How NOT to buy a boat!

With F** I****a (see our last post for an explanation of this notation) now identified as our prospective new home afloat, we began the long, harrowing journey toward ownership … of a boat that cost more than most houses we’ve lived in.

Should you decide to pursue a crazy endeavor like this, I’ll leave you with two pieces of valuable, if unsolicited, advice – hire a broker and choose your surveyor with at least as much care as choosing your family doctor.

Hire a Broker

In fact, the first person you’ll likely speak to about a boat is probably a broker – a broker working for the owner to sell the boat! It stands to reason that, if the seller is using one, you should probably have someone with equivalent boat know-how looking out for your best interests as well.

We weren’t thinking like this. The first big adventure of boating is embarking upon a purchase, right? We were ready to make our own decisions and negotiate our own deals! … or so we thought.

Brokers really don’t cost you anything up front. In practice, they really don’t cost you anything at all, since the price reduction they’ll likely get for your boat more than covers the fee they’ll make off the sale. In fact, one sales professional in the field told me

“a broker worth his salt will save you at least 10% off the price of your boat”.

We didn’t do too bad, getting the price down around 7% after the survey, but I think a broker would’ve done better. These people have some kind of secret handshake or naked pictures of each other, or something. It’s a little like doing business with the mob – especially in South Florida. It’s the wild west down there! If there’s a down-side to using your own broker, I’m not sure what that would be.

Choose your surveyor carefully

Going through the 17th Street Bridge on the way to haul-out.

With an offer now tendered, our next step was the survey – an event not unlike a home inspection when buying a house, except the survey also involves hauling the boat out of the water and a “sea trial” – a short trip on the water to test the engines, rigging, sails and general operation of the boat underway.

We had repeatedly been given the advice “don’t use the broker’s surveyor! Find your own so you know he’s working for you and isn’t in your broker’s back pocket! Especially in South Florida!” (yeah, it’s a recurring theme) So that’s what we did, first researching the kind of certifications we should be looking for in an experienced and competent marine surveyor.

We chose … poorly

A good surveyor will have at least one of these certs, but a cert doesn’t guarantee a good surveyor!

The first surveyor we hired looked great on paper! He had credentials from two industry associations, proclaimed the right stuff on his website and seemed competent enough when I called to check his availability. The guy who showed up on our boat, however, looked like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie!

He waddled up wearing all black, with a turquoise belt and a bolo tie loosely draped around his neck under long, whispy strands of thin white hair. He showed up with a young assistant who carried his limited gear and responded to his disorganized direction in the throaty rasp of a chain smoker. “OK”, I thought. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. This guy may look like a burned-out Johnny Cash tribute act from a third-rate New Mexico casino, but he’s certified … right?”

After heaving him aboard (yes, we had to physically lift him on and off the boat), he shuffled about peering into hatches and scrawling notes on a yellow legal pad. When the boat was hauled out (and the surveyor was hauled out), he beat on the hull with a rubber mallet and scratched out more notes. The subsequent “sea trial” didn’t seem very thorough, but our surveyor kept telling us the boat was in great shape. Neither of us was confident he would produce a usable survey for us, but we hoped for the best and awaited the report.

When we received it, our worst fears were realized. The report was FULL of glaring errors. The length overall was incorrect, the engine horsepower was wrong, the model of the boat was wrong … he even misspelled Fountaine “Pajot” phonetically … “Pajoe”! Then he called me to ask for the hull number, since he had neglected to get it off the boat during the course of the survey! It was a complete disaster.

As I discovered error after error, I kept sending them to this guy and he kept pasting them into his patchwork survey. After several iterations of this, he finally sent a “final” survey with direction to ignore all prior “sample surveys”. Wadding it up and throwing it at the guy would’ve been a more entertaining way to lose $2300 – the cost of the survey, haul-out, travel and accommodations.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the most flagrant foul was in his estimated market value for the boat – a very important product of the survey – which was PRECISELY – to the dollar – what we had offered. When I questioned him on this uncanny coincidence, he didn’t even try to hide it! “That number came right from the broker!” he defensively exclaimed. Geez.

I won’t mention the sad surveyor’s name in this post, since we’re still due a refund and may yet take legal action. If you’re in the market for a surveyor, just be sure to check recent references – a very important step we failed to take initially. This should prevent you from having Stevie Ray Vaughn’s zombie request to come aboard on survey day!

Better the second time around

On the second try we were much more thorough, followed up on references, got it right and had a great experience. Capt. John Banister, AMS of Suenos Azules Marine Surveying and Consulting was ON POINT, conducting a very thorough and professional survey (that even included thermal imaging!) and producing a detailed, comprehensive report that helped us offer a fair price for F** I****a and gave us the knowledge we needed to begin work on turning her into a live-aboard cruiser. Capt. Banister doesn’t run in the broker circles either, so he’s objective and will work in your best interest, rather than the seller’s.

After failing initially, our successful survey was a great birthday present!

Oh, and the cost of this exceptionally thorough survey was the same as our failed one, making it an awesome value. We highly recommend Capt. Banister, which is why we’ve included a link to his site in this post.

Now armed with a survey we had confidence in we reached agreement on a price, made a down payment, took out a loan, got insurance and finally took possession of our new-to-us boat during the 2018 Thanksgiving holiday. Neither Barbara, nor I, have ever felt so right about a purchase.

By the time she was officially ours, the boat had been moved to a dock about 4 miles up Fort Lauderdale’s New River. The next time we flew to South Florida, it was time to make her our own and find her a new home!


While we were happy with Jon Banister’s competence, if we had it to do over again we’d find a surveyor more familiar with this particular make and model. These boats are all unique in ways only someone specializing in your particular boat will have time to thoroughly check out in the limited time afforded by a survey.

2 Thoughts

  1. TD,
    WOW! What an adventure is coming, and right from the start. If you ever come through the intracoastal waterway in Jacksonville, (or in a car), please let know. I’d love to catch up. My house is in The Player’s Club (Sawgrass TPC) and there is plenty of room. If you won’t get land sick by sleeping ashore for a night you’re always welcome to spend the night or stop by for a meal Or a beverage. At a minimum I could meet you for a drink or a meal at one of the restaurants north of the Palm Valley Bridge (I’d recommend the PV Fish Camp). My sailing is limited to a trip to Bermuda and back on a Mid Cruise, owning a Columbia 22 in San Diego (frequent outings but mostly for watching concerts at Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn on Shelter Island), and a week not too long ago with friends chartering a catamaran in the BVI. Your situation sounds great. Stay well. Stay safe! Hope our paths cross.
    Jim Anderson. ‘85 16th Co.
    Let me know if you ever need crew 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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