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Buying your first boat is a dream come true for many, but the dream can turn into a nightmare if you haven’t prepared adequately before deciding “this is the one for me”.

Because the size, price, speed and type of vessels are almost endless you need to put a great deal of thought into what sort of boat you wish to buy. First the choice between sail or power has to be made; if sail, will it be keelboat or dinghy; if keelboat, will it be fixed or lifting, fin, long keel or twin. If power, do you want high speed or more sedate, single engine or twin, inboard or outboard?

Some of these decisions will be based on number of crew likely to be available and where you wish to base and use the vessel. Much of the East Coast is shallow enough not to be so attractive for a deep-keeled yacht and there is no point buying a 50 foot yacht that needs 8 crew if you only have 2 available. Similarly with power, there is not so much point in buying a 45 knot twin-engined flyer if you wish to cruise inland where the speed limit may be limited to only 5 knots. A slower vessel will usually be easier to manage inland and quite a lot more economical on fuel!

Many marinas and inland waterways authorities will require vessels using their facilities to be covered for at least third party insurance, and many owners will want to protect their investment by purchasing cover for accidental damage to their vessel. Cover is usually arranged for an amount equivalent to the market value of the vessel and a third party indemnity limit of about £3 million, which allows for any serious personal injuries caused.

Most reputable insurers will need to see a survey before covering vessels in excess of about 20 to 25 years of age to ensure that the vessel is free from the sort of defects that might lead to claims, things like gas, fuel and electrical systems and any defects that might lead to collisions or personal injuries to those on board. It is therefore sensible to arrange a survey before purchase so that you can see if there are any expensive defects that will need correcting. A Boat Safety Certificate is not the same as a survey and will not replace it, although it does cover some important aspects of safety, but beware alterations to the vessel carried out since the last examination, perhaps by an enthusiastic amateur!

Insurers will generally wish to know that whilst the vessel is in use someone with a reasonable level of experience is on board and in charge. If you lack experience it is a good idea to attend some training courses suitable for the type of vessel and waters you intend to cruise on – insurers may insist on this.

Thereafter cost of insurance is dependent upon the size of vessel, sum to be insured, age, type and speed of vessel, location and type of mooring and cruising area. Loads may be applied for previous claims history and discounts or “No Claims Bonus” for years free of claims.

Finally, choose your insurer carefully; the cheapest is not always the best but if you contact a specialist broker he will have a choice of insurers and can place your cover with the most appropriate one for you and your vessel. UK companies will be regulated by the Financial Services Authority, which gives you a greater measure of security.

David Long,  28/3/2012.

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