Beware Boat Buyer Blindness

Fun, fast, affordable, and trailerable, the Nacra 18 has a bit of a blind spot when the spinnaker is up, especially if it's your euphoric first ride and you aren't vigilant.

Fun, fast, affordable, and trailerable, the Nacra 18 has a bit of a blind spot when the spinnaker is up, especially if it’s your euphoric first ride and you aren’t keeping a lookout for other boats.

Taking delivery of a new boat, whether it’s used or off the shelf, can be a heady time — sometimes too heady.

Some years ago when I was managing a yacht repair yard a customer came in looking for service before setting off on the 2004 Newport to Bermuda Race. I was a little stunned to learn that the proud new owner had just purchased his used boat the previous week. He had come up with his grand plans without so much as a sea trial. “That guy has either a lot of brass or no brains,” I remember thinking at the time. Well, a more recent event, getting T-boned by a new Nacra 18 on the very first day the owner launched his new ride, had me re-thinking the whole concept of shaking down a boat that’s new to you, even if it’s a used boat.

I’m sure the excitement and passion, never mind the delayed gratification of buying a new or used boat, sends endorphins flying. I’ve felt that thrill. I even remember doing something dangerous myself, delivering an unfamiliar boat with an amateur crew hundreds of miles in the open ocean to its new home.

What is it that overwhelms the senses and good judgment? Flying a spinnaker in a crowded mooring field in a high-speed catamaran on a windy day—who does that? So absorbed admiring his new ride, the euphoric owner forgets to look out and cuts across a channel busy with two-way traffic.

Sure, I got an apology and a mea culpa (his boat was badly damaged and I just had gelcoat scratches). I just wish we could all control the urges, at least until we gain some familiarity with our new rides. So, here are my sensible 10 steps to new boat ownership. I just hope I can take my own advice next time, too.

  • Purchase insurance on your new ride.
  • Take pictures of your new boat.
  • Read the owner’s and service manuals thoroughly.
  • Review the equipment list, including onboard toolkit and safety gear.
  • Establish a pre-trip checklist — fluids, lights, radio etc.
  • Take someone with experience on your first trip.
  • No drinking before the shakedown cruise.
  • Observe harbor speed/wake restrictions.
  • Wait until you’re clear of the harbor and all traffic before going full throttle.
  • Have fun, but be cautious — your first trips should be about learning your new boat and its capabilities. Make this ride last!

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