Date: 11 September 2014. Survey a Free
back I met a walker who dreamed of owning a boat. He visited Seaweed
while I was on the hard* and we spoke of his desires for a life such
as mine. There was an abandoned boat in a boatyard which interested
Stanley. I could see why at first glance a fellow might like her.
The price was perfect: free. But, free is not necessarily affordable.
hard means the boat has been hauled out of the water and is on dirt.
Seaweed on the hard.
this boat. She was an older sloop and the boatyard offered her for
free. To Stan, this was the ideal basic boat to learn on.
Something in the range of 30' that he could learn to sail while
living aboard too. And because the boat was free, what could
possibly go wrong?
offered by Boatyard
What could possibly be
wrong with a free boat? Now the boatyard will tell you
that when you take title to the vessel they will be
charging/collecting storage fees. Instead of having a
liability taking up space without any income, they will be
getting your storage fee/payment until the boat launches.
Sounds great, right?
If this boat was such a
great deal, there are skilled workmen at the boatyard who
would have jumped on it, fixed what is broken and then sold
her for a profit. Or maybe even lived aboard themselves.
They have not done so.
is a reason. Actually, there probably are a multitude of
reasons and all of them come back to a basic dollar bill.
This boat will take too much money to become seaworthy, or even lake-worthy. It
usually a bad deal.
will grant you the possibility of getting a free boat sounds
wonderful. It of course offers a lot of
hope. However, before you spend the first dollar, there are
a few things to do to protect yourself.
If you know
a boater -- same size or larger vessel, ask them to take a critical
eye to the boat. No, not a full survey, but a look-see for
apparent deficiencies that will cost you immediate cash upon
ownership. Now if you are not fortunate enough to know a boater who
can do this, you will need to hire a surveyor.
Surveyor, but NOT for a full-blown survey.
Me, who hates to part with perfectly
good money, is advocating you hire a professional to take a
look at this free boat. This initial visit is not for a full-survey
what you need
is someone with more years experience to take a look at the
boat for obvious issues that would make the boat a bad
choice. He can be your eyes too, especially if you are a
long way from the boat.
Prior to my purchase
of Seaweed, I hired a local surveyor to visit the boat and
tell me if the pictures shown online were current. On a
boat far from your locale, neither you nor I know for
certain if those photos were taken this past month or ten
This visit cost me
$75 in 2008 so figure on $100 or so today for the same
service. The surveyor probably spent less than 15 minutes
on the boat and was able to give me a professional
assessment that the boat was worth pursuing.
Equally probable, he
could have said "forget this one" and that would have been
valuable to me as well. I was paying for local knowledge
and felt it was worth the money spent.
surveyor will be able to see if the chain plates are rusted and
weeping, if the cabin sides show signs of delaminating, if water
damage is apparent around windows and hatches, and possibly if the
bilge is awash in fuel, oil, or worse. (Can you say holding tank?!?)
is not going to crawl through bilges, open lockers or do any of the
things you would expect from a full-blown survey. Indeed, he might
not even be granted access to the inside of the boat and in that
case would just look in from outside. Still, in my view this look by
a professional will be helpful to a neophyte, or someone far from
The "real" survey should find things like this
on a Westerbeke generator.
The survey can
save you from yourself. It is not just the major problems that cost
however. A multitude of minor ones can quickly sink a budget and
your cruising dreams.
Undoubtedly your free boat will need some items.
There is one book I
advise all folks who are getting serious about the
nitty-gritty of boat ownership to buy. That is Don Casey's This
Old Boat, and do purchase the latest edition. In it Casey
describes not just what needs fixing and how to do so. The
most important aspect he explains is how to prioritize the
This Old Boat, Second Edition will
help folks get on the right track when problems seem
Before you own this
free boat get yourself to
West Marine or
Defender and pick up a catalog. There are some pieces of
equipment that the boat will not come with. Or, if the gear
is there, it will not work. Know that if these items
functioned, someone would have taken them by now for their
own boat. The catalogs will offer prices too, which is
A battery (at least
A bilge pump
Storage at the boat
yard -- fees vary. Does the yard allow you to sleep on
Dockage at a marina.
Are you allowed to live aboard at the marina?
A boarding ladder so if you fall into the water you
can save yourself.
Of course if you're
going to be anchored out, you will also require:
chain and rode. Some areas with changing tides need two
anchors for a secure hold on the bottom.
Anchor Light (LED
version so it will not use too much of your available
Charging system for
the battery -- solar, gasoline generator or wind generator
And I would suggest
an anchor ball (black, be legal -- even if no one else
displays an anchor ball, plus both solar panels and a wind
generator recharge my batteries that provide power for the
anchor light -- along with the other accoutrements of my
rather decadent lifestyle.
Also, if your boat is going to be anchored, you will need oversized
ground tackle (anchor, chain, rode) and none of that is free.
Definitely ask experienced folks who anchor out their opinions.
Do not ask
folks who live in a marina what size anchor to get/use. Often marina
hoppers are not experienced at anchoring in varied conditions. So
get yourself into a dinghy and row out to a few cruising boats and
ask them. Fellow cruisers who regularly anchor know what works, and
what does not. In the world of anchoring, size counts.
you will need a way to get to and from your boat that is anchored.
So, look online (Craigslist)
or around the boatyard and local marinas for a used row boat.
And you need oars. If you opt for an outboard motor* you will still
need oars. Sailing dinghies are sought after, and very
motor: rather than a little gasoline outboard, I chose to go with a
trolling motor. It works, and was less costly. See
Trolling Motor Woes
More Trolling Motors
articles for further
information on that topic.
Another Thing to Consider:
Even if you
have anchored your boat in a safe spot you cannot simply leave her.
You need to hire a local boater to keep an eye on her. What happens if
she drags anchor and damages another boat? Or ends up aground/on
shore? You cannot simply get a boat and abandon her. That
while I am on a roll, those dinky solar garden lights are not anchor
lights. Plus they fail. If there is an accident and your boat is not
legally anchored, guess who is at fault? Lawyers make a big
deal about shared responsibility and frankly if you cannot afford a
legitimate anchor light... but I digress.
Let us say
the boat passed the initial look-see and you can handle the
immediate costs of bilge pumps, batteries and such. The boat
is free, and still I would advocate you have a full survey. You need
to pony up* for a full survey. That survey will offer you a better
understanding of what is wrong, what needs fixing immediately, and
what can be repaired at a later date.
pay, spend money
If she (all boats are girls) is in the water haul her out, pay for a
pressure wash and look at the hull. Examine the rudder for damage.
Ditto the propeller. Is the stuffing box okay? Has electrolysis
damaged the underwater gear? For anything that looks wrong, ask
about costs to remedy. Your professional surveyor will do all these
things, and provide a written report afterwards.
When you get
the cost and time estimates, triple both. You will (hopefully) be
almost close to what actual costs will be. Schedules will not be met,
so expect things to take much longer than anticipated. And time costs
The whole purpose of spending your hard-earned cash on a full survey
is to ascertain if you can afford a free boat. Oft times, it is not
a bargain. Indeed far too frequently a free boat is too expensive.
Did you have a survey before you bought your boat?
Are you glad you did (or didn't) do so?
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