Vintage And Classic Boat Buying Guide

The historic Argonaut II, a 1922 wooden, classic cruising motoryacht built by Menchions Boat Yard in Coal Harbor BC.
The historic Argonaut II, a 1922 wooden, classic cruising motoryacht built by Menchions Boat Yard in Coal Harbor BC.

Some boats and cars withstand the test of time despite generally being classified as depreciating assets. When properly cared for or restored, old boats can appreciate if not monetarily than at least in the eye of the many devotees who seek them out. What is a classic boat, how do you buy one and is it worth the hassle?

What Do The Words Mean?

Lots of terms you’ll hear to describe old boats are used interchangeably and although the definitions can be murky, there is a rule of thumb. According to the Classic and Antique Boat Society (ACBS), historic boats were built up to and including 1918. Antique boats were built between 1919 and 1942. Classics were built after World War II. Vintage boats are often ones that are restored with actual old-school equipment but that’s the fuzziest term in use. For our purposes here, we’ll use mostly classic and vintage interchangeably. All such boats are time capsules of old-world craftsmanship and maritime history.

What Are Examples Of Classic Boats?

Classic boats can be either wood or fiberglass. When you think about it, the first fiberglass boats are over 60 years old today so they qualify as do some steel and aluminum models. Examples of classic powerboat brands include Chris Craft, Wheeler, Lyman, Gar Wood, Century, Trumpy, Riva, Hacker Craft and the fishing designs of Rybovich. Of course, a 1969 Boston Whaler qualifies as well.

Classic sailboat builders include some legacy brands like Sparkman & Stephens, Alden, Kettenburg, Hinckley, Crosby Catboat and Herreschoff. But the 1960s also produced popular fiberglass cruisers from Pearson, Columbia, Cheoy Lee, Shields and Cal (30 and 40). Some of these builders are still in business today.

Whether you’re looking for an open wooden dinghy, a streamlined rowing boat, a daysailer, a runabout, an inboard, an outboard, a utility boat or a distance cruiser, chances are you’ll find many still afloat and in good condition.

Do People Still Buy And Build Wooden Boats?

Yes! Woodies are very popular and there are boat shows, rallies, magazines and websites dedicated to them. Boat clubs and shows are great places to spot classic wooden boats. Some examples are the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in Washington state and the Wooden Boat Show in Mystic, Connecticut. Resources to find them include the Antique and Classic Boat Society, the Chris Craft Antique Boat Club, the Antique Boat Center and Antique Boat America. Woody Boat magazine is dedicated to both power and sailboats.

Some modern builders still build custom wooden boats and incorporate technical materials like carbon fiber to give them an edge with additional strength and lightweight performance. One example is the hard-chined hulls made of cold-molded mahogany that are handcrafted today by Vicem Yachts. On the sailing front, there’s a new Tripp-designed performance sailing yacht that will be launched in 2021 by the British firm, MCM.

How Do You Buy A Classic Boat?

Buying a classic boat is and isn’t like purchasing a modern boat. Although there are similarities, there are also special things to learn, look for and consider when dealing with vintage vessels. Once you’ve decided whether you want sail or power and how you’ll use the yacht (cruising, racing, day boating, etc.), the real work begins in finding, evaluating and purchasing one.

First, you’ll need to decide whether to purchase a restored or project boat. The latter is not for the faint hearted nor for newbies. If you just want to attend classic boat events and show off your baby, then buy fully restored because it’s expensive and time-consuming to bring a boat back to its former glory. If you like the aesthetics of classic lines but don’t want the hassle of caring for wood, consider buying a replica or a DIY kit boat both of which can be made to look like wood but will be built of modern materials that require less care.

True classics are a special breed and there are brokers dedicated to this category. These experts typically know the history of the vessel, including any attempts at restoration and when and where the work was done and by whom. They’ll be able to guide you toward authentic prospects rather than just old boats. For a classic, you’ll also need a specialized survey by a knowledgeable surveyor. This individual will be able to evaluate boats of a specific period and the hardware and systems used in the restoration. A qualified restorer should also be able to evaluate work already done or advise on the cost of future projects. You’ll also need to arrange a sea trial and test all the system including sails, rigging, electrics, plumbing, etc. just like with any boat purchase.

Is It Hard To Find And Buy Classic Boats?

It can be harder to find and purchase just the right classic boat – more difficult than finding a new modern model. Pricing rare, old and restored boats isn’t easy because there are few comps. The Hagerty Guide (a sort of Blue Book for classic boats) may help evaluate a boat and its fair price but there are a number of factors at play including history, rarity, styling and condition. Unusual factors may influence the price of a classic boat including whether or not it was ever owned by a celebrity and if this is documented. The evaluation of the condition will range from Fair to Bristol, with three levels in between.

Can You Finance And Older Vintage Boat?

Financing a classic boat poses another problem. You may need custom financing and insurance since many lenders and insurers won’t consider a vintage vessel in any condition. Setting a budget is also important because classic boats elicit much emotion and it’s easy to overreach your resources.

Owning A Classic Boat Versus A Newer Vessel

Old things generally require more maintenance and caring for a wooden boat in particular can be challenging. Will you have professional help with maintenance and further restoration or will you go it alone? Will you have the time to really use the boat or will you just admire your handiwork and enjoy the dedicated events?

Ongoing costs pose a problem too. Wooden boats are difficult to maintain and expensive to restore especially if they have structural issues like rot or iron sickness. Period-appropriate sails are expensive and bronze hardware is hard to find. Parts for old engines may have to be custom cast since spares are scarce and skilled professionals are few so they dictate their pay scale.

Before you take the plunge into classic boat ownership, you may want to visit a wooden boat restorer who will open your eyes to what it takes to work on, maintain and financially support a classic or wooden boat.

Is It Worth The Hassle To Buy A Vintage Or Classic Boat?

That depends entirely on you, your situation and your reasons for owning a classic boat. You must be honest with yourself on a few different levels. Do you have the finances to not only buy a boat but spend on average twice the purchase price (or more) to restore one? Will you have at least 10% of the purchase price each year for its care and keeping even if it’s already fully restored? Are you comfortable with your restoration and maintenance skills or will you have to hire out? Is your family on board with the amount of your time it will take to restore a project boat and will they enjoy using it with you?

Buying any boat necessitates some self-knowledge, plenty of money and a dedication to its use. Classic boats take all that and put it on a logarithmic scale. That said, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of touring a lake surrounded by acres of gleaming wood and polished chrome all wrapped up in classic lines that make heads snap around.

Written by: Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.

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