click to close

I'm a boater! Email me yachts and information.

Sailboat Buying Guide: Choosing The Right Sailboat

Choosing The Right Sailboat

Are you an avid dinghy sailor who wants to take on the ocean? Maybe you’ve been watching your favorite YouTube sailing channel and are inspired to sail off over the horizon? Or perhaps you and your family want to explore the coastline in your area on your next staycation? Whatever the reason if you’ve been browsing online classifieds and walking the docks looking at sailboats you are ready to buy a sailboat. With so many makes, styles and sizes, how do you choose which boat is the right boat?

Forty years ago, it was widely believed that a full keel ketch was the only way to sail around the world. Then someone raced across the Southern Ocean in a trimaran. Twenty years ago, the majority of boats in any cruising anchorage were mono hulls. Now there are more catamarans than ever before out on the water. A decade ago, the demographic of boat owners skewed to the empty nesters. These days there are many young sailors raising families onboard. As tastes and technology change, so too, do the parameters for buying a sailboat. Here’s the only thing you need to know.
There is no right boat, there is only the boat that is right for YOU.

Although there is no one right style or size of boat that will please everyone, here are a few common denominators that every perspective boat buyer will want to consider.

Mono-Hull Versus Multi-Hull Sailboats

There is perhaps no other topic that divides sailors as easily as the monohull verses multihull debate. Is one better than the other? Not really, but they do both have pros and cons.

Monohulls were long considered the “safe option,” especially when talking about blue water cruising. However, multihull sailors have proven that they can sail anywhere a monohull can, heavy weather and big seas included. That said, there are some advantages to traditional monohull boats. With a deeper draft and a heavy keel, monohull sailboats sit in the water, giving them a more stable feel, especially in heavy seas. But all that weight below the waterline also means they require more wind to get them moving. It is true that a monohull can sail into the wind more efficiently, but many struggle with downwind sailing in light airs.

In the multihull category the most popular is the catamaran, although there are a handful of live-aboard trimarans out there. With two hulls and an adjoining large deck, catamarans have the obvious advantage of more space. In fact, this huge living space is driving the popularity of catamarans with sailing families. Not only can the kids have more area to run and play in, but separate hulls equal more privacy for mom and dad. The drawback is that two hulls usually means two engines and two heads, which also means twice the maintenance and twice the potential breakages.

Catamarans have very shallow drafts and therefore meet less resistance so can sail faster than a monohull of the same length. This shallow draft also allows catamarans to sneak into difficult anchorages and explore many areas much too shallow for a monohull. However, they are notorious for being difficult to sail to windward.

One Mast Or Two

Now that you know how many hulls you want the next thing is to decide how many masts you need. Although the most popular sailboat types and styles are monohull sloop (one mast) and a monohull ketch (two masts) it is possible to have a mutli-masted catamaran. There are also other two mast variations such as the yawl, the junk rig, and the schooner, although they are not as widely used.

What’s The Difference Between One Mast And Two?

The main reason that boats are fitted with two masts is that it allows the vessel to carry more sail. More sail area means more ability to harness the wind, and therefore greater potential sailing speed. However, since the total sail area is distributed between multiple smaller sails forces on the boat are more equally dispersed and can be controlled and manipulated easier. This sail design can be especially handy when sailing short-handed as it means that sail trim and reefing are easier.

Multiple masts also effect the boat design. For instance, a monohull ketch has a deep centre cockpit and small aft deck. Down below there is usually an aft cabin that is separated from the main living area. Many sailors find this design feels safer while on deck and gives needed privacy down below.

Construction Materials

The most common materials used in boat construction are wood, steel, aluminium and fibreglass. Each has its own merits and draw backs. The important thing is to educate yourself so that you understand what you are getting into when it comes to future boat maintenance and potential problems.

WOOD – The oldest material used in boat building, wood is not used much these days as the disadvantages out weigh the advantages, literally. Wooden boats are very heavy. They also require lots of maintenance as they suffer from rot and, if left out of the water, shrinkage. Wooden boats are beautiful, and there were many reputable builders, but are now mainly kept by those who are classic boat enthusiast.

STEEL – Steel is a strong and easy to work building material. Lighter than fibreglass, steel boats are prone to rust if not maintained, especially below the waterline. Steel boats are known for being hot underfoot and down below if not properly insulated, and they do require special antifoul paints. However, because steel is so easy to weld and work with they are very popular with DIY boat builders.

ALUMINUM – Aluminum is popular with boat builders as it is light weight, strong and low maintenance. There are several well known European manufactures whose boats are prized for their designs. Since it is a material that requires specialized skills and equipment there are few DIY-ed aluminum boats on the market. The biggest downside of aluminum is that it is not compatible with other metals, so fittings like thru-hulls have to be carefully installed or else risk dangerous corrosion. As well, special preparation and anti-fouling paints are required, sometimes making general maintenance a costly affair.

FIBERGLASS – The most common used material in boat building for the past 40 years, fiberglass is strong and flexible. It can easily conform to smooth, round shapes making for slick, fast boat designs. With advancements in technologies fiberglass hulls have become thinner, reducing the overall weight of vessels, however there is nothing wrong with the early builds that are still on the market. Fiberglass requires very little maintenance and is able to withstand a variety of coatings making antifouling or painting your vessel easy and cost effective, even when sailing overseas.

New Versus Old

Advancements in technology and materials have certainly influenced boat building and design over the last few decades. However, it is not significant enough to make any boat manufactured in the last 60 years obsolete. This leaves perspective buyers with the option to buy either new or pre-owned.
Purchasing or building a new boat does allow you to customize the vessel to suit your tastes and best serve your needs. Cabins can be moved, saloon layouts modified, and deck hardware upgraded to your specifications. As well, buying new gives you the safety net of warranty repairs. But, that new boat smell does come with a hefty price tag.

For the more budget minded boat buyer there is no shortage of preloved sailboats on the market. You can find plenty of well appointed, late model boats for sale, as well as a large selection of vessels that need some care and attention, and everything in between. In fact, there are so many pre-owned boats for sale that browsing listings can sometimes become a little overwhelming. Making a list of the attributes you are looking for – size, style, equipment needed – will help narrow down the competition. As well, have a firm budget in mind so that you spend time looking at realistic choices.

So, you found a boat that ticks all the boxes, but how do you know if a boat that looks ok is actually in good condition?

The only way to be sure is to have a qualified marine surveyor to inspect the hull and equipment. Hauling the boat for survey is usually a stipulation of the sale as it is the only way to get a proper look at the condition of the vessel below the waterline. A rig inspection by a qualified rigger is also important as they will be able to identify any weak points or problems aloft. It is also common for the perspective buyer to take a vessel out for a test sail. This allows you to get a feel for the vessel as well as inspect the sails and running rigging. After these tests are completed any problems can be addressed through final bargaining between the buyer and the seller.

Size Considerations

There was a trend in the 80’s and 90’s towards larger sailboats, but these days anything goes. In fact, many sailors are choosing simpler, smaller vessels regardless of their intended sailing destination. The majority of cruising boats are in the 35-45-foot range but that doesn’t mean you can’t cross oceans, comfortably and safely in a 24-footer. As long as you know how to sail and are comfortable handling the boat in whatever sea state and weather conditions you may encounter than the choice is ultimately yours. That said, what should you consider ideal when it comes to size?

CREW – If you are planning on extended sailing trips there should be room for everyone to sleep and live comfortably. As well, you need to consider the number of crew that are required to sail the boat safely. A larger vessel means more space down below, but it also means more crew members needed on deck.

MARINA FEES – Marina fees are charged by the foot, with price increasing as vessel length increases. If you are planning on regularly staying at or storing your vessel in a marina the difference between a 37-footer and a 45-footer could be more than a of couple bucks. As well, a catamaran easily occupies twice the width of a monohull of the same length. Keeping a catamaran in a marina means paying 1.5 to 2 times the dock fees of a monohull.

HAUL OUTS – Regular boat maintenance is an ongoing cost and concern for boat owners. And, like marina fees, the larger the vessel the more expensive it is to haul out and store in a boatyard. Catamarans cannot be lifted in the more common marine travel lift, so can run into problems hauling out in more remote locations where facilities are basic.


Boat life is a simpler life. That doesn’t mean that you have to eat ramen noodles every night, have an uncomfortable bunk or go days without a shower. But, unless you have very deep pockets you will quickly discover that there are many modern conveniences that you can live without.
Everyone’s idea of comfortable is different, so it is a good idea to think about what you want your comfort level to look like onboard before you buy. Do you want extra space for guests? Do you need more than one toilet onboard? Does your galley need a microwave? Knowing what you need means that you can budget add-ons that aren’t included in the asking price.

Important things to consider that will make everyday living a little easier are:

TANKAGE – The size of your water and fuel tanks will have a big impact on how far you can motor and how often you can shower. If there was a choice between one or the other, most people will pick a big fresh water tank or look at watermaker options as an alternative.

REFRIGERATION – Most people ashore take worry free food storage and cold beer for granted. This one, simple modern convenience can make the difference between a trip to remember and one that you want to forget. Reliable, energy efficient refrigeration is a must for most boaters.

CONNECTIVITY – For some, time out on the water is an escape. A chance to turn off the devices and tune into the natural world. For others life onboard means working from home. Finding data enabled cell signal is pretty easy when in an anchorage or coastal cruising. However, if you need to be online while underway you are going to need a satellite internet connection. Knowing your data requirements is essential when figuring out annual costs.

Buying a boat should not be an impulse purchase. The life of your crew and family, as well as your own safety, is largely dependant on the condition of your vessel. Taking time to make an informed choice will ensure that you buy a boat that will suit your needs and fulfill your desires.

Written by Heather Francis

Written by: Heather Francis

Heather Francis is from Nova Scotia, Canada. She has worked and lived on boats throughout the world since 2002. In 2008 she and her Aussie partner, Steve, bought Kate, their Newport 41, in California and have been sailing her fulltime since. They are currently in the Philippines looking for wind and you can follow their adventures at