Boat Delivery: Do It Yourself or Hire a Pro?

Cape Hatteras

A delivery around Cape Hatteras in an unfamiliar boat takes serious preparation.

Anyone buying a boat via the Internet these days may want to consider the delivery aspect of getting the boat home. Trailering is one thing, but delivering a boat on its own bottom up or down the coast is quite another. During my merchant mariner days, I occasionally delivered boats during my mandatory time off between work assignments. What could be more fun than taking someone else’s boat and getting paid for it, right?

I got out of the business pretty quickly because most of the boats I delivered just weren’t ready for a long trip. Oh, they were fine locally, but a 1,000-mile offshore trip was a different beast. I found myself doing more boat prep than sailing—after all, I had my own safety at stake, as well as my responsibility to get the boat back in one piece. I tired of mundane tasks that an owner might not have attended to, like filling propane tanks, checking life rafts and safety equipment, and having the right charts for the voyage.

So the other day when my friend Will called to ask me to help deliver a 44-foot sailboat from South Carolina to Rhode Island, I hesitated just a bit before asking a lot of questions. It turns out the new owner had purchased the boat from — you guessed it — an Internet listing. The boat is being prepped by a local yard down south, and we are busy trying to arrange crew, flights, shakedown and inspection issues, not to mention the 750-mile trip around Cape Hatteras.

Most of the time, new owners want to deliver their new toys themselves, and may even conscript some friends who think it will be fun to help out. Let me tell you, it’s a lot of work to make sure all runs smoothly. Some years ago, I did the same thing as a new owner, delivering my own new boat from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Cod. My crew consisted of my 12-year-old son and some gung-ho coworkers without a lot of sailing experience. What a fool I was! It was early spring, the water was frigid (no survival suits) and if I had gotten hurt or incapacitated during the trip it was unlikely any of my sea-sick helpers would have made it back alive without me.  I was not familiar with the new boat and relied on others to prep it. Fortunately, everything turned out fine and it was quite an adventure. We made the trip in just a few days, despite the fact that we left shortly after a furious storm blew through—all because of work-related scheduling pressure.

If you are delivering your new boat yourself, here’s my advice on how to get it home safe and sound:

  • Make sure your boat insurance is in place.
  • Choose experienced crew who can operate and navigate the boat without you being on deck constantly.
  • Go for a shakedown cruise prior to the trip!
  • Be prepared for some extra expenses the shakedown may reveal.
  • Give yourself plenty of time.
  • Wait for the weather window.
  • Have some options for ducking into port along the way if things go bad.

If you’re constrained by work schedules or crew capability you may want to hire a pro. And if you do hire a pro, but want to go along as crew, let them run the show—you’re paying for their experience and objective view of your new boat’s preparedness. Good luck!