Decide How You Will Use Your Catamaran
When deciding what should I look for when buying a catamaran? The first step is to decide how you will be using your catamaran.
Are You Planning on Living Onboard the Catamaran Cruising Full-Time?
If you are intending on living aboard and cruising full time, you will be looking at a boat with comfortable accommodations. A user-friendly galley and a nice large cockpit for holding sundowner gatherings.
For some cruisers cruising speed beats liveability. Just bear in mind that a faster boat will have a few sacrifices as far as load-carrying ability and livability go. Shorter passage-making time may force you to sacrifice carrying many of the toys you want to carry due to space and or load-carrying ability. If speed is still the governing factor, you may need to go up one or two boat sizes to achieve the same load-carrying ability but may never quite get luxuries such as queen-sized beds in a fast boat unless you move up to a very large catamaran.
Will You Only Sail on Weekends and Vacations?
If you will only be sailing on weekends or over vacation periods you may be more interested in a fast boat to get you to where you are going sooner. Or a catamaran with a large cockpit for entertaining friends and family. Four cabins may make more sense for you, as you may want to take the kids and grandkids along on each trip.
Galley size and layout may not be as big of an issue for you, as you may be willing to sacrifice galley size for more entertaining room, or the ability to buy a smaller boat for less capital outlay.
Set Your Budget
Decide on your budget first. How much money are you willing to spend on a boat? If you’re going cruising full time, the amount of outlay you make purchasing your boat will affect your cruising budget, which will translate into how long you can cruise for or the quality of your cruising. Will you have to sacrifice shore trips or meals on land by having spent more of on your boat.
Would a larger, older catamaran make more sense to buy than a new smaller catamaran? Maybe a look at my review of our Lagoon 380 after 5 years of full-time cruising and 20,000nm will spark some thoughts.
Be realistic when you set your budget. Don’t forget the little expenses such as traveling to view boats. These trips can be expensive and soon eat into your budget. What about registration fees, system upgrades, and marina or yard fees while you upgrade the boat.
Remember, to take a normal stock cruising catamaran to a blue-water ready cruiser that is capable of going off the beaten path even for short trips will require about $40,000 to $90,000 to add the systems and amenities you will want and need for long term liveaboard cruising.
Set Your Catamaran Purchase Timeframe
The earlier you buy your catamaran before you will start to use it, the more fees and expenses you will incur owning the boat. Insurance, marina fees, haulout costs, maintenance costs, etc. Don’t discount how much money it will cost you to own a boat for a year or more before starting to use it.
Quite often new catamaran owners budget and get into buying a catamaran with the intention of doing their own maintenance. Then buy buying the boat too early and having to leave the boat far from home, they end up relying on expensive local marine technicians to maintain the boat.
If you are pushed for time to buy a catamaran, you’ll have less time to find the perfect boat. You’ll be forced to buy what is on the market in the short period you are looking for.
Buy in the Fall in the USA and Europe for the Best Used Catamaran Prices
If you are looking for a new boat and have time to spare, the fall in both the US and Europe are a great time to look for boats. Prices come down as owners wishing to sell their boats will be keen to sell, before having the expense and hassle of winterizing and hauling their boats.
Buy in the Summer in Hurricane or Cyclone Zones to Save Money on Buying a Used Catamaran
The same can be said for buying boats in the summer in hurricane or cyclone areas such as the Caribbean or South Pacific. Sellers and charter fleets will be motivated to sell their boats before the expense of insuring their boats before the hurricane season sets in. They will also not want to have the hassle of moving their boats out of the hurricane zone or preparing them for hurricane season. The owners will be very motivated to sell if an active storm season is forecast, and the risk of losing the boat they are trying to sell is high.
When is the Best Time to Buy a New Catamaran
If you are in the market for a new catamaran and have time to spare, speak with dealers a year or two before your delivery date. Make a deal to pre-buy a boat that will be brought in from Europe or South Africa for a Boat Show. Not only will you get a deal on a Boat Show boat, but you’ll get an even better deal as the dealer will have pre-sold a Boat Show boat, long in advance and carries no risk on the Boat Show boat.
If you do not want a Boat Show boat. Wait until Boat Shows, where dealers are often motivated to offer special incentives on new boats.
Waiting until the end of the year is also a great strategy for buying a new catamaran. If you know the boat you want and have the deposit ready, start calling dealers just before Christmas, tell them you are ready to buy. See who gives you the best deal. Chances are high you hit a dealer who is pushed to reach their annual sales numbers with a boat builder, to maintain their dealership for the next year, who will do anything to sell a boat.
Will You Buy a New or Used Catamaran
The balance between new and used is a balancing act between budget, size, depreciation, and ongoing maintenance costs. A new boat comes with a known history and new systems. This comes at the cost of depreciation, which runs at around 20% per year for the first couple of years.
With a new catamaran, you’ll also have the frustration of having to deal with all of the niggly little warranty claims that take well over a year to finally clear up.
With an older catamaran, you may be able to afford a larger boat or a boat with better systems and equipment than you could have afforded if you had gone with a new boat.
Buying an older boat requires careful research and a thorough survey with a trusted surveyor. The net result may be a more stress-free transaction than buying a new catamaran.
What Payload Ability Do You Require
Catamarans are very weight sensitive, it is often said that a light catamaran is a safe catamaran. This logic is not as much about build weight, more about how much an individual catamaran is loaded.
Think of things like generators, Air Conditioning systems, Dive Compressors, Dive Tanks, Toys, weeks or months of provisions, extra fuel, extra water, etc. The weight of all of this gear adds up quickly and may very quickly exceed the weight carrying ability of a performance boat.
If you are looking to have a lot of toys and have a fully equipped luxurious boat, you would be better suited to buy a production catamaran than a performance catamaran. Production catamarans are normally built with a large weight carrying ability and are fairly forgiving with how they are loaded (within reason).
Production Catamaran Vs. Custom Catamaran
Buying a production catamaran may not seem as sexy as buying a custom catamaran where you get to pick and choose the perfect layout of the boat and then have it finished to your exacting specifications. What you give up for in flexibility and finish quality in a production catamaran, you will gain in years of product development, systems refinement, and industrial-scale build quality.
Production Catamaran Owners Groups
Production catamarans also come with owner support to lean on in the way of Facebook or email groups where owners can share fixes, troubleshooting, and upgrade tips. The information gained in these groups can save hours or days trying to fix common problems.
Buying a Custom Catamaran
Sure at times, the build quality is less than expected on a half-million-dollar, or million-dollar purchase. But, most flaws are known and correctable, normally with a bit of haggling under warranty. The key is they are known, whereas on a custom boat, you will own the prototype, and every defect will be for you to discover. It has long been said, custom catamaran = custom problems.
The key to selecting a custom builder and designer is reputation and history. One needs to choose a builder with deep pockets who is able and willing to correct major design flaws that should have been seen before the keels were even laid. Picture paying a couple of million dollars to a lesser-known yard, only to find that your dream boat has cracking issues in high-stress areas.
An intermediate solution for those wanting a custom catamaran is buying a semi-custom catamaran, where the hull designs and sail plan are proven, and you get some flexibility with the internal design, systems, and finish. St. Francis Catamarans and Knysna Yachts are both excellent options to consider when looking at semi-custom boat designs.