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How To Get A Sailboat For Free Or Little Cost

I got my very first sailboat, a Catalina 22, for free back in 1998. While nothing in the world is truly without cost, I was able to get a nice boat and get on the water sailing simply by simply investing some elbow grease, time and buying a couple of new sails for the Catalina. In almost every place with navigable waters, from Lake Meade to Ft. Myers, you can find free sailboats that just need some loving care. Here are some tips on how to find a free sailboat and what to watch out for. The photo below is an example of an abandoned or neglected sailboat at a marina. It is in need of new topside and bottom paint, as well as minor repairs.

sailboat in slip with moss on hull and gelcoat fiberglass damage

Why Sailboats Are Left Abandoned By Their Owners

There are almost as many reasons for abandoned sailboats as there are kinds of boats out there. In some cases the owner may be elderly and not able to enjoy the sport anymore. They may have passed away, and now the person's heirs know nothing about the boat other than that they must pay slip or boat yard rent every month. The sailboat's owner may have owed back slip rent, and the marina seized the vessel, only to find it unsellable.

Where To Find A Free Sailboat

In addition to the "free" ads on Craigslist, you can often find abandoned sailboats in local marinas and boat yards. Rather than bothering the busy dockmaster, pay a visit to marinas and boatyards in your area and ask them about neglected boats that might be free for the taking, or available for little cost, such as paying overdue slip fees. If the marina owns the boat due to back rent charges, they might let you have it for agreeing to sign a year's slip lease. I know of one person who was able to get a free sailboat in Texas by an arrangement such as this. If you see a neglected or abandoned sailboat in the marina you may be able to get the owner's contact info from the dockmaster.  In many states you can locate the boat owner's address by jotting down the state registration number and doing a records check online. Once you have their address you can do a check on for their phone number. Also, consider placing ads on Craigslist and on marina bulletin boards for "cheap or free sailboat wanted".

How To Ask Someone To Give You Their Boat

Rather than coming across as someone who just wants something for free, begin by talking to them about your love for sailing and your need to find an affordable boat. You might even inquire about a partnership in the boat, where you are able to use it for doing some basic upkeep such as cleaning the hull or varnishing the teak. Also, ask if they would accept barter for the abandoned boat, such as some service that you can provide them. You might also consider forming a charitable youth sailing group in your community. Owners can donate neglected sailboats to a registered charity and receive a tax deduction. I recommend this only for those who are honest and sincere about starting a youth sailing organization, not for scammers.

What To Watch Out For When Taking On An Abandoned Sailboat

Not all free sailboats are a good deal. Most all of them will need at least several hundred dollars, or possibly much more, worth of repairs. Your first step in getting a free sailboat is to choose what size and kind you are looking for. Make sure whatever you take on is the kind of boat you will want to own in the long run. If you just want something that is manageable by one or two people, look for small trailer sailors suitable for day sailing. The smaller the boat, the less things such as new sails, rigging, hull paint, etc., will cost you. Only if you are considering going cruising or living aboard should you consider those with large inboard auxiliary engines, galleys, heads with holding tanks, etc. As a general rule, a 22' sailboat will cost you about half of what a 30' boat will, in terms of upkeep. To get an estimate of what the boat might be worth when it is all fixed up, you can get a very rough idea by searching and looking for the same or comparable models from that year.

When looking at abandoned sailboats, you should have a good idea of what certain repairs, such as topside paint and new rigging, might cost you. Carry a notepad and jot down all of the things that need to be fixed in order to make her seaworthy. Whatever amount you come up with, add fifty percent more to it and you might be in the ballpark of what it takes to fix up a "free sailboat". One resource that I have found very helpful is a book called "This Old Boat" by Don Casey, which shows a lot of the problems common to older sailboats, and how to fix them.  Common problems with older sailboats include needing new topside and bottom paint, needing standing and running rigging replaced, fiberglass damage, leaking windows, bad wiring, engines seized up, needing new sails, blistering of fiberglass below the waterline and much more.

When looking for a free sailboat, be practical and don't let just your emotions guide you. Choose only the kind of boat that you will enjoy sailing on and stay away from those which would be too large and require too much money to repair. As a sailor it saddens me deeply to see so many abandoned and neglected sailboats sitting in marinas and boatyards. If you love the sport of sailing, you can do these old boats a favor and help the environment by keeping them from being sent to scrap yards. It can be a lot of work to fix up an old sailboat, but you will learn many valuable skills and get a feeling for your vessel that those who have simply purchased one new will never have.  Fair Winds!

Article by Karl Schultz




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