Buying Sight-Unseen

  • 13 Oct 2021 19:27
    Reply # 11455332 on 11039153

    Whilst I would also not recommend buying a boat sight unseen, I have just done it, primarily due to COVID and the restrictions around travel that let us no real option but to find as much information as possible and use bucket loads of common sense and a fair bit of time...

    We purchased Maya, our JR Schooner Maurice Amiet Spray Steel Junk Rigged For Sale, 12.00m, 1987 (boatshed.com)  just after Christmas and didn't physically get to see her until mid February! I have to say my experience with the surveyor left a whole lot wanting, but she has turned out to be an exceptionally good purchase for us.

    She is actually a "Metamiet" Embrun 40, of which I have now found a few examples, none JR but all in Steel, some professionally built and others home built (as Maya was) but the caveat being with Maya was that I had seen the receipts and photos of the work undertaken under a tent in Mallorca over 18 months, it was nearly 6 figures and the entire hull (except the keel plate, which is 22mm thick) was shot blasted back to bare metal, well repaired, professionally painted and copper-coated.

    I am also fairly lucky that the interior was well photographed and I knew how much of a project that would be. The only "surprise" we had was water and fuel tanks... she had fabricated stainless tanks and I thought the water tanks might need replacing, just to know the water was drinkable (they were the original tanks and nearly 30 years old...) but the fuel tanks were by far the worst, the shot blasting grit had got in through the sole and part filled the sides of the tanks deep in the keel, this had got wet, I think from rain coming in the mast partners whilst she stood for nearly 2 years and this rotted the tank sides and base, the full diesel tanks had also got diesel bug, which was polished and has now been used in the crossing from Italy to Spain! The water tanks had done the same so all were fabricated and replaced.

    The only other thing I partly expected and it had happened was that the original solar panels had given up and the house batteries had discharged to such a point they could not be recovered.

    Otherwise everything else turned out to be exactly what I thought it would be and need the work I thought it would need... I am lucky to be a diesel mechanic and pretty practical, so knew that as the hull and decks had had all that work done, everything else would actually be pretty easy and "cheap" in comparison!

    The advice I would give if you are thinking about buying sight unseen (and like I said I wouldn't recommend it!) is: (This probably wouldn't apply to a lower value boat you might not ordinarily survey)

    1. If the boat is as close to your ideal as you think, make an offer "subject to survey", you'll own the survey once it's done and can sometimes onsell it to the seller (with the surveyors permission) if you choose not to go ahead  The survey also gives you negotiating leverage, but only share key points, not the actual survey.

    2. Give the surveyor very detailed instructions as to what you feel you want to know. Make a list of specific questions you want asked, the survey might cost you a little more, but if you can't get eyes on, it's the next best thing!

    3. To assume the worst after the survey and make an offer based on that, that could then be the starting point for negotiations with the seller. 

    4. If it's a reasonable sized boat like Maya, build into the offer the cost of replacing most things, like water pumps, batteries, running rigging etc etc. The only thing the seller can do is say no or otherwise negotiate.

    5.. It's a boat, be prepared for all that work :-)

    I've attached a load of images as a sample of what I have (it was nearly 600 photos from the previous owner)

    It took me about 8 weeks to make her seaworthy (mainly running rigging, safety equipment, electrics and plumbing with the tanks) and she took us safely across the Med in 5 days, from Spain to Northern Italy, I am now finishing the interior whilst she is only 2 hours drive away as opposed to 20 hours away!

    Ultimately it was a risk, but I also knew there was +/-12 tons of scrap steel and a good quantity of lead ballast plus a good engine and a load of fixtures and fittings that I could have got good money in scrap for... but very glad it didn't come to that!

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  • 13 Sep 2021 21:45
    Reply # 11080716 on 11065510
    Scott wrote:

    I would like to clarify something. I did not intend to say buying a boat sight unseen is a good idea. I wanted to share my experience missing out on boats that sold quickly. I found I was forced to choose between two risks. One option was to buy sight unseen and risk buying a boat that is so far gone that it would need to be scrapped. The other option was to wait for a boat I could inspect.The risk in this case is that it could take years for this to happen, if ever.


    A good assessment of the risks involved. Probably in the case of a fiberglass hulled boat there is less risk that a wood construction boat which can hide all sorts of hidden horrors including rotten timber. The same would apply to a steel hulled boat. 

    In thinking about this topic I now realise that I also bought my first trimaran almost sight unseen, so that is both trimarans fall into the same category. During the 1970s I really fell in love with the Searunner trimarans designed by Jim Brown. During the late 1980s I lived in the Bay of Island in New Zealand which was the area that most offshore cruising yachts arrived into NZ. One year a beautiful Searunner 37 sailed into port. Over a period of months I became good friends with the owners and really admired their boat which they had sailed across the Pacific from California to New Zealand. I also got invited out for a sail on the boat. The owners eventually sailed off to Australia but we corresponded from time to time, back in the days before email. One of their letters said that they had decided to sell the boat and go home. I had to have that boat! I knew she was in good condition, and very well equipped so somehow I managed to find the necessary money and so a couple of months later myself and wife, and two young children hopped on a plane and flew across to Brisbane, Australia to collect our new cruising boat. Thankfully it was in good condition and very useable, so after just a short month on the boat we headed off for 5 months of cruising around the islands of the south-west Pacific, and then eventually back to New Zealand. After a period of refitting in New Zealand we then headed off for another 18 months of cruising in the area Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and back in Australia. 

    So for us quite a successful purchase, and one of those situations, like with Scott, where sometimes you need to take a calculated risk. I was also a lot younger than and so more inclined to take that type of risk. But I would not have bought that boat if I had not already spent some time on it even as it was 15 months previous.

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    Last modified: 13 Sep 2021 22:21 | Anonymous member
  • 12 Sep 2021 16:41
    Reply # 11065510 on 11039153

    I would like to clarify something. I did not intend to say buying a boat sight unseen is a good idea. I wanted to share my experience missing out on boats that sold quickly. I found I was forced to choose between two risks. One option was to buy sight unseen and risk buying a boat that is so far gone that it would need to be scrapped. The other option was to wait for a boat I could inspect.The risk in this case is that it could take years for this to happen, if ever.


    Last modified: 13 Sep 2021 00:32 | Anonymous member
  • 11 Sep 2021 08:50
    Reply # 11048936 on 11039153

    I bought Weaverbird unseen. The factors associated with the decision were, as far as I remember:

    • I was in Australia, on my way back to the UK after selling Tystie. I was only vaguely thinking about the next project and looking through the major boat sales sites for anything that held promise.
    • I spotted Weaverbird in an extremely convenient location, just two easy day sails from home. She was ashore in a small boat club where I could easily antifoul and make her fit for the delivery trip, if necessary. 
    • The design was just right for being a "little toy for my old age", and the designer was David Thomas, who had worked on the design of Tystie with me. I had full confidence that a good example of the class would suit me. There needn't be a major amount of emotional investment in the purchase, it was just to be something to keep me amused and occupied.
    • The description and photos gave me a very good idea of what I was buying. The interior joinery was good enough to use as it was, and the upholstery had been professionally made. In any case, I was intending to upgrade the heads, outboard motor and electrics. 
    • I was going to convert to JR, so the condition of the existing rig was immaterial, I was going to dispose of it as best I could.
    • The price was no more than I could afford to lose if it turned out to be a dud. The owner was looking for a quick sale and would accept an offer. 

    I dare say that if any of the above factors had given cause for concern, I'd have held onto my money until I'd got home and could inspect, but my hunch was that the deal was a good one, and I was unlikely to find something more suitable. 

    If I had been looking at a boat already converted to JR, or a large and complex boat, or a one-off boat, I'd certainly have wanted to inspect the design and quality of the build and/or conversion; but as I was looking for something small to work on as a conversion project to keep me busy, that didn't apply. 

    In comparison with other major purchases: If I'd been looking for a car, I'd have been happy to buy, say, a standard Ford or Toyota from a reputable source, unseen, but would have wanted to inspect a home-built kit car very closely. If I'd been looking for a house, though, that's an entirely different ball game, with a lot of legal and admin work to do. I wouldn't dream of buying without a full inspection and doing a lot of research beforehand. 

    Last modified: 11 Sep 2021 08:59 | Anonymous member
  • 11 Sep 2021 00:31
    Reply # 11044533 on 11039153

    I would never buy a boat without doing a thorough inspection.  If that meant missing out on a tempting proposition, so be it.  I bought my current boat without inspection and lived to deeply regret the decision.  It was not exactly sight unseen, as we had crossed tacks twice the previous year.  I had been aboard several times for a visit, and formed a warm bond with the owner.  But socialising on someone else's boat is not the same as inspecting it.  When I did, I discovered the boat needed a major refit.  It was not a bargain buy, either.  Even hiring a surveyor to inspect it for you is risky, unless you know the surveyor well.  A friend did that recently, as COVID prevented him from a personal inspection.  The survey was technically accurate but failed to report that the interior stank of diesel and spilled oil, which had saturated the timber bilges.  It needed a total refurbishment.  By all means get a survey (you many need one for insurance purposes anyway) but a personal inspection is the critical first step.      

  • 10 Sep 2021 22:59
    Reply # 11043638 on 11039153

    Scott seems to have had a very good experience buying his boat without first seeing it, but unless it was a very small boat such as a dinghy or kayak which did not cost much money, I would prefer to be able to give the boat a visual inspection myself. This is because on a larger more complex vessel there is so much about the condition of a boat which can be hidden, or not brought to light by photographs. Having said that I did once purchase a 9 meter trimaran which I had not personally inspected, but I did have a friend of mine who was an experienced boat builder check out the boat for me and do sea trials on the boat. He was a close friend and he and I had spent so much time working together professionally on boats that I knew we thought alike, and so I could trust his feedback. So it was not the same as buying sight unseen.

    A few years ago I purchased a quad bike through an on-line auction without actually inspecting it. That was a mistake. The frame had a lot of rust which was not shown in the extensive photographs. The bike did run all right though and I got 6 years use out of it before I became too troublesome to bother repairing, so I sold it at a dollar reserve on a local auction site. When the purchasers came to pick the bike up I think they felt sorry for me and thought I had been taken advantage of so they insisted I take $50 for it, I think I got the better bargain out of that transaction! So based on that experience I would always want to personally inspect before I purchased.

    Last modified: 10 Sep 2021 23:35 | Anonymous member
  • 10 Sep 2021 19:53
    Reply # 11041960 on 11039153

    Hi Donald,

    When I bought my current boat it was sight-unseen. In fact the previous owner towed the boat about 4 hours north from where he was and I drove about 4 hours south from where I was before we ever met in person. It was a good trust exercise.

    The boat was cleaner than I expected and in the condition I expected from the photos.

    Before this purchase I had an offer on a different S2 6.7 about 3 hours drive north of here. Even with the email agreement to buy the boat and my willingness to drive the full distance to pick it up, the owner backed out of the agreement and sold it to someone local to him before I could make it up there.

    And just before that I was talking to someone selling what appeared to be a Bristol condition S2 6.9. He had agreed, on a phone call, to drive the boat up for me to look at before I make an offer. But just after that someone offered him cash on the spot. He called me and said the boat was sold.

    These were priced under $4k USD from what I remember.

    I am not sure, but I suspect under a certain price point boats are often sold sight-unseen. I also expect, without any evidence, that boats priced up around $100k or so are shown several times and have a full survey before the sale is complete.

    I wish I had some helpful advice for you. I am sorry that I do not.

    Last modified: 10 Sep 2021 19:54 | Anonymous member
  • 10 Sep 2021 15:28
    Message # 11039153

    I've recently lost out on the purchase of two boats that had grabbed my attention, because somebody else bought them sight-unseen.  I'm not writing to express sour grapes, nor to criticize those who beat me to the punch:  I just want to understand.  I can't imagine buying a boat, any more than I would buy a car, a house, or any large purchase, sigh unseen.  But, is this the new way to buy boats?  Do I need to be willing to do it this way, or else I will likely be handicapped in my quest for a boat?  Just looking for feedback from others who have been in the game!  Thanks in advance...   

       " ...there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in junk-rigged boats" 
                                                               - the Chinese Water Rat

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