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January 28, 2014

Confessions of a Yacht Broker: Things You Need to Consider When Buying a Boat

The Miami Boat Show is right around the corner — print this out and keep it in your pocket.


We all envision the day when we can take ownership of our very own sport-fishing machine. Hiring a good broker, and following his advice, takes a lot of the hassle out of a boat purchase.


I never understood how complicated boat buying could be until I became a broker/salesman 11 years ago, starting out under the wing of the longtime owner of Gold Key Yacht Group, Chuck Edwards. I met Edwards in 1997, when he was the broker for a couple of boat owners that I had worked for in the past. Not only did he do an excellent job guiding his clients through the purchases of their boats, but he kept personal and professional connections to the buyer after the fact, helping them through all aspects of ownership.

Over the years, I watched how he helped his clients move out of one boat and into another, with minimal complications. Along the way, he made a nice commission for himself, and he saved his clients a lot of money and a ton of hassle. While any captain can get lucky and win a tournament now and then, or have a good day of fishing here and there, it’s the consistently good ones that stand out. The same thing is true of brokers.

Since I’m well aware of the toll that a traveling captain’s job takes on both his body and his family life, I figured that becoming a yacht broker could offer a nice living and keep me connected to the game. Unfortunately, there really is only one way to learn this trade, and it’s very much like working the deck under a good captain — you have to learn it from a good teacher from the bottom up. Now, after working with Edwards for more than 16 years, I realize that it takes time to learn and understand the true art of working with clients and navigating the many boat options out there. It took the same amount of work to become a good fisherman as it did to understand the complex interaction between each buyer and his chosen boat. Just like anglers, species of fish and fishing grounds, every boat buyer, seller and boat are different.

The Right Fit

During my career as a captain, it was easy to dismiss a suggestion about the next boat to buy, because I thought that my job only depended on catching fish and getting the boat to and from the fishing grounds in one piece. I focused on catching as many fish as possible. My mind-set at the time was that catching a bunch of fish and maintaining the boat properly meant good job security.

Over the years, however, I saw a lot of guys leave the joys of ownership behind, many of them because they did not understand what they were buying. After seeing owners come and go, it didn’t take long to understand that the closer an owner came to finding that right boat, regardless of whether it was within his budget or fit his long-term needs, the more likely he was to stay in the game and keep me working — no matter how many banner fishing days we had!

You can’t always find that perfect boat, but with a little homework and understanding of the pros and cons of what’s available, you can get pretty close. Remember, the joy of a great day of fishing disappears in a flurry of unnecessary bills when you purchase the wrong boat.

No matter what size boat you intend to purchase, make sure you have an experienced captain put the vessel through its paces before you complete the sale.

Obviously, it’s important to work within your budget when it comes to purchase price, but you also have to realize and understand the true maintenance and operating costs of the boat you choose. Operating costs vary widely; the more you run a boat, the more it will cost, and the larger the boat, the more expensive it will be to run. Boats also come with fixed costs that never stop coming, whether the boat ever leaves the dock or not. Insurance, dockage, crew and basic maintenance are all costs that you must consider. A lot of these costs are determined by the boat’s size, so you might want to keep that in mind when you’re considering adding another few feet to the build.

Once you’ve established your budget, your first step is figuring out whether to purchase a new production or custom-built boat, or whether to buy a used one. If you are a first-time buyer, establishing a relationship with an experienced yacht broker will help you narrow in on the right choice. A broker’s knowledge can greatly benefit the buyer, even if you are relatively experienced. An experienced owner or captain may know what they want and need, but they may not know exactly what’s available on the market today, since they’ve been fishing on the same boat for the last five to 10 years.