I paid $1500 for a 1/3 share in a 40 year old 26′ sailboat. Moorage was $150 a month, but I only had to pay every third month. There was an additional $250 a year in maintenance bills. At the end of 3 years as a partner, I sold my share for $1500.
The Cost to Purchase
My story is by no means unusual. The market is flooded with older small sailboats that are in good condition and perfect to learn on. Fiberglass lasts forever, so with new boats being made and few old boats coming off the market, the prices have become very reasonable.
Each market will be a bit different, but in the Vancouver area, the most common first sailboat is the Catalina 27. These are usually less than $10k in good condition. My Haida 26 was half that because it was 40 years old and had a flush deck so that it was pretty cramped inside. We still had three great years of adventures on her, though!
We had a one third partnership in our Haida 26. I have other friends who’ve split their first boats anywhere from two to four ways.
The advantage, of course, is that costs are less. Often, you also end up sailing together and doing maintenance together.
The disadvantages are the need to schedule your time on the boat and the inevitable disagreements about upgrade and maintenance priorities and budgets (should we buy new sails this year, or a new dinghy).
My recommendation is that you consider a partnership, but really get to know your potential partners first. Spend a lot of time talking about budget and philosophy of maintenance. It’s best, of course, if you partner with a friend.
You should also strongly consider a formal partnership contract, especially in litigious societies like the US. You need to understand beforehand what happens if one of the partners damages the boat. You especially need to understand what your third party liability situation is if your partner rams somebody else’s boat or hurts somebody.
For us, the partnership was a wonderful experience. One of the other partners never used the boat and the other used it about 3 times a year. We basically had her to ourselves. When it came time to haul out and sand and paint the bottom, however, everyone showed up to help, and the other owners were more experienced sailors than we were and were a great source of advice.
A partnership was definitely a great way for us to get into boat ownership. After a few years, though, we decided that we wanted our own sailboat to really personalize to the way we wanted it. We wanted that sense of individual ownership. We now have a 35 year old Niagara 35 and we love having our own boat.
Another type of partnership is a sailing club or co-op. These have many of the advantages of a partnership, and some of the same disadvantages.
The main disadvantage is that you will often be on a different boat every weekend and you won’t really be able to get to know the one boat well. Also, you’ll have no say at all in how the boat is set up and you usually won’t get any experience with boat maintenance (which is both a good and bad thing).
Of course, the flip side is that some clubs have many different types and sizes of boats and you’ll be able to try different boats out and see what you prefer.
If you live somewhere with clubs nearby, they are certainly a worthy alternative to buying a “starter boat” that you know you’ll be selling in a few years.
The Cost of Ownership
You’ll need to moor and maintain your new sailboat.
Marinas charge by the foot. They will charge for the overall length of your boat (including anything that sticks out, fore or aft) or the length of the slip, whichever is greater.
Marina rates vary widely by region, so call around. You can count on $5-15 per foot in most places.
You can avoid marina fees by installing a mooring ball or anchoring your boat out and then accessing it by dinghy.
Again, local rules will apply, but this is completely free in most places. It is also certainly less convenient, and there is much greater risk that the boat will drag ashore in a storm, but it’s worth considering if you’re on a budget.
You will constantly have “the list.” This will be a spreadsheet or list of open maintenance tasks and upgrades that you need or want to do. These take both time and money. If you do the work yourself, you’ll save a lot of money and learn new skills that will come in handy when thing break in a remote anchorage halfway through your holiday (and they will).
The biggest maintenance items are sails, engines, rigging, and electronics.
Your starter sailboat will have simple electronics and will likely lack other expensive items like furnaces and fridges.
Unless your racing, the sails and rigging will last many years. Their condition is certainly worth checking at the time of purchase, though, since these will be thousands of dollars. If you do need to replace your sails, look for used sails from racers in your area.
Your engine will need annual maintenance. Again, engine condition is a major factor when you’re buying. If the engine is in good condition and you do your own work, the annual maintenance will be quite inexpensive (and actually pretty fun once you get the hang of it).
Inboard engines are quieter and work much better in choppy water, but you can take an outboard off and bring it in for service if things go really wrong, saving a lot of cost compared to having a mechanic come out to your boat.
You will also need to haul the boat out every year or two to scrape it and put on bottom paint. This can cost $500-750 each time you do it. It’ll cost more if you pay somebody to do the work for you (are you sensing a theme about how much money you can save with some DIY?).
All of these figures are very dependent on your location. Spend some time online looking at local boats, call around to marinas, and talk to other sailors.
Owning a sailboat does have its costs, but it is within reach for most people. You’ll seldom find a sailor who’ll tell you the fun on the water isn’t well worth the cost.
How much did your first boat cost? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
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