Why Are Used Sailboats So Cheap? (5 Surprising Reasons)

Written by Shawn Buckles in Beginner Info

If you're on the market for a used sailboat, you might notice how many cheap ones there are. Is there something wrong with them? Not necessarily - it's more surprising.

Why are used sailboats so cheap? Some sailboats need a lot of work. Others are cheap because their owner needs to get rid of them, for example, when they're in financial distress. Boats cost money, even when not in use, which increases the urgency to sell. Also, there are a lot of used sailboats available, making it a buyer's market.

You can even find some free boats on the streets. But are they any good? Read on to find out.

5 Surprising Reasons Why Some Used Sailboats Are So Cheap

There are many reasons that explain all the cheap sailboats out there. In my opinion, it all boils down to five simple main reasons:

Reasons some used sailboats are so cheap:
  • She's a project
  • There are a lot of smaller used sailboats available, driving down the price
  • Boats that are not in use cost money and fall behind in maintenance
  • People buy boats impulsively and find out it's not for them
  • People buy boats in a strong economy and find out they can't afford it

That last one is probably what most people think about intuitively when they see a cheap boat. But if you pay attention, and understand why some boats are in good shape but still cheap, there are actually bargains to be had here.

Apart from boats that are in bad shape, in most cases, the cheap price is just a reflection of how bad the current owner wants to get rid of their boat.

Are free boats any good?

They say that free boats will eventually cost you more in maintenance than buying a fairly priced one. If you have a good eye and know what you're looking for, you might get away with it. If you know how to maintain and fix her up yourself, that might work too. But for most people, it's a lot less headache to find something reasonable.

Now let's take a closer look at those reasons.

She's a Project

Famous last words.

Some boats are just not worth it, and their price reflects it. Some boat owners don't know how to maintain a boat, or don't want to maintain it, letting her wither away slowly on the driveway or in the marina. You want to avoid these boats, because they will end up being expensive.

Boats that require some maintenance are fine, but once a boat has been neglected long enough, you can't really get her back up to par, whatever you put into it.

The best advice I have on avoiding these boats is looking at the seller. Does he/she know what she's talking about? If they do, they will be upfront about any maintenance that needs to be done. If they don't, they will probably shrug and say it's fine.

Small Boats Depreciate

Beautiful yachts that are well-maintained may cost a fortune and retain their value pretty well. However, there are plenty of beginner sailboats available, suppressing the price. Another important factor here is that people who buy small beginner sailboats are probably trying to not break the bank, so there's a good chance they only spend what's necessary on maintenance. Also, they're beginners, so they probably will make mistakes or forget things.

It's a Buyer's Market

There are SO MANY boat owners who later on decide it's not for them. And there are so many small boats produced new each year. Thousands of news sailboats are sold each year:

In Q3 2018, a total of 1,313 sailboats were sold in the United States.

Which means they have to be produced too. Sailboat manufacturers that produce small, mass-produced entry-level sailboats produce hundreds of new sailboats each year.

With so many new boats and so many people trying it out and deciding it's not for them, it's a buyer's market. There is more offer than demand in the entry-level segment, suppressing the price of sailboats across the board.

So no, not all cheap sailboats are bad deals.

Boats Cost Money, Even When You Don't Use Them

The reason people want to get rid of there boat quickly is really simple. Boats cost you money to store or dock. If you don't use them, they get behind on maintenance, decreasing there value further. They also require work to maintain, which, if you're getting rid of yours, is not what you want to spend your time on in my opinion.

I've actually done a lot of research to boat ownership costs, and if you're thinking of becoming a boat owner, I recommend reading our guide to the average cost of buying and owning a sailboat.

People Need the Money

Boats are a luxury product - you buy one when you're ahead financially. Then, when disaster strikes and you have some sort of financial trouble, the first thing to go is the boat. It's not essential, and it eats away your monthly budget.

Sailboats are not like cars - you don't need it to get to work (although sometimes I wonder whether the world would be a better place if we sailed everywhere!). Sailing is a hobby for most people, and a relatively expensive one if you don't actively do it.

Those are the most important reasons people sell their boats cheaply all the time. That leads us to some good, and some bad news for you.

In Conclusion

Good news: you can find a bargain boat

Okay, so beginners mess up there boat and neglect it and what not, right? Sometimes. That's not to say that there aren't any good small beginner sailboats out there. No, in contrast, there are loads of good deals. The fact that there is so much on offer suppresses the price for ALL small beginner sailboats. That means that people who buy a modest sailboat, maintain it properly, and then sell it off, also have to lower there price.

There are really good boats out there for a couple of grand, right on the sweet spot of the lower segment, but with proper maintenance.

If you're thinking of buying a boat, I recommend reading our 10 crucial checks for buying a private's sellers boat. William wrote it - he has sailed the world for 8 years and knows what he's talking about.

Bad news: you could be one of those owners in a couple of years

I always recommend people who want to get into sailing to do their due diligence. You can have all kinds of sailing experiences without owning a boat. Heck, I don't even own a boat (yet) - I'm very hesitant with buying my first sailboat. It pays off to find out what you like and dislike. When you own it, you've got to take care of it. Better make sure you like her, or you will come to hate her soon enough.

To get started, I recommend hiring small daysailers first. There are dozens of good websites where you can hire sailboats across the U.S. Boatsetter is pretty interesting, it's like the Airbnb for sailboats. But you could also simply hire locally, on the side of the lake.

If you're not sure where to start, that's okay. I've written a really comprehensive guide that walks you through the exact steps to take if you want to get into sailing. Go check it out, it will help you get started quickly.

Did you find the answer to your specific question?
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Daniel Royster

Hello Shawn!
I have been reading your sailing articles and have decided it’s time to buy a sailboat. My friend and I want to sail across the Atlantic (as a goal to inspire us to learn the ropes)
I wonder if you could tell me what you think of this boat and if it would be up to the task?
thanks for your time.
Do you have any tips on fast-tracking learning to sail? Books or resources you find useful?

James V

Hi Shawn,

I was wondering how much strength is required to sail at 40-50ft sailboat. I have back pain issues, but have always wanted to learn to sail. Am I fooling myself? I play 2 sets of doubles tennis once a week.

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