I’ve conducted many seminars about finding the right boat, or perhaps more accurately, figuring out what one really wants. When I look back at slideshows from these events, I see a consistent emphasis on identifying a couple’s real needs so they can navigate the many choices when boat shopping.

At its most basic level, it really comes down to answering four questions. How many people? Where are you going? For how long? What’s the budget?

Answer these questions honestly, and one can begin looking within certain known parameters. If it is just the two of you, there may not be a need for multiple staterooms. If you intend to liveaboard full-time or for extended periods, a go-fast cruiser isn’t going to have the storage or accommodation space. If you are not going to cross oceans, that eliminates a great many requirements. Remove the fantasy factor, and it becomes easier to move forward to find a boat that works for you in the real world.

It is quite helpful to make a list of potential boats for comparison, although it is often difficult to avoid the emotional aspect. Good friends were looking for a larger cruising boat. Being an engineer, the husband loves facts and equations. He created a spreadsheet of desirable boats listing the various numbers and percentages and ratios found in brochures and online. Factors that he expected would make for an apples to apples evaluation to see which boat would be more comfortable, faster, more efficient, and so on.

As he went over his research with his wife, she stopped him midway and said, “I want the blue one.” So much for scientific analysis. We still laugh about it today.

(A blue Northern Marine 57 seen below.)

northern marine 57 yacht

When we had Steve Zimmerman build Growler, our Zimmerman 36 cruiser, Steve said we only had to answer 12 questions for the new boat. Being a semi-custom project there are only so many elements that can be tailored to individual tastes…the rest is up to the builder. As we were heavily involved with our magazine and event business, that was a relief. Today would be a different story.

Once you have made some decisions with the four questions, it is quite helpful to start a list of what you would like to have, whether you are working with a broker for a used boat or a representative from a boat builder for a new build. Your “wish list” helps everyone focus on what you are looking for, and what features you may not be willing to compromise. That is a lot more productive than simply wandering around boat shows, although that is a great way to get started.

I thought I would offer one couple’s wish list for their next boat, an experienced husband and wife who wanted to build a new boat to live aboard full time, perhaps eventually go around the world, although that was not specifically their intention. But as they could afford to build such voyaging capability, it became part of the package.

His Requirements

  • Full displacement hull (in case ocean crossing became a reality)
  • Heavy-duty fiberglass construction
  • A single, continuous-duty main engine, with an auxiliary “get home” engine with separate shaft and feathering prop
  • An all-hydraulic boat, with steering, stabilizers, thrusters, windlass, and davit system
  • Commercial, workboat systems and equipment, easily accessed for service
  • Stand-up engine and machinery room with workshop
  • Fuel storage and delivery system that included a day tank and fuel polishing system
  • A range of 4,000nm with reserve
  • Speed capability of 10 knots to avoid weather systems
  • No exterior brightwork
  • Superb ground tackle system, including wash down of anchor and rode
  • Smart electrical system capable of handling worldwide power sources, with enough onboard batteries to serve all electrical needs for several days without recharging
  • Quality electronics with redundant systems for safety and reliability

Her Requirements

  • Galley up open to saloon with excellent views outside the boat
  • Full-size appliances: refrigerator and freezer, icemaker, propane stove, electric oven and microwave, dishwasher, trash compactor, garbage disposal, and separate dedicated freezer
  • Option for gray water discharge overboard or into holding tank
  • China and glassware storage
  • Seated dining for six, with buffet entertaining for 12 or more
  • Laundry room with full-size washer and dryer, deep sink and counter space
  • Outstanding heating and cooling HVAC throughout the boat.

Shared Requirements

  • Pilothouse layout with a Portuguese bridge
  • Exterior storage and design for safety
  • Flybridge with spacious entertainment area, including barbeque, sink, icemaker, dining area, and music system
  • Interior stairway access to flybridge
  • Queen or king in master suite, with lots of closet and drawer storage
  • Dedicated office with space and storage for boat and personal files
  • Multiple computers and networked integration with satellite system for voice and data communications
  • Storage space for supplies, spares, seasonal gear
  • Exterior heated wet locker
  • Outstanding interior joinery work in a simple, non-traditional style, preferably in a light wood
  • Comfortable seating in all living spaces, especially saloon and pilothouse
  • Outstanding music system throughout the boat
  • Space for large dinghy, easily handled to launch and retrieve

Nice to Have

  • Small spa or hot tub
  • Dinghy large enough for water skiing
  • Wine cooler

This wish list did not include systems one might expect to find on such a trawler yacht, such as a compressor for dive tanks, matching gensets, or dedicated space for stand-up paddle boards and kayaks, but it seems a reasonable list a couple might want for comfortable living aboard on a boat capable of crossing oceans.

This couple went ahead and had their new boat built. While I am not sure if all items on their wish list were checked off, such as the hot tub, when I spoke to them later, they were thrilled with their new home. Details of interior treatment and finishing touches kept them occupied for months, and both the couple and builder enjoyed working together.

One reason I selected this wish list to share is that this couple took a very sensible approach to getting to know their new boat. They took time learning the boat and its systems, slowly venturing on longer cruises before making the big jump away from their home and support facilities. This provided them hundreds of hours to become familiar with the boat close to home during the first two years. If some gear was defective and going to fail, it would likely occur in the first hundred hours. After that, when something eventually does happen, they would have gained enough experience to deal with it.

This is an excellent way to become familiar with a new big boat.

(Most of the successful cruisers I know have done something similar. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, slowly working up to a summer in SE Alaska is a great learning experience instead of taking off for the South Pacific or south beyond Mexico. From Florida to the Bahamas is a good shakedown, as is San Diego to Mexico.)

(American Tug Boats are excellent for beginning cruisers to get their "feet wet" before moving up to a larger boat with more range.)

american tug boats for sale 

It really doesn’t matter what kind of boat you are looking for, putting together a wish list is a great idea. You might fall in love with the island queen berth in the aft stateroom of a center cockpit sailboat over the confined V-berth of a traditional sailboat with an aft cockpit. Some people have definite opinions about which way a chart table should face.

I know lots of folks who would never consider a trawler without a pilothouse, or a covered aft cockpit to stay out of the sun and weather. Galley up or down, living on one level or the more traditional trawler layout? Can you live without a flybridge? Do you cruise in an area where open-hatch ventilation into staterooms is important?

Some preferences will seem minor, such as two midship cleats per side, others become deal breakers after some experience. Go on a cruise just once on a trawler with swim platform staple rails, experiencing how much safer they make getting in and out of the dinghy, and they will be on your wish list.

Boat owners who are accustomed to floating docks will be surprised when they encounter fixed docks with tidal ranges. Having multiple ways to safely get on and off one’s boat becomes a big issue, especially as we get older. Or if you cruise with a dog.

I smile as I recall several brokers’ comments after one of our TrawlerPort seminars let out. They told me they could always tell when people coming onto their boats had just been in one of our seminars, as they asked great questions as they explored the boats.

I like to think the brokers were seeing wish lists in the making.