underway.
  • More deck space for repair projects.
Monohull better:
  • Cheaper (bigger market; more production; don't need two engines/propellers/rudders).
  • Easier and cheaper to find slip in marina.
  • Will recover from knockdown/capsize.
    (Multihull danger of capsize leads to more reefing, less performance.)
  • Faster in light wind.
  • Better/slower motion, especially into big seas.
  • Less stress on rigging and hull (heeling relieves stress).
  • More warnings when being overpowered (heeling tells you it might be time to reef).
  • More traditional.
  • More fun to drive ?
  • Carries heavier loads better (especially in sizes < 40' LOA).
  • Less sailing at anchor (but catamaran sailing can be reduced by attaching rode to bridle from bows).
  • Easier to tack.
  • Quieter below in heavy weather.
  • Less windage (easier to raise anchor, easier to dock in wind).
  • Belowdecks, darker and cooler (good in Tropics).
  • Easier to find haul-out (some boatyards can't handle very beamy catamarans).
  • A multi-hull can go airborne in a severe hurricane; you have to tie the boat down to mangroves to prevent this. (From ??? on trimaran "Buddy".)
From editor's response to letter in Latitude 38 11/2000 (editor owns a large catamaran):
... For a given amount of money, you could probably find used monohulls that would be faster, better built and better appointed [than the oceangoing catamarans you could get for the same money.] ...

From "Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia" (1989) by Steve and Linda Dashew:
As a designer, the problem I continually saw with cruising multihulls was weight. They wouldn't carry a big enough payload to cruise at speed. And speed, after all, is the name of their game. Their other problem is lack of ultimate stability. Multihulls have a high initial stability, but once one hull is out of the water, very little besides quick reflexes separates you from getting wet. I couldn't see exposing my family to a potential capsize in an offshore environment, brought on by a lapse in clear thinking. We wanted to sail by ourselves, and the boat would have to take care of herself from time to time, which is simply not possible with a multihull.


[In 60-knot winds near Cedros Island in Mexico, on 57-foot monohull with 35k displacement, with storm staysail and triple-reefed main, we were knocked down (spreaders into the water) twice by gusts.] Had we been in a multihull ... !

A week later we were beating up the coast toward Ensenada in the teeth of a northwesterly gale. ... [Occasional 50-knot squalls overpowered the boat.] By this time I was worn out, and had to let her fend for herself. I never could have done that in a multihull.

... I came to realize very quickly that in spite of all my previous experience in multihulls, if we were to go offshore in one I would have to stay continually alert and could not afford a mistake like turning the corner of Cedros Island.


Multihulls are relatively expensive for the amount of interior room and payload they carry. They take more time to build, and require higher skills to be successfully completed than comparable home-built monohulls.

From Ed Kelly on list:
Re: Switch from Mono to Cat:

We switched from a Mono (an Allmand 35 pilot house) to our current Catamaran, made 22 years ago by Tom Lack in England - a Catalac 41. We are glad we did but the sailing is more fun on a Mono. The living aboard is easier on a Cat.

We joke that our Cat used to be a cat and now is closer to a barge ... The dirty secret of cats is that TWO hulls each encounter each wave and each generates a jerk in opposition. Additionally when seas get big if you go into them you hit your bridge deck at some point and the boat really shudders. But 95 per cent of the time you are at anchor, and the boat cannot be beaten for comfort at anchor or on any downwind sailing! We endeavor to sail like Columbus, sail downwind, and wait for a lot of weather.

From Dwight Yachuk on World-Cruising mailing list:
A saying I heard which nicely sums up the difference in my experience/readings between monohulls and catamarans is:
Monohulls are slow and can carry a lot of weight, great for hauling freight.
Catamarans are fast but can't carry much weight, great for hauling people.

Length for length, catamarans are lighter, faster, more stable, draw less (better for the Bahamas where draft over 5 feet is a concern) and have more room overall. Catamarans don't heel which makes for a smoother ride. There is a common fear of cats pitchpoling, but the figures show that it rarely happens, and usually on racing cats being pushed to their limits.

Things to watch out for on a cat:

Excessive wind pressure: A monohull will heel, spilling excess wind. A cat will take the wind and the accompanying forces. There is a lot more pressure being exerted on a cat which means the rigging must be much stronger than on a monohull. While cats rarely pitchpole, being demasted in a really big blow is a consideration.

Small ammas. While there is a lot of room above deck on a cat, each amma (hull) on a cat is smaller than a similar-length monohull so spaces below deck are smaller.

Tacking. A cat won't tack as nicely as a monohull. Sometimes you have to backwind the jib in light airs or you'll go into irons instead of tacking. A bad sail configuration will really mess up a cat.

Center Clearance: A cat is two ammas joined by a center deck. When sailing, water is funneled between the ammas. If this deck is low, water will be constantly pounding the deck from below which puts a lot of force on the cat (although I know of no cats have fallen apart because of this) but more importantly scares the crap out of the crew.

Docking: A cat is typically half as wide as she is long and much wider than a monohull. Docking can be a problem as slips can be too narrow.

I've never been on a trimaran. I believe they are faster still but suffer from almost no space belowdecks. Each amma is fit for storage only while the center amma on a 36+ foot trimaran is typically the size of a 20+ foot narrow monohull.

See Hull section of my Boat Hull page for info about various hull materials.

Paraphrased from "How To Buy The Best Sailboat" by Chuck Gustafson:
First, pick these parameters:
  • Construction material.
  • Rig type / sail plan.
  • Hull/keel/rudder configuration.
Then, for boats that fit those parameters, compare these data points (added some from "Modern Cruising Under Sail" by Don Dodds:
  • LWL (length waterline). Longer == faster.
  • Beam/LOD ratio. 1/3 or less is good sailing performance, but higher == more interior space.
  • Beam shouldn't be more than 1 foot from:
    "best fit beam line" = (18.4 * log(LWL)) - 15.5
    where LWL is feet.
  • Draft. Deeper == sails closer to wind, but more likely to run aground.
  • Windage. More == worse performance, but more interior space.
  • Displacement. More == slower motion, but more cost and slower sailing.
    For 40-45' LWL, light displacement = 35k lb, heavy displacement = 55k lb.
  • "DL ratio" = (D / 2000) / ((LWL / 100) ^ 2/3)
    where D = lbs, LWL = feet.
    Less == faster but more motion (220-280 == moderate).
  • "Sail Area / Displacement ratio" = SA / ((D / 64) ^ 2/3)
    where SA = sq feet, D = lbs.
    Higher == faster (generally).
    Want 15-20 for good light-air performance.
  • "Ballast / Displacement ratio" = B / D
    where both are in same units.
    Higher == likely to be more stable (.30-.33 == average).

I pick:
  • Construction material == fiberglass.
  • Rig type / sail plan == masthead cutter/sloop (simpler and more sail area than:), fractional cutter/sloop (2nd choice).
  • Hull/keel/rudder configuration == moderate fin keel with skeg-hung rudder, or full keel with cutaway forefoot. Want modern asymmetrical hull (narrow bow and wide stern). Aft cockpit.

I want to buy a fairly old used boat, and then replace all of the equipment. That way, I get all of the latest equipment, and get to choose it myself. Also, an older boat has already decided whether or not it's going to blister.

10 considerations to help choose a boat, summarized from "This Old Boat" by Don Casey:
  1. Beauty - pleasure boating is a romantic endeavor.
  2. Cost - okay to own the largest boat you can both afford and use.
  3. Use - can't predict perfectly, but be realistic.
  4. Quality - can tell by reputation and evaluations.
  5. Size - for liveaboard comfort, there is no substitute for space.
  6. Design - closely related to Use. Don't obsess on individual features; the success of the whole is important.
  7. Accommodations - consider berths, seats, galley, head, atmosphere, stowage.
  8. Rig - designer should have matched rig to Design.
  9. Power - want diesel, but can use presence of gas engine to knock down price.
  10. Condition - must evaluate boat by boat. Price should be closely related to condition. Do professional survey, and use it to knock down price.

Main features of a boat, mostly from "Building Your Dream Boat" by Charles E. Wood:
  • Seaworthiness.
  • Speed.
  • Comfort.
  • Carrying capacity.
  • Tracking ability and maneuverability.
  • Maintainability.
  • Suitability for intended use.

Bill Lee's three "Go-Slow Factors":
- furling mainsail
- fixed prop, especially 3-blade
- shoal keel

From Nick Nicholson in 2/1/2001 issue of Practical Sailor:
... What a [maintenance] price we pay for the vanity of gleaming varnished teak ! ... Our next boat, I promise you, will not have a single speck of exterior wood of any type. ...

Paraphrased from "This Old Boat" by Don Casey:
The best time to go to a boat show is when you already own a boat - look for new ideas that can be applied/adapted to your boat.

Within a given model, higher hull numbers generally are better than lower; manufacturers learn from mistakes and feedback.

Some sections of my Boat Basics page and Boat Hull page are relevant here: at least the Cockpit, Deck, Hull, Keel, Mast sections and my Boat Rigging and Sails page.

What I Want (list to give to brokers):
General use will be:
  • Full-time live-aboard and cruising for 2 people.
  • In Florida, ICW, Bahamas, down to Virgin Islands.
  • Emphasis on livability and lower maintenance, not passagemaking or high performance.

  • Sailboat.
  • Mono-hull.
  • Fiberglass.
  • $90K or less price.
  • 6'3" or greater headroom in cabin.
  • 40' or greater LOA.
  • 5'6" or less draft.
  • No teak deck.

  • 42-45' LOA.
  • Minimal or no wood abovedecks.
  • Single mast (sloop or cutter).
  • Aft cockpit.
  • Modified-full or full keel.
  • No bowsprit.
  • No genset, no air conditioning, no liferaft, no fancy electronics.
  • No mainsail roller-furling.
  • 62' or less mast height.
What I Ended Up Buying:
A 1973 Gulfstar 44 pilothouse ketch motor-sailer,
which fits most of the criteria above except:
  • Two masts instead of one.
  • Center cockpit instead of aft.
  • Has genset, and air conditioning.
  • Has mainsail roller-furling.
I think I did pretty well !
By the way, some brokers hate it when you come in obviously well-informed, and just wanting to know what boats they can show you today that fit your criteria. Instead, they want to become your best buddy, make you dependent on them, do internet searching for you, and talk you into buying what they can find.

My thoughts:
I think "deciding" on a particular boat model is a bad idea. That may make you overlook some good deal or an equally good boat of some other model. There may have been only 50 produced of the model you want, so the number for sale may be small and competition may be fierce. You may pay more for a boat in bad shape just because it is the model you want. You may wait years (not sailing) for the perfect boat.

Instead, I've "decided" on characteristics that are important to me (livability, fiberglass monohull, 40-50 LOA, $90k or so, less than 6' draft, 6'2" or more headroom, no teak deck, etc). This list has already been refined several times as I've looked at various boats. When I get to Florida, I'll give this list to brokers and look at any boat that fits.

From "The Log Of Passe Partout":
The next boat we get (if ever we do get another one) will have Pilothouse in the title. ...

[I think they have a Valiant 37, and they went offshore.] A Valiant can truly sail through just about anything. The crew? That's another matter ...

From "The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat" by Mark Nicholas:
In general, boats are not good investments. Not only do boats depreciate in value, but the difference in value between a boat that is 19 years old and 20 years old may be significant, because many financing companies will not lend money for a boat that is 20 or more years old, and insurance companies are unwilling to insure older boats. You may find that you own a boat you cannot one day sell, which makes your boat virtually worthless.

Even adding electronics and fancy gear to your boat won't help much in maintaining value. Once installed, the electronics will immediately depreciate. This isn't like a house, in which a $15,000 kitchen renovation might bring about $35,000 in increased market value. ...

Choose Boat Models

"Nothing exists but atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion."
- Demokritos

From Sheila on Cruising World message board:
... spend a considerable amount of time researching the boat yourself, as most vessels have flaws that show up over time. Get on the internet and see what other people's experiences are with each particular type of vessel. There are many "owner's groups" which are full of information.

From personal experience, don't ignore the experience of those who have gone before you - we bought a Taiwanese-built boat and were told to watch for deck rot, poor-quality stainless and problems with the chainplates. In spite of what seemed to be a good survey by a reputable surveyor, we have ... deck rot, poor-quality stainless and have just finished replacing the chainplates as well as the supports they were bolted to. ...

Names used to specify boat models are fairly confusing.
Names may include any/multiple of:
  • Designer (e.g. Perry, Crealock, Brewer, Peter Schmitt).
  • Builder (e.g. CE Ryder, Ta Shing).
  • Company/brand (e.g. CSY, Southern Cross).
  • Model or model line (e.g. Legend, Countess, Oceanis, Out-Islander).
  • Fleet label (e.g. Moorings).
Sometimes the designer/builder/company are all the same (e.g. Dehler ?).
Sometimes they are all different (Moorings are fleet boats, designed by various designers, built by Beneteau ?). Some may be owner-finished.

From John Dunsmoor:
I want a Crealock or Fexus or Morgan, means almost nothing. These guys have been around forever and have designed hundreds, if not thousands of boats and some are great, most are mediocre and a few are stinkers. That is why what you need is first-hand experience, or at least talk to someone with first-hand experience.

Another variable is the particular boat and how it is laid out, equipment, trim will all affect sailing and handling. ...

We sailed onboard a Endeavor 43 and was being accompanied by another. Ours was a weekender, lightly loaded and the other was a cruiser, ten years and never throwing anything away. The difference in water line was about three inches. We sailed through a bridge opening, each having started from the same point and we had to turn the engine on in reverse to slow down because we were getting so far ahead of the other boat we were afraid that they would close the bridge before they could get through. Same boat, same sails, but different by a very large degree.

Another example. Knew a boat that had real flat sections on the quarter. When in the water with pressure they were actually hollows, concave. The guy put some stiffeners in these sections so the hull would not oil-can into this concave form. Lost half a knot in performance. So the guy changed the hull from what the original designer had drawn and it changed the performance of the vessel. This particular time to the detriment.

Various resources:
Lists, How To Choose, etc:
SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Boat Shopping Tips"
Mahina Expeditions' "Selecting a Cruising Boat"
Mahina Expeditions' "Selecting a Boat for Offshore Cruising"
SailNet - Don Casey's "How to Choose the Right Boat"
SailNet - Don Casey's "How We Define Seaworthy"
Roger Marshall's "Understanding the Numbers"

Cruising World's "Another Opinion": $5 for a list of boat owners' names and addresses.
David Pascoe's "Introduction to Boat Reviews"
Canadian Yachting's Reviews
Blue Water Sailing's Reviews (go to the Chandlery and click on the Articles category)
Order from Pacific Yachting's reviews
Paul V's "Cruising Sailboats" (30-foot or so)

Specifications and/or Layouts:
Cruising World's boat index
Carl Adler's Sailing Calculator and search-by-specification
Go to Performance Yacht Systems and click on "Rig Dimensions"'s "Boat measuring and rating" (type in specs, calculates ratios)

PHRF-NE Base Handicaps (PHRF numbers for lots of models; lower == faster)

Chris Caswell's "Best Bet Blue Books"
NADA's used boat values (Used Boat Values)
ABOS Marine Blue Book from Intertec
(But many people say asking prices of actual boats on the market are a better metric.)

Reference books for many boat models, showing silhouette, cabin layout, and vital stats:
"Boatwatch" by Max Averitt.
"A Field Guide to Sailboats" by Richard M. Sherwood.
"A Sailor's Guide to Production Sailboats" by Roger Marshall.

Mark Rosenstein's links to sailboat manufacturers

Type the boat model (e.g. "Gulfstar 50") into a search engine and see what comes out.

From Gary Elder:
I've been doing a little unscientific survey here, and so far, everyone in the "boat business" that I have talked to agrees - if you want to know specs, the easiest and least expensive way to get them is to phone the brokers. Most have reference books to look up what you need, and don't mind doing it. After all, tire-kickers become buyers.

From Gary Elder:
... After you do all the research, like I did, you will probably make an emotional decision and purchase the boat that pulls at your heartstrings. That is, after all what most of us do.

See my Specific Models of Boat page for various boat models that seem appropriate for me.

From Gary Elder:
... I looked at your list of potential boats and quickly came to the conclusion that all of them have been successfully cruised by a variety of owners with widely varied tastes, even the ones that you have rejected. I have seen highly rated boats fail, and poorly built boats succeed; it's all up to the owner/skipper. ...

There are many cheap, old former racing boats from the 1970's and 1980's on the market. They were designed for performance, with features exploiting loopholes in some racing design rules. Some have very strange rigs. Many have interiors completely impractical for living aboard and cruising. From "The Dollars and Sense of Sailboat Ownership" by Jeff Spranger: "Racing boats, the types with skinny rudders, tall keels, and fat hulls that come to sharp points at both ends, are not easy to steer (the word squirrelly comes to mind)."

Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the best bluewater boat ?
There is no such thing as a "best" boat. There are boats that fit your needs and intentions to varying degrees. There are boats with various designs and features and materials and fittings that are better/worse for various conditions and locations. And there are well-designed and well-built boats that are equipped or maintained or sailed in unsafe ways.

"Bluewater" is a vague term. And being near a coast, with rocks and reefs and shoals and currents and traffic and pilings and crab-trap floats, may be more dangerous than being out in "blue water".

There are some general features that work better in offshore versus coastal sailing. Offshore sailing prefers smaller (stronger) hatches and ports, deeper draft (stable; good close-hauled performance), smaller cockpit and fine closed stern (to minimize pooping). Coastal sailing prefers bigger ports (more air and light), shoal draft (avoid running aground; anchor in more places), bigger cockpit (for lounging), and swim platform on stern.

There are some building techniques and equipment that are stronger than others. Lots of well-attached bulkheads are good. Thick laminates, strong wires and ropes, powerful winches, large cleats, big backing plates, large anchors are all good. The question is: how good is good enough ? You probably can't afford the absolute best, and it might be so heavy that the boat wouldn't float anyway.

The experience and competence of the skipper and crew probably outweigh most differences between boat designs. I think most non-racing boats are lost due to human error or maintenance neglect, rather than to a design flaw or basic materials failure.

Many people have sailed/cruised "low-end" boats successfully in places they "weren't supposed to be able to". Of course, people have sailed/rowed kayaks across oceans, too.

Don't put all of your money into purchasing the "best possible" boat and then have no money left to sail and maintain it.

Don't get fixated on one specific model of boat and then have to wait 5 years for one to come onto the market. And find twenty bidders competing with you for it.