What They Don’t Tell First Time Boat Buyers!

What They Don’t Tell First Time Boat Buyers!

There’s no doubt about it, if you are a first time boat buyer, especially a boat that lives in the water permanently, then the learning curve is steep. We bought La Mouette in March 2015 and sometimes I can’t believe how far I have come in the last 12 months in relation to boats and boat systems. When we were looking around at buying a boat and going aboard various boats with brokers, we looked at all the usual stuff – condition, sail inventory, engine, electronics, rigging etc etc. But somehow, now that we actually own the boat, we had no idea about how much knowledge we would have to acquire to maintain the said boat – and that’s before you leave the marina!

It starts off with simple things like tidying up the wiring for the bilge pump – replacing the manual bilge pump. By that stage you have your “to-do” list up and running. Mine is an Excel spreadsheet, colour coded and everything and as I work my way through the list, I keep adding things to it. But as I work my way through the list, I keep on learning more and more. Stuff I had never even dreamed about before, such as Sikaflex-ing holes when screwing things to the fibreglass – now I know I could even use butyl tape. Wiring should be tinned and you seal it all up with heat shrinking or even heat shrink your connectors, if you use crimped connecters – some people say you should solder everything. When you buy your new electrical thingy, you look at the packaging to see how many amps it draws to put into your power usage equation.

A forty year old boat is going to have a few battle scars and so you start learning about fibreglass and gelcoat, polyester resins as opposed to epoxy resins. How to deal with those pesky blisters and so on. A limited budget means that because you can’t afford to pay someone to fix your boat, you have to do it yourself, and so you spend hours reading books and doing internet research. I have lost count of the number of Youtube videos that I have watched showing me how to bleed a diesel engine, fibreglass stress cracks, service a winch, and how to calculate your power usage.

I suppose that I am more fortunate than a lot of people as I have always had motorbikes and was a bit of a petrol head in my youth, so working on engines and mechanical things comes fairly naturally to me as I have had a lot of practice.

When you climb aboard a prospective boat, the Broker is quite happy to explain how the survey process works, or the process for obtaining a mooring.   But what he doesn’t tell you is that you have to become a diesel mechanic, a carpenter, painter, rigger, electrician, fibreglass expert, plumber. I even know about Sailrite sewing machines!

One of the Youtube channels I have been following and enjoying is Sailing Nervous. Vin and Amy have decided that they want to live aboard and go cruising. The early episodes were learning about what sort of boat they wanted – then they went looking for a boat and finally ended up with a 30ish year old Moody 34. Having been twelve months down the track from them, I could see what was in store for them, and now they are on the same learning curve. It is fun seeing them following in my footsteps. But as most of us know, we can buy pretty much any boat and it’s the same – the never ending to-do list, even on a boat a couple of years old.

Currently I am learning about clutch cones and how to get the engine out of my boat – once it’s out I will clean out the engine bay, replace a lot of hoses and rewire the engine compartment. Then it’s get the engine back in and get it going again – after learning how to get it, and the prop shaft into perfect alignment.

I am just beginning to realise that I am only at the beginning of my apprenticeship – and only on the first rung of the ladder. I have long ago left the shadow of the Boat Broker behind me, and am now almost on first name terms with the guys at the engine shop and the local chandler.

Nigel Calder

My Nigel Calder book on boat maintenance has a few greasy fingerprints now – hey I even know who Nigel Calder is!

If I could write an email to a 12 month younger self and explain the next 12 months of boat ownership, would I do it? First I have to work out a method of charging my my laptop from the boat’s power supply!


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