Boat buying can be a bitter-sweet experience.

Having your own small boat and the freedom to explore is exciting, but it also comes with new responsibilities and costs. However, choosing the right boat from the beginning can sidestep much of these concerns.


Why do you want to buy a boat?

Before you head out to start looking at boats for sale, it's worth sitting down and making a list of why you would like a boat. If you'll be sharing your boat with friends and family, it's worth getting them involved in the initial decision making too!

Consider all the reasons that you would like to buy a boat. For example, are you after a Laser to compete in the local sailing club’s Friday evening circuit? A sturdy cabin cruiser you can sail to France for the holidays? A narrowboat or a small launch for jilling around?

All these are noble aspirations but be realistic. Can your car manage the towing weight? Will a bigger boat still fit in the marina berth?


Picking the right type of boat

Now you've considered what you'd like to do, you're in a prime position for buying a boat.

Picking the right type of boat for you will depend on the types of actives you'd like to do.

If you see yourself mainly puttering up the river for a pub lunch, an open boat, or one with a minimal interior, is a great idea. Whether motor or sail, something from 12ft to 25ft should do the trick.

For those planning extended cruising with longer offshore passages, then the sky (and the budget) is the limit. Seaworthiness will be the first concern, and plenty have crossed the Atlantic in 25ft Folkboat. However, most prefer something bigger and better equipped with storage space, larger galley and more comfortable berths.

Racers will probably have a class of boat in mind for a specific regatta circuit. But you can have the best of both worlds—speed and cruising comfort. These types of boats do come at a cost and there can be a slight performance trade-off. However, brands such as J-Boats, X-Yachts and many others build boats which are both fast and comfortable.


Know your budget

Once you’ve figured out what sort of boat you want, you need to see what the budget permits. Boats can often work out to be more expensive than expected.

Similar to buying a car there are extra expenses involved in buying a boat other than the initial purchase. You will also need to consider budget for a survey, insurance and possible refit work if you decide to buy second hand.

When your purchase a boat there will also be ongoing maintenance that you'll want to factor into your budget. This could include:

  • paying for a place to berth the boat
  • servicing work
  • hull polishing
  • the potential repair here and there


Picking the correct boat size

When buying a boat, bigger always seems better.

The rule of thumb is that every extra 10ft on the length of a boat doubles its overall volume in a similar design. That means that you are getting significantly a lot more space if you trade up from a 30-footer to a 40-footer. A narrowboat is the exception, with restricted beam and height, so you only get extra in one dimension!

Going bigger may give your peace of mind as it means more room for family or friends, and more storage—from cockpit lockers to hanging space below. Bigger might also mean more space for creature comforts—even luxuries like a dishwasher or a freezer. It could mean a boat with a stern platform for swimming, and space to carry dive bottles or a sea scooter.

Identify the priority features for you, and whether they fit with your budget. But remember that extra boat length also means extra displacement (weight), beam and draught. Extra weight will make sailboats less responsive and cost extra fuel to propel for all boats—a real point to factor in if we’re talking motorboats.

Particularly with sailing boats, bigger means a deeper keel and a taller mast, so check that this doesn’t prevent you visiting your favourite ports and anchorages. And be sure that there is a berth suitable for the boat in your chosen marina or moorings.


Where to buy a boat from

If you’re reading this, you’re already researching boats that fit the bill. Seek inspiration from local sailing clubs, marinas and chandlers, which often have potential sale leads. If you have a specific brand in mind, contact the owner’s association or class association, and you can also try new boat dealers directly—they often sell brokerage boats too.

After that, you have to turn to the Internet. You can try big brokerage sites like and boatshop24, but sometimes you’ll have more luck for smaller boats on sites like or even eBay and Gumtree.

If you are responding to a private ad, keep your wits about you. Always demand to see proof of ownership, and gem up on nuts and bolts of safe boat purchase.

We would all naturally prefer to buy a boat that’s located on our own doorstep but remember that prices are likely to be higher in sailing hotspots. On the south or east coasts of England or on the Clyde, there is generally faster turnover. If you want to land a deal, you might have to look further afield—even overseas.



The value of a boat will always vary by age and condition, but also according to the equipment on board—and it can make a big difference. A cruising boat with brand-new sails and a lavish 12in chartplotter will cost thousands more than one without. It’s even starker with motorboats, where the age or condition of the engine(s) will be a big factor in the price.

You will always inspect a boat before you purchase it, but make sure you ask for a list of equipment first. That way you can evaluate the inventory, and whether it has genuine value to you. There would be little sense in paying extra for a boat with a self-steering gear if you were mainly planning to daysail. And there’s no need to have 150hp racing motors for pottering around the mouth of the estuary with a fishing rod.


Hull condition

A professional survey is the only way to get a sure picture of a boat’s condition, but even a quick glance can give you a hint. Rust stains on the hull or green slime on the teakwork point to a poorly maintained vessel. And a sniff below will tell you whether there is a damp issue.

If it’s a fibreglass boat, check the hull for the tell-tale blisters in the gelcoat that are markers of the dreaded osmosis or water absorption. Wooden hulls must also be kept in good shape with regular varnishing or painting, and problems are usually obvious to see. Metal hulls need expert assessment and be very wary of ferrocement construction. You can build excellent boats this way, but many were homemade and are of dubious quality.

Be a bit suspicious if the hull has been recently painted—especially if it doesn’t look like a professional job. What lurks beneath? A good rule of thumb is to say the fewer previous owners the better. It implies a better cared-for boat and certainly makes tracing ownership and finding documents easier.


Sailing boats—rig

Rigging can be another weak point in a badly treated boat. Ask when the standing and running rigging was last replaced and ask for proof if possible. Stainless steel wire can last for 20 years or more, but it is generally reckoned to have a working life of around a decade.

Swage failure generally gives no warning, so you should budget for new standing rigging if you have any doubts at all. Similarly, take a close look at the chainplates of the yacht, and at deck fittings. Is there any evidence of movement or cracking?



Newer is better when it comes to motors—almost without exception. If you can find a boat with an outboard or an inboard diesel which is still under the manufacturer’s guarantee, then you’ve hit the jackpot. This is rare, however. Many boats still fire up an engine that is 20 or even 30 years old. There’s nothing wrong with that—older engines have proven they’re up to the job, and may have been more heavily built in the first place. But it all comes down to maintenance.

Ask for evidence of regular professional servicing and check the bilges for signs of fuel or oil. You want enough engine hours on the clock to show that the engine has seen regular use, but not so much that it has been worn. If in any doubt, get a professional surveyor in.



Modern electronics are powerful, full-colour touchscreen devices that add significant value to a boat. They use the NMEA2000 protocol, which makes it easy to replace or add new units to the network. There’s nothing wrong with the older NMEA0183 system, but it’s slower and less capable.

New instruments are not only more fun and more informative. They can connect to your smartphone, provide remote access to the boat and help you plan passages. You can set GPS anchor alarms, monitor fuel consumption digitally and see exactly how many miles you have left in the tank at current speeds. You can also control marine stereos and jazzy lighting—all using the same system.



Focus on the layout of the boat and how suitable it is for your boating aspirations. Is the galley big enough? Is there a space for the pushchair? Do you need a bigger fridge or AC for a coffee machine?

It’s usually easy to transform a saloon seat into an extra berth for the occasions you have extra crew aboard, so don’t worry about a cabin for everyone. Fold-down bunks or pilot berths are another possibility.

Check the condition of interior varnishing and be prepared to freshen it up. But don’t fixate on the upholstery or the cushions, as this can be quite easily redone after you’ve bought the boat. Just be sure to work this into the budget.

In the end, boats come in every conceivable shape, size and condition. The difficulty is in deciding which of your wishes are “must-have” red lines, and where you can compromise. Approach the search with a firm budget, an open mind and a spirit of excitement and you’re bound to find a suitable boat.


Specialist boat insurance through Insure4Boats 

Now you’ve spent time choosing your boat, you may want to also consider insuring it with specialist boat insurance.

Through Insure4Boats, you can get cover for situations such as damage or loss to your boat, as well as legal costs if you were to cause damage to another boat or injure another person.

Learn more about the cover your can receive here, or click for a quick online quote today.

Please note the information provided on this page should not be taken as advice and has been written as a matter of opinion. For more on insurance cover and policy wording, see our homepage.