The Perfect Boat: Part II
You've found her, now what?
Just like the year we bought our first cruiser, this winter is shaping up to be much warmer than normal. What to do when there's no skiing in the East. Why go looking for a boat of course. But the aha moments come after you find the perfect boat for your dreams. Like "how do I know she's seaworthy?", "where will we keep her?", "what about insurance?" are all valid questions you may not have asked in advance. Here are some simple things to think about in preparation for bringing that perfect partner home!
Be comfortable with your broker, or don’t hesitate to find another. We ended up working with a broker in Florida when we lived in New Jersey and found our dream vessel in Maryland. It worked great! We took a couple of trips to Florida to see as many different boats as possible in the shortest period of time. When we narrowed the selections, we then concentrated on finding the best representative of a selected boat wherever it could be found. One was in Massachusetts, another in Rhode Island, one in California and one in Oxford, MD. We looked at all but the one in CA, and settled on the one in MD. Our broker from Florida presented our offer to the broker in Maryland and the negotiations began. We did most everything by teleconference and overnight courier. It really didn't matter where we all were, and as it happened we were in three ditant locations.
When selling our former boat, however, we made sure we picked a broker that was easily accessible to us. That way, we could always check on the boat, clean her up, provide answers and documents, and meet with prospective buyers. It worked best for us. We worked with two different brokers then, both representing our interests from different points of view. Unlike real estate agents who must by law disclose that they represent the buyer or the seller, boat brokers need not and can represent the buyer and the seller in the same transaction. Keep in mind that everything is negotiable. We negotiated a deal with our broker that if we sold the boat through our efforts, his commission would be reduced to a much smaller percentage.
Of course, if you are shopping for a new boat or a used boat, nothing beats doing the round of the boat shows where the boat owners and manufacturers bring the boats to you. Instead of flitting from yard to yard, you go from boat to boat within a very small distance. Of course, after a couple of days, all the boats start to merge and it's hard to remember which was which. That's why we tend to take photos for reference later on. In the Northeast, the Newport International In-water Boat Show tops our list, with the Annapolis boat shows right up there.
The survey and sea trial
The first step after finding the perfect boat and making an offer is to arrange for a marine survey if it's a 'previously owned' vessel. You’ll be required to have one for insurance purposes as well as for the mortgage lender if you are financing, but it’s something you really want done well anyway. A marine surveyor will inspect everything on your boat, from the hull integrity to deck hardware, from sails to engine, from equipment to electronics and will identify any areas that need correction. To find a qualified surveyor, examine the ranks of the societies that accredit marine surveyors, both SAMS and NAMS, scour the literature for names of individuals who write often about survey subjects, and ask people whose opinions we valued. We have used the same surveyor (Jack Horner) for several boats now and trust his judgements explicitly.
The surveyor will also go out on the sea trial with you. He or she will check the engine and other mechanical components while running, check steering and equipment such as autopilots underway, check the condition of the sails, and so on. The sea trial is where you get to test your prospective boat out for the feel. If you are not comfortable with how she performs, you can walk away from the deal. Be sure to put her through several maneuvers that will give you a good idea, including motoring forward and in reverse, tacking and jibing under sail, and handling in all wind directions. Don’t accept any less than a one-hour sea trial, or until you are satisfied with the performance.
A great surveyor will provide a verbal report on the spot followed by a detailed written report of every item that comes with the boat, its condition, and any recommendations for correction. They will break it down into major recommendations for immediate action and minor recommendations for longer term fix. The insurance provider will usually require you to make all corrections identified as major and provide proof of completion within a specified period of time. This can serve you in two ways: first you can avoid costly mistakes in your purchase, and second you can negotiate coverage of the repairs as part of the final purchase price. We have found that a good surveyor is worth every penny and then some. We have also worked with other surveyors recommended by insurance carriers for periodic recertification of insurance and we've been completely unimpressed.
Boat insurance is getting more difficult to acquire with every passing hurricane season. There are fewer carriers for marine insurance, and more restrictions on coverage every year. For this reason, it is good that Boat US has gotten into the marine insurance business. From all the boaters we’ve talked to, Boat US is a great place to start if you are keeping the boat in US coastal waters. They are reasonably priced and provide good coverage options. The deductibles tend to be very high now for all carriers, and your automobile driving record may affect your rates.
There will be several restrictions on your insurance coverage. One restriction may be on the length of season during which you can operate the vessel. Basically, April 1-Dec 1 is the acceptable period in the Northeast. That means it has to be laid up and not in use either dry docked or winterized in the water from Dec 1 through April 1.
The next major restriction is in the waters of navigation. Typically for us, our navigation limits are Northeast waters and 100 miles offshore. If we choose to go to Florida or Bermuda, we have to get separate coverage. Our insurance carrier does not cover Bermuda, having had too many claims for the Bermuda races and rallies, so we’d have to find an alternate. If you have restricted sailing territory, don’t pay for broader coverage. Find a carrier that will restrict your coverage to the territory you sail and adjust the rates accordingly. But remember that’s the case if you decide later to venture farther.
The third major restriction may be in what you are required to do and what is covered in a major storm. Some carriers require haul out and proof of a capable facility within a certain distance. Others require removal of deck gear that increases windage. Be familiar with what your carrier specifies for your vessel. Take photographs before and after storms to show what you did to minimize potential for damage.
Additionally, regular marine insurance does not cover racing. You must purchase racing insurance as a separate endorsement. This typically does not apply to casual club racing as would occur from point to point in a race en route during a cruise, but rather to a seriously campaigned boat. Again check the provisions of your policy.
Finally, most carriers no longer provide replacement cost coverage. Instead they cover agreed hull value. That means that if you agree that your boat is worth $100,000 that is what the insurance will pay minus the deductible in the case of a loss regardless of what it costs you to replace it. There were too many cases where the insured insisted on replacement with a new vessel.
Finally, ask what personal possessions are covered. You must get adequate coverage for all “removable personal gear” which can really add up to a lot of money if you don’t estimate correctly. It may include anything that’s not screwed down as part of the boat. So although a mounted VHF radio might be covered, a handheld would not be, an EPIRB may not be, and neither may a life raft that’s not permanently installed. Check your policy provisions to avoid unpleasant surprises when you least need them.
We were going to finance a portion of our purchase for a number of reasons, among which were that we wanted to take advantage of the tax benefit (the mortage interest on a second home is deductible and a boat qualifies as long as you can sleep on it and it has a head - note that this tax advantage is an agenda item for the Democrats and may be disappearing next year) and we wanted to have a third party who would be interested in negotiating alongside us in an insurance claim. For our first purchase, our broker recommended a lender specializing in boat loans. They sold our loan almost immediately to a bank in Philadelphia with which we've been dealing directly ever since. They know us and trust us, so refinancing has been a snap and less costly as we were able to avoid credit check and other fees.
The closing itself should be the easiest part. You bring certified checks for the agreed amounts to the parties specified and in return you get a Bill of Sale. After the title is researched, cleared and registered, you will receive that as well. If your vessel is documented, be sure the broker or other qualified party submits the form for change of ownership. This is required by law. You will get a new Coast Guard certificate of documentation which is replaced each year. Each state is different relative to registration requirements beyond documentation, so check your local specifications.
If your vessel has a radio with DSC, an EPIRB or a ship’s radiostation license, you’ll need to change those registrations as well. It’s the law.
Of course, once you buy the boat, you’ll have to get her home. Some deals include the delivery. Sometimes you’ll find it close enough to deliver yourself. If not, you’ll have to consider how to get your boat home in the most efficient way, which is another matter the broker should be able to manage for you. You can hire a licensed skipper to deliver her to you or you may be able to ship her by truck or by boat from distant ports. Check on this before finalizing the deal. Your broker should be able to help you find the best way.
We've always delivered our boats ourselves. There is no better way to immerse yourself in the intimate knowledge of your new true love. Keep in mind that things will go wrong, you won't know where everything is stowed, and you may not have all the gear aboard and in perfect order once you actually attempt to use it. It is a delivery after all. We bring our own personal 'captain's delivery bag' full of our own gear, including handlheld VHF radio and GPS with spare batteries, PFDs, harnesses, and jacklines if we'll be doing overnight, offshore, or long distance passages, foul weather gear, provisions, rigging knives, first aid kit, and navigation charts, tools and log book, among other useful items. We also bring a tool box with essential tools (metric or imperial depending on the systems aboard).
Where are you going to keep her?
Unless you have a slip outside your back door, you're going to need a secure place to keep your lovely new boat. We’ve had both moorings and slips, in both private and public facilities. There are benefits to a slip in the marina. You get to know your neighbors, it’s far easier to shlep your gear and provisions onboard, and you have the freedom to get on and off and use facilities at will. But, you are not always positioned to catch the breeze, you need to close your curtains, you are at mercy of sound being magnified at night around water, and the insects can invade in droves. On the other hand, tied up at a secure, well protected marina with floating docks may be a safer place to be in a big storm. It also takes a little practice and an occasional “bulls eye on the dock” to get the hang of parking in a slip under all conditions.
A mooring is kind to a vessel. She swings with the wind and doesn’t fight the current. Sleeping onboard is like swaying at anchor catching the breeze with every shift. The insects may not make it out to you, it’s much easier to sail off and back onto a mooring, and you can do it without starting the engine. However, it’s harder to get there and back unless you have launch service. The ideal situation for us is being on a mooring in a protected harbor with launch service to get us and our gear safely onboard at all hours.
If you are already a member of a yacht club or live in proximity to a marina, this could be a simple proposition. Slips and moorings in marinas are seasonal rentals in the Northeast which often run May through October. If you will be launching sooner and returning later, they will often allow you to stay beyond the specified time limits, especially if you store the vessel at the same location for the off season. In areas where there is no season, slip or mooring rental is charged on an annual basis. You’ll want to check out all the facilities and ensure that the location offers you what you need. Clean toilets and showers, a protected harbor, a decent restaurant or snack bar, friendly and helpful staff, and lots of sailboats are elements we looked for.
If you expect to join a yacht club, keep in mind that with some it may take multiple sponsors who know you well and as long as a year or more to be accepted for membership. You’ll need to make alternative arrangements during the trial period. Other yacht clubs invite membership and solicit new member applications as soon as you have a boat or before. Check around to see what’s available. A club may provide you with many benefits, not the least of which is camaraderie with other members all of whom have like interests. Some of the yacht clubs take part in local boat shows and that’s one way to find out what’s out there.
Perhaps the least expensive option to keep your vessel, but it is by no means always convenient, is to get a private mooring through the town governing a body of water. Most bays and rivers have public access moorings and slips for residents and non-residents. All it takes is a low cost permit to deploy your own mooring in an assigned location or to rent a slip. However, there may be a long waiting list for a permit in choice locations and slips in many locations are handed down to future generations. In many cases, you will also have limited amenities including lack of dinghy storage and launch service. You get what you pay for!
The perfect name for the perfect boat
So, you bought the boat, got a mooring and joined a club. Now you’re thinking about the name. If it’s a new boat, no problem. Name away. If it’s a used boat and she has a name you just can’t live with, hold on there. You don’t want to jinx her with improper naming procedure. So for that final touch of perfection for your ideal match, learn the procedure that will ensure a proper naming worthy of her heritage. Read about everything we learned when renaming Aleria.
Now enjoy! Take her out as often as possible, share her with friends and family, create memories you will cherish forever. And don't forget to brush up on your seamanship skills. There is always more to learn on the water. That's what it's all about.
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