I discovered sailing many years ago and found it to be a wonderful way to enjoy time with friends and family as well as a way to get away from the office and become totally entranced and absorbed with a world that I did not know existed. I love to sail, so much that I became a certified American Sailing Association Sailing Instructor.
It has been 30 years now that I’ve sailed the Chesapeake Bay, East Coast U.S.A. and the Caribbean Islands and I’ve been fortunate to have owned a number sailing vessels, currently two Beneteau sail boats.
I’m often asked by my students what to look for when making an investment in a sailing vessel. I often share the following seven tips and hope that you too may find some value in them.
- First carefully examine where you expect to use your boat, long term. Will it be on the Ocean, trans-Ocean, near the shore, in a Bay, on the Caribbean or all of the above. If you plan to sail Ocean or trans-Ocean then be sure that the construction is class “A” or rated for extended off shore passage making.
- Beware of the buying philosophy “I’ll buy a smaller boat now and get a bigger one later.” If you’re buying new you will suffer two large depreciations. If buying used, the money you put into the first boat to bring it up to your own personal standards and needs will go a long way to paying a down payment or many monthly payments on the second boat. You will be upgrading the second boat anyway. Buy now what you expect to own for 5-10 years.
- Take into account the area where you will be sailing and who you will be sailing with. Decide on the type of berths that will be suitable for you, your family and your guests. For example, aft doubles aligned with the axis of the boat or an aft double that runs across the boat port to starboard. Although the latter tends to be larger and more comfortable in the slip it is definitely not a sea going berth. How easily does the main salon table convert into a berth and is it sturdy enough to do so repeatedly? In a pinch or in good weather can any one sleep in the cockpit?
- What is your likely cruising range? If just 2-4 days then water and diesel tankage can be respectively 20 and 80 gallons or less. If it is 5-10 days then a minimum would be 50 and 160. If you buy a boat with say 100 gallons diesel and 2-300 gallons water then the designer will have given up berth space to accommodate the tankage. Depending on the size of the boat the left over space may not be well utilized until you reach say a 50 ft. long boat. Look for living and storage space that is well utilized. Odd placement of the main salon settees, chart table and galley may indicate poor utilization of space and hence you may be paying good money for little advantage.
- Boats that are heavy displacement, say 28,000 lbs for say a 42 ft. boat rather than say 17,800 lbs for a medium displacement, 42 footer will need 10- 15 knots of wind to develop any kind of “feel” at the helm and in many locations such as the Chesapeake Bay with winds typically 5 – 15 knots in the summer you may have purchased a very nice well equipped power boat. However these heavy displacement cruisers are excellent for extended off shore passage making and live-aboard sailing either in the Caribbean or the U.S.A..
- One of the best tips, If you are a first time sailor and want to buy a boat in the 25 to 50 ft range, is to sail with someone who knows how to sail, take a sailing class and then charter a boat in the length range that interests you. Picking a boat with out sailing a boat of similar size is risky although many have done it successfully. Keep in mind that many of the modern designs of the last 10 years are designed specifically for two people to sail easily whether in the Bay or in the ocean.
- Lastly, do insist on a survey. If the boat has any of the defects listed below find out the cost to correct them if you are expecting the boat to pass the insurer’s surveyor. Insurers have their own requirements. Your insurance agent and the surveyor should be working hand in hand. This is where a purchaser of a used watercraft can suddenly be faced with unexpected costs. Costly defects include but are not limited to:
- Soft or cracked gellcoat on the deck.
- Deck leaks around windows, masts, caprail, traveller or through deck fittings.
- If the engine that has stood idle for more than 6 months diesel may be contaminated with bacterial sludges, have pistons seized, injectors blocked and electrical system contaminated with water. Insist on at least a 2-4 hour run in the water at cruising speed. Check for undue vibration, overheating, proper charging of the batteries and that the engine can come up to its cruising rpm.
- If the boat is more than 6 years old have the surveyor check that the engine mounts are OK and particularly that all mounting bolts are intact. Two can be broken without any obvious signs or effects. When #3 breaks the engine is loose! This is a common problem on older boats that encounter rough waters while under power and can easily be overlooked by the surveyor.
- Obviously you will need an out of the water inspection. Check for blisters, gellcoat cracks, soft spots, shaft play in the cutlass bearing and loose rudder bearings, hull integrity around through hulls and the gap between the hull and the top of the keel which should be filled with sealant else corrosion of the keel may have caused the keel to separate from the hull.
- Rigging should be checked by a rigger and all running rigging must be overhauled end-to-end to detect hidden chafe.
Hope you find these tips helpful. Best wishes to you on your investment, maybe I’ll see you on the Chesapeake Bay or near the British Virgin Islands sometime, I’ll either be sailing on Majjik II or Majjik III.
Buying a Laser
The points below are listed to assist someone who has little to no knowledge of Lasers, to help them in assessing the condition of the boat they are inspecting. Purchasing a Laser can be a large commitment, so understanding what to look for is invaluable so that you get the best value for money.
When you know how much money you are able to spend, there are a number of things that you have to consider when looking at various boats so that you don’t exceed your budget. If you simply buy a boat, even if it is advertised as ready to sail, you may have to fork out more for extras that you may not have been initially aware of. These may include –
Clothing – including wetsuit and/or rash vest, life jacket, hat, sunglasses, boots, gloves, etc
Trailer – these can be hard and expensive to source. Ideally, if you need to transport your Laser, you want to purchase one that comes with a trailer. Trailers can also be bought new (expensive) or 2nd hand (rare)
Launching Dolly – makes it much easier to launch. This allows you to launch your Laser single-handedly
Boat Cover – to protect your boat from dust, dirt, rain, etc
Membership Fees – to sail and race out of a club, you will most probably need to become a member of that club. Contact your local club for details
Where to Look
The most common places to look for Lasers include –
Trading Post/newspaper classifieds
Various Laser forums
Notice boards at sailing clubs
Inspecting a Laser – What to Check
Boat Number:. 200,000+ Lasers have been built worldwide to date. Lasers that have been built by a licensed Laser boat builder will have a unique International Laser Class Sailboat Sail number associated with the boat. For Lasers up to sail number 148199, the sail number is a number molded into the deck and should be located either on the transom (rear of the boat) or on the deck under the bow eye. Lasers with a sail number greater than 148200 should have a foil type sticker located at the back of the cockpit. Check the boat number to gauge how old the boat is.
Hull and Deck: Generally speaking, even for the best cared-for boats, they will over time collect scratches of varying degrees. However, most will be only cosmetic, affecting only the gel coat. As long as the underlying fiberglass layer located one or two millimeters below the gel coat is not exposed or damaged, hull integrity should not be compromised. Deck stiffness can be likened to the odometer in a car. The more give there is in the deck, the more use it has had. Check both sides of the cockpit (where you sit – the majority of your weight will be located here when sailing) as well as the cockpit floor. A boat with little use will have very little give in the deck when you press down firmly (only a millimeter or so). However, a boat that has had a lot of use will flex quite considerably (a centimeter or more). By testing the deck stiffness you can gauge the integrity of the hull. Boats lose stiffness with age, use, and leaks. One reason for soft spots in the deck to develop with use is when the fiberglass, foam and outer gel coat layers come apart or delaminate. A boat that has had a lot of use (especially aggressive or heavy weather sailing) may over time develop small cracks, which allow water to seep into the hull. These small cracks result in more flex or soft spots in the deck and hull, and water penetration adds to the overall weight. Depending on your needs and requirements of the hull, boats of differing condition will suit different people. For example, if you intend to only sail every so often simply for recreation, an older, softer (and cheaper) boat may suit your needs. However if you intend to race and be competitive, a newer, stiffer, lighter boat may be more suitable. Stiffer boats are generally more expensive and hold their value more than boats that are softer. One way to check to see whether water is entering the hull is to take out the drain plug in the transom (rear) and lift the bow of the boat. If water pours out this may indicate hull integrity issues. However, if no water comes out, there may still be leaks (it may have just been drained well and dried out by the owner).
Sail: The sail should be checked for signs of wear and tear. A new sail will have a crisp, stiff feel to the material, and have few creases. As the sail ages and stretches through general use, the material loses its stiffness and shape. A sail that has lost its shape it harder to tune, which can make it a handful in heavier breezes, as it can’t be flattened and downpowered as much as desired. If you are planning to race, then you will need an approved sail. This can be determined by checking that the sail has a red button near the foot of the sail (bottom corner of the sail, nearest to the mast). There are 3 different sail sizes, and depending on your experience, weight, strength, etc, you have to decide which rig you are after. They are the Laser 4.7, Radial and full rig. Make sure the sail comes with its 3 battens, which slide into pockets in the leech of the sail. The battens help give the sail shape and to stop it flapping. A good sail is important if you want to be competitive.
Foils (Centreboard & Rudder): The centerboard and rudder should be checked for straightness, and should not contain dents or gouges in the edges or surfaces. Foils that are warped or have damaged leading or trailing edges can slow the boat down. However small gouges or chips can be sanded out with fine sandpaper, while larger imperfections may need more complex gelcoat repairs. Many sailors store their foils in soft padded carry bags to prevent damage during storage and transportation. The centerboard and rudder should not be left in a hot car, as they may warp with heat. Foils that are warped may be able to be straightened with heat.
Spars (Mast and Boom): The mast is made up of 2 sections – the top and bottom sections. The mast and boom are made from aluminum and can be relatively easily bent. Bending of both the mast and boom is normal in everyday sailing, however, they should not be permanently bent. Both mast sections and the boom should be checked for straightness. This can be done by looking along the line of the spar, or by rolling it on a flat surface. Spars should also be checked for corrosion damage, especially where fittings are attached. Inspect all the rivets on the mast sections and boom for corrosion. Transporting you spars can be accomplished in a few different ways. Some simply tie down the spars to roof racks, and where possible carry the shorter sections inside their car. Other methods include using a couple of custom made foam or timber blocks or cradles, which have 3 recesses in each, that the spars neatly slot into. These cradles then sit on the deck and are tied down whilst traveling. Timber cradles should be padded on the bottom, so as to not scratch the deck.
Fittings: All fittings should be carefully checked to see that they are fully operational. Fittings include cleats, pulleys, eyelets, toe-rail, bailer, rudder attachment, etc. Anything that is faulty or is showing signs of wear and tear may need to be replaced and should be factored into the purchase price.
Ropes: All ropes should be checked for fraying or deterioration. There are 6 ropes on a laser (mainsheet, outhaul, vang, cunningham (downhaul), traveler, clew tie-down). They are cut to a specific length so that unnecessary rope is not in your way and getting unnecessarily tangled and knotted. Some of the ropes come with fittings permanently connected to the ropes. These include eyelets for the outhaul and cunningham, blocks, and cleat for the vang. Make sure they are all there.
Trailer: Trailers come in a variety of styles. Generally, trailers that are designed specifically to carry Lasers either support the boat directly or support a dolly which the Laser sits on (a dolly is a lightweight trolley which the boat sits on that can be easily maneuvred and enables the boat to be launched by a single person). Either way, it is critical that the location of the supports on which the Laser sits are in the correct location. Generally, these supports are located up under the outside edge at the bow, and also on both sides at the widest part of the hull. You want the trailer and dolly to be relatively rust free. Slight surface rust may not be an issue, but you may want to avoid trailers & dollies that contain more severe rust that may weaken the structure as a whole. You may also want a trailer that is registered for the road. Check the tires, electrics, and general structural integrity of the trailer. Other methods for transporting Lasers include on box trailers and on roof racks. These methods are generally less convenient, as they require at least 2 people to launch the boat, and, since they are not specifically designed for Lasers, do not travel as well on the road (they can bounce around and move on their supports).
When everything is laid out in front of you (eg. in the seller’s dark and cramped garage), especially when you are not familiar with Lasers, it may be hard to tell if all the equipment is there. Therefore you may want to rig the boat on its trailer when you are inspecting it, to make sure that –
everything is included
everything fits and works
the sail and the mast/boom are a match (you don’t want a radial sail and a full rig mast)
you know how to put it all together
This may not be required if you are a little more familiar, but initially you may find it beneficial, and a helpful seller with nothing to hide should be obliging.