Buying a sailboat

On having a floating home

When living on the water, your home is always in motion, swaying with the currents and winds. Knowing that your vessel is not permanently tethered to the earth is a good feeling, it means you can go anywhere.

We've always had difficulty taking public transportation, we don't have a driver's license either. Our primary mode of transport has always been a bicycle, it's quiet, and we're free to move myself around wherever, and whenever we want. Traveling by sailboat, is taking this a step further, you can move yourself over from one continent to the other.

If you want to live in a sailboat, you don't have to sail offshore. There is much to be experienced and seen while staying in one country, but at least, if you have the itch to leave, you can do it. There are many other benefits to having a floating home.

Why live on a boat?

1. The scenery changes everyday. If you're at anchor, the boat turns with the wind and you find yourself with a new view. If you don't like your neighbours, you have the option of hauling anchor and moving somewhere else - having the freedom to move from place to place unhindered is wonderful.

2. You have a small ecological footprint. A boat is a gateway to self-reliance, with systems completely off-grid. With solar you consume no power, with wind propulsion there are no emissions, and because water is limited to your tanks, you are aware of how much you use; awareness is key.

3. Low-cost home ownership. For a lot less money, you can own something and make it yours. You can anchor in downtown Vancouver for free, and share the same view as the million dollar condos lining the shore.

4. You can travel with your house. This is ideal for us, as artists, to be able to go to different places while our cocoon stays the same.

What boat to buy

When we began looking for a sailboat to buy, we'd spend evenings browsing listings on yachtworld, trying to figure out what sort of vessel best suited our needs and budget. But here are some questions you should ask yourself first to help narrow your search:

1. Budget. What is the max amount of money you're willing to spend on a yacht. Be realistic, be cautious. Keep in mind that you will probably put a lot more money into it afterwards, even more if you plan to take it offshore. There is a yacht out there for any budget, but it's important to remember that the cheaper it is the more time and work you will have to put back into it. If time is a factor, you may prefer to pick a turn key yacht. If you have a limited budget, choosing a smaller boat is a smart move. Dock fees are priced on boat length, and every bit of gear gets more pricy when sized up. 8-11m is the sweet spot when it comes to boats.

2. Location. Where do you want to be cruising/living? Depending on your goals, it may be better to buy the boat in another country; although this comes with its own set of complications. If you don't have much experience, you're better off choosing a boat near your home grounds. You won't have to deal with visas that way. For example, we moved to Vancouver from Montreal to get Pino, it was a good choice and still relatively close to home.

3. Experience. If you're a novice, starting out smaller is a better idea. Smaller boats give more immediate feedback, you get a feel for the wind and are less likely to make costly mistakes on a larger yatch afterwards.

4. Comfort. A larger boat is more comfortable on a passage. Race boats (tall rig), like ours, tend to heel quite a bit. You get used to it, but it may not be ideal for you.

5. Intentions. If you want to travel the world, your yatch will need to be suitable for rougher waters and stronger winds. There is not just one type of blue water boat, you will have to familiarize yourself with the features required for offshore travel. We recommend reading Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat by John Vigor.

I found a boat. what now?

Visit the boat, inspect every inch of it and take plenty of photos and/or videos. If you know anyone with experience on boats, have them come with you, or show them the listing/photos afterwards and ask them what they think. If you think you've found your forever boat home, make an offer. Usually, this is done through a sales agent.

If your offer is accepted, the next step is to have a survey of the boat done. The yacht is hauled out of the water, and checked by a marine surveyor. In turn, you receive a document with every detail of the boat, which includes photos and a list of items that need to be looked at/replaced. To buy Pino Devine & I each got a 10,000$ bank loan. We had savings, but didn't want to be left with an empty account after the purchase. That proved to be wise, given the cost of everything marine - we had no idea how bad it was. We made a plan then, to pay off the loan within 3 years, which amounted to payments of ~600$ a month.

Getting certified

You can get a boat without experience (like we did), but in Canada you need a couple of things first.

1. Pleasure Craft Operator Card. The test is easy, and covers the basic safety regulations, as well as buoyage. You can do the test online, and the card will be shipped to you afterwards. This test makes sure that you understand how to recognize different buoys, how to navigate alongside other boats etc.

2. A ROC certificate (radio operator's certificate). You need this to be able to operate a marine VHF radio. Check your area for ROC courses, it costs about 100$ per person. You can buy the manuals and study at home, then take the test on a scheduled date with an examiner. The test is a multiple choice written exam, and includes a few verbal questions about radio calling (need to learn Nato Phonetic Alphabet). You have to take this test, otherwise you won't be permitted to transmit on the radio (you can technically, but you will be in the wrong). Knowing how to talk on a VHF radio is important, especially if you've had an accident and need help.

3. Security gear. Even if you're just going for a short outing with your boat, you need to get basic safety gear, like lifejackets (one for every person aboard), a medical kit, a PLB or EPIRB, good ground tackle etc.

4. Changing your boat name. First of all, ignore whatever anyone tells you about it being bad luck; Neptune doesn't give a shit. Having a name that means something to you is important. In Canada, changing your boat name will cost you 250$ and the wait time varies, 1-2 months. You can visit Transport Canada for information on how to do it. They will send you a certificate of registry, this piece of paper is very important. You will have to show it to customs whenever you're entering a new country by boat.

Go sailing

If you already know how to sail, good on you! Otherwise, here is what you can do:

1. Get lessons. If you can afford lessons, do it. It will make you a more confident sailor.

2. Hire a captain. Again, if you can afford it, the best thing to do would be to hire a captain to teach you how to sail your own boat. All boats are different after all.

3. Go race. Go to yacht clubs and volunteer to race on boats, you don't have to be part of the club to do this most times. You will learn a lot doing this. People who race push their boats to the limit, you can see how different boats behave and what not to do.

4. Join a yacht club. Just spending time in the lounge or in organized outings is great. Making sailing friends is important, we learned a lot that way.

5. Just get out there! Once you know the basics, go out with your boat as much as you can and practice.

For the novice, there are many sailing manuals you should read. The first time we pushed off the dock, we didn't even put the sails up. Picking a calm day to make your first outting is probably a good idea. Also, if your boat is in a river, go out at slack tide. Don't be afraid to ask others for help. Walk around the docks, ask questions, make friends. Sailors like to share knowledge, they will be happy to help. No question is a stupid question.

Going offshore?

If you want to go offshore, there is a long list of safety items, tools and spares that you need to have.

When we planned to leave Canada, we met up with some racers who were going to do the Vic-Maui race. They gave us their vessel and equipment checks list. These are all things that you will need at some point or another. Depending on your sailing plans, it may be tough to find spares, and so it is best to leave with almost everything now.

Another helpful reference document for gearing up for offshore travel, is the New Zealand Cat 1 requirements list. New Zealand registered yachts can't go offshore without passing a Cat 1 survey, if they don't pass, they can't leave. Wise.