The Reality of Older Boat Purchases and Your Buying Budget

We are often asked to survey what we call, vintage vessels, over 20 years old. I would really rather be thrown into a snake pit naked because you don’t know where you’re going to get bit.

When I ask my clients why they want to buy the old girl, I often hear it’s what I can afford. Oh really! What if an aluminum fuel tank that appears perfectly good today as able to view, fails tomorrow. Do you have the 20 K it’s going to take to remove the engines, portions of the cabin sole and furniture to get them out and back in? Then to discover your marine insurance policy doesn’t cover corrosion. So was it all that you could afford?

You sailors purchase a vintage sailing vessel and one of your stainless steel chain plates pop off close hauled and your rig goes over the side. If you’re lucky and manage to cut it loose before it skewers your boat, your next surprise is that the chain plates failed by cavity corrosion not insurance covered and you are out of a rig, all your new sails and over 25k. What a deal . So was it all that you could afford?

It has been our experience that stainless steel chain plates and their attachment bolts over ten years old have a high failure rate especially if the vessel has been used to race or operated primarily in southern waters where salinity levels are high. Stainless steel is affected by many factors; cycle loading, crevice corrosion, oxygen deprivation, carbide precipitation etc. The prudent mariner will perform a random chain plate pull and thorough inspection when these components get in the eight to ten year range and replace if deemed necessary. This includes stainless steel stem irons. We suggest replacement after twelve to fifteen years as standard procedure. One of the common failure points is where inboard chain plates penetrate deck and coring where seeping water accelerates the normal wastage of these highly stressed components and their attachments. Only removal and X ray or dye testing will reveal the true condition and this was not done this date.

The soon to be sport fisherman has an engine survey done on his engines before purchasing the vessel but the loose cap rod bolt on the #2 piston left bank has been hiding down there for Lord knows how long and suddenly decides to let go and a connecting rod unpleasantly protrudes through the block. Your mechanic informs you that it’s 17k for the repair. That’s a lot of bait money. Was it really all that you could afford?

Your surveyor informs you there is moisture in the deck, and that you won’t know how much it will cost you till you write the last repair check because you won’t know the extent of the moisture and coring decay until you get into the repair. But mama really likes the upholstery and you find out that it’s a measly 10k to fix the deck. What a deal! Need I tell you about the exhaust systems, plumbing systems, electrical systems, all of which have been working hard in the most hostile of environments for quite some time.

The egg shell you are depending on to keep you floating has been slamming through rough seas bending, twisting and deforming and is subject to doing some freaky things that only complete disassembly could discover.

If you buy this old girl and get a marine insurance policy from a professional gambler, read the exclusions, and if you don’t understand the language, call you agent and get an interpretation. You’ll be surprised what you aren’t covered for.

So what am I trying to tell you, not to buy the old girl? No, I’m not. This is a reality check for you starry eyed adventure seeking potential second mortgage holders, to fix the boat folks.
If you buy this vintage vessel, be prepared to own it and take responsibility for your decision. I have just about broken every thing on a boat you can break and paid for it out of my own pocket. I am going to tell you, as a client the risk you are about to take. Who knows, you may get lucky. My take is that boats actually float on mercy, but mercy for boats eventually runs out and lo to the poor soul on the boat when it does.

Surveyors don’t take boats apart. We do not take engines apart. We do not remove chain plates, propeller shafts, wiring or plumbing runs that go through bulkheads. We simply get on boats and look and listen to what the boat whispers in our ear. I hear lots of the same stories from these old girls. Man am I tired and ready to go to the old boats home.

In conclusion, I have written a letter to you prospective vintage boat buyers and here it is:
My surveyor has informed me that I am purchasing a vessel that has experienced considerable wear and tear in an extremely hostile environment. He has further explained that I may be forced to expend considerable sums of money that I have worked hard for, due to my lapse in judgement, because there are many areas on this vintage vessel that cannot be inspected due to necessary dismantling or disassembly. I further state that I am not a victim, and if I purchase this vessel, it is solely mine, and I take full responsibility for ownership and for my decision. My surveyor is to be held harmless because he explained to me that I’m nuts.

One last thing you may wish to consider about older boats is there are many underwriters who no longer insure 20 year or older boats because their loss rations are higher and you can count on higher premiums.
Neil K. Haynes June 15, 2005

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