Yachting World|October 2020

Yacht brokers don’t really sell boats, they sell dreams. To buy any sailing yacht requires a leap of faith: a conviction that the winds will blow in our favour, and that the places we voyage to will be better than the places we leave behind (or at the very least, that the experience of sailing there will be better than staying put).

No matter how hard-headed you plan to be about a yacht purchase, it’s easy to get distracted. At boat shows an overdose of polished chrome or fancy systems can overwhelm sense and reason. Sales patter can paint a picture of idyllic sailing experiences that are not, in fact, how you actually spend and enjoy your time on the water.

With so many different designs on the market, making the right choice is far from easy. What’s more, few of us get to regularly sail a really wide selection of yachts. Even when we do test sail a boat we’re considering buying, time on board is often limited. So how best to use that time wisely, and to work out what is really important?

We asked boat testers, who compare and trial dozens of different yachts all year round, for their tricks of the trade to help find the boat that best matches your needs.

‘Yachting World’s Toby Hodges has tested hundreds of yachts for these pages, viewed many more at shows and has sat on the European Yacht of the Year judging panel for the last decade. He stresses the importance of getting to know the yachts on your shortlist as thoroughly as possible, to understand the real, or standard, boat and not just the boat show model.

“Use any resources available such as videos, virtual visits and test reports – compare specs and numbers, always conduct viewings, and take trial sails if at all possible,” he says.

“Try to visualise what your own reality will be like on board from the beginning. It’s almost impossible to replicate the sailing you’ll be doing, even with an extended test sail, so it’s important to mentally separate yourself from the artificial sales environment and focus: what would life be like day to day on this boat at sea? Be honest with yourself about your plans for the boat and realistic about whether it really does meet your needs.”


Hugely experienced sailing journalist and Yachting World tester Matthew Sheahan has test sailed more than 1,000 boats over the course of a 24-year career. He highlights how much doing serious preparation can influence your boat buying experience.

“If you meet [the sales agent/broker] equipped with knowledge of the product, you will be taken seriously. Sadly, while agents are sometimes lambasted, they have to deal with a lot of tyre kickers that are far from serious and with limited resources to demonstrate their product adequately. They are far more likely to arrange a test sail or factory visit if they can see you are comparing a list of contenders from the start that you have thought about.”

Norwegian journalist Axel Nissen-Lie, who is editor of ‘SEILmagasinet’ and also a regular judge for the European Yacht of the Year awards, believes how you start your search is critical.

“Establish your ‘musts’ before you begin. Agents selling boats want it to be an emotional process, so establish your priorities to keep that emotion in check!

“Data can be really useful to determine a baseline criteria for the boat you are seeking. Then, when you come to test sails, you can compare against this. Does the yacht meet your minimum passage speed? Is the draught realistic for everywhere you plan to explore? Is the tankage really suitable for long term cruising? These are the kind of numbers that will stop you buying a boat that isn’t capable of the sailing you have in mind.”

Nissen-Lie also believes prospective buyers shouldn’t shy away from looking at market depreciation, whether buying new or used.

“There’s been a trend in recent years of manufacturers appealing to a genuine, if misguided, customer demand for ‘more boat for the money’. A quick look at the residuals will reveal just how much cheap big boats plummet in the first three years of ownership, whilst their smaller, seemingly more expensive quality counterparts often retain value and for longer.

“Of course, all boats lose a lot of value as soon as they hit the water. After looking at initial depreciation over three years, compare values at the 10-12 year mark as well. That’s when the yacht will really be starting to show how it stands the test of time.”

If you are considering a new build yacht, a factory tour can give you an opportunity to learn more than you’d ever glean from marketing materials.

“If you are offered a factory tour, take it,” advises Toby Hodges. “The time, effort and expense of travelling there will be well worth it and you’re likely to see parts of the yacht you would never normally have access to, while also getting a real grasp of what the yard that builds it is all about. There are big differences in how yards approach a build and some inspire more confidence than others.”

At every stage, dig into the detail.

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