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 isn't 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 perfect 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'll be
getting your 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.
But, they have not done so.
There 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 many to become seaworthy, or even lake-worthy. It's
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'll 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 isn't for a full-survey
What you want 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, if you're a long way from
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?!?)
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 vessel.
can save you from yourself. It's 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.
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 won't come with. Or, if the gear is
there, it won't work. Know that if these items functioned,
someone would have taken them by now for their own boat.
You will need:
A battery (at least
A bilge pump
Storage at the boat
yard -- and launching isn't free either.
Dockage at a marina
isn't free -- find out prices in your area.
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
chain and rode. Some areas with changing tides need two
anchors for a secure hold on the bottom.
Anchor Light (LED
version so it won't use too much of your available battery
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
Seaweed 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
if your boat is going to
be anchored, you'll 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'll need oars. If you opt for an outboard motor* you will
still need oars. Sailing dinghies are sought after, and
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've 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's
I'm on a roll, those dinky solar garden lights are not anchor
lights. Plus they fail. If there is an accident and your boat isn't
legal, 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's 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
that looks wrong, ask about costs to remedy. Your professional
surveyor will do all these things, and provide a written report
When you get
the cost and time estimates, triple both. You'll (hopefully) be
almost close to what actual costs will be. Schedules won't be
met, so expect things to take much longer than anticipated. And
time costs money. Always.
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. Be wise.
Did you have a survey before you bought your boat?
Are you glad you did (or didn't) do so?
© 2014, 2019
Dresses and Yeses ~
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