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Are You In the Market To Buy A Sailboat?

In the exciting world of sailing, there has been a steady evolution of technology, computer-aided design, materials development, and construction techniques that continues to change the sailing world from one decade to the next.

This has been especially true since the introduction of fiberglass in the 1950s to replace traditional wooden boat construction.

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        More About Used Sailboats

        Seattle Yachts is one of the leading experts in the industry when it comes to the purchase, sale, and construction of sailboats. We are dealers for premium sailboat brands like Tartan Yachts, Hanse Yachts, Dehler, Moody, and Excess Catamarans. We also offer professional brokerage services to assist you with selling your sailboat.


        Order Of Content:

        1. Introduction To Used Sailboats

        2. History Of Sailboat Manufacturing

        3. Sailboat Manufacturers & Brands

        4. Different Types Of Sailboats

        5. Buying Guide For Used Sailboats

        6. FAQ's About Used Sailboats

        7. How To Contact Us


        1.) Introduction to Used Sailboats

        For anyone interested in exploring used sailboats currently for sale, it is a wonderful opportunity to see what each innovation brought to the U.S. market, in terms of sailboats and their systems. The sailboat and equipment manufacturers continue to make sailboats faster, easier to use, and safer.

        In the used market, materials and boat designs that have endured years of use and occasional neglect are commonplace, so many of the boats built in the early days of fiberglass remain desirable and collectible even some 60 years later.

        It is quite a testament to consider that a Hinckley Bermuda 40 built by Maine craftsmen in the 1960s is still very much in demand today. Given proper care and maintenance, one might think this boat will live forever.


        2.) History of Sailboat Manufacturing

        The many manufacturers and brands that flourished over the past 50+ years showcase a rich landscape of older and current sailboats that span every decade and marketing angle of the day. And they provide choices across all budgets, sailing plans, and vessel requirements. 

        There are some 95,000 sailboats in the U.S., only a small fraction of the 12 million overall registered recreational boats. And while these numbers might suggest one won’t find many sailboats on the used market, that simply is not the case, and the reasons make sense.  

        The sailboat industry came of age in the late 1950s when fiberglass was introduced as a boat building material. Hinckley launched its first fiberglass Bermuda 40 in 1959. Other pioneering boat builders, such as Jensen Marine and Tillotson Pearson, found the material a good choice for production boat building as it required molds that increased production and provided consistency from boat to boat. The time and effort spent on one-off wood construction was eliminated, which proved a win-win for both builder and consumer. 

        (Below: An example of a Hinckley Bermuda 40.)

        example of hicnkley beruda 40 sailboat

        Fiberglass boats also proved rugged and stable. This was first proven when an Allied Seawind became the first fiberglass sailboat to circumnavigate the world in 1968. (The Allied Boat Company built the first one in 1962 and then 160+ yachts before it ended production in 1982.)

        Over the next several decades, hundreds of sailboat manufacturers opened shops to build fleets of sailboats of all shapes and sizes. The range of boats included the smallest daysailer to the largest cruising yacht specifically to go around the world with family and friends…and crew. The blossoming multihull segment was not yet ready for prime time, but builders explored the multihull option and produced sailboats that tried using the catamaran platform for daysailing, racing, and cruising. The small but capable Heavenly Twins developed a following, as did the 37-foot Prout Snowgoose, a very capable cruiser with an impeccable safety record for those worried about stability offshore. 

        The French cats that would eventually dominate the industry had not yet found the right combination of design and materials, although in racing circles they were the top finishers in races they alone could organize. (Over the last 15 years, however, they found their sweet spot. These builders, along with successful yacht builders in South Africa, Vietnam, and New Zealand, now create luxury catamarans to the world’s charter industry.)

        The number of sailing catamarans at today’s boat shows clearly shows the success of the multihull in modern sailing circles, especially among younger sailors who did not grow up among the evolving years of trial and error of the multihull concept.

        Many of these past and present sailboat manufacturers have enviable records that show just how popular they were. Tanzer built 8,000 boats, Columbia built 30,000, O’Day also built 30,000, Catalina over 80,000 boats, and Groupe Beneteau, which builds some 180 models across 10 brands of power and sail boats, now builds 10,000 boats a year.

        In what was already a tough business, sailboat manufacturers began running out of sales opportunities by the late 1980s, and some inevitably closed their doors. Then the luxury tax of 1990 hit the marine industry hard, and the recession of 2008 took out many of the remaining sailboat manufacturers and semi-custom yacht builders. Boat building has always had some unique challenges, but market and political constraints made a difficult business model even harder.

        Today the sailboat manufacturers have shown amazing resilience in an industry affected by many variables out of its control. The larger companies successfully continue by integrating new technology and materials in ways that make sailing more enjoyable, less effort, and more fun. This is especially important given the many distractions that compete for leisure time of the modern family.


        3.) Sailboat Manufacturers and Brands

        During the prolific period of sailboat manufacturing in the 1960s until the 1980s, there were over 300 sailboat and yacht manufacturers/brands at any given time in North America. Sailboat manufacturers, yacht designers, and smaller builders explored the boundaries of fiberglass construction, which allowed shapes and design elements impossible to achieve in wood. 

        As a result, the range of boats seen at any boat show during those years was staggering. Many sailboats could be built to a lower price point, offering buyers a genuine sailing experience on sailboats they could afford. These sailboat manufacturers included Tanzer, Bayliner’s Buccaneer, Hunter, and the AMF Paceship. Even Chrysler got into the market with its line of small daysailers and budget cruisers. 

        Many more manufacturers aimed for slightly higher middle ground, offering somewhat higher quality and more substantial construction for an even better boating lifestyle. The list of builders in the category is huge, and many of their boats can be found on the used sailboat market today. Irwin, O’Day, Endeavour, Sabre, Bristol, Ericson, Columbia, Pearson, Cape Dory, and Cal Yachts are just a handful of these boats. And many of them will be found on the used market.

        The condition of a sailboat over 50 years old can vary tremendously, and the asking price usually reflects this. But for those working on a budget, and understanding they will need to spend a significant amount to bring the boat up to date, this can be a definite plus. A solid, seaworthy and proven design that has “good bones.”

        On the upper end of yacht builders are those sailboat companies that aim for customers who demand high quality and are willing to pay for it. This quality is evident when opening up a locker, looking behind installed equipment, and generally inspecting beyond the surface. These companies include Morris Yachts, Hinckley, Valiant, Hallberg-Rassy, Passport, Lyman-Morse, Ta Shing Yachts, Pacific Seacraft, Oyster, Rustler, Southerly, and Camper Nicholson. There are a number of yacht builders that fit on this list.

        In some cases, a manufacturer will build more than one brand of sailboat for more than one yacht company. This is particularly true for yacht builders in Taiwan. Ta Shing Yachts is located near Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and over the years has created many top-quality sailing yachts. The company built the lines of sailing yachts under the Mason brand, as well as Baba/Toshiba, certain Hans Christian models, Norseman, Mariner, Panda, Orion, Taswell, and Tatoosh yachts.

        (Below: An example of an older Ta Shing sailboat.)

        example of Ta Shing Yachts sailboat

        Another example of a Taiwan builder of multiple brands is Lein Hwa Yachts. The company built the Rafiki 35 and 37, the Seamaster 46, and the Little Harbor 38. All were separate projects sold by different companies around North America.

        In terms of a sailboat lasting a lifetime, there is some validity that some brands have held up better than others, everything else being equal. That may be simply because they were more heavily constructed and finished to a higher level. In some cases, access is a big part of this longevity, as systems and components easily accessed will generally be better maintained. 

        So, it is not surprising that one can expect an older Baba, Island Packet, Sabre, Valiant, Fisher, Hallberg-Rassy, Rival, or C&C to be brought up to good condition easier and less expensively than a vintage Bristol, Cape Dory, Newport, Irwin, Balboa, Columbia, or Watkins.

        But it is wrong to assume this is a universal truth. An International Folkboat, a very popular 26-footer from the 1960s, is a small but capable sailboat that has crossed oceans and been used for more than its share of long-distance cruising. But when they do come on the market, expect them to be in sad shape simply because the boat has reached the end of its useful life. To bring it back would be problematic and more expensive than it is worth.

        Despite the many interesting older designs and boats that are no longer produced, it is best to look for a used sailboat that is more recent. Used sailboats less than 15 years old are very attractive in today’s used boat market. They may have higher asking prices, but everything on the boats is newer, more current in terms of technology, and take advantage of industry advancements. Going aboard a Catalina, Tartan, or any of the Beneteau and Jeanneau models built over the last number of years will impress anyone used to looking at older boats with dark, hardwood interiors that once were all the rage.

        (Below: The popular Tartan Yachts 395.)

        tartan yachts 395 sailboat

        So, looking for boats that are no older than a dozen years or so may yield fewer choices (in terms of manufacturers) but will have benefits for consideration that the older boats do not offer.


        Current sailboat brands include:


        4.) Types of Sailboats 

        There are many different shapes, sizes, and styles of sailboats on the used market. Depending on what one plans to do with the sailboat, some will be better choices than others, for any number of reasons. Those looking to enjoy time on the water going fast so they can hone their sailing skills should look at sailboats that offer decidedly different experiences than boats designed for long-distance cruising and living aboard. A displacement cruiser that can be a perfect winter home in the islands will likely have much less sporting performance than a boat that has less accommodations, storage space, and not nearly enough tankage for much more than a week aboard.

        Certain styles of sailboats consider the changing needs of the sailing community, the racing rules, or the manufacturers. Builders have recently made a point to find ways to break from tradition, and the interior finishes are very different from the dark hardwood interiors found on most every cruising sailboat from the 1970s and 1980s.

        Racing boats are seldom considered timeless designs, with a few exceptions. On the contrary, they often reflect specific rules and measurement algorithms that become obsolete in a couple of years. Rating systems that are popular now are invariably replaced by newer systems from updated thinking…or so the theory goes.

        Because of that, it is common to see racing machines offered for very attractive used prices. There are a couple of reasons to explain this. One, the design to fit a specific rating or racing rule may have changed so it is no longer considered competitive. Also, the goal of a custom build of a pure race boat is for a lightweight racing machine that lacks frills of any kind. Even a galley is a minimal affair, if there is one at all. A pure race boat may be somewhat fragile, never intended to live the tough life of a cruising boat. It has one purpose and that may be short lived.

        Despite this, some may find it appealing to seek out a vintage racer because it can offer a speedy ride. But again, keep in mind that racing rules have little to do with crew comfort or ease of handling. And remember, all racing boats need more crew than will ever be aboard a cruising boat. The rules have nothing to do with seaworthiness and amenities for seasonal cruising. 

        Such a boat may make a terrible liveaboard.

        The popularity of the large daysailer shows that people are drawn to lovely sailing yachts that thrill in looks, feel, and performance, but offer only comfortable accommodations for an afternoon on the water. The rest of the time, the sailboat dazzles onlookers from its mooring. A beautiful daysailer, such as those from Morris Yachts and several European builders, has all the classic elements of yachting. Smaller daysailers are mostly not nearly so, offering good performance in a boat that is easy to maintain—essentially wash and wear—and is a perfect platform for an hour (or a day) on the water, then put back into its slip without fuss. For those looking to enjoy sailing in its purest form, a daysailer, such as those from Tartan, Catalina, Beneteau, and dozens of smaller builders, is hard to beat.

        (Below: An example of a Beneteau daysailer.)

        Beneteau daysailer

        Many sailors want a boat that has reasonable build quality but is not finished to the level of a high-end yacht—with a price to match. They are not looking for that experience, but rather spending quality time on the water. That is the sweet spot of the Beneteau and Jeanneau brands, good sailboats but without the flair and luxury appointments that make an otherwise nice boat unaffordable.


        5.) Buying Guide for Used Sailboats

        Many books have been written to explain the differences in keel choices, hull shapes, sailing rigs, and other considerations. It is wise to read one or two books on the general subject, although one may find it better to simply find an experienced yacht broker to learn the differences and benefits of the various types of sailboats.

        Which brings up a very important question. Being as honest as possible, do you know how you will use the boat? A simple sailboat suitable for weekends and the occasional cruise will not require much beyond the basics. And even on older boats, these basics can be upgraded and made 100 percent without significant expense. Rubbing compound, cleaner, and polish can bring many tired hulls back to shine, if not to perfection. But boats can be repainted with amazing results and may be well worth including on the new boat budget.

        A Sea Sprite 23 will be a fun small boat, and a step up to a Catalina 27 will come with room for a family. And when looking around 30-footers, one can easily imagine all kinds of adventures and sailing vacations. Any of these boats, especially if previously owned by people who appreciated and took care of them, will be a joy to own for many years.

        (Below: The Catalina 27 sailboat.)

        Catalina 27 sailboat

        Conversely, boats that were sailed hard and not well maintained, or only built to minimum standards or in a design style that is no longer in fashion, will be a tough sell. Systems that are no longer maintainable in today’s world represent serious issues for anyone only focusing on a low asking price.

        Which is why, when in the market for a used sailboat, there is consensus that keeping one’s search to as new a boat as one can afford has some merit. The reality is that when inspecting 10-year-old production boats, such as the many models built by Beneteau, Catalina, and Jeanneau, the boat and its systems are recent enough to require little (if any) expense to make current. This is true across the board.

        Consider the many systems and construction standards all boats are built with. The popular notion that electricity and water don’t mix was common not that long ago, so electrical systems were kept bare bones and nowhere near up to the challenges of today’s electrical needs. A simple, two-battery house bank was once thought a luxury to complement the starting battery for the engine. There were no appliances, suites of navigation electronics, or any of the demands we now take for granted. Buying a used sailboat that is more than a few years old will require some modification.

        The same is true for most of the other systems. Early saildrives were feared as a maelstrom of dissimilar metals destined to self destruct in the marine environment. Today there is a much deeper understanding of metallurgy and plastics in the marine environment and a saildrive is preferred by many sailors over traditional running gear.

        Regarding the sailboat’s diesel engine, good access is more important than most realize. Many boat builders don’t spend much effort thinking about how owners will maintain their boats over the lifetime of ownership. Access to the key maintenance points of an engine should be front and center, or at least accessed by removing a side panel in the engine compartment.

        When one considers all the systems, hoses, wiring, and other mechanical pieces that go into a sailboat, it is important to look for boats built to ABYC standards. Unless the boat is really old, that will guarantee that things were done right when the boat was built. Most all major production boats will have proper steering systems, for example, and the appropriate running of electrical wiring ensures there are no issues later. 

        Obviously, it is a given that any used sailboat being considered, no matter the age, will be throughly inspected by a qualified marine surveyor. It is all but impossible to conduct a proper survey by yourself, and the ramifications of missing something are significant. If the boat had a hard grounding that damaged its fin keel, it might be obvious…or not at all. Wear in important areas, such as the rudder shaft through the hull, are easy to miss if one is not trained to look in the right places. Corrosion and issues with seacocks and other underwater plumbing are not something to take a chance on, even on a new boat. Remember, a used sailboat does not come with a warranty.

        Inspecting the mast and standing rigging is best left to a professional to certify their condition. If the boat is older than 10 years, it might be time to replace some of the rig. This will be particularly true of any standing rigging that is found overly corroded or some of the wires are broken.

        Other components on the boat, such as the anchor chain, can be inspected by the buyer, but beware of a chain that has been switched end to end, with the heavily corroded portion at the bottom of the chain locker. Older boats may also have antiquated anchoring gear. Traditional cruisers relied on the CQR anchor for many years, but this design pales in comparison to modern anchors. Just something to note during the inspection.

        Unless the boat is only a few years old, it is a given that all the electronics are nearing the end of their service life. They may still work, but in the case of chart plotters, updated charts may no longer be available. VHF radios today include AIS and internal GPS for DSC capability and offer far greater utility than just a two-way radio. Upgrading a radio is no big deal, but it is good to replace/upgrade the antenna and cable at the same time.


        6.) FAQs About Used Sailboats


        What is the Smallest Sailboat to Live On?

        Thirty feet is generally considered large enough to allow full-time living by one or two people. Once boats reach that size, tankage and storage can provide enough of both for more comfortable living than is possible on smaller boats. While accommodations can be minimal, the tradeoffs of simplicity and “doing more with less” are better for some people than the extra expense of a larger sailboat, along with its need for additional maintenance and dockage costs.

        (Below: The interior of the Hanse 348 offers good light and space for storage.)

        interior salon of Hanse sailboat


        Is It Better to Buy a Newer, Smaller Sailboat or a Larger, Older Sailboat?

        A newer, smaller sailboat will generally have fewer problems, and newer systems, than the alternative. The attraction of a larger, older boat is usually a lower price. But that extra space and faster speed of a larger hull come at the expense of having to regularly deal with aging and breaking gear, plumbing, and wiring. Plan to use the boat with enough unplanned downtime from failed gear that will require more repair and maintenance. 


        Can I Do My Own Maintenance on a Diesel Engine?

        Many engine shops in larger sailing areas offer hands-on instruction of the care and feeding of the small diesel engines typically found in sailboats. From a few hours in an afternoon session to multi-day classroom instruction where the class rebuilds a small engine, these informative classes take the mystery out of diesel engines and provide owners with valuable information and experience with living successfully with a diesel engine, regardless of brand.


        Is It Easier to Sail a Small Boat than a Big One?

        It is excellent training to learn sailing on a small boat, where everything a sailor does has an immediate impact on one’s sailing. This immediate feedback provides great understanding of the factors that wind and waves have on the sailing experience.

        Once one learns the basics, however, a larger boat’s inherent slower response to these same actions makes it easier to control the sailboat under way. When sailing any distance this translates into less stress for the sailor who has more time to adjust running rigging after a tack or settle down navigating to a waypoint. Over time, the larger sailboat will be more satisfying for an experienced sailor.


        Will a Broker Take Advantage of My Inexperience?

        A professional yacht broker is an experienced and knowledgeable sailor who wants very much to share his or her own success and enjoyment with those looking to get into the sport. They will use their broad experience to help guide new sailors through the maze of options and choices and help ease them into a boat that makes sense for them now. 

        The selection of the right boat, taking into account its age, size, complexity, equipment, and overall expense, is of paramount interest to the right broker. The hope is that the relationship between broker and buyer(s) will become a long-term affair, with larger and more capable sailboats on the horizon as the years go by. Many brokers become long-time friends with their clients as they move from one sailboat up to larger boats as their experience and dreams develop.   


        Am I Too Old to Start Sailing?

        There is no age limit in sailing, and it is not uncommon for people to learn sailing at a later age, from 30 years old up to senior status. Even 80-year-old sailors continue to enjoy their passion, albeit in boats suited for ease of sail handling and maneuvering under sail and power.


        How Can I See If I like Sailing Offshore?

        There are sailing schools that offer crew positions on boats scheduled to sail across oceans, from one continent to another, and which can be sailed by crew for one leg as part of a sailing school environment. The small number of students share responsibilities as they learn navigation, sail management, weather predicting, watch standing, maintenance, and even galley duty.

        For the cost of a nice vacation, individuals and couples can get a healthy taste of the offshore experience while also completing an ocean passage across a sea, or around the world.


        7.) Contact Us

        If you are ready to search for the right used sailboat and join the community of special people who enjoy life defined by wind and waves, contact Seattle Yachts to begin your adventure. We have the knowledge and experience to assist you through every step of the way.

        Our professional and experienced staff of brokers is ready to help you refine your search and determine possible choices on the used market to take you to the next step.  

        With offices around North American and beyond, our brokers can assist in your quest for the right sailboat. Our brokers communicate with each other using the Seattle Yachts network to make sure a listing can be thoroughly explored before they present the listing to you.

        Our offices are in many popular sailing centers around the country:

        Let the Seattle Yachts team show you how our incredible level of personalized customer service can help you find your next sailboat. Seattle Yachts wants to help you begin your boating adventure!



        Enjoy these articles about sailboats:


        Valuable Sailboat-related Resources

        American Sailing Association

        • The ASA is a great resource for educational material, offering everything from beginner courses to advanced certifications.

        SailNet Community

        • An online forum with a multitude of discussions on various topics around sailing.

        Sailboat Data

        • This site has a vast database of different types of sailboats with detailed specs and designs.

        Sailing Scuttlebutt

        • Sailing Scuttlebutt is a free online magazine that covers a wide range of topics related to sailing.

        Cruisers Forum

        • This is a forum for cruising sailors and liveaboards to discuss cruising lifestyles, destinations, and various related topics.

        The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

        • NOAA provides accurate and timely weather forecasts that are crucial for safe sailing.

        The International Sailing Federation

        • The ISAF offers resources related to racing rules, safety regulations, and international sailing news.

        BoatUS Foundation

        • The BoatUS Foundation offers free online boating safety courses that are recognized by many states.

        The National Maritime Historical Society

        • For those interested in the historical aspect of sailboats and seafaring, this is a valuable resource.


        Pacific Northwest


        Shilshole Marina

        7001 Seaview Ave NW, Suite 150
        Seattle, WA 98117

        (206) 789-8044

        Cap Sante Marina

        1019 Q Avenue, Suite A&B

        Anacortes, WA 98221

        (360) 299-0777

        Marine Parts / Service Center

        2915 W Avenue

        Anacortes, WA 98221

        (360) 293-3145


        SAN DIEGO

        Sun Harbor Marina

        5060 N Harbor Dr, Suite 155
        San Diego, CA 92106

        (619) 523-1745


        Marina Village Yacht Harbor

        1070 Marina Village Parkway, Suite 109
        Alameda, CA 94501

        (510) 227-2100

        Marina del Rey

        13900 Marquesas Way, Suite 6002
        Marina del Rey, CA 90292

        (310) 827-2567

        East Coast


        Fort Lauderdale

        1535 SE 17th St, Suite #103B
        Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

        (954) 797-0030
        PALM BEACH

        Safe Harbour Old Port Cove

        116 Lakeshore Dr.
        North Palm Beach, FL. 33408

        (561) 577-6890

        Annapolis Harbor

        7350 Edgewood Road
        Annapolis, MD 21403

        (410) 397-7323


        VICTORIA B.C.

        Virtual Brokerage Office