Skip to main content

One surveyor’s tips

Jonathan Klopman knows used boats — from the inside out.

The 45-year-old Marblehead, Mass., marine surveyor specializes in damage investigation and analysis in conjunction with marine insurance companies. He’s poked and picked at hundreds of boats damaged to varying degrees in accidents or by natural causes. And he’s got some advice for those seriously entering the used-boat market.

Search the Internet and you’ll be confronted with literally tens of thousands of used boats. One way to separate the wheat from the chaff is price: Pay it, says Klopman.

“I try to get newcomers into the highest quality boat they can afford,” he says. Klopman says this has nothing to do with what he makes from a survey, since surveyors consult based on an hourly fee.

“You’re going to have to pay for a good boat,” he says. “You can’t expect to steal it. This emphasis on getting the lowest price possible will get you into trouble.”

Beware of the boat with a price that’s too good to believe. “If it’s well below market value, well guess what? There is probably a good reason,” he says. “I’ve been pushing my friends into more expensive boats — not necessarily bigger — and they generally wind up happier. It’s the best way to ensure they won’t become golfers.”

People who start off with large, inexpensive boats can become overwhelmed with hidden expenses and never ending projects, says Klopman.

Klopman also offers the following advice:

• Upgrades are good. Fresh power, new sails, roller furling, specialized electronics — these are good things, even though they may raise the cost of the boat. “A boat with substantive upgrades should be thought of as an opportunity, rather than an additional cost,” he says. “And it saves you from having to do the upgrades yourself.”

• Buy a boat that’s been kept up. People who end up buying the boat that has been well maintained — yard maintained — usually are the happiest, even if they’ve paid more, Klopman says. “They seem to wind up using the boat more, instead of tackling repairs and refitting old gear,” he says.

• Consider age and where the boat’s been used. Are all 5-year-old boats equal? Not really, says Klopman. “You have to keep in mind the environment the boat’s been kept in,” he says. “You hear about a great deal on a 5-year-old boat in Florida or Texas. Well, five years in Southern waters takes a toll; it’s like 15 years in Maine.”

• Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Even if the 40-footer is a better deal than the 36, it may not be the better buy, says Klopman. “The person who buys a boat that is too big or costly [to run] doesn’t use it enough and is liable to feel guilty about it. So they sell it.” Consider both the cost of the boat and your ability. And consider the ancillary costs, the gear that’s needed to drive the boat. A vessel that comes clean yet is stripped of gear can be expensive to commission, says Klopman, who makes it a point to sit down with a client at the end a survey and go over the additional items he or she will have to purchase. “Sails, dock lines, anchors, electronics — as most of us know, the list goes on and on,” he says.

Perhaps the best safeguard against getting burned on a used-boat purchase is involvement, says Klopman. The more you know about the model and builder, the better. And the more you can find out about a particular boat you’re considering, from maintenance history to operation, the better.

Klopman recommends doing some sleuthing to see what information you can turn up, adding that boatyard personnel can be an uninvolved but very experienced information resource.

“Boats are not Toyotas,” he says. “People just want to believe they can hop in, turn the key. That’s not realistic. Part of boating is you should be involved in the whole process.”