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June 5th 2018. By Alex Smith.

Buying a new boat

If you’re lucky enough to be in the market for a new boat, getting the boat you want can be a more involved process than you realise.

While affordability compels most of us to buy our boats on the used market, there’s something particularly special about buying new. The promise of a clean, fresh hull, of new woods and fabrics and of freshly unwrapped electronic gadgets all play their part, but knowing that your boat has been picked, equipped and fitted out specifically to cater for your tastes and needs is what really makes delivery day exciting.

Happily, that pleasure is not limited to the unobtainable end of the market. Of course, as the size, price and exclusivity of a boat increase, the owner’s decision-making becomes all the more critical, but even on a relatively affordable ‘off-the-shelf’ boat, your influence over the colours, the fabrics, the fit-out, the equipment and the engine choice enables you to make your new boat feel very personal and bespoke.

However, in order to derive the maximum reward from the process, you need to recognise that buying new is not as simple as picking a model, parting with the cash and waiting for the big day. If you’re to end up with the boat you want, at a price you can afford, in a time frame that suits your schedule, you need to get yourself organised and take charge of the process – and in the first instance, that means being absolutely explicit about what you want.

Princess 30M

If you’re lucky enough to be in the market for a new boat, getting the boat you want can be a more involved process than you realise.

Top tips for buying a new boat

  1. Even on modestly sized boats, it is common practice to make a deposit, followed by stage payments.
  2. To guard against losing your money in the event of a boat builder’s insolvency, take out your own insurance policy for the duration of the build.
  3. Factor a specified delivery date into the contract, with penalties for any delays to ensure a timely production schedule.
  4. Insist upon a contractual caveat specifying the completion of a satisfactory sea trial prior to the settling of the final balance.
  5. If you buy an existing boat from stock, a sea trial and a formal survey can help ensure that its time on the ‘shelf’ hasn’t caused any issues.
  6. If there appears to be little or no wiggle room on price, then investigate the options list for added value extras that might help sweeten the deal.
  7. For convenience, pick a boat from a dealer or builder with the infrastructure to provide servicing and warranty support in your local region.
  8.  On large, complex and highly bespoke craft, it often makes sense to appoint a specialist yacht management agency to act as your onsite representative.
  9. Don’t expect a new boat to operate faultlessly from day one, however prestigious the builder.
  10. Don’t expect a new boat to retain its value, however fastidiously you care for it.


Be clear about your needs

Do your research, read magazines, visit boat shows, talk to your crew and investigate owners’ clubs and local marinas. Isolate the model that matches your needs and think carefully about the all-in cost, including safety features, additional equipment, training, mooring, fuel, servicing, insurance and running costs. Whether you need finance or not, make sure you settle upon a figure you know you can comfortably afford – and whatever price bracket and market segment you go for, make sure you put your required parameters (range, speed, cruising efficiency, sleeping spaces) down in writing, so that your chosen builder is under no illusions about your expectations. If those expectations can be met, you and the builder can begin generating a contract to ensure that your new boat satisfies your needs.

You could of course sidestep this process by buying an existing boat from stock, but if you want to commission the construction of a larger, more bespoke craft, the order of play usually involves a deposit followed by a sequence of stage payments. Again, the scale and timing of these should be agreed upon by both parties and put down in writing – and you should also use this opportunity to tailor the contract in your favour. Make sure it includes a clear understanding that financial compensation will be due if the build falls behind the agreed schedule and include a caveat that the final payment will only be made upon the completion of a satisfactory sea trial. Really commit to these negotiations and don’t part with a deposit until you are happy that the contract protects your interests, as well as satisfying your recreational ambitions.

Be disciplined with the options

Showroom boats tend to be lavished with every optional extra to help maximise their appeal, so make sure you understand exactly what’s provided in the standard package. Even basic items like the compass, anchor and cushions can find themselves shunted onto the ‘extras’ list, so the most affordable ‘Price From’ package is rarely one you can realistically consider.

However, you should also avoid the temptation to bust your budget on unnecessary trinkets. Items from the options list can be ruinously expensive and, while their desirability might increase the speed of resale on the used market, you will never recoup anything like the money it will cost you to spec them on a new build boat. Instead, be disciplined and selective. Ignore cosmetic niceties that add weight, complication and cost and look at items that actively improve the usability and versatility of your boat for the lifestyle you want. Think about how useful items like biminis, canvases, dining tables, toilets and additional seating will be. Think about whether you need trim tabs, towing points, heating systems and a stove. And do you need an uprated engine to carry more people, to enjoy towed watersports, to provide a more sporting drive or to offer a more relaxed and frugal sweet spot for long-distance cruising?

A sea trial is of course vital in helping you make these decisions. Not only will it enable you to confirm that it’s the boat for you, but it will also put you in a good position to assess whether a power upgrade is necessary and to decide which of the demo model’s features are vital and which you could do without.

Organise your finance

Once you know the model, the spec and the price of the boat, you are in a good position to organise your finance. Your options range from a marine loan or mortgage, secured on the boat itself, to a regular unsecured loan or a mortgage secured on your house. In the case of secured marine finance, your provider will insist upon a suitable insurance policy, which formally lists their interest in your boat.

In some instances, your finance provider may also require a formal survey upon completion of the boat, but in all cases (and whether you get a secured loan or not), it makes sense to arrange a personal insurance policy for the duration of the build process to protect your own money. After all, insolvencies happen and, during the initial part of any build, nothing substantive exists against which to claim back any deposit or early stage payments you might have made. And while you’re making your financial decisions, you should also be realistic about the ownership costs. A new boat will almost always depreciate in value so you need to understand how significant the long-term cost is likely to be. Taking out a big loan and reaching a point of negative equity before selling your boat out of desperation is not a recipe for a happy ownership experience.

Monte Carlo MCY 70

Once you find the boat you want to buy, you are in a good position to organise your finance.

Be realistic about your new boat

Lovely though a new boat is, it is rarely as reliable, as refined or as operationally competent as one that has already been at sea for a couple of seasons. Even at the highest echelons of the industry, boat building is not like car manufacture. Relatively small-scale production and high levels of human involvement mean that mistakes happen and the potential for imperfection is much more pronounced. You will often find that a new boat will rattle various fixtures and fittings loose during its first few outings. Wherever the issues lie, a season or two at sea will root them out and expose them – and while your warranty will of course cover any routine teething troubles, you don’t want to invest all that money only to see your boat spending weeks tucked away in the shed, undergoing repair and upgrade works.

So when it comes to choosing your boat, make sure you talk to existing owners about their own experiences; make sure you are clear on what the warranty terms do and don’t cover; and think about being on site (or having a paid representative on site) during the build to ensure that minds are focussed, that quality is maintained and that the human element of the build process doesn’t become complacent. True, some builders will find your persistent involvement a touch irksome, but while you retain a choice regarding which boat builder you pick (as well as a contractual clause regarding the satisfactory completion of a pre-delivery sea trial), it’s up to you to dictate how involved you need to be in the process.

Get specialist help

At the very top end of the market, a yacht management company is usually required to act as your representative, to coordinate the activities of the designer and the builder and to ensure that your vessel is built in accordance with the brief, the budget and the time scale. Companies like Edmiston, Burgess and Imperial have been at the top of their game for a long while now, with networks of integrated specialists who can take charge of every element of large yacht ownership.

While you can of course specify a service limited solely to the design, build and delivery of your yacht and any associated tenders and toys, these companies are also equipped to take charge of every post-delivery issue, from maintenance, crewing, charter, daily operations and refit to the marketing and sale of your yacht when the time comes to trade in or upsize. The fees are of course substantial, but when you move past the 30-metre mark, the idea that you can operate as an unaffiliated and fully independent boat owner, who commissions, builds and manages his own yacht, becomes increasingly unrealistic.

Alex Smith is an ex-Naval officer, with extensive experience as a marine journalist, boat tester and magazine editor. Having raced as a Pilot in the National Thundercat Series and as a Navigator in the inaugural Red Sea RIB Rally, he has now settled in the West Country, where he lives and works as a specialist marine writer and photographer from his narrowboat in Bath.