Know-How - February 2007

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The age-old debate: new vs. used

The age-old debate: new vs. used

When I was young, my daddy warned me against buying a used car because he thought that I’d be buying someone else’s problems. Coming through the Depression, we didn’t throw anything away unless it was no longer repairable, and my daddy could fix anything.

Before I go any further, the best piece of advice I can give anyone looking for a boat, new or used, is to have it surveyed by a competent surveyor before you buy.


• The engineering that goes into a new boat produces a stronger, lighter, faster, more fuel-efficient hull.

• Decorators create interiors to appeal to the distaff side of the family in hopes of breaking down resistance to purchase.

• Mechanical and electrical systems are more efficient and safer. The engines use less fuel and are quieter, easier to maintain, more reliable and more environmentally friendly. Inverters and generators can be more easily installed if not already included.

• Many are equipped with bow and/or stern thrusters for easier maneuvering.

• Accommodations for electronics at the helm are better; in fact, a suite of electronics often is included.

• Many new boats include space to accommodate ground tackle and a windlass/capstan.


• They are more expensive than used.

• On many current designs you can’t see astern from the helm when backing down. You have to rely on communicating with someone by radio or you have to use video.

• It can be difficult to get to amidships cleats when docking some “Eurodesign” boats.

• Saloons designed for gracious entertaining at the dock may not be safe to pass through or comfortable when under way.

• The electronics offered with a new boat may not be what you want. Make sure you can negotiate for an adequate allowance if this is the case.

• The space for storing ground tackle and for locating the windlass/capstan often is inadequate.

• Not all the “bugs” may yet have been worked out. For example, the modular construction used in new boats can lead to such problems as a master stateroom installed over kinked plumbing lines.


• A used boat typically is more affordable. And if the owner was competent (not necessarily a do-it-yourselfer) the “bugs” likely have been worked out.

• An older boat may be better designed for use at sea. For example, the saloon may be easier and safer to pass through when under way.

• The accommodations for carrying and deploying ground tackle may be more practical.

• Additional hand-holds or other features to make things easier and safer on board often have been incorporated.

• You probably can see astern from the helm, and amidships cleats usually are accessible for docking.


• If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. There is a real need for due diligence before buying.

• You might inherit someone else’s problems.

• You must determine the provenance of any boat before laying out cash. For example, many boats damaged in Hurricane Katrina are turning up on the used-boat market.

• Appearance isn’t always an indicator of value. A little judicious application of gelcoat, paint, varnish or wax can make the wreck of the Hesperis look good.

• As I stated above, regardless of whether you buy new or used, hire a competent surveyor before any purchase. Remember, caveat emptor.