The Woody Boater Top Ten Tips To Buying A Classic Boat!

ham Boat

Original art by Ham Smith

Yesterday we did a story on Classic Boats being the best value in boating today. With that said we thought we would publish an over simplified guide to buying a classic boat. So why over simplified? Well, the deal is that buying a classic boat can sometime be rather emotional and spontaneous, and has its quirks since they are rare, and spread out all over the globe. Of course each of the five tips can be deeper and deeper as you get into them. But these cover the basics ans are easy to remember.

Classic Boat Buying tips

A handy note reminder you can print and your wife can paste to your forehead!

  1. Water test, water test water test. Does it leak, how does it run, do you like the ride. Bring others with you. As I say sometimes, Run it like a bitch for a bit and test it. Turn it, reverse it. You would be shocked what a 1/2 hr run will tell you. If possible water test the boat in your waters, or waters like yours. Small lakes and large bays are night and day differences. I have owned boats I like looking at, and hated riding in. The boat gets very ugly after a rough ride. TEST TEST and RE TEST! This is the biggest thing to do. The boat will tell you the truth.
  2. Decide how you are going to use the boat. Got a family and like social cruises, or need a fun runabout. Shop around and see lots of boats to make sure its the boat for you.
  3. Once you have decided on a model, utility, runabout, racer, etc. go see lots of them. Each boat is as individual as you are. Its OK to look at 10 U22’s.
  4. Know the boats history and who did the work. The difference of one restorer and others can be the difference of a nightmare or a dream. The great restorers are confident of thier boats and will always be glad to share info and what went into the boat. In some cases some even offer Warranties and guarantees. In the case of hacker Craft, they can restore the boat at the factory like new.  If you are buying a un-restored boat, know what you are buying. See #9
  5. Always get a qualified person to look at the boat with you. Someone you trust and will be objective. Brokers are not objective. And standard surveyors don’t understand these boats. They look at all sorts of boats, but its very hard to tell if a frame is bad, or other things may happen. Ask around for someone in the area that knows stuff about these boats and has been through restorations. ALWAYS go into this with wide open eyes.
  6. Pricing a boat is very tough. Yes there is the Hagerty Price guide, but even that can be a bit confusing. Some boats may seem over priced, but are really bargains when you consider the expense in a correct restoration. Look at the entire package of what your considering. The cheapest boat I bought cost me the most.
  7. Join the Chris – Craft Antique Boat Club and the ACBS. Read Woody Boater before you buy. Get to know the community and who is good to deal with. Ask folks in the culture about a certain boat. Trust us, everyone knows everyone and every boat. Like we said , each boat is an individual. This is one of the main reasons we created Woody Boater.
  8.  Rule of thumb. The best boats are at brokers, or dealers. Yacht brokers and odd ball selling sites are a crap shoot. They sell larger boats and rarely have no idea what they are selling. Sorry. ebay is not the place to buy a boat. See all the above reasons. It’s fun to see cool stuff. But if its on ebay on its own. Be careful. Of course some dealers use ebay for awareness. That’s different. And yes I bought a 25 sportsman because of ebay. But I googled the boat and found it all over the place. ebay was great for awareness. And Craigslist is just a train wreck. Always fun, and maybe good for finding a wreck. Sure, there are always exceptions. But always google the boat. You will be shocked what shows up.
  9. Buy restored first. BUT, If you can not find your dream boat, then buy a fixer upper. But do it with a restorer that you trust. If you are doing that ask for the truth in the cost and worst case scenario, and add to that. There are two kinds of restorers. The kind that low ball you and suck you in, and the kind that tell you up front. ALWAYS go with the upfront guy. ALWAYS! You will like them during and after the restoration.
  10. Go to boat shows, don’t be afraid to travel and get to know different boats. Ride in them, meet the owners. West Coast boats are a bit different than a Florida Boat. Yes the weather makes a difference. The water you are going to use the boat on is critical.
Ham Woohoo

Original art by Ham Smith

FEEL FREE TO ADD ANY TIPS YOU HAVE FOUND ALONG THE WAY! This post should be Bookmarked for future reference or send to a friend in need.

30 replies
  1. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    If you are looking at restored boats insist on documentation of that process. Although it may cost more than one that doesn’t offer this, it will add value to the one that you choose in the long run.

  2. Chad
    Chad says:

    There are exceptions to every one of these tips. Use every available resource to research, research, research. Know what you’re gonna buy before you buy it, even if it takes years for the boat to become available.

    And remember… everybody loves a good train wreck.

  3. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    OK so it looks like I broke almost all 10 commandments when we bought American Beauty.

    With advice for a friend who owns a boat yard I did adhere to #5 and hired a surveyor that he thought was qualified. The guy did not even know the difference between a Phillips and a Frearson screw head.

    Oh well, life goes on!

  4. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    These rules take all the fun and surprises out of old boat buying. I say strap on the blinders and dive in head first.

    • Jack Schneiberg
      Jack Schneiberg says:

      M-fine, you got it. As much as I know every single one of those axioms is true, and as much as I would preach those 10 points to anyone who asked me how to buy a boat……I’ve never once bought a boat (and I’ve bought more than I care to state here) that I didn’t fall in love with first, buy it, and then take it home and launch into discovery mode. One boat I towed home lost all the hard putty stuffed in the keel on the trip home. Oh – the stories I could tell if I didn’t mind total humiliation.

  5. Old Salt
    Old Salt says:

    #9. Buy a restored fist

    Matt, do we need the restored fist for after we punch the guy that sold us the hole in the water that we throw money into?

  6. Matt
    Matt says:

    See #4 HA. They all start looping back to each other. Like chad said. Do your research. And we do love a train wreck. Send photos !

  7. Tom
    Tom says:

    I love Craigslist. I’ve bought and sold a bunch of different things and have never been let down. I enjoy going to the Boats listing and searching for “wood” or “wooden” and seeing what pops-up. Then in a matter of minutes I search the East Coast jumping from city-to-city and just seeing what’s out there. Of course the usual caveats apply but sometimes your heart wins the argument.
    I’ve been sailing for over 50 years but only recently bought two small wooden one-design boats that I’ve enjoyed refinishing. Now I recently acquired my first wooden runabout and I started at the modest end of the scale with a little twelve-foot 1962 Whirlwind Comet and 63 Merc 20 horse. I feel lucky to have found such a solid boat that needs little more than a quick refinish.
    To the novice or first-time buyer I would caution to take your time. If water can find its way into a boat then it WILL find its way. There are no shortcuts around that. Rot is not funny and sanding gets tedious real fast. There is a long process between that beat-down hulk and your dreams of sunshine and glory.

  8. Tom
    Tom says:

    And let me say that in my opinion the #1 item should be
    “Come to the WoodyBoater website and Search for information on the boat you’re interested in.”
    That’s where I started last year when I was looking for a wooden runabout and discovered the Whirlwind. I came here and “BANG” there was pretty much everything that there is to know about them.
    You guys are an excellent resource.

  9. Sean
    Sean says:

    Who can afford to buy “restored’ in Muskoka? … well, there are a few but, I’m not one! Now, I did buy my first Greavette from a well known, well respected Muskoka builder/restorer/broker… and was screwed in the worst deal I have ever made (He’s still in business) for anything.

    I bought my current Greavette on a trailer, from a great guy (former ACBS member) and the boat was exactly as advertised and described. The p/o pointed out ALL the points of interest and I decided on what was important, a financial liability or a possible deal breaker. Great deal, great boat and I still talk with the p/o.

    So, I can’t say that all the 10 tips are a “must” or even SOP for me. However, the BEST things on the list are getting to “know” wooden boats, having friends that “know” wooden boats and dealing with upfront people…. maybe that’s my version of the 7-10 split. Follow your heart.

  10. Dave Nau
    Dave Nau says:

    I like to try to find original unmolested fiberglassic boats. They are cheap to buy, and require little to make them show-able. The trick is to just keep looking until you find a good one.

    I favorites are old MFG’s that used a pressure molded hull with a fiberglass floor and stringers. The only wood is is the seats, behind the dash, and in the transom. With modest 2-cylinder outboard power, they are cheap to run and maintain. My 1966 MFG Niagara -“Little Blue” – was $2600, but required very little and came with complete MFG-branded TaylorMade canvas that had hardly been used, a 35hp Mercury twin outboard, and a TeeNee trailer. It has a lapstrake-style hull like a Lyman that I never have to paint. Polishing is easy with spray Turtle Wax.

    It’s all personal preference, but I decided before buying this one that I just don’t have varnish in my blood. All the mahogany is beautiful, and I really enjoy looking at them, and the way a Lyman rides on Lake Erie can’t be beat. But for me, I have just as much fun with the MFG. I can tow it easily with my Toyota Matrix S with it’s 2.4L engine (not needing a big SUV or pickup), and saved more than enough to buy a 1970 14′ Arrow Glass Flyer that I’m working on as a second user boat. Outboards also make activities with AOMCI fun. I’m limited to only taking at most a couple of people with me, but so far, that has not been a problem.

    It still looked good at Clayton last year with all the other more high-end boats of various makes and models, and if I do get to feel I really do have varnish in my blood after all, nothing is stopping me from getting a small Lyman down the road. After all, it’s all about having fun and meeting great new people out on the water.

  11. Scott
    Scott says:

    Ouch! I broke every rule, and I am paying for it. In my case, my wallet and my wife’s patience will be drained, but the world will have one more super fine old woody, so I guess that’s something.

    Thanks for all your hard work maintaining this site at such a high level of quantity and quality!

  12. Nautilus
    Nautilus says:

    I’m old enough to remember boat yards where more than half the boats were wooden and everybody worked on their own boats or helped others, lent tools, etc. I miss that. (Photo-My old 1969 Ventnor 31, restored where she was chocked, circa 1988.) To me, boats are to be used and use requires upkeep, tweeking, improvements, etc. THAT’S the fun of woodie boating for me. Sure, I love to admire the super-restored classics that only hit the water at shows but if I owned one of them, I’d take it out and blow out some serious carbon…every time. Give me a project any day. I’ll make her seaworthy, presentable and a mahogany barrel of fun. The cost involved is money more well spent than playing golf!

  13. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    Nautilus, you wouldn’t happen to have your original Ventnor burgee? Would like to copy an original for a project. Thanks

  14. Steve Anderson
    Steve Anderson says:

    OK, so I broke about all the rules. I saw mine for sale on the side of the road, and pretty much the only thing I knew about wooden boats is that I have always wanted one. And I like THIS one. There was no price listed, and the guy wouldn’t give me a price over the phone. He knew that once I agreed to meet him at the boat, I was sold. It’s still unclear what this will cost me, but I am happy in my heart, for I now have a wooden boat, and someday will be driving it.

    It’s currently getting the bottom re-done, it needs a motor, the topsides refasted (at least), new decking, new upolstery, and stained and varnished. about 6 months? 🙂

  15. Alex
    Alex says:

    #10. Throw out rules #1 through #9, shop the internet, call a seller, believe everything he tells you, buy the prewar homemade boat he was selling, pay to have it transported on a flatbed from FL to northern MI, balk at the cost to restore it, discover it doesn’t handle well or run well, love it anyway, and end up “on the cover of the Rolling Stone” (a.k.a. in a WoodyBoater header).

  16. Rob Bergevin
    Rob Bergevin says:

    I would add # 11 : Give your head a shake!

    That said I am well into the restoration of our 1937 35′ Double Stateroom Enclosed Cruiser. We have owned it since 1989 and used it hard for over 20 years. I am doing all the work and I love it. I have replaced frames and pulled the entire bottom. It is the only way to be sure what 72 years of wear will do. I expect to be launch ready by 2017, several years late but a thorough job. If you are trying to ‘work around’ rot, be aware that it can hide a long way from whats visible or accessible to a probe. The pic is the new inner bottom, dry fitted. I probably should rejoin the Boat Club and share my pain and pleasures on Boat Buzz.

  17. Randy Rush Captain Grumpy
    Randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

    Well I pretty much don’t do any of them. Considering my buying is at the very bottom end of the hobby. I have just one thing that I always do , I walk around it like a used car and say to my self” Will I get my money back if I have to chainsaw this apart and sell it piece by piece”

    Off subject I am trying to talk the wife into going to the Sunnyland Show, Ive been twice and never actually made it on the water. So if your going can I bum a ride?

  18. Mike
    Mike says:

    Rule #11 should be never take a free boat… Unless it is 40′ and the wife says so!

    P.S. Our first wooden boat was named Broken Rule II – that should have been a warning.

  19. WoodenRookie
    WoodenRookie says:

    If Ham makes production signs that read “The cheapest boat I bought cost me the most” I want one!!


  20. Philip Andrew
    Philip Andrew says:

    I haven’t been into boats long enough to make a train wreck but man I sure made a beauty with a car. For my 40th birthday I flew to Wales in the UK and bought an immaculate 1974 Lancia Fulvia 1.6HF. 6000 pounds. Despite all the warnings about rust, salt on the roads, italian cars etc. Got the car home and couldn’t get it complied because of rust. Sent it to a restoration shop nearby. They said it would have to all come apart so with my agreement they acid dipped the whole shell. It came out looking like a colander. completely riddled with holes and very very bad repairs, absolutely and utterly stuffed.
    Undeterred I sent the car to the nearest Lancia specialist in…… wait for it….. Australia! ( Why oh why did I do that? ) there were two guys in workshops side by side in a place south of Sydney called Mittagong ( hopefully its burnt down in a rampaging Khama motivated bush fire by now ) One guy accepted the car and he would do all the mechanicals and the other was apparently a super experienced panel and reconstruction guy. Well every month or two an envelope would arrive with pictures of the progress and a large invoice included. Occasionally Id call in when I was in Sydney on business. TEN years went by. NZD $100,000.00 went by. The two guys ( now old guys ) had a major falling out and wouldn’t even talk to each other. The panel guy wouldn’t accept parts from the other and the other guy wouldn’t assemble the car because he refused to go next door and get the bits. Arggghhhhhhh. Last year I was at the Sheraton hotel in Sydney where I happened to meet a solicitor who loved Lancia cars. We got talking and it turned out he was looking for a 1.6 body as he only had the 1,3 version. I necked the beer I was drinking swallowed hard and said I’ve got one and its yours for 20k.
    It still hurts.

  21. Laura
    Laura says:

    This is great information for those looking to buy any kind of boat, let alone a classic. I especially appreciate your emphasis on water testing the boat. This is crucial for making a good purchasing decision. There is a lot that goes into buying a boat. For those who want to avoid the hassles (maintenance, cost, and even storage), I recommend checking out your local boat rental businesses. This way all you have to do is worry about having fun. Thanks again for sharing!

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