Tell me about buying a cheap sailboat

I know, I know, laugh. I get that there’s probably no such thing, right? I just got back from a week of learning how to sail a real live schooner with real live, you know, ropes and stuff. (Lotta ropes on that thing! And they do get up damned early for that 12, 13, 14, 15 hour day, eh?) My boyfriend before I left said “Sweet! When you come back you’re totally gonna get a sailboat!” and I said “Ha! There’s no way. A boat is a hole in the water you pour money in, and people never use theirs, and it costs money just sitting there, and you know the outdoors is kinda gross and sticky, and you can’t just go down to the docks and buy a schooner off somebody anyway and that’s all I’m going to learn how to do.”

So, uh, maybe the BF was right a little bit? Anyway, I’m looking into sailboats maybe. Not in any serious manner. Just looking. And before I bought I’d definately take all the classes I’d need (any information on that would also be helpful - before I got on this enormous traditionally-rigged schooner I’d never even been on a boat with a sail on it! I learned a lot but not enough to run a yacht!) and any “purchase price” would have to include the price of all the necessary safety equipment.

So… how much does a little sailboat cost? One for two people to scoot around on Lake Murray on? Tell me about them - what does more money get you? What are the materials? (I just spent a week having a great affection for wooden boats drilled into me, but I probably couldn’t afford one, I know. You should see them build 'em at the Wooden Boat School, though! It’s, ah, “wicked awesome”!) How much is maintenance? How much can a mechanically unadept person do herself? How much of a time commitment? How much for storage?

Basically what I’m looking for is a ton of information on “Baby’s First Sailboat” and some price estimates of what it would cost to get up and running and then maintain the thing. (And when I say “cheap sailboat”, cheap isn’t ten grand. I’d say, what, maybe two thousand absolutely tops? The other question being, is there even such a thing existing in my price range, of course.)

I’ve been in the same boat (harhar). Went sailing a couple of times, kind of got the bug in me, been looking at sailboat prices off and on for the last 5 years, never had the means or opportunity to actually buy one though. One day…

Honestly I’m no expert but there is a huge variety in what is out there. For a two person ‘scoot around Lake Murray’, you’re probably looking for a 20-25ft boat with two sails. You’ll probably end up in a boat with a till instead of a wheel and a little outboard motor instead of a diesel under the cabin.

Used from the 1980s will probably run you $5000 or less all told. Remember that every part that goes on a sailboat is ‘specialty’, like the wenches, lines (not ‘ropes’), sails, etc.

I recommend you go out to the Columbia Sailing Club on Lake Murray and ask around. On that website, on the left side, there is a link for ‘Crew Page’. You can offer your services to crew on boats during races, etc out on the lake. This may be a good opportunity to get to know different kinds and sizes of boats and maybe make contacts with people who want to sell their boat.

Used sailboats under 25 feet are actually fairly affordable. Once you get up to 30 feet or anything new, it’s sticker shock all over.

Something to consider: if you’re brand new to sailing, take some more classes and get certified as a sailor or captain. There’s a lot more to sailing than just throwing a line around a winch. Also, by taking a class or two, you get to know other people who may be able to advise you. If all you’re looking for is a boat you and the sweetie can go day sailing on, stick to something around 18 feet. There’ll be plenty of room for you and him in the cockpit and a small cabin for stowing things.

Craigslist usually has some good offerings, and you can also check the personals from your local paper.

Going out on a limb here: You just get back from Brooklin?

Used and small enough to easily haul on a trailer are really the way to go for casual recreational sailing. phouka is definitely on point about the cost of new versus used; sailboats are an absolutely rotten investment–worse than German automobiles–and you can pick up one used, in good condition, for 20%-30% of the purchase price pretty much along the entire range of boats. The Sunfish (various manufacturers over the years) is pretty cramped for two people, but a hell of a lot of fun, very easy to handle and maneuver, and almost impossible to really damage. (I’ve turtled one a number of times, mostlly thanks to asshole motorboatists hauling skiers who think it’s great fun to run across your bow) and flipping it back over is a matter of grabbing the daggerboard and leaning back. Try that with a J-24 or a Tartan-10. Small catamaran, like the ubiquitous Hobie Cat, are also fun although much more difficult to maneuver; these are basically beam-reaching boats that are bloody fast on that heading but don’t have much in the way of upwind capability.

If you want something bigger, a Laser II is a great boat, and the Olympic 470 class is fast, responsive, and challenging. Both of these are also international competitive boats (although there are local clubs that do Sunfish and small cat regattas as well) if you want to get energetic about it. Since tens of thousands of all of these hulls were laid down, you can usually find one used, often with trailer and extra sails/hardware for bargin prices. The biggest expense with a boat will be new hardware, but you’ll spend a lot of time cleaning the bottom and replacing rigging. (Everything on a boat breaks or comes loose sooner or later; it’s not defective, it’s just being constantly pounded. Get used to it.)

The thing to look for on fiberglass hulls is that the hull doesn’t have any bad patch jobs, isn’t splitting or shedding anywhere, and doesn’t appear to have absorbed too much water. Unless you know what you’re doing I’d stay away from metal hulls, and while wood (especially teak) hulls look absolutely gorgeous, they’re a total pain in the ass to take care of, and once they start rotting or get damaged it’s a major job to repair them. In general, fiberglass is much more forgiving and requires less maintenance; you just have to remember that all through-deck fittings need to be seriously reinforced, as fiberglass has comparatively little tensile strength and will tend to pull apart if highly stressed.

Taking classes is definitely recommended; they’ll teach you the proper seamanship skills like knot-tying and splicing, MOB recovery, litoral and blue water navigation (which is useful even if you don’t plan to sail to Tahiti), performance sailing and rigging versus cruising, et cetera. US Sailing is probably the most popular organization in the United States, although there are other nationally and internationally recognized sailling organizations that provide class structures and criteria toward bareboat or charter certification. (Don’t bother with any “two day to a ‘Six Pack’” courses–good sailing skill mostly requires experience which will take time; the last thing you want to do is end up grounded on a reef because you didn’t navigate properly, or out of sight of land and not knowing which way is up on the chart.) Start small–a singleboat that you can rig or handle by yourself is a good way to start, plus you don’t have to wait or beg for crew in order to go out and get practice–and work up from there.

Good luck to you, and have fun.

Stranger (who needs to find somebody with a competitive J-boat that needs a foredeck-man; there’s nothing more fun than rigging the spinnaker and then pounding on the hull, yelling at other boats: “two lengths, starboard tack: RIGHT OF WAY, FALL OFF, JACKASS!”)

I highly recommend joining a local chapter of the US Power Squadrons and taking their classes.

My husband and I were members a few years ago when we owned our ‘baby’s first sailboat’ (a 2001 Macgregor 26X, which is actually a hybrid) and took all of the classes they offered. They were incredibly helpful and thorough. We definitely learned a lot just from talking with the other members as well. And the social events are fun - picnics, cruises, dinners with guest speakers, things like that.

I also agree that you’d probably be looking at something at least 20 years old and in the 20-26 foot range. I’d suggest a used Macgregor or a Catalina (water ballast.) The Macgregor as a hybrid isn’t the best sailboat or the best power boat, but they are cheap and great as a beginner boat, IMO. It’s nice to be able to kick around with the 50 hp too every now and then. They’re super easy to trailer as well.

A quick craigslist search in the SF (just as an example) and SC areas show three for sale right now in your general price range. The nice thing about buying used is often times the seller will throw in all or a lot of the equipment you’d otherwise be purchasing separately.

Not exactly - it was I guess what you’d call a cooperative class between the school there and the schooner Mary Day. We had a teacher from Wooden Boat and the crew of the schooner to teach us, and we got a certificate from Wooden Boat at the end (and we stopped there and had a tour - wow, I’d love to take one of those boat building classes!)

I second the Sunfish. Used ones are around $1000-2000 and the require very little maintenance (all fiberglass, so they last fovever). They’re easy to sail, can’t sink, and can go anywhere on the top of most cars. The sail is controlled by a single line, so you can easily learn to sail it alone. Hull maintenance is no bit deal – we used to just wax it occasionally for better speed – though you occasionally have to replace the sail, lines, rudder, etc.

You’ll need some lessons – general sailing, and how to right it (though I’ve never capsized a Sunfish myself despite a lot of sailing in my youth), etc. But it’s a great entry-level boat.

Heh. Wenches.

To add something constructive, we had a 15-year-old used racing-class boat when I was growing up. 15’ or so. It was kind of a pain in the ass, since it was meant for a single person and had lines running through pulleys everywhere. Our neighbor had a much simpler one that was a lot easier to run when you had another person on it.

And then they moved up to a cat, which was even better, honestly.


Although I do like to have several high quality, well made wenches on my boat at all times.

Our smallest boat, not counting the Hobie cat, was a Hunter 23. It sailed well, had a decent size cockpit and while there wasn’t standing room in the cabin, it was comfortable as an overnighter. We sold ours 8 or 9 years ago for $5K, including the trailer.

I would heartily recommend avoiding wooden boats - been there, done that, know better than to do it again. Fiberglass boats are fairly easy to maintain, but wooden boats have their own special issues - like worms and rot.

Our current vessel is an Islander 36. I don’t say this to brag - just to warn you. Once you have a boat, it’s not big enough, ever. We went from the 23 to a Newport 30 to a Fisher 37 to the Islander. Yeah, it’s a foot shorter, but it has a bigger interior because of its layout.

Classes are good, crewing with experienced sailors is also good. I’ve been at it for almost 24 years (my husband was my sailing instructor) and I still love it. And it is a hole in the water into which you throw your money, but so what? You can’t take it with you! :smiley:

Then you weren’t doing it right. :smiley:

Seriously, though, although many are recommending small cabin boats, I’d really start out with something even smaller. The benefits are thus:[ul][li]A boat you don’t have to worry about sinking or damaging under it’s own power,[]if you miscalculate and capsize you can easily self-recover,[]it is, as RealityChuck notes, easily road transportable, with either a very light trailer or even atop a car with a rack (we used to throw one atop a 70’s era Subaru wagon with a 76hp engine),[]entry-level cost that can likely be completely recouped when you want to upgrade,[]extremely low maintenance time and cost compared to even a small cabin boat,and general ease of handling even by yourself.[/ul]A lot of poeple have bought and learned on cabin boats as a first purchase, but I just don’t recommend it unless you are totally gung-ho, are naturally very handy with making repairs, and are willing to dedicate a fair amount of time to general maintenance. If you lose the main halyard on a Sunfish, you just scull it over to the dock, tie it on a really long bow and stern lead, pull up the daggerboard, and then grab the mast and pull the top down toward you until the boat is lying sideways in the water. No harm; the boat will pop right back up once you’ve rerigged the line, and you don’t even have to unship the mast (though that’s easily done as well). On something like a Catalina or an Ensign, you’re going to have to ride it up the mast and dangle atop while the boat rocks side to side, which is kind of scary the first few times you do it (and you will…oh, you will…or somebody will do it for you. Some people…) Bend a mast on a Sunfish or Laser (which is pretty hard to do) and you’ll just have to spend a couple of weeks looking for a salvage spare which is then replaced with about ten minutes effort. On a J-24, that’s a good two to four hours of work and ~$2000 of cost, and you can bend the mast pretty easily if you don’t have the stays and shrouds all properly tensioned. Small cabin boats typically aren’t worth the effort, IMHO, except as one design competition craft–they’re too small to actually sleep in comfortably, and too big and easily swamped to recover from a serious mistake–and large cabin boats are significant cost and time sucks which require a long-term enthusiasm to enjoy. [/li]

The funny thing about cabin boats is that they’re just the opposite of the TARDIS on “Dr. Who”; they’re always vastly smaller on the inside than they appear on the outside. :wink: Trying to buy a boat “big enough” for your needs never works; you have to pare your lifestyle down to living in just as much space as you have.

True that, but you have to be prepared for what you’re getting into. The vast number of boats laying idle and dry in dockyards and driveways are a testament to people who overestimated their enthusiasm or amount of time dedicated to sailing, and now can’t resign themselves to taking the financial hit of selling the boat at a significant loss. This is almost never a problem with a small craft–it’s easy enough to pull out for a few hours sailing, and if bought used and cared for will almost certainly sell for the purchase price–and it also makes a good way to intruduce children or friends to sailing without the complexity and attendant hazard of manning a larger craft.

Plus, dinghy sailing, like downhill skiing, is just plain, simple, cheap fun. I’ve known plenty of experience, multi-sail craft owner who enjoyed throwing a 470 in the water and making it ride hull-up in a medium breeze that would have their larger boat laying adrift. You can run a Sunfish or Laser in just a few knots of wind; you need 10-12 just to keep a J-24 under weigh, and more for a heavier, less agile boat lest you get stuck in irons during a tacking maneuver.


Rats, I notice that Lake Murray doesn’t have a catamaran beach (a quick Google makes me suspect this). But, if it does, I love my Hobie cat. Here, we are allowed to park our boats on the beach for the summer, with masts up. If you know what the hell you are doing, you can rig and be out in the water in 15 minutes. It takes me forever because I’m lame.

They’re a blast to sail, and I had never sailed a boat before this one. You can get an older one in pretty good shape including a trailer for a $1000-$1500 or even less. Like Stranger said, a small cheap sailboat will be much more cost effective and much easier to learn on. There’s something like 100,000 Hobie Cats and god knows how many Lasers out there, so it is easy to get spare parts.

On the plus side, at least with sailboats, you eventually get to a size where one person can’t sail it alone. Compare to a 32" powerboat which only needs one captain and a bunch of passengers.

Big topic. Do you have a car with a tow hitch (or at least one that will support a hitch being installed)? The hitch might be your first unexpected sailboat cost (but it won’t be the last).

Tell us a bit about Lake Murray. How far is it from you? Are the winds strong and regular or light and intermittent? Waters deep or shallow? Would you be able to get a mooring? That would affect whether you get a centerboard boat or one with a keel. Do you have a place in your yard or garage to store the boat?

Actually buying a cheap boat wouldn’t be too difficult – getting a good one that doesn’t require you to spend months doing fiberglass repair and other maintenance might be tougher. Try to find a friend who knows boats when you go shopping.

I agree with most of the advice you’re getting. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the sailboat, the more you will sail it and the more fun you will have doing it. A Laser, Sunfish, or Hobie are good choices for boats that you can take out for an hour or two and have a good time. If you capsize them, it’s no big deal.

If you want to go exploring farther afield or take more than a couple of people out, you can try a day sailor in the 16-19 foot range. That would include everything from an O’Day centerboard day sailor to something like a West Wight Potter or Compac “microcruiser”. The WWP and particularly the Compac are heavier boats and somewhat undersailed so they can handle some serious wind without risk of capsize. The nice thing about day sailors is you can toss a small outboard on them – so if you’re a few miles from home when the wind dies, you have options other than paddling home with the centerboard.

I wouldn’t go any bigger than a Rhodes 19 for a first boat – anything bigger and you start getting into serious money, not so much for the boat purchase (because people are frequently desperate to unload larger boats) but for everything else – trailers, winches, rigging, sails, and so on.

Ha. If that were the case, they’d have to cancel half the regattas on this coast. We were doing fine in 5-10 today.

Just a matter of staying in control. I won a few Sunfish races in my day, too. :slight_smile:

But Stranger is right: for a first-time owner just jumping in, a Sunfish is the best way to go, for all the reasons he mentioned. It’s as close to a beginner’s sailboat as ever made. You can get a lot of sailing in for a couple of years before deciding to take the plunge and getting something bigger.

Judging by the map of Lake Murray, it’s a little bigger than the area where I used to sail (Southold Bay, NY). But then again, the hold The World’s Longest Sunfish Race in that area, which seems the equivalent of sailing across Lake Murray and back.

Typically the most expensive accessory of all.