Should I Buy an Ex-Charter Catamaran?

I questioned 20 catamaran owners; if you were buying a used catamaran, would you consider a yacht from a charter company or only search privately owned vessels? 8 of the people said they wouldn’t consider ANY boat coming from the land of charters. Ten of the people said they would entertain the idea of buying a pre-owned charter boat and two already have purchased pre-owned charter cats and BOTH had good things to say about their experiences. Read on later in this article about specific experiences from one of the buyers.

Searching for your next catamaran can get over-whelming pretty quick. There a plenty of cat’s out there to choose from; between all the different designs, years and location of the boats, one can become bewildered with hopefully choosing the “right” catamaran. This doesn’t even include whether or not the boat was used privately, or for charter. Knowing if your potential catamaran was cared for like the daughter- you- never -had or abused like a hotel room during spring break, Mexico style, will be the difference between blissful nights on the water or living horrific nightmares. The key is to know what to look for, where to look for it and knowing when to hold, or fold. With some hard work and looking in every corner of the world, you just might be able to find your dream boat with some savings.

Tips on Questions to Ask Sellers

There are two types of used boat’s out there; the good and the bad, and have no fear, they’re every-where. When buying a used catamaran, there are two choices, either; a private owned or ex-chartered vessel. Of the two, does it matter which one you pick? There are plenty of gems and lemons in both markets; BUT the difference between having a smile or a puckered face is dependent upon you, the shopper. Why should someone buy a boat that has been retired from a charter groups’ fleet? Why not just search privately owned vessels and stay away from the head-aches that are surely to come, right? If comparing dollar to dollar, of the same boat, back to back, one privately owned, with 1,000 engine hours versus the charter fleet version with 4,000 hours, both maintained exactly the same and no major accidents, you will find the private owner version, much more expensive; on average, 30-40 percent higher in cost. Well, with a little bit of time, patience and dedicated searching, anyone out there can find their dream boat, at a very cool, affordable price. However, navigating these areas’ can be tricky and it is important to understand how to avoid the pitfalls of buying a used charter boat. To help you shop, we have included 5 tips below.

Tip 1: Engine hours are a good metric to suggest the amount of use. Typical high use after 5 year typical charter is 4,000 to 5,000. Low use would be 2,000 or less.

The reality is, charter boats tend to get beat up, period. Don’t be one of those buyers out there who got themselves an ex-charter fleet yacht, on whim, without proper knowledge. No one wants’ to own something they cannot sail. If you are a tight budget, looking for your first catamaran or simply trying to find the best buy out there, it is possible to find a sea-worthy, retired charter cat, out there in the world. Maybe the most important number is engine hours which will give you a numerical idea of the catamaran’s use like mileage on a car.

Tip 2: Which charter base? More remote charter bases means fewer charters. Or better or worse exposure to extreme weather conditions. You will find charter boats out of a location like St Vincent will have less wear and tear generally and lower hours than those coming from a location like the BVIs due to both fewer charter guests as well as less likelihood of tropical storms.

In the hunt for your new- used boat, you are going to come across many boats that are poorly maintained, beaten, abused and shouldn’t even be floating. This is true in all markets although some locations like the BVIs see much more use or some locations like the northern Caribbean or Greek Cyclades have worse storms. Knowing that a market is more prone to issues or has a certain risk factor like hurricanes can help generate important screening questions.

Worse condition from wear or damage is not always obvious. Most of the horror stories from owners, who have purchased previously used charter boats, are due them not doing their homework on the boat before buying. Once the new boat owner has taken charge of the vessel and sailed her some, that’s when the nightmare of problems, usually arise. Just because it “looks” okay, means it is kosher. Charter catamarans are big business; every company wants to have new boats in their fleet, so once a boat has served its contract term and is outdated, the charter company is very motivated to re-coup some of their investment. Catamarans in a charter fleet are typically used for an average of 5 years, pretty consistently, adding roughly more than 500% usage than the standard weekend sailor. So, with stats like that, it is very easy to understand why they have such a lower price tag. It is absolutely critical to be very thorough in your inspection of the vessel. It doesn’t take much, with 5 years of constant use, from people all over the world, some who know how to sail and some who don’t, to destroy a sailboat. If you don’t know absolutely all the in’s and out’s of the boat you are looking at, hire somehow who does. It will be worth every dollar spent.

Tip 3: What charter company?  Big one like Moorings or Dream Yachts or smaller one?  Does the charter company have a reputation good or bad?

All in all, the state of the boat is ultimately going to be determined by who chartered and managed the boat. Some companies have better reputations for keeping their fleets in tip top condition. Asking around other sailors if you zone in on a catamaran may help you determine the kind of history your catamaran may have. The two largest groups are Moorings and Dream Yacht Charters, but there are numerous other companies throughout the world.

You are not going to find too many extra bells and whistles on ex-charter cats. Once in a while, one goes on the market loaded down with all the goodies, but most the time, if it can be used elsewhere, it’s stripped off and headed who-knows-where. If you are looking for things such as: larger winches, bigger fuel\water tanks, self-furling\stacking and mainsail systems, additional cleats on board, bigger batteries, alternators, lines, safety gear and more, look at privately used boats. No one is going to put all of that on a charter cat and then re-sell it for cheap. Most of the above mentioned upgrades will only be found on privately used vessels.

When shopping around in the privately-used market, you will find that many of the boats have been taken care of a lot better. Many owners have re-fitted and modified their boats to accommodate them while out a sea So, if are lucky enough to find someone who was a blue-water sailor or really cared about their boat, you may come across things like; some “weak-points” are re-enforced or even built differently, plumbing is oversized, and furling sails are installed. Sometimes, even more bells and whistles are added; things like radar, GPS, dual VHF and more, for ease of operation and safer sailing.

Tip 4: Is there an exit survey available? Did the owner get one done and if so did he or she hold the charter company to fix everything?

The phase-out is the process of when the company is relinquishing the command of the vessel back to its owner or putting the boat on the market. In this process, the boat is surveyed by a professional, a full inspection & service of all equipment is done. Once fully serviced, cleaned and anything broken, misplaced or damaged, is fixed, the boat is cleared. The phase-out has to be satisfactorily completed and checked over by the owner of the vessel before it’s cleared for sale, but often lackadaisical owners will not hold the charter company accountable enough. It is important to see that the exit survey and that all items have been addressed. This area is a particularly important focus in questioning sellers.

TIP 5: When was the 5 year charter?  Economic recessions also mean less charter use.

Catamarans that were chartered during the Great Recession of the late 2000’s saw much less use than catamarans from the early 2000’s. Catamarans during the current era of Covid-19 restrictions will also see less use and come out of charter with less wear and tear than came and went without pandemic travel restrictions.

To buy a boat out of a charter fleet, the first step is to figure out how much the boat has depreciated. A catamaran that has been in service for 4-6 years will have depreciated around 40 percent, give or take, depending on MANY various factors. This is according to the National Yacht Broker’s Association. Finding an ex-charter fleet catamaran that has been maintained with care and has never been in an accident, will obviously hold value better than a boat that was wrecked and fixed. Regardless, the majority of catamarans will not depreciate to less than 60% of their replacement value. In simple terms, at some point, the up-keep of the boat begins to be more expensive than the boat itself.

Story of Buyer’s Experience

Both of the boat owners that I spoke with had good things to say about their experiences AFTER buying their pre-owned charter catamarans. Both the gentlemen I spoke with seemed to have a battle plan in place prior to starting their search in the charter sector. Knowing that there were more lemons out there than gems, they were willing to spend the time. Both owners were able to find bigger boats than they had expected to be able to afford. They both agree that finding boats being sold after their charter career are much more affordable, however requires much more discretion and time to find a good buy. They both also did comment that they felt like it was consuming all their time and energy to find the perfect buy out there in the pre-owned charter world. So, please keep this in mind when considering where you want to shop.

Sally Anne, a 58 leopard, is owned by a wonderful family on the Chesapeake Bay. Having interviewed her owner, Jim, a deeply tanned man from Maine, he has been sailing his entire life. Raising his family of four, they had sailed the world and spent almost every family vacation for 18 years sailing somewhere. He managed to pull this off, just like many others, on a twin cabin mono-hull sailboat. Space was tight, but they made it happen. Jim, a former single-hull sailor, decided to buy his first catamaran in 2010 when his first grand-child was born, having chartered a cat and liked their overall performance. With the family continuously getting even bigger with more grandkids and in-laws, Jim had outgrown his first cat. Jim wanted a bigger boat with 4 cabins. His ideal “dream boat” as he called it, “what I was looking for, must have had 4 cabins; providing plenty room for the family, their gear and maybe even a guest or two. “ He even goes on to explain how important extra room in the lounge and galley areas was. “The wife needed room to entertain, cook and store everything. Every single boat we looked at only had 3 cabins, It wasn’t enough.” he said, When his wife and him started looking for their next cat, Jim was thinking that a boat somewhere in the 42’-48’ range that would serve him well. Of all the boats that Jim looked at and they actually liked, passed muster, the surveyor gave them a report that they could work with; all were way above his price range. Whenever he found something he liked within his dollar amount, there was some key feature he was searching for that he still had to go without. Most of the time, it was the 4th cabin that was getting sacrificed to cut cost. “No way was I buying a boat without my 4th bunk room.” Jim states. He explained his hunt for the magnificent vessel that I’m sitting in the cockpit on.

Finally willing to entertain the idea of owning a pre-owned charter yacht, they broke down and went fleet shopping. “It took a lot longer to find this boat,” Jim tells me. “My wife and I flew to more than 5 different countries, looking for her.” Jim goes to tell me that while on vacation sailing the BVI, in the third year of looking for the right boat, he came across Sally Anne. Three years! Jim jumps back into saying that, “pretty much every cat we looked at was just too heavily used. Most were old, worn and just over-all, had a tired feeling to them,” he says, explaining his shopping experience. With a little bit of good favor on his side, the charter group where he decided to bareboat from had a broker on site and they had a select few boats for sale. “We had almost given up looking” Jim grins while telling me this. “Once my wife and I had laid our eyes’ on her,” holding his arms out, indicating the boat as a whole, “we knew we wanted her, as long as the surveyor didn’t shoot us down, It was the few boats that did not look like it had survived being adrift in a hurricane” Jim jokingly added.

Luckily, the boat came back with a good report. When it was all said and done, Jim and his wife were able to purchase a boat that was more than 10 feet longer that they ever dreamed they could own. They also got their 4th cabin and are at home on board their latest catamaran. Jim went on to tell me that not everything was perfect. They had to replace many different items on the boat; from new lines, to new heads’ and plumbing and even had to buy a new dinghy and motor. Despite having to dump a bunch of money into his ex-charter fleet boat, Jim told me that he was still able to afford the refit and getting the boat ready for him and his family. This show’s that with some hard work and time, it is possible to find a good buy out there, if you are willing to be patient.

Bottom Line

In the end, it boils down to the purchasing basics’ of anything that is a major buy; be it a car, catamaran or airplane. There are tons of variables that any soon-to-be buyer has to take into account. Make sure to use the resources available to you. Weigh your options. Ask pointed questions, be cynical, and work with a reputable surveyor. Study and research the boat, including its history and maintenance schedule. Look at the purchase as business transaction. When it is all said and over with, you might actually find the catamaran you dreamed of, and a price you won’t lose the wife or sleep over.

Hunter Frey

By Hunter Frey

My name is Hunter Frey. I’m a sailor, writer and adventurer. It’s my passion to enjoy life, get the most out of it, and have no regrets. I like to share about the things I learn and experience.

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