While it may be true that one can purchase a car or truck online, or search for the ideal home, finding the right cruising boat requires the talents and experience of a broker, a professional experienced in not just the purchase process, but also helping you in the search.

You could screw up buying a car online, of course, selecting the wrong optional convenience package that bundles heated mirrors with USB ports in the back seats, but it is a vastly different and more serious gamble when shopping for the right boat by yourself. Those boats-for-sale websites are seriously flawed in many ways and require that one already knows what they are looking for. Only a professional broker has the knowledge and tools to help you sift through the many choices, Uncle Charlie’s dated advice, wildly exaggerated marketing claims, and the incorrect assumptions one might have about the cruising lifestyle.

This seems unique to boating.

Countless brokers have told me they regularly refocus clients toward potential boats that fit their real plans instead of feeding their dream fantasies. An experienced broker can act like a border collie to steer buyers away from boats too big or small, too complex, or otherwise unsuited for how they plan to use the boat and their experience level.

In my experience, yacht brokers are in a unique profession. He or she is part salesperson, part educator, part therapist, dream merchant, and mechanic. Yes, they manage the financial transaction, the documentation or state registration paperwork, the survey, and the final delivery. But they do so much more.

A broker may have to weed through hundreds of boats that are for sale at any given moment. The right boat may be on the other side of the country. Boats come in all sizes, designs, layouts, and equipment. Many factors can be daunting to a new boat buyer or even an experienced boater wanting to up their game with a more complex cruising boat. Do you want a cutter rig on that sailboat or a Solent rig? Wait. What?

The relationship between the buyers and their broker often leads to a lasting friendship that spans years and several boats, which is no surprise. Getting to know a couple and what their plans are is vital for the broker to help refine the search and suitability. Bonds form.

While it is true that the marine industry caters to the dreams of cruising adventure, a good broker will do his or her best to avoid the disappointment associated with buying the wrong boat, or at least wrong for now. This is especially true for first-time buyers. I always felt sad to see so many almost new boats for sale, allegedly for medical reasons. Some builders market the dream almost too well, and inexperienced owners are quickly overwhelmed by the complexity of large boat systems. It is supposed to be fun, after all.

Russ Carrington of Seattle Yachts in San Diego, California said he urges new buyers to go slow, and hold back from spending lots of money loading a new boat with tons of equipment until they are comfortable handling the new boat.

(Seen below: Russ shows his clients a 43' Leopard Power Catamaran at a recent boat show.)

yacht broker showing on power catamaran

“At one time years ago, more than half of my customers wanted to go around the world,” Russ told me. None did. “I pushed them to focus on getting comfortable with the boat as they learn to sail or cruise, which, for many, was a new experience.”

Before outfitting a boat for serious cruising, they should get a sense of how much they enjoy the boat and if it works for them. The reality is that most buyers have dreams larger than reality. For some, the living aboard experience and local cruising may be enough, so there is no point adding all that equipment they thought they needed and which they will never use. That is true for sailboats as well as trawlers.

Boat builder and broker, Rob Fuller, is based in Seattle Yachts’ Anacortes office. Rob says he helps couples select the right boat by pointing out all the things they don’t see beyond the frills and fancy woodwork of a boat show staged with wine glasses and a wheel of Brie on the table. He knows the importance of how space is incorporated in a boat’s design, and how it will be used. Can they get safely into the boat from a dinghy, and can they move around with sufficient handholds? Space utilization is a hot button for Rob, who has years of boat building understanding.

“The space budget is more important that the dollar budget,” Rob explained. For a new boat, trying to fit too much into a boat’s limited space should be avoided at all costs. It makes access to systems difficult and takes away from convenience and practical use of space. In his experience, the design spiral is critical to get the boat right boat, instead of just installing larger engines that require larger tanks and other systems that use up already limited space. It is best to consider how the boat will be used and work to achieve that.

Also, in the case of a new boat, if a couple plans serious cruising, Rob said it is far easier to accommodate those needs during construction, installing a larger windlass, for instance, to handle a bigger anchor and chain for a cruising boat not going from marina to marina.

(Seen below: When building a serious long-range cruising yacht like a Northern Marine, an experienced broker can make all the difference by understanding your long-term plans.)

northern marine yachts

Changes can be made to the interior or systems on any existing trawler or sailboat, of course, but there is not the same latitude as building a new boat. An experienced broker will know where the line in the sand is. Beyond a certain point, it is best to keep looking.

My experience with brokers validates their additional roles as counselor and mechanic. Helping a couple strike a balance of compromise between a roomy engine room and a comfortable interior with all the comforts of home (with oven) is every bit as important as fixing a hose clamp that breaks off during a high-speed sea trial.

Using a professional broker is an integral part of making the dream happen, and that is especially true now with so many people wanting to experience the cruising lifestyle. Introduce yourself to different brokers at boat shows, tell them your plans, and see if the chemistry is right. Most will be knowledgeable about the boats they represent, but many will also have years of experience with a wide range of other boats. They will freely share their knowledge as you begin the process of finding your new cruising boat. Trust me, it is a fun path to travel.

You will truly savor that wonderful feeling when you do find “The One.” It is an exciting moment and the dream can begin.

One Day becomes Day One.