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Buying a Sailboat

Whether you have just completed a sailing course, or have been inspired by watching others on the water, you may wish to obtain a boat of your own. Good News! There are scores of sailboat classes (models) to suit every individual and an ample supply of both used and new boats alike. Given the number on the market and relatively low cost, most new sailors will choose a used boat. This is generally a good way to try a class (model) of boat with relatively low financial risk. If the first boat you choose ultimately does not serve your needs, simply sell it and try a more reasoned choice.

The choice of the type and size of boat can be problematic given the large number of sailboat classes in existance. Your decision should be based on several factors:

1. How many people will routinely sail in the boat?
Some boats in the 8-14 foot range are designed to hold, and be sailed by, only one person (e.g. Sunfish, Laser, Optimist) while others in the 15-19 foot range can optimally require a crew of 2-3 and can accomodate up to 4 or more people (e.g. Intelake, Lightning, Thistle, Flying Scott). How large a person will be sailing the boat? If you are over 6' or carry a bit of extra padding (balast) on you, you may want to consider a choice a bit larger on the small boat scale.

2. What is the primary purpose of the boat?
Is the boat to be used primarily for pleasure daysailing, for competitive racing or both? Some boats are designed for racing and are not comfortable for daysailing (i.e. 470s, Fireball). Others classes are designed primarily for comfort in daysailing (e.g. O'day boats), while still others can accomodate both desires (e.g. Mutineers, Buccaneers, Lightning, Flying Scott, Interlake, etc.).

3. What is the nature of the lake venue to be sailied?
Boats which will be sailed on smaller, shallower lakes will generally have daggarboard or retractable centerboards. These allow the boats to draft only a foot or less of water when retracted. Boats sailed on larger or deeper lakes generally have fixed, weighted keels. These boats may draft a minimum of 4-5 feet , but are more stable in stronger winds or rolling waters.

4. Will the boat be moored/harbored in one location or trailered to many locations?
If the boat is to be trailered to its sailing venue on a regular basis then ease of set-up, portablility and launch will be factors in your decision. These boats are generally <25' in length and generally have retractable centerboards and shoal-type keels.

Different sailboat classes serve the above needs in different ways. Some of the classes which are popular in Michigan are shown on our One-Design page. Clicking on a sail insignia will send you to the website for that sailboat class's association. Active class associations are invaluable for getting advice on the maintenance, repair, and sailing of your boat. In addition, they provide opportunities for racing and networking with similar boat owners in the area. Strongly consider joining the class association for the boat that you ultimately choose.


In addition to providing reviews of various small sailboat classes, Small Craft Advisor magazine has an excellent online resource by which the seawothiness of a small boat design may be judged. This rating is most applicable to Great Lakes sailing, with inland sailing being more forgiving of lighter/smaller craft. If you know the features of a the boat design your are contemplating, take the Seaworthiness Quiz here.

Used Boats

Used boats can be obtained rather inexpensively from a variety of online self-selling sources, such as Ebay and Craig's list. You may also see used boats listed on numerous online boat classified websites or even your local paper. Many of these boats are >20 years old and vary in condition. It is not uncommon to find decent dinghies for under $1000. Please be sure to check our classified section to see if there is a boat there which may suit your needs.

When purchasing a used dinghy or daysailor, use the buyer-beware principle. The following are things to look for or consider.

1. Check the hull for soft spots or deep cracks (gel coat cracks or crazing is common). Be sure to remove inspection port covers and examine the space between the outer and inner hulls (on fiberglass boats)
for standing water, cracks or damage.

2. Check the standing rigging (shouds, forestays, backstays) for kinking, breakage, damage. Check the attachment tangs to make sure that any screws or rivets are holding fast. On the other hand, worn or damaged running rigging (sheets/haylards) can be replaced rather inexpensively (with exceptions).

3. Check the centerboard/rudder for cracks and smooth operation.

4. Check the sails for unrepairable rips or tears. Are the sails the appropriate ones for the boat or are they missing? Remember that a new set of sails, for even a small boat, can cost $750-1000.

5. If you are comtemplating buying a larger cruising sailboat, with an affixed engine and/or sleeping quarters, you will want to have the boat inspected by a qualifed marine surveyor. This is particulary important if you will be sailing on the Great Lakes or larger waters.


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