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Date: 24 June 2015. Is a $20k Boat too Costly?


Update: The mechanic has not been on my boat since 3 June. You are smart. You can guess how well that pleases me.

Dallas' pelican has occasionally stopped by to visit. They grow up so fast.
The pelican is only about three feet from me. He still seems very friendly.

Last month Rich, an online friend, contacted me and asked a few questions that quite often come up with folks new to the boating world. With his permission I have copied our correspondence here including things I forgot in the email. Readers are encouraged to add additional remarks and suggestions in the Comments section at the end of the article.

You might be surprised how much I have learned from a variety of sources. It is not just boaters that exist in a 12-volt world. And all of us are on a budget. Ideas from elsewhere (Pinterest for instance) have made their way modified onto my Seaweed.

Rich said "I just can't believe this to be true. The folks on TF mention that for 20k the boat most likely is falling apart and in need of a lot TLC from the PO deferred maintenance."

Every boat will need something, be it a million dollar gem or a $20k boat.


The PO aka previous owner is one key component. Is he a bum who has sold off parts for booze? Did he make do, as there simply was not the funding to do it any other way? Or, did he replace a part with an ABC-brand market item that works but will not last as long as XYZ-brand that costs three times as much?

Rich said: "Janice, as you may recall, I'm still in my research before I buy phase. I read on the Trawler Forum that if one purchases a boat/trawler for $20,000 then one should plan on spending another $20,000 to bring it up to speed."

We all spend what we have or want with regards to "bringing her up to speed". I wanted solar panels, and back in 2008 or so started with one 75 watt panel and a Morningstar10 solar regulator.

Bought used, for $150 at a nautical flea market, I was happy to start my solar journey.

My first solar panel is mounted atop my cockpit overhang.

The 75 watt solar panel was not enough. The original set-up put out about 25 amps a day which meant I could run my netbook and anchor light but not much more.

The original 75 watt solar panel is crosswise in front of the wind-gen.

So in 2009 I added a wind generator. The Air-Breeze was bought used for $500 plus some work. That was a serious bargain. Trades are prevalent at the lower end of the economic scale. And I was very fortunate, and continue to be grateful to the sailor for selling it to me.

With both the solar panel and the wind-gen (Boat Talk for wind generator) I still did not have quite enough power to run my refrigeratornl, unless it is windy.

I have a small cube reefer made by Haier primarily for college students in dorm rooms. Walmart sold them for about $70 back then.

Note: Yes, I'm well aware the Engel refrigerators are wonderful. They do not use much power. They are superior. Etc. They are also out of my price range ($700+ for one the size of my Haier) though when I take into consideration the solar panels and accessories...

We each spend where we see logic prevailing. When the Haier quits I will again buy a cheap and essentially disposable refrigerator.

In 2013 I added two more 100 watt panels and a
MorningStar ProStar-30 solar regulator. Still not "enough" but that is where my budget sits.

So what is necessary in the end is not what I (or perhaps
you too?) will have at the beginning. This is called upgrading.

Frankly I do believe it is possible to buy a decent $20,000 trawler, live aboard her and cruise. She will require items for safety. There will be things you should do before leaving the dock or boatyard.

Please understand I am not an expert. I have learned along the way.
And goodness knows I have made plenty of mistakes. Everybody does.

First thing though, go to Amazon (through my links would be great!) and buy:

#1)  This Old Boat, Second Edition. The author is well-known boat writer Don Casey. He is extraordinarily good at explaining prioritization. Yes, there is a lot on sailboats, however systems are systems. It's the same stuff, except we don't have to worry about rigging. Spend the money for the latest edition.


#2) Calder's Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual 4the Edition. This is by Nigel Calder and is "the Bible" for repairs. Even if you don't fix it yourself, you need this book. It's commonly known as Calder's and all too often is sitting on my dinette table as I consult it. Again, you want the latest edition.

Understand that Casey's This Old Boat is the easier read, and Calder's is confusing at best. BUT you need it. And eventually Calder's will seem clear as a bell. At least that is the way it has worked for me.

Calder's you will not need immediately however when something is not working, his book will show you how to troubleshoot and fix it. Out here, especially when living on the hook (at anchor) it is critical to be able to not only fix items, but diagnose what is wrong. With the profuse photographs, even I can do it.

Rich wrote: "Some of my many past work experience include buying and flipping houses. Most of the homes I purchased were total rehabs. I've had to up date the electrical and added new plumbing in most of them. I'm also very good in the mechanical area too. I use to manage an auto garage. With these skills, I feel that if I find a Trawler with "Good Bones", then I can fix/upgrade as I go."

You have the skills Rich, and can do this with a lot more knowledge at the start than I had. You are very fortunate Rich. Now, all you have to do is locate The Boat.

Finding a superior surveyor is a definite key to success. You will
need one of them. Not a bull-dog so much as one who will see more than you.

The surveyor I hired was an idiot. Do as I say, not as I do! He was fine for the initial $75 eyeballs. I should have stopped there.

Rich said: "I feel the folks that mention that it will take 20k to condition the boat are the folk that can afford Trawlers over the 100k price range and would never be seen on anything less then Bristol. Or they are not accustom to making do with what you have, as you and I are."

This is all too true. There are people with more cash than time. For them, the right and proper solution is to throw money at the problem to make it go away.

We are only on this earth a short time. If funds can get a person where they want to be in a faster time-frame, I am right there nodding my head. None of us is getting any younger.

If I had more liquidity, I would likely do the same. And there are people who think $2k for an autopilot is inexpensive. It's a different world, however the view at the water's edge is the same for all of us.

Three people enjoy their kayaks in the Steinhatchee River.

I remember when I sold books on eBay. Some would go for an outrageous amount and the folks all seemed happy to buy. At first I did hold checks. Eventually I would just send out immediately upon receipt of payment. For them a $50 check was 'nothing' and that is a good thing.

For me, well, it made a big difference. Still does!

Anyway, I have rambled.

When Rich said "With these skills, I feel that if I find a Trawler with "Good Bones", then I can fix/upgrade as I go." he was spot on correct. It is not just knowledge already acquired that is important. Another critical component is the ability to learn. The vignette Capable of Learning speaks to this.

Personally, I would definitely look for a boat that has been a home if you intend to live on her. The previous owner will have made changes. Some will not work for you but many will eventually seem brilliant.

Please note the word "eventually" in the previous paragraph. Some stuff you will not understand the purpose for initially. At some point however it will become crystal clear.

Of course if it still is useless and you do not know why it is there you can take it out. Throw whatever it is away. One week later you will figure out what it was for. And if you are at all like me, you will want two of them! Whatever it is, it will no longer be available except at premium prices.

Side Note: More than one new sailor has thrown away the emergency tiller for their boat. This seems to be all too common among first time sailboat owners. Sailors, before tossing anything from the aft lazerette or cockpit lockers should verify that the item is not an emergency tiller.

Out here folks on the fancy boats will buy newer/better. Often the still working item is passed along. The urge to upgrade is strong. Being willing to go with an older model is great for bargain hunters like me.

Rich said "Of coarse my first line of action would be making the boat safe for passage. This would include upgrading the electrical wiring if needed and making it mechanical sound."

That's a good plan. Read Casey's book This Old Boat for that. His prioritization schedule is well-thought out. Follow that for certain. And refer to Calder's for how to do the jobs properly. Those two will take you a long way in rehabilitating a boat with good bones.

Coming soon, an article on where to find that $20k boat.

And you're correct: Having a boat that can move is critical.

As for me, I am going to shop for an outboard to put on the transom as an auxiliary power ASAP. If there is a storm this year I want to be able to get out of my own way. And too, when I broke down off Horseshoe Beach it would have been nice to have been able to get her to safe port, albeit slowly.

Have you settled on the type of boat you want to buy?
And have you cash saved to buy your dream boat?

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