March 20, 2012

If you have to ask . . .

THEY SAY the new boat market is improving slightly, along with the rest of the economy. But sometimes those of us so closely involved with boats and sailing have a hard time realizing what a small portion of the economy we represent. For instance, the estimated value of all new sailboat building in the whole of North America in 2010 was just $272 million. [1]

Compare that with the amount we spend on warfare ($119.4 billion in Afghanistan alone last year) and you'll see what I mean. Even the car market in the USA is 253 times bigger than the boat market. Of course, the rate of boat building has long been affected by the overflowing used-boat market, with fiberglass hulls lasting 40 years or more without serious deterioration, and this lower output has meant higher prices for fewer new boats.

People often ask, "So how much does a new 35-foot boat cost these days?" But that's not an easy question to answer because the price varies more according to displacement than with overall length. It's an unfortunate fact of life that the top-quality materials and workmanship demanded by cruising yachts designed to cross oceans do not come cheap. For example, the price in 2012 for a new 34-foot Pacific Seacraft in Puget Sound, Washington, is somewhere between $300,000 and $310,000. If you take an average of $305,000, it works out at just over $22 a pound of displacement.

To this you would have to add many items of gear that seasoned cruisers would deem essential, such as a tender and outboard motor, spare sails, electronic and/or wind vane self-steering systems, radar,  and so on.  This could easily amount to 20 percent of the purchase price, bringing the total to $27 a pound for a boat ready to go deep-sea cruising.

So if you need to know the price of a new, top-of-the-range cruising sailboat, first find out what it weighs in pounds. Then multiply that number by 27 and you'll have a good idea of what it will actually cost you.  This is a more accurate way to estimate the price than comparing by overall length.  You can find less expensive new boats, naturally, and you'll get what you pay for. 

As far as I can see, the best bargain is a fairly new boat just back from a long cruise. It will have all the gear you need, with all the wrinkles ironed out. But you know the problem as well as I do: They're as scarce as hen's teeth.

[1] 2010 North American Sailing Industry Study

Today's Thought
If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars.
— J. Paul Getty

If life is like a box of chocolates, then love is like a game of poker. It starts with a pair. She gets a flush. He shows diamonds and before you know it they have a full house.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Matt Marsh said...

Hi John,

There's an ongoing discussion over at Attainable Adventure Cruising ( ) about whether it's possible to mass produce an ocean-ready 8-tonne cruiser at a not-totally-insane price, say $175k. Such a ready-to-go cruising yacht might be very appealing to the sort of young professionals who can't afford a $350k yacht, and can't afford the time and uncertainty to refit an $80k yacht.

My calculations suggest that yes, it could be done. But it will be a very different boat from what we normally think of when we hear "40 foot yacht".

It couldn't have any of the usual luxury touches- no retractable television, no imported hardwood trim, and a minimalist systems set. It would be a relatively light, slim thing compared to modern charter-oriented 36-40 footers. And its rig would have to come from workboat ancestry, not from racer heritage.

But I think it could be done, given enough production volume. That is, of course, predicated on enough buyer interest to justify a substantial investment in tooling and facilities.

I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts on such a boat.