How not to do a boat inspection

This excellent Boat Inspection post, combined with the self survey criteria in How to Buy the Best Sailboat by Chuck Gustafson seems like the proper way to do a boat inspection before making an offer and pulling in a surveyor. For an example of how not to do an inspection, scroll further down.

During our research, we gathered a lot of helpful tips from the forums; here are some highlights:

  • There is never enough time to properly inspect a boat before purchase.
  • A boat should have a repair log (including manuals) and a voyage log. If not, it could mean the owner is sloppy, doesn’t care much about his boat, or the next owner of it (you).
  • In the engine room, look at simple things, like hose clamps. Rusted ones should have been replaced long ago, but more importantly, that identifies an owner who repairs things only after they fail.
  • Focus as much on the condition of the sails as you do for the engine–it is a sailboat afterall! Sails can cost thousands in replacement or repair costs. Each sail should be thoroughly inspected from corner to corner and seam to seam. Sails older than six years are likely to need some serious attention.
  • Wiring and plumbing should be well laid out in a linear fashion, and well secured (no tangled wiring, hoses, etc ). Look at the AC electrical components onboard. Are terminals covered and boxed from behind? That is a sign of a conscientious owner. The back side of the AC main panel and shore power receptacle(s) should be covered; exposed AC terminals of any kind is a red flag.
  • Learn how to look for tip of the iceberg clues of system-wide problems. Watch out for boats that are “gussied up for the sale.” Slapped on paint or varnish usually requires do-overs, like remuddled homes. Depending on the selling price, sometimes it’s better to have the repair done after you own the boat.
  • Be suspicious of recent repairs, such as new batteries. Everything similar should be repaired in groups, not piece-meal.
  • What you should look for overall, in any used boat, is one that is aging gracefully, with components replaced before they fail.

In theory, it sounds great. In reality, this is how our boat viewings go:

Show up the boatyard, V starts whining as soon as Tig gets out of the car and shakes hands with boat broker. “Where’s daddy going?”

We decide to take turns on the boat, one of us watches the kids in the car while the other goes on to the boat. Tig climbs up the ladder and is inspecting the cockpit.

“I want daddy!” my toddler starts crying. I get her out, she complains it’s too cold and windy.

I see through the car window that Otter woke up and his face is scrunched up, crying. I rescue him and strap him into my baby carrier.

V has a meltdown because she wants to be picked up. Tig has to come down and get her.  We all decide to go up to the boat together. I climb up the ladder and pray it is steady.

The broker shoveled off most of the snow, but there is still enough to make the deck slippery. The mast is out, there is no standing rigging to inspect. We go inside.

Tig is checking out the boat. I’m looking at the galley and salon. V announces, “I’m hungry.” I rifle through the diaper bag and give her a snack.

Otter needs to nurse. One parent down.

Tig is lifting up the floorboards, shining a flashlight in various corners while V asks, “What are you doing daddy?”

“I’m looking at the boat,” he says.


“To make sure it is good.”


“Because we want a good boat.”


He ignores her and goes into the head.

“I want a hug,” she cries. Did I mention she’s recovering from a cold? He comes back and picks her up. We entice her with a different snack. The broker is patient and points out different features of the boat, and answers our questions whenever we can ask them.

“Daddy. Daddy. Daddy!”


“What are you talking about?”

Tig looks at the engine, I look at the rest of the accommodations.

We spend some time on the deck. It’s getting cold for the little ones.

Tig brings V back down and puts her in the car. I climb down with Otter and go back in the car. V is hungry again. I give her another snack while Tig is inspecting the hull, the prop and rudder.

Otter poops. I  change his diaper in my lap, in the car. This is good training, I tell myself, for cramped quarters.

Image by: Anderciscmo.


2 Replies to “How not to do a boat inspection

    1. Yeah, theory and reality are completely different with little ones…It’s good to know that it still works out okay for other people!

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