Buying advice

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Rowland gives his take on people and boats.

‘They’ say that the two best days of boat ownership are the first and last, but as an owner myself I think this is untrue. The trick is to buy the right boat, having thought long and hard about what you want and more importantly why.

Boats are never cheap to operate and maintain and with ever increasing mooring and fuel costs it pays to buy what you need and avoid that larger ‘bargain’ which in truth will probably turn into a money pit.

A friend of mine was recounting a story about a couple who bought a cruiser for use on the Thames (London). The upper Thames is tidal and can be fast flowing, but has a speed limit of between 5-8 knots. The couple just wanted to potter up and down the river on day trips. The problem was that the cruiser, whilst lovely, was 70% cabin and high with it. That’s 70% of the boat which didn’t fit the ‘why’ criteria. What they wanted was a boat with a large cockpit for day tripping along the banks of the Thames, a boat that was easy to maneuver, especially with the tide behind. What they had bought was a bed ship with little cockpit and a bulk that meant every puff of wind was in danger of sending them beam on to the next downstream bridge. You see, they should have bought a Pontoon Boat.

I often have people coming to me after looking at a boat on Ebay. “How much to get a 1998 35’ Cruiser back to England”? This in itself is not a bad question (save for missing some vital information like where is it now, where in the UK do you want it delivered, what is the make and model of boat (and preferably HIN number), what are the make, model, year and drive type for the engine(s)). The problem comes when they say – “It’s on Ebay for USD 12,500”.

Lets’ consider this in a number of ways.

  1. The boat may be USD 12,500 now but could be more by the end. If this is a reasonable price and if you get it for this then do you actually have any idea what you’ve bought?
  2. Cheap boats are cheap for a reason and rarely does the word ‘Bargain’ remain long in these scenarios. They are normally cheap because someone who thought they were a steal has realized otherwise and now wants shot. Rather conveniently they will have highlighted the best points and omitted those photographs which highlighted the worst points.
  3. No, please don’t tell me it’s in CA. That’s 3,000 miles from Port on the US East Coast!
  4. Old boats have old systems. Some have been upgraded and often the seller will make a big thing about these but most will be old, tired and expensive to replace. Do your homework and understand the likely costs involved and ‘never’ take the vendors word even if a Dealer.
  5. Shipping costs are normally volume based (RoRo) so a large, old, cheap boat costs the same as a large, newer, valuable boat. The difference is that the shipping cost (which is effectively dead money) is high relative to the value.

Most of this may be obvious but you’d be surprised the number of people who bid on a boat and then spend much more on getting it home, by which time the bargain is a millstone.

So how should you handle an Ebay boat?

My advice is simple. Make contact with the seller and get their contact details. If the boat is close by get someone you trust to inspect the boat. If not, wait until the auction has ended and then if unsold, approach the owner again (with the contact details sourced earlier) and arrange for the boat to be inspected. Never buy a boat blind, ever. Don't trust any vendor, period.

The right way

We've helped many clients find and import boats so can speak with some experience. We've seen some great boats and we've seen some sheds too.

In chronological order:

  1. Understand what type of boat you want and why
  2. Decide on your budget, delivered to you in Europe
  3. Do a quick check to see whether boats you see in the US cost a little less in USD than your budget is in Euros (or the same in Sterling). eg Boat in US USD 30,000 = Cost delivered in UK GBP 30,000. If not you need to increase your budget.
  4. Search for suitable boats. You can do this or we can recommend companies that can help.
  5. When you find a boat:
    • Are the engines 2003 or newer? If not emissions may be a problem
    • Is it located within 500 miles of either Jacksonville (FL) or Baltimore (MD)? If not the US transport cost could be too high.
    • Is it a brokerage boat? If so you will probably be better off using our recommended buying broker who, in return for splitting commission will offer you on the ground support and ESCROW facilities for payment.
  6. Contact Gablemarine for US transport, shipping and CE quotes. For this we need to know:
    • ZIP code and address for where the boat is located in the USA
    • Delivery address, or preferred Port for delivery in Europe.
    • Make, model, year and HIN (Hull Identification Number, normally stamped into gelcoat on starboard transom) of boat
    • Make, model (exact), year and serial number for the engine(s). Best is a photo of each engine plate/label
    • Is the boat sold with on a trailer?
    • Measured shipping dimensions - these should be measured, not taken from manuals as they must include all extremes eg trailer neck, raised drive etc
  7. Make an offer, subject to inspections
  8. Check the ownership status - request a copy of the Title or Coastguard documents
  9. Pay Deposit (for brokerage boats, it is normal to pay a 10% deposit prior to inspection/survey
  10. Arrange for the craft to be inspected:
    • Boat inspection and/or survey
    • Engine compression check and ECU verification of hours/fault codes
    • Sea trial
    • Verify shipping dimensions
    • if everything checks out buy the boat, if not, clarify or renegotiate.

Confirm details with Gablemarine to arrange shipping and CE inspection.

Written By: Rowland Smith

Rowland Smith is a Naval Architect and founder of Gablemarine.  His industry experience includes Lloyds Register, British Shipbuilders Hydrodynamics Ltd, Cammell Lairds, BP Shipping Ltd & Conoco.  He has a degree in Naval Architecture, a Diploma in Marketing (CIM) and an MBA (Cranfield School of Management).  He has also held Director level positions in a number of technology and engineering companies, including CEproof, which provides RCD compliance software to builders. 

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