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February 28th 2018. By Alex Smith.

Choosing a boat

If you’re looking to invest in a powerboat or sailing yacht but you’re not sure how to nail down a shortlist of contenders, our YachtWorld guide to choosing the right boat could be just what you need.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the market for a new boat beyond the 30-foot mark, the world is a very exciting place. With everything from standard production day cruisers to semi-custom passage makers and one-off, globetrotting superyachts, there is massive variety at your disposal. However, with so many ways to invest your money, it pays to get the basic questions answered before drawing up your shortlist…

Top tips for choosing the right boat

  1. For serenity, simplicity and peerless interaction with the marine environment, you need a sailing yacht.
  2. For convenience, speed and generous internal accommodation, you need a powerboat.
  3. Buy new for a bespoke (or even one-off) craft, directly tailored to your lifestyle.
  4. Buy used for a simpler transaction and for high-spec, fully equipped packages at accessible prices.
  5. Work hard to find a boat that is optimised for your lifestyle – and be honest about how you will use it.
  6. Whether you favour sail or power, don’t discount the merits of twin hulls.
  7. Don’t over-commit with a boat that exceeds your needs in terms of size, space or power.
  8. While it’s not a conclusive indicator of a boat’s abilities, the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) is a handy yardstick against which to measure the suitability of a pleasure boat.

One of your first questions is sailing yacht or power yacht?

The benefits of sail

While most sailing boats (or even in the UK we’ve become more comfortable in recent years with using the American term ‘sailboats’) tend to come with basic engines for close-quarters manoeuvring or to take up the slack when the wind dies, the relative absence of fuel costs and the reductions in overheads associated with engine maintenance are an obvious boon for those keen on a sailing yacht. However, given the cost of sails and rigging, not to mention the increased requirement for training, the real benefit of sail over power is rarely about saving money. It’s about achieving a different order of experience, whereby you’re not so much visiting a seascape as interacting with it; not so much witnessing the elements as collaborating with them – and even today, a cutting-edge electric powerboat comes nowhere close to achieving the intimate serenity of even the most modest and affordable sail boat.

While plenty of modern sailing boats are rigged for easy handling with minimal personnel, both you and your crew also tend to be more active on a sailboat. Whether you notice it or not, the necessity for remaining continually conscious of the elements tends to make you a more capable seaman over time – and the ecological credentials of a sailing yacht are another major plus. It is of course questionable whether any sizeable leisure boat can really be described as ‘green’, but there’s certainly a feel-good element to knowing that the operation (if not the production and maintenance) of your boat has no negative impact on the marine environment.

The benefits of power

For those who are keen on speed, convenience and high-capacity accommodation, the power-driven route is the way to go. The provision of a helm with a comfy seat, a windscreen, a wheel, a throttle and some climate control makes a powerboat feel much more familiar and intuitive for the novice – and while fast sailboats tend to require a lot of money and skill to operate, speeds of around 30 knots are pretty standard on powerboats of most sizes and budgets.

The powerboater also tends to benefit from an increase in usable internal volume – mostly because a sailing boat needs to be relatively long, narrow and low-slung in order to make good progress upwind. By contrast, it’s not necessarily a problem if a powerboat begins to look like a block of flats, because comfort in a lively sea state and performance in a stiff breeze can both be modified with some well-chosen propulsive solutions – like multiple engine installations, bow and stern thrusters, joystick controls, trim controls and dynamic stabilisers. And while it tends to require a very large sailing yacht to accommodate a variety of tenders and toys, the fact that even a limited size of motoryacht is often enough to do the job brings some very welcome versatility of application to the powerboater’s armoury.

There are plenty of benefits when it comes to owning a powerboat – including speed and convenience.

Buying a new boat

Buying a new boat can feel very special. Even on production models, you get to spec the colours, the fabrics and elements of the fit-out, as well as the various options relating to equipment and propulsion. That can make your boat feel very personal and bespoke – and as the size, the price and the exclusivity increase, so does your influence over the end result. However, the process also becomes more complex. At the very top end of the market, it tends to require a superyacht agency, acting as your representative, to ensure that the designer and the builder work to brief and that your vessel is produced on spec, on budget and on time. Even on modestly sized boats, however, it is common practice to make a deposit, followed by stage payments, so to guard against losing your money in the event of a boat builder’s insolvency, it can make good sense to take out your own insurance policy for the duration of the build. It also makes sense to factor a specified delivery date and a satisfactory sea trial into the contract with part of the purchase price dependent on their successful completion.

Buying a used boat

Buying used is often a much simpler affair, enabling you to avoid the depreciation, the commitment and the teething troubles that a new boat so often involves – and while it comes with its own risks regarding ownership, finance, history and condition, it remains a very attractive way of buying a boat. In fact, when you look at the used boat pages, it’s all too easy to get carried away. Can I really buy a boat with ten berths? Can I really buy a boat with 1,000hp or a three-man crew cabin? Chances are you can, but do you really want a boat with inflated mooring costs, sky-high fuel bills and a never-ending maintenance regime, all for the sake of a few extra cabins you never use? The answer might well be no, so rather than over-reaching yourself, you need to stay realistic by understanding what you really want to do with your boat…

Matching your boat to your lifestyle

Whether for power or sail, every boat embodies a set of carefully selected compromises – and optimising a boat’s performance in one respect will always impact on its performance in another. In the powerboating world, for instance, each of the three primary hull forms has its own specific qualities. A full displacement hull (which needs to displace its own mass in order to move forward one boat length) is ideal for those in pursuit of sedate but efficient long-distance cruising. By using a combination of lighter weight, greater relative power and extra lift, a planing hull is better suited to rapid, agile, short-distance sport. And for those who want the benefits of displacement with a little extra performance, a semi-displacement hull is a popular hybrid compromise.

In terms of specific boat types, the modern powerboat market offers everything from accommodation-rich flybridges to svelte Dutch steel cruisers and traditional, semi-displacement, long-distance trawlers, with upright topsides to maximise internal capacity. There are some famously robust walkaround four-season vessels too and some lovely aft cabin craft cruisers to help make the most of the all-important owner’s suite – but unless you’re lucky enough to be looking at the superyacht sector, the real key to your choice will be deciding whether you want inside or outside spaces to dominate; and whether the ‘sport’ bit or the ‘cruiser’ bit matters most, because generous accommodation and sparkling performance rarely go hand in hand.

The need to tailor your choice directly to your intended usage is similarly pronounced in the sailing world. Do you want to sail long distance or do you want to race? Do you want to sleep on board or use it as a day boat? Where are you going to keep your yacht and what is your budget? What is your skill level and how important is speed?

If you’re interested in exploring the shallow waters of rivers and estuaries, a bilge keel yacht is your best bet, but if you want to cruise further afield, you will need something larger, with authentic liveaboard capabilities. If you want neither the pared back abstemiousness of a racing yacht, nor the lavish flabbiness of a recreational cruiser, then for its ability on family jaunts as well as race days, a production cruiser-racer may be the way to go. If you want to tread the line between sail and power, there are also plenty of motor sailers available – and if you find the handling compromises of the motor sailer off-putting, then it might be time to take a look into the world of twin-hulled cruisers, where running efficiency and seagoing stability lie at the very heart of the ownership experience.

Would a catamaran be a good option?

Would twin hulls work for you?

With their attractive looks, modest prices and reassuring popularity, monohulls are certainly prolific, but if you can afford the purchase price and berthing costs of a catamaran, twin hulls also have a great deal to recommend them. They are more spacious, softer riding, more stable, easier to manoeuvre in tight marinas and extraordinarily efficient underway. Their sedentary image does little for their popularity but their long-distance offshore ability has brought them great commercial success over the years.

What about engine choice?

With ever-increasing power outputs on outboard engines, the choice between inboards and outboards on mid-sized sports cruisers is by no means as cut and dried as it once was – and there are also now various electric and hybrid solutions around, many of which can provide far greater independence than the cruising powerboater has ever experienced before. Of course, the weight and expense of sophisticated battery banks still makes them best suited to full-time boaters, inland enthusiasts and commercial operators but there are already some excellent electric solutions for the sailing world and plenty of options for tailoring your powerplant to your pastimes on higher end motoryachts.

Have a boat to sell before you can buy? See our guide to selling.



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.