Should I Buy a Boat?

'Should I buy a boat?' - what a question! It's a bit like asking 'Should I get married?'. After all, both can be a risky business, fraught with pitfalls for the unwary - and particularly so for first timers.

But get it right, and both will be a joyful experience. Get it wrong and it will be noticeably less so!

Whilst I'm definitely not going to advise on the matrimonial issue - you're on your own on that one - I will take a stab at 'Should I Buy a Boat?'the quick and easy answer to which is:

'No, not unless you've thought it through, thoroughly and dispassionately'.

It's all too easy to get carried away when buying a boat, allowing your heart rather than your head to make the decision.

That way you're likely to end up owning a boat that's not best suited for your particular needs and aspirations!

And there's the clue - you must establish precisely what your particular needs and aspirations are!

And you do that by asking yourself four simple questions:

  1. What will I use the boat for?
  2. When will I use it?
  3. Who will I be using it with?
  4. Where will I keep it?

Let's take a look at these in turn...

1. What will I use the boat for?

Coastal sailing in protected waters or spending weeks at a time on a ocean passage?

Most likely your usage will fall between these extremes, but you do need to be realistic in assessing your probable activity with your new investment.

For instance...

  • Are you likely to be living aboard occasionally? Not just a requirement for long-distance sailors, as many boat owners will want to use their boat for their annual vacation.
  • Perhaps your competitive streak will involve you in club racing or local regattas?
  • Maybe you'll want to charter her occasionally to offset costs?
Cruising boats racing in the TRSC Regatta on the River TamarPerhaps some occasional club racing?

2. When will I use it?

Unless you're retired with plenty of time on your hands, your use of the boat will probably be limited to summer evenings, weekends and the annual vacation.

Boats requiring regular preventative maintenance (steel hulls, or traditional wooden boats for example) will eat into the time you'd much prefer to spend sailing.

Unrestrained by the requirement to earn an honest living, you'll be able to spend longer periods aboard and keeping up with the requirements of high-maintenance boats.

A wooden Folkboat 26 on a trot mooring.A classic wooden boat like this Folkboat will require a lot of maintenance to keep it in good condition.

3. Who will I be using it with?

Even singlehanders share their sailing with others occasionally, but for most of us good company is an essential requirement for full enjoyment of the sailing experience.

So who do you expect to be sailing with?

  • Your family?
  • Just one other person (and occasional guests)?
  • A full crew?

You'll need space for them in the cockpit and unless you're day-sailing, a berth for each of them. 

A Corvette 31 cruising sailboatRoom for four in the cockpit of this four berth Corvette 31.

4. Where will I keep it?

If you're fortunate enough to own a waterside property with its own dock, then the answer is obvious, but for the rest of us there are two main options...

In a Marina

The benefits of this convenient option include:

  • Security. Often 24/7.
  • Usually good shelter.
  • Ease of getting on and off. 
  • Availability of marine services and facilities.


  • Cost! Fees are based on an overall length x breadth basis which is really bad news for owners of multihulls. Expect to pay around double that you would for a monohull of the same length. Boats with fixed bowsprits and boomkins like 'Pyxis' below are similarly disadvantaged.
  • Tight access into berths. Even the experts struggle with the shopping-trolley-like handling characteristics of a long-keeler. Boats with a single prop and twin rudders can be an embarrassment too.
'Pyxis', a Lyle Hess designed Pilot CutterThose protuberances at either end of this attractive Pilot Cutter will add considerably to your marina bills.

On a Mooring

Ah yes you say, but what sort of mooring?

  • a Deep Water Mooring?
  • a Half-Tide Mooring?
  • a Trot Mooring?

All of which will need an annual inspection from the seabed up if you are to have the confidence to trust it with your new boat. 

1 - Deep Water Mooring

By which we mean a swinging (single-point) mooring that always has a good depth of water on it at all states of the tide. Providing the boat you wish to put on it meets the criteria that may be imposed by the mooring authority, then this may represent the ideal home for your new boat.

Unlike trot moorings described below, with a little preparation and practice they're easy to get your boat on and off - even singlehanded.

The downside is that you'll need some means of getting to and from. In the absence of a water taxi, this will be a tender for which you'll have to find a shoreside home. 

Security may be an issue, but a mooring of any kind is likely to be much cheaper than a marina berth.

2 - Half-Tide Mooring

As the name suggest, this type of mooring will only keep your boat afloat for a few hours either side of high water. At all other times your boat will be left high and dry.

As a result, access to your boat will only be available at certain stages of the tide which is less than ideal.

Clearly this type of mooring will only suit those types of boat that are able to take the ground without falling over, such as:

  • shoal draft boats with legs;
  • bilge keelers;
  • multihulls - catamarans or trimarans.

The only attraction of this type of mooring is an economic one; it will be cheaper than a deep-water mooring.

A drying mooring on Cornwall's Helford River.This bilge-keeled Newbridge Pioneer is dried out on a half-tide mooring, whilst the boats on deepwater moorings remain afloat.

3. Trot Mooring

These are a long string of connected moorings, the main benefit of which is that you can get a large number of boats moored in the smallest possible space. Secured fore and aft, swinging room is not an issue.

However, they can be extremely awkward to get your boat on and off, especially for the first-time boat owner. If conditions are relatively benign with wind and tide blowing/flowing cooperatively along the line of the trot then all should go well.

But is wind and tide are not aligned and/or blowing/flowing across the trot then difficulties can arise, particularly if you're shorthanded.

Trot moorings on the River TamarTrot Moorings owned and operated by the Tamar River Sailing Club.

But back to 'Should I Buy a Boat?'

Having properly considered the foregoing you'll now have a basic idea of the type of boat that will suit your particular needs and aspirations. You are now able to answer the question yourself - and hopefully your answer will be


Having made that admirable decision, you've now got even more to think about.

There are so many boats available on the secondhand boat market that you'll need to whittle away not only those that don't meet your particular needs and aspirations, but also those that you have a more specific aversion to.

You'll have to consider:

  • Hull Material;
  • Number of Berths;
  • Monohull or multihull;
  • Boat Length;
  • Type of Rig;
  • Displacement - Heavy, Moderate or Light;
  • Keel/Rudder Configuration;
  • Sail Handling Systems;
  • Cockpit Location - Centre or Aft;
  • Steering - Wheel or Tiller;
  • Drive Train - Conventional Shaft or Saildrive;

For this you'll need the Detailed Checklist that comes free with our eBook 'How to Avoid Buying the Wrong Sailboat'.

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