Boat Shopping Should Be Fun

“It should!  It should be a fun experience,” she said.  “Not a frustrating one.”  

Pam Wall told me this, just recently when I was speaking to her over the phone to get her contribution for the Gift of Cruising announcement video.  We’re getting so close I knew I had to get my ducks in order!  And, Pam said this sort of off-the-cuff, but it stuck with me:

“Boat shopping should be fun.”


Many of you out there may be boat shopping now or will be soon and maybe you’ve found the whole experience stressful, overwhelming, aggravating.  I’m here to say: “Don’t!”  The shopping is a fundamental part of the whole cruising experience.  You are finding your boat, your vessel, your ticket to world travel.  She will carry you, protect you, enlighten you.   Once you begin to sail her, learn her finicky ways, crack open her chest, her ribs and start working on all the tiny little wires and hoses inside, you will see she has a soul.  She will become the most integral part of your cruising plan.  If it takes time to find her, then it takes time.  Don’t rush it.  Savor every bit of the journey.  


Looking back on mine and Phillip’s initial boat-shopping days, I realize it’s a good thing I was so blissfully ignorant about the whole cruising experience then.  It freed me from over-analyzing the boats we stepped aboard and worrying too much about whether I would want a drop-down table or a permanent one, whether a separate shower stall was “a must” or whether we simply had to have a generator.  Because it was all so new to me and because I really didn’t know what life on a boat was going to be like, I just went with the flow and soaked it all in.  Phillip was saddled with the task of worrying about everything, but he really didn’t.  He had a few key features he knew he wanted.  Aside from that, all that was required was an affordable, well-maintained seaworthy yet fun-to-sail boat that “felt right” when he stepped aboard.  Those were his very words.  So, that was my only indicator: which boat “felt right” to me.  It eliminated all stress from the equation.  


This one certainly “felt right” to me.  The interior of our Niagara 35 before she was gutted at the yard.

With that factor gone, our boat-shopping experience turned into an adventure.  In fact, it was so much fun, the story that came out of the first boat we looked at─you may recall the tale of my very first sail, HookMouth and “I’m buried to port!”─still stands as my first post on this blog: February 16, 2013 ─ My First Sail.  It was also my first article published in Cruising Outpost and even made its way into my first Amazon best-selling book, Salt of a Sailor.  If a story that good can come out of it, surely it’s an experience worth savoring.  

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Pam Wall inspired me to write this post as I worried many of you who are boat-shopping now may be cursing the whole endeavor.  Maybe you’re finding it frustrating, irritating, stressful and my goal is to turn that around.  “Boat-shopping should be fun,” she said.  Try to treat each new boat you look at as worthy of being “The One,” assuming it─as it must─”feels right” when you step aboard.  If it doesn’t, give it the opportunity to at least become a great story to tell some day:

“Remember that boat we looked at in Tarpon Springs?”  

“Oh Lord …  and the owner.  What was his name?”

“Oh yeah.  Sammy the self-proclaimed snake-handling expert.”

You never know what can come out of it.  Savor it all.  Your boat is out there waiting for you.  I can assure you.  And, you want to find her, not a “she’ll-do” filler because you grew weary of looking.  Be patient.  

You can’t hurry love.


WHOA.  Only $10 more to go.  This is happening kids!  Who wants the last opportunity to say you were part of it when it all started?


9 thoughts on “Boat Shopping Should Be Fun

  • The biggest pain I’ve encountered is identifying boats worth bothering to travel to for a visit. If you live next to an active cruising hub, you have it easy: Walk through the marina next door and look for boats with a “for sale”-sign. But if you’re land-locked and the next marina is 1000 km away, things get more complicated. One has to manage well which boat’s actually worth spending money to visit.

    • Ha, so true. It’s easy when they’re all right there and you can just step aboard but, you’re right, a costly trip for a piece-of-crap boat it kind of puts a damper on things. But, you just have to keep looking and hope you meet a snake-handler along the way to make the trip worth it. Ha!

      • We learned quickly to get informations from the images in the adds, specially what those images don’t show. I guess I might have eliminated many worthy boats with bad photos, but if the pictures didn’t bring across the right vibe, the boat didn’t get a choice. I wasn’t looking for perfect photos, I was looking for honest ones.

        What helped me a lot was to decide if I want to buy that boat before organising the flights. The visit was then mostly there to check if the boat meets the expectations and if some open questions are resolved favourable. We did all the thinking beforehand, hand the budget lined up and were able to make an offer more or less immediately after the visit. It avoids spending a lot of money on tire-kicking.

        During the visit, the most important time was the first half hour, where we just sat in the cockpit or wandered around aimlessly on board to see if it felt right to us and I the boat made us dream about cruising on it. A boat not making it past this stage wasn’t for us.

        The rest of the day was then spent crawling around the bilge, opening all cupboard and the usual stuff to verify that the first impression was justified.

  • Annie,
    Just one thing, Well Worded and so very true. You could not have said it any better. You get it and understand it. She is not just a boat. There is a soul there if you will allow it to come out. She will talk to you and you will learn. She will take care of you and you will do the same.
    It is fun. And it should be
    Good writing

    • Well said yourself Rick. Maybe you’re the writer! Our boat has definitely been speaking to us these past few weeks in the yard. I really feel like she is a person, a friend. She’s one of the crew. Thanks again!

  • Annie,
    I enjoy your articles and energy that you put in to all of your adventures. I am in the process of buying my third boat. Now with past experiences and better guidelines to follow, I have found that a good broker and surveyor are key ingredients to help with the search and the assessment of finding the right boat. On the broker side, it cost the buyer nothing and the knowledge and experience of a good broker is extremely valuable in searching, negotiating, and constructing the agreement. The surveyor is another story. The cost is well worth the health report of your large potential investment and future cost of ownership in finding a good boat. You are on target about the experience, but emotions can overtake practical evaluation in the buying experience. Another key factor is having experienced help beyond the broker and surveyor when you think you have found the right boat. These people will tend to look more objectively and with a lot less emotion.
    The process is very exciting and should be enjoyed and savored. I have had good success in the last vessels I purchased and hope that Neptune will embrace our new well. I strive for more sailing time and less time in boatyards making repairs. Keep up the good work, We need more good people like you on the water,
    Best regards to smooth sailing,

    • Hey Bill. Thanks for the kind words. I definitely LOVE what I’m doing — the writing, the blog, books, videos. It is definitely an exciting journey to share. I agree on both accounts. We had a phenomenal broker helping us when we found our incredible Niagara. He is now a good friend and someone we enjoy rafting up with on the weekends and still running the occasional boat mystery by him for help troubleshooting and diagnosis. Ha! Boat friends are the best kind of friends! Glad you’ve had success with your vessels. Many don’t. Often it feels like the luck of the draw. Issues can crop up even when the owners are more prudent and cautious than most. And, it seems there are so many boats out there that are super neglected, filthy and worn-out and yet they continue to float! Who knows. I know we found the right boat for us and we’re working hard to make her stronger and more comfortable than ever for our cruising this winter. Can’t wait! It will be fun having you along for the journey. Thanks for writing.

      • Annie,
        Phillip is a very lucky man. You are a very rare breed of person. Passion is what it is all about. God Bless!!!

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