You don’t have to be rich to own a boat. But you do want to chart a sensible course for your money — by choosing a boat that you can afford to buy and afford to maintain.
The hardest thing about buying a used fiberglass sailboat is keeping your head straight. With a new boat you (in theory, at least) get what you pay for, but entering the used boat market can be a bit like going through Alice’s looking glass. Is a shiny new 35-foot performance cruiser beyond your pay grade? Not to worry, there’s a fantastic looking used 36-footer with lots of gear for sale on Craigslist for less than the price of a car. Of course, the reality is rarely that simple. Systems and mechanical fasteners have a way of breaking down over the years, and even fiberglass has its limitations.
A good way to keep your priorities straight is to think about the boat’s future resale value. Someday you’ll probably want to sell the same boat you are looking to buy. If that boat is a piece of junk, it will not only be less fun to sail, it could become an unsaleable albatross.
It’s also important to bring in professional help, in the form of a reputable marine surveyor and, possibly, a buyer’s broker. Many of the “bargains” out there are not bargains at all once you factor in the costs of getting them sailing and keeping them in good shape. Identifying and accurately factoring in these costs before you start writing checks will increase the chance that you and your boat will have a safe, happy life together.