Buying used sailboat without testing on water

Discussion in 'Ask All Sailors' started by Ace214, Apr 18, 2019. Add this thread to a FAQ

  1. jssailem


    Joined Oct 22, 2014
    9,220 posts, 4,094 likes
    CAL 35 Cruiser
    US Salem, Moored Port Everett WA
    Of course Google likes to give US patrons a US result. You being from Canada might need to do your own search. Our rules while similar are sometimes different.

  2. BigEasy


    Joined Jun 21, 2004
    1,162 posts, 304 likes
    Beneteau 343
    US Slidell, LA
    Just checked the boat us site also. That should give you a basic template to work from. You can always add contingencies as you wish, such as a satisfactory sea trial. Definitely insist that owner will provide current registration and title for the boat and trailer. Don’t buy it unless he has those two items. In most states, he will have to sign the registration / title certificates, one for the boat and one for the trailer for you to transfer into your name. If he can’t provide the signed documents, you will spend countless hours dealing with the department of motor vehicles (for trailer) and same with the state dept that registers boats, as well as legal expenses to get it straightened out. Might be a good idea for you and the owner to visit one of the notary shops that can do the final sale, notary seal, and transfer to make it all official and legal.

  3. Kings Gambit

    Kings Gambit

    Joined Jul 27, 2011
    3,156 posts, 780 likes
    Bavaria 38E
    US Alamitos Bay
    I probably would not take a "prospective buyer" looking for his/her very first boat on a "test sail" just from an interest request. FYI--that would be analogous to a sea trial which is not done unless the broker/owner is holding some earnest money from the prospective buyer. For one thing, it's useful to know if the buyer even has the money on hand to complete a purchase, and earnest money would be some, albeit weak, indication of that. Also, do you know how to sail? That might also affect my decision. A first-time buyer who does not know how to sail at all, but wishes to go on a "test sail" is certainly not to be taken seriously as a buyer unless there is earnest money in the equation--typically up to 20% of purchase price agreed to previously. By the way--one normally does not get that money back if the decision is made to not purchase.

    Last edited: Apr 19, 2019
    jssailem likes this.
  4. MitchM


    Joined Jan 20, 2005
    752 posts, 121 likes
    Nauticat 321 pilothouse 32
    US Erie PA
    the potential purchaser should look a round for a boat that's already in the water. there's no way i as an owner ( 1980 hobie, 1975 cal 20 on a trailer , 1980 30' seafarer on a cradle, 33 ft. nauticat on a cradle) would take off the covers , dewinterize it, haul it to the launch, get the engine ready , set the mast, hoist the sails and get on the water for a sea trial without a signed contract for a set price subject only to survey. sea trials aren't free---- because there are so many tirekickers who want one but have no real intention of buying the boat. (ask me how i came to know this.... and just because you 'drove all the way from canada for a yard visit, ' don't think I'm changing my mind...)

    LloydB and jwing like this.
  5. Randy Rohrbeck

    Randy Rohrbeck

    Joined Jun 4, 2004
    77 posts, 19 likes
    - -First 310
    US -
    Personally I think the escrow idea is a little over kill for this size deal. If I was selling the boat and I had a signed contract with a subject to test sail clause I'd be OK putting the boat in the water.

    That's provided the buyer appeared to be serious.

    LloydB, BigEasy and Will Gilmore like this.
  6. shemandr


    Joined Jan 1, 2006
    3,976 posts, 915 likes
    Marblehead Skiff 14'
    US Greenport, NY
    Put me down with the grouches. In addition of limiting getting jerked around, you are taking someone inexperienced out and exposing them and yourself to a degree of risk.

  7. Will Gilmore

    Will Gilmore

    Joined Oct 19, 2017
    4,664 posts, 2,619 likes
    O'Day 19
    US Littleton, NH
    But... you'd get to go sailing. Are you suggesting a sailor would turn down an excuse to go sailing?:biggrin:

    -Will (Dragonfly)

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  8. Sandy Stone

    Sandy Stone

    Joined Jun 2, 2007
    345 posts, 48 likes
    Beneteau First 375
    US Slidell, LA
    I don't think this is true. Most "standard" purchase agreements allow the buyer to back out for any reason after the survey and sea trial, and recover his deposit.
    Edit: Although the buyer would be out the costs associated with the survey, prepping and launching the boat, if applicable, etc.

    Last edited: Apr 20, 2019
    BigEasy likes this.
  9. jwing


    Joined Jun 5, 2014
    492 posts, 212 likes
    ODay Mariner
    US Guntersville
    When a sailboat seller refuses to sail the boat with a perspective buyer, it is a big red flag slapping the buyer upside the head.

    Here's an anecdote of a good sailboat seller and a good sailboat buyer:

    The gentleman who sold his boat to me was a clever guy. He arranged a meeting for me to see the boat on a weekday, meaning I had to be serious enough to take a burn a PTO day from my job. Unbeknownst to me until much later, he scheduled 4 other similar meetings on the same day. When I got there, we chatted for five or ten minutes and then he asked, "Well, do you want to go sailing?"

    It was clear to me that he loved sailing that boat, which made it even easier for me to make my decision to buy it. However, actually sailing the boat told me what I needed to know. It was super-helpful to have him explain everything as we went along, including parts of the boat that could use attention from the next owner.

    Now, I was pretty clever, too. I pressed for, and got, our meeting time to be early in the morning. I was dressed for sailing and had whole day's schedule cleared. While we were sailing, I told him that I had his asking price worth of cash in my pocket that I was willing to exchange for the boat. Since it would be the last time for him to sail the boat, I turned the tiller back over to him and we stayed out as long as he could. When we got back, he had to run to his phone to cancel the other buyer meetings that he had scheduled.

    It turned out to be his penultimate sail on that boat. Due to the muscular degeneration symptoms that forced the sale, he did not want to take down the mast. So, as I was contemplating how to get both the trailer and boat to their new home marina (luckily on the same lake), he offered to sail the boat over while I pulled the trailer around. Both parties got more than what they expected and the whole deal was done in less than a day.

    Last edited: Apr 20, 2019
  10. BigEasy


    Joined Jun 21, 2004
    1,162 posts, 304 likes
    Beneteau 343
    US Slidell, LA
    Exactly correct; that is how purchase agreements are written, the prospective buyer recovers his/her deposit for any reason; if unacceptable problems are discovered or even if one doesn’t like the manner in which the boat handles. Boats wouldn’t get sold if there was a no refundable deposit if the buyer couldn’t reject the boat after a sea trial and haulout for inspection.

  11. LakeShark


    Joined Sep 15, 2016
    420 posts, 168 likes
    Catalina 22
    US Minnesota
    I'm sorry here guys but an escrow account, servey, and sea trial on a hobie 16 to a cal 25 are you crazy? I have bought and sold more than a dozen sail boats and I'm with @Gene Neill who would say no. I live 2 blocks from a river and would not launch a canoe to sell it to a potential buyer. There is just too much risk of a dreamer damaging something. In comparison to most on this forum the total investment is very low on a boat this size and even if the boat sinks on launch the salvage parts are worth more than the boat.

    My advice is to educate yourself on how to evaluate a small trailer sailor against your wants and needs. Then go and look at the boat with a critical eye. Most small trailer sailors (myself included) will not be willing to have an escrow account or sea trial. Happy boat hunting.

    LloydB and Gene Neill like this.
  12. BigEasy


    Joined Jun 21, 2004
    1,162 posts, 304 likes
    Beneteau 343
    US Slidell, LA
    As jwing just illustrated, when a boat is being sold “for sale by owner”, there are a multitude of possibilities as to how the deal may occur. Several years ago, an owner listed his Beneteau 373 for sale. I called to inquire about it and wanted to schedule a look as the boat was only 45 minutes from my home. Without me asking, the owner immediately offered to meet me and go for a sail. BTW, I didn’t buy it, someone else purchased it before I could make an offer. I also looked at a Beneteau 331 for sale by owner; that owner was a bit more savvy. He mentioned that if I liked the boat, to make an offer and if accepted he would require a refundable deposit, and then I could arrange for a sea trial and haulout to inspect the bottom.

    If a broker is involved, you’re not going to get a “free sail.”
    It’s a very structured process: inspection where the boat sits, initial purchase offer and possible negotiation, accepted offer (or rejection), refundable deposit (%varies), sea trial/haulout( at buyers expense), accept or reject boat for purchase offer price, or, if problems are discovered and buyer still wants the boat, renegotiate the price or have owner or yard fix the problem at owner’s expense. Either the owner or buyer can reject the deal if unacceptable to either party. If the deal is satisfactory, bill of sale is prepared and executed and broker collects funds from buyer (less deposit) and disburses funds to seller and leinholder if the boat has an outstanding loan.

    Personally, I wouldn’t buy any boat without an acceptable sea trial. When I was 19, I bought a used Venture beach catamaran without a sea trial. Got totally ripped on that deal; it leaked severely from the day I first used it until I sold it.

    Last edited: Apr 20, 2019
  13. Joe Blizzard

    Joe Blizzard

    Joined Feb 5, 2009
    192 posts, 34 likes
    Gloucester 20
    US Kanawha River, Winfield, WV
    I have almost no knowledge and scant experience, but I bought a boat in the range you're talking about without a test drive and I think I made out pretty well. Probably wouldn't have done me much good anyway, since I'd never been on a sailboat before. Sailboats this size are generally pretty simple and you can tell most of what you need to know just from looking if you have any amount of mechanical savvy at all. Mine is a fixed keel, so there were no worries about issues with centerboards and such. No through-hulls or anything complicated like that, either. The little outboards we use on little boats are simple as dirt and pretty easy for any competent shadetree mechanic to repair and maintain. (One thing I've learned recently in that area is that Evinrude parts are way more expensive than Yamaha parts.) I can't think of much of anything significant that might have shown up in the water that I didn't see on the trailer.

  14. Project_Mayhem


    Joined Sep 24, 2018
    352 posts, 65 likes
    O'Day 25
    US Waukegan
    Many marina's charge about $100/hr for service. Perhaps you could ask them to do an inspection. They should be able to tell you a LOT about the condition in a couple of hours. Tapping out a hull takes time so two hours of labor is not unreasonable

  15. jssailem


    Joined Oct 22, 2014
    9,220 posts, 4,094 likes
    CAL 35 Cruiser
    US Salem, Moored Port Everett WA
    There has been a lot of info in support of the original poster @Ace214.
    I’m sipping a cup of coffee this AM and wondering “What happened to Ace? What is he thinking? Has he gone forward with his purchase?”

    LloydB and Will Gilmore like this.
  16. Scott T-Bird

    Scott T-Bird

    Joined Oct 26, 2008
    3,955 posts, 940 likes
    Starwind 27
    US Barnegat, NJ
    In my mind, buying a sailboat is a lot like falling in love and making a commitment. I don't know about all the rest of you guys, but I need there to be some romance in the relationship! What more lovely object can you think of to buy than a sailboat? The way some of you guys talk, you'd think you were busy negotiating the most no-nonsense business deal, say, like negotiating a coal mine contract or something.
    You bet I'd go sailing with the guy or gal whom wants to love the boat I'm selling. I'm picturing some of you guys running off every suiter that your daughters might have with a shotgun unless they show up with a dowry. :doh:

    Ward H and jwing like this.
  17. Scott T-Bird

    Scott T-Bird

    Joined Oct 26, 2008
    3,955 posts, 940 likes
    Starwind 27
    US Barnegat, NJ
    I don't think he found a boat to purchase yet! He wants to date a few before he makes a commitment. I don't blame him … it's worth a try. BTW, I have an old high school acquaintance whom sells very high-end production boats on Lake Michigan. Last time Sue and I saw him, he was later going sailing with a prospective customer. It didn't sound like a contract-driven sea trial to me. It sounded more like a genuine sales effort for an expensive yacht that he wanted to sell. I'm sure there was some level of vetting, though. It sounded like he was building a relationship with the buyer. Isn't that how salesmanship works? Of course, if you don't want to do that sort of thing, that is why you hire a broker … you know, somebody whom might already be bored by the process and can't be bothered with building a relationship with a buyer because he or she has nothing invested in the process.

    jwing likes this.
  18. jssailem


    Joined Oct 22, 2014
    9,220 posts, 4,094 likes
    CAL 35 Cruiser
    US Salem, Moored Port Everett WA
    I believe in the sale relationship @Scott T-Bird. A boat purchase is a fun thing.

    That does not mean there will not be paperwork and contacts. For some there is even insurance and financing that kills the buzz.

    But if the relationship is set and strong, the boring stuff is just stuff. If there is no relationship then it can be a deal killer.

    So we show pictures like Playboy. We give the buyer video. We tell a story. We spin a dream and tease with a sail. And we extract money. Wow it kind is like dating.

  19. Head Sail

    Head Sail

    Joined Nov 13, 2013
    470 posts, 158 likes
    Catalina 34
    US Tacoma
    Hey Scott, unless times have changed, the dowry is what the bride brings to the party. Surprised?

  20. Scott T-Bird

    Scott T-Bird

    Joined Oct 26, 2008
    3,955 posts, 940 likes
    Starwind 27
    US Barnegat, NJ
    Actually, I looked it up … it can go either way. For some customary dowries, it is what the prospective husband brings to the table. It probably depends on whom is most in demand, women or men!

    jssailem likes this.

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