Part 2 – Choosing a Boat

Getting started.

Early on in the process of becoming a liveaboard, you will need to start the process of finding a boat.  Some people opt for a powerboat and some opt for a sailboat.  It is a choice based on personal preference, along with financial considerations.  For the sake of this article, I will be discussing more from the standpoint of living on a sailboat, as that was our choice.

The economics of owning and operating a powerboat would have prohibited out ultimate plans of voyaging into the south Pacific for an extended period.  The cost of fuel, even on short excursions, can run well into the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.  For a weekend jaunt to the islands here, we realized that an expense like this was absurd.  Sailing to the islands in our sailboat (26 NM) costs us only the fuel to get out and then back into our slip – probably about two dollars.

So, what boat to buy…

When we decided on our sailboat, there were a combination of factors that led us to our decision.  We wanted enough room to be comfortable and enough storage to be able to put everything away for those times we did adventure out.  However, because ours was to also be a boat to head out on, and not just park in a marina, there were a few prerequisites that preceded everything.  Several things that were paramount and were initially addressed with every boat we considered.  If the boat didn’t pass these few requirements, then we moved along.

  • Sound hull – had to float, no leaks, no repairs needed
  • Sound engine – low hours, diesel (not gas), enough power for the size
  • Sound rigging – recent or in good condition, good sails, roller reefing

These were the biggies.  The boat of course has to float, so the hull needed to be sound.  This also includes the bulkheads (internal walls that add stiffness), through hulls (small openings in the bottom that have a valve on them), good stuffing box (seal around the prop shaft).

The engine is next because it is probably the most expensive addition to the boat.  Ours had a new diesel, so we were lucky.  It costs just under $15k back in 2006, so you can see how this should be an important factor if you are considering a boat that might need a new engine or a rebuild.  Low hours or recent rebuild might be a good requirement.

The rigging can also be really expensive.  It is a good idea to inspect everything.  If you don’t know how to inspect a boat, there are books out there that detail this.  If you are unsure of how to inspect rigging, or you don’t have time to learn how, you might also consider hiring a professional.  It also depends on how much you spent for the boat.  For boats less than about $10k and you might not want to spend the additional money to have it hauled out and inspected.  Also check the sail inventory.  Raise the main, open the genoa, raise the mizzen, check the seams.  Feel the fabric to see if it is dried and brittle.

Beyond those three prerequisites buying your boat becomes more of a personal choice.  The layout, headroom, storage, amenities, are all up to personal taste and needs.

Floor plans.

There are two different layouts for sailboats that categorize the two major floor plans.  Aft cockpit and center cockpit.  We looked at quite a few of both before deciding, and they both have their particular advantages.  The aft cockpit has all its room up front and the cockpit/helm in the stern (rear).  It usually has less freeboard (height above the water), and so less windage (control affected by wind against the boat), so it sails better, closer to the wind, and is faster.  The center cockpit has an aft cabin and its cockpit in the middle.  This design has more freeboard to provide for more headroom when passing between the aft cabin and the salon.  Normally the aft cabin is considered to be the owner’s cabin, and it is usually nicely appointed with a head attached.  You may find that the center cockpit will lend itself better to a liveaboard, while the aft cockpit will be better for someone who wants to voyage while living aboard.

There are many, many more things to be taken into account, and I will go into those things in my next installment.