MultiHulls World, the essentials for catamarans and trimarans
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The 10 Biggest Mistakes When Purchasing a Used Catamaran and How to Avoid Them

The 10 Biggest Mistakes When Purchasing a Used Catamaran and How to Avoid Them

You don’t buy a second-hand catamaran every day. It is more than just an important investment; a part of your dream of a voyage is hanging in the balance with this transaction. Phillip Berman, a well-known dealer in the USA, and one of the top multihull specialists, shares his experience here, not without humour, so you can avoid making a mistake when you buy...

Phillip Berman

Philip has always sailed multihulls. He started in a Hobie Cat at the end of the sixties, and published his first book at 17 (Multihull Racing The Hobie Cats - Sea Publications, NY). A born competitor, he has spent his life racing in sport catamarans, racing boats or cruising catamarans. He is the founder and director of ‘The Multihull Company’.
Mistake #1: Searching for the largest, Cheapest Catamaran in your Budget
When shopping for a catamaran you should always buy the largest, most inexpensive boat, right? This is the very definition of a bargain, is it not?
Well, maybe not.
People tend to think bigger rather than smaller and feel confident that buying a lot more catamaran for a lot less money is smart.
It is generally wiser to get the smallest and newest catamaran to serve your needs and budget. Consider the fact that big, inexpensive catamarans often need a substantial refit and will always cost more to sustain, maintain, insure, move and slip. The older and cheaper a catamaran, the higher risk of a costly surprise lurking just around the corner, regardless of how professionally the catamaran was surveyed prior to purchase. Costs scale almost logarithmically with larger catamarans.

Mistake#2: Buying a catamaran that Does Not Bring You Real Pleasure.
If you are a sailor and truly enjoy sailing, then buy a catamaran that really sails. As the late Harry Chapin put it, “It’s got to be the goin’ not the getting there that’s good.” Sailing isn’t just about arriving at places; it’s about enjoying the time it takes to get to them. So you must both be proud of your catamaran and “connect with her” when you are sailing.
What brings you the most pleasure, however, should never be forgotten when you decide which catamaran to buy. A great many buyers regret settling for a catamaran that had a lot space and volume, but which they never truly enjoyed sailing. On the other hand, do not sacrifice too much comfort for the sake of speed. Finding Balance is absolutely vital if you want to remain happy with your purchase.

Mistake #3: Buying a catamaran that is Uncomfortable.
If you’re buying a catamaran to live aboard, make sure you find one you actually enjoy living aboard. This sounds simple, but remembers-the vessel must be a pleasure to cook on, to sleep on, or to simply sit upon while staring into the night sky.
Balance these concerns is at the heart of making a good catamaran purchase decision. Balancing interior volume vs. performance is critical. Complicating the matter is the fact that there are usually more than a single head and heart weighing in on this decision. If one partner, for instance, wants to turn the catamaran into a home away from home and the other wants to dash from port to port with full wind in the sail, then those battling visions have to be reconciled to meet the reality of the marketplace. And before you get discouraged, recognize that it is possible to find the right catamaran-it just requires lots of meaningful discussion between all interested parties.

Mistake #4: Getting the Wrong Catamaran for Your Voyaging Agenda.
There is no ideal catamaran they are all full of compromises but there are certainly catamarans that are far more suited to the voyages you have in mind. Once the voyage and use is decided, ask some hard questions: Is the payload sufficient for the gear I want to carry? Are the accommodations adequate for what I need? Is she fast enough? Does she have the cruising range and speed under power for the types of trips I plane to take?
Remember: In order to know if a catamaran suits your needs, you must know exactly how you’ll use her. Any Yacht broker will tell you that is he or she knows how a client is going to use a catamaran and what real budget is, it is infinitely easier to find the right catamaran and have a much happier customer. (Hint: Any yacht broker who is not asking you a lot of questions about who you are, how you will use your catamaran, etc, is more than likely a salesperson pushing what he has to sell, rather than an advisor who has your best interests at heart.)

Mistake #5: Getting a catamaran that is a Bit Too Much to Handle and Maintain
People who buy catamarans come with a wide range of competencies and talents. Some are quite skillful sailors and seaman who have great handling and navigational skills. Others have much to learn and are eager for the guidance. Still others are pretty good sailors, but not very strong mechanically and struggle to maintain their catamarans properly.
When buying a catamaran, it is critical to make sure you can handle it and to know that it will not prove too daunting to sail or maintain.
Take the time to be honest with yourself, your crew and others when assessing your talents. Then look at your dream agenda. Do they match? If not, what do you need to do to make certain they do? What do you need to adjust on your dream list in order to buy the yacht that best matches you?

Mistake #6: Taking catamaran Owner Web Blogs Too Seriously
We have all learned to apply some degree of skepticism to what we read on the Internet. But, it is wise to also consider the old adages about buying and selling and loving and hating catamarans when trolling the web for insight on particular models, and even certain travel agendas.
The blogger/stranger may not have extensive boating experience or perhaps does not fully grasp the pros and cons of the particular catamaran model he or she bought. Perhaps there was a better catamaran for him than the one he settled upon, but he may want to share his insight nonetheless. Be careful about reading too much into these often emotionally-charged declarations of love or hate. Of course, there is good information on blogs, but it is wise to blend it with more seasoned and exacting intelligence on the varieties of catamarans out there and then pair it with your own set of needs and talents when asking yourself what catamaran to buy.

Mistake #7: Failing to Establish the “Bristol” Value of the Used Catamaran
When you are shopping for a catamaran, you can look at images of a variety of models online and read the specifications of boats from all over the world. But the one thing you can’t do by looking at these images is to assess the value of the catamaran in the condition it is in right now.
This value will vary enormously by brand, year, configuration and the condition and inventory of the yacht for sale, as well as the market conditions and currency valuations at the time of purchase. Every boat has a value, whether it is sitting upside down on top of a reef or resting at the dock after rolling out from the shipyard.
The trick when buying a used catamaran is to establish her “Bristol” value. And just what is a Bristol catamaran? A Bristol catamaran is a catamaran that has been maintained and operated by a perfectionist... In other words, it is the best possible example you could ever find of a catamaran of this brand and vintage, regardless of her year of build. Chances are such a boat cannot even be found. But it is important to know, if such a catamaran did exist, what is the most someone would ever pay for her in the current market, in her current location? Then, when you go in search of a used catamaran you must subtract from that Bristol value all the things that keep her from being worth top dollar. Does she need new engines? A new generator? Fresh paint? New standing rigging? The list is long, and a wise buyer is able to take a calculator onto a catamaran and have a very good idea of what it might cost to take any boat he or she is interested in and put her into Bristol condition. Usually, such an analysis generally leads to four.
Conclusions:
Most used catamarans can’t be brought back into Bristol condition without far exceeding Bristol value, so beware of the fixer upper. If you can’t afford a Bristol catamaran, make sure you never put more money into the catamaran than her Bristol value, or else you will be upside down when you go to sell her.
If you lack the budget to get a really top condition catamaran, do not get drawn into the trap of thinking it has to be Bristol to do its job. In other words, if you can live with a catamaran that has some cosmetic issues, live with it. As long as she is seaworthy and serves your needs, she does not have to look brand new. Do not overinvest in your catamaran and it will pay off when you sell. If you are a perfectionist who simply cannot live with anything less than a perfect catamaran, a new boat may be better suited for you. (And that too will be imperfect, but that is another article!) The fact is, boats always need care and maintenance to sustain their value and seaworthiness. Be sure to properly balance each. Never forget that catamarans come in a range of qualities. There are BMWs and there are mid-level Fords, and you can’t take a lower-level yacht and make her a higher-level yacht without overspending. You need to know yourself well to avoid falling into the trap of trying to turn an average catamaran into something far nicer. In the end, budget will often be the determining factor here, and you are always left, to some extent, with the same choice: either get a smaller, higher quality yacht or a larger, lower quality yacht. Accept your choice and get down to the business of having fun.

Mistake #8: Thinking you’re getting a great deal when you’re not
To a certain extent, the price an owner or broker asks for a catamaran is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what the catamaran is worth, based on what the market is paying for that type of catamaran and year, in that location, in that market. So how do you judge a good deal from a bad one? Does it merely boil down to buying the catamaran for considerably less than the asking price?
A good deal can only be ascertained by three things: knowing the price of a Bristol example of that catamaran, knowing the defects that keep her from being Bristol, and knowing what it might cost to place her into Bristol condition. Getting the right assessment of the marketplace is critical to ensuring that you are truly “seeing” the value of the deal you just got.

Mistake #9: Flying all over the place before establishing general condition and price
Many buyers feel they have to see a catamaran up close before they can make an offer on it. It is not uncommon for potential buyers from Europe or even Australia to flying to buy a yacht without having first done some basic homework. This can be a costly leap of faith. The smarter thing to do is to have the desired yacht evaluated prior to a survey, either by a trusted broker or a local surveyor. This does not mean that you need a complete survey, but having a set of pictures and a careful list of visible defects is helpful.
Only after this is done should the potential buyer, in advance of a survey, make an offer on the catamaran pending inspection. There are several reasons to do this. First, you can find out what the seller is really prepared to sell for before you fly to see the catamaran. Second, you will have the boat under contract—and thus off the market—until you conduct a personal inspection and a survey that meets your satisfaction. And finally, this is the only risk-free way of knowing what a catamaran will sell for while being assured that it will be yours to buy if she is what you hope she is. It even allows you the time after the survey to insure it, document it, deliver it, etc.

Mistake #10: Failing to relax into the experience
When I first started working with buyers or couples setting off on their dream voyage, I thought I could tell who would be successful and who would struggle to adapt. But I was often surprised by the people who make a great success of their life as cruisers, and equally surprised by those who fail to get the most enjoyment from their adventure son the water. I think a lot of people fail to take it easy enough at first, to slowly build their confidence and competency. If you are sailing on a catamaran with a fearful crew or skipper, it is going to be very hard to enjoy yourself. How you start the journey, and how you acclimate your family and friends or spouse to the cruising life, will make all the difference.
In this regard, the islands of the Caribbean are truly an ideal place to start, with their consistent weather and winds, clear water, easy navigation, and plenty of safe harbors to tuck into when the weather gets nasty. So take it easy, allow your confidence to grow, and expand your horizons when you know you are ready.

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