Sea Trialling Your Yacht – A Buyer’s Guide

When you’re buying your yacht, you will of course need to equip yourself with enough information to make a properly informed decision.  A sea trial forms a vital part of that process. Before you embark on your sea trial however, it’s useful to make sure you’re approaching it from the right angle…

Though sea-trialling your yacht may seem to bear all the hallmarks of a chauffeur-driven family excursion, with a purchase agreement and an agreed provisional price already in place, the sea trial is your opportunity to check the things that can’t be assessed ashore and to validate the research that you have taken such pains to compile.

Lay the ground rules

It’s important to be as transparent as possible from the outset. For instance, if you’re sea trialling a new boat, the cost of fuel and marine services is generally taken care of, but it’s useful to check this before you go.  In the case of a brokerage boat, the buyer is much more likely to be asked to pay the bill but if you discuss this early on you can, in most cases, reach a written agreement that any costs will be refunded in the event that you go ahead and complete on the purchase.

Prioritise your checklist

However outstanding your chosen yacht might be in its particular class, it’s unlikely that it will tick every box, so you need to view it in its proper perspective. A boat is always a set of compromises – in most cases, deliberately conceived by the designer to prioritise effectiveness in one regard at the direct expense of effectiveness in other, less important disciplines. For instance, by making a compact cruiser more accommodating, you will increase its capacity to store your baggage, to host dinner parties and to take you and your family away on comfortable long weekends, but you are likely to enjoy those benefits at the expense of external style, outright pace, handling agility and windage. So put yourself in a position to be realistic about a boat’s strengths and weaknesses by configuring your checklist in order of priority and understanding clearly what matters to you and what doesn’t.

Be as proactive as possible

The most efficient way to make your sea trial count is to take your regular crew with you and recreate an authentic day out. Every one of you should navigate the side decks, the foredeck, the flybridge steps and the swim platforms. You should occupy every space and assess whether anything jars; whether there is any way in which the test boat needs a tweak or an upgrade. Is it safe and reassuring? Is it quiet, protected and fume-free on the aft deck? Is there sufficient ventilation for cooking? Are there sufficient seats to relax in comfort with a good view while underway? Is it refined enough to conduct relaxed conversations? Is it simple to use in terms of its seamanship facilities? Is the flybridge adequately secure? Walk, sit, touch, climb, examine – and make sure every member of your regular crew feels as good about the boat as you do.

To drive or not to drive?

If you intend to use your yacht as a place for waterfront parties or as a crew-equipped platform for lazy weekends, it’s possible that the helm will be of little interest to you. But if you’re a keen driver or a committed cruiser, the helm is the spiritual hub of the boat, so give it the attention it deserves…

How is the positioning of the wheel, throttle, tabs and joystick in relation to the helm seat? If the helm doesn’t immediately fit like a glove, start adjusting things – the wheel height and angle and the position of the seat, as well as any configurable positions for its bolster. Check the location of the foot brace and think about the standing position too. Do the controls still fall to hand? Are the dials still visible? And don’t forget about sociability. Does the helm keep you adequately involved in the party? After all, on long passages, you will want to know that you can see, hear and interact with your family without the need to stop the boat, spin around or shout at the top of your voice.

Think about the more practical features too – like the wipers and the air vents; like access to the side decks and like the value of the side window and sunroof. And make sure you check the visibility too. On flybridge-equipped craft, the mullions can sometimes be quite obstructive and if the boat heels hard in a turn, the absence of a sunroof can often restrict the view. Visibility may seem fine alongside but is the transition to the plane flat enough to retain visibility? And once you’re underway and cruising, does the running attitude of the boat enable easy views aft as well as forward?

At sea and in harbour

While you’re out, take the opportunity to show the test boat the sea from every angle and at every sensible speed. Run with the swells, show it a head sea, cut across the water on the diagonal and show it the full brunt of your beam. Every hull type will have its strengths and weaknesses and you need to assure yourself that you’re comfortable with the performance dynamic presented by the boat. But make sure you don’t forget about the close-quarters stuff. You should take time to operate the bow and stern thrusters. Are they sufficiently powerful to generate reassuring responses from the yacht? If your yacht is kept on a mooring that is difficult to access or prone to powerful beam winds, this might be particularly important to you.

What about the engines?

To check noise and vibration, synchronise your engines and run them up and down the rev range, while you and your crew inhabit the regions of the boat that are most important to you. If you like to cruise overnight, that may well include the cabins. Be aware that some boats generate additional resonance at certain points in the rev range – and if those moments coincide with speeds at which you like to travel in areas of the boat you like to frequent, then you might want to reconsider the engine choice.

While you’re making these assessments, it’s also worth conducting some basic performance tests. Run through the range from zero to wide-open-throttle, checking revs, fuel flow and speed. You can then calculate the best cruising band, extrapolate the likely running costs and assess how closely the yacht complies with its quoted parameters. Of course, if buying new, it’s always best to trial a boat with the engines and propulsion system you want to buy, but in all cases, gathering the data outlined here will enable you to assess whether an engine tweak might bring the boat more closely into line with your needs.