"Mid Size Power Boats" - Buyers' Guide by David Pascoe


October 1, 1998

When this web site was first started, it never occurred to me that it would get over 16,000 visitors per month, from people around the world. But that is what happened and the amount of e-mail it generates has gone beyond anything I can handle, so I apologize for our inability to answer most of them.

As I was looking over the mail, I was trying to get an idea of the most common questions people ask. They are quite varied, but the largest number clearly have a common theme. Unfortunately, it's the very same theme that I've written about over and over again. Poor quality small boats.

In thinking it over, it's apparent that people are not stupid, nor that they can't read and comprehend. No, they read and understand what I say just fine. But they keep right on asking the same questions because they're in a quandary. They're looking to buy a good quality boat at a price they can afford. Problem is, there aren't any. The problem is they're not willing to give up style, luxury and amenities for basic quality. The boating industry imitates the auto industry and they want to sell you a new one every three years. So, like your $25,000 new car that goes to hell in a few years, so does your boat. The problem is that their desires are larger than their budgets.

Of course, unless you've got $$$ to burn (you wouldn't be asking these questions if you did), you're not going to buy a new boat every three years because you've got two cars, a house and kids and it's all a bit too much. it's one thing to buy an expensive toy, but to see it lose 50% of its value in a few years is not tolerable. You're looking to find a boat that will  hold up for a while, but you already know that there isn't anything out there like that that you can afford. So you continue to ask about . . . well, you know what kind of boats.

So much of our e-mail reflects that people understand what kind of quality they're getting with these low-end boats. They've surfed around the web, reading the comments on the forums, have gotten advice from  other surveyors, have heard all the problems. So they write to us with questions that more or less are asking us to justify their decision to buy this kind of boat anyway. They wouldn't buy a car with such known problems (because there are other choices), but they will go ahead and buy the low quality boat anyway because they can't find any easy alternatives.

Pleasure boating really took off in the early 1960's. That's when a handful of builders starting making boats rather than yachts, when they made the transition to producing in VOLUME. Just like automakers. It all started with plywood boats. Yep, plywood. There were the Chris Cavaliers, Owens, Trojan and a few others. Affordable boats for the middle middle class. School teachers and bricklayers and accountants. A 28 footer for $6,995.   Needless to say, most of those boats didn't last 10 years. That was a real sorry time because they rotted and fell apart so fast. But within a decade or so, those boats were all gone, replaced by the miraculous fiberglass boat.

In case you don't believe that fiberglass is God's gift to boat building, there are still loads of 1960's boats around, still going strong. Truly amazing when viewed in perspective of the wooden boat.

So how do these early 'glass boats compare with what's available today? That's not an easy question to answer because boats have changed so much. The main difference is a matter of style, luxury and complexity. The modern boat attempts to replicate all the amenities of home, from air conditioning and appliances, to sophisticated electronics. Everything seems to be digital and have a microprocessor in it. And then there is the matter of plastics. What used to be bronze and stainless steel today is molded plastic. In the past, systems were made to be repairable; today they are made to be replaced. Ours is now a disposable society. Instead of paint there is colored tape. Instead of chrome there is foil. Instead of stainless, aluminum.

The question, of course, is whether boats built today are better or worse than boats built 30 years ago. To put the matter in perspective, I'd have to say that on balance they are better. At least they're not made of plywood, or any other kind of wood for that matter. We don't have the problems of uncontrollable rot anymore. Instead we have other problems. different problems.

The basic fiberglass structures of today's boats are going to be around for a long time. The difficulty is, everything else that goes into the making of a boat is not so good. Systems, hardware and decoration. So while the basic structure may hold up, everything else deteriorates just about as fast as our old plywood boats. By the time your average 26' boat is ten years old, it's pretty well clapped out and worth less than a third of original cost. In that regard, today's boat owner isn't much better off than the 1960's boat owner.

You'd think that engines would be getting better after all these years, but they aren't. They are becoming cheaper quality and less, rather than more reliable.  The average service life is going down, not up. The problems with stern drives is truly pathetic.

The reason for this is pretty obvious. The typical boat owner can afford the price of the boat, but not the cost of keeping it up. He's willing to sacrifice quality for appearance. Engines, systems and other components just don't last long enough. After a few years, the maintenance costs grow like a snowball rolling downhill and the only way out is to sell the boat. Usually at an unacceptable loss. All too often for less than the mortgage balance. You have only to look around at the uncountable thousands of abandoned boats stacked up like cordwood in storage lots around the nation to see how serious the problem really is.

Your problem as a boat buyer is how to find a boat that isn't going to bankrupt you, a boat that will give you the kind of service life that you can afford. Your other problem is that there aren't any. As I've pointed out many times, all the quality boat builders have been driven out of the market by the likes of the Bayliners. You ask is a Chapparal better than a Bayliner than a Regal than a Thompson than a Cruisers, than a Mainship or a Silverton or a Carver. The answer is that they're all about the same. Just like a Chevy is like a Nissan is like a Ford is like Toyota is like a Chrysler is like Hyundai. it's all the same product with a slightly different wrapper trying to win your money by ever slicker advertising and promotion. But the differentiation in the product is just not there.

Boats are now sold at roadside dealerships just like cars. The market is so competitive now that they can't afford waterfront property in many places.

The other problem is that people want all that style and pseudo luxury and amenities that drives up the cost at the expense of basic quality. People want floating hotel rooms or motorized cocktail barges, as surveyors are wont to call them. Or even more pejorative, fur-lined gloves. That's what people want, and so that's what the industry gives them. The few of you who know better, and want better, are basically out of luck. Just as you can't buy a computer with a decent manual anymore. You give up a lot for price. For what you've got to spend, you can't buy a practical boat anymore either. There aren't any.

Then you've got the problem of so many choices. When people ask me what choices they should consider, more often than not I don't have an answer. In fact, I just took the time to count up the number of boat builders listed in the BUC Used Boat Price Guide. There are 873. Yes, 873 and that's only the ones that are listed. There are many more that aren't. And many of them are here today, gone tomorrow. In the boating world, warranties have become something of a bad joke.

It was never my intention to become the Ralph Nader of boating. I can assure that I'd much rather be writing positive reviews than negative ones. My objective is to try to help turn this sad state of affairs around by educating people about what it is that they are demanding from builders. Be mindful that if the public didn't want these kinds of boats, builders wouldn't build them. it's not my intention to mount a crusade against builders. No, no, no. My crusade is with you who vote with your wallets. Unless you change your appetites, we're going to have to start grinding these boats up and making picnic tables with the recycled material. When that happens, you're going to stop buying boats altogether. Too many people are already concluding that boating is just too expensive.

Well made boats are few and far between. You, of course, want to know what I mean by "well made," so I'll give you an idea.

Before I bought my last new vehicle, I did a lot of research. That was because I got tired of plunking down 15 or 20 thousand dollars for a vehicle that fell apart in a few years. I bought a Chevy Blazer because they had been making that same vehicle for ten years, and because it was made with old technology. I figured they probably had all the bugs worked out of it after a decade of production, and I was right. Eight years later and 100,000 miles of very tough driving, what I've spent on repairs isn't worth mentioning. The most trouble-free vehicle I've ever owned. I hated the looks of the thing, but I bought it anyway. At least it had chrome plated steel bumpers instead of plastic.

That's what I expected of the vehicle, and that's what I got. It wasn't pretty, but it was the right choice because I can't afford $25k for a new one every few years. The bottom line was that I had to make a choice between practicality, economics and fanciness.

This is the choice that you, too, will have to make if cost and quality are an issue.

To give you another example, I chronicled in these pages the decision of a client who was looking at a 45' Taiwan built motor yacht. It had beaucoup problems. Expensive problems. He didn't want a boat with ANY problems and asked what he could get for what kind of money along those likes. The cost of that boat was $200K. I told him that he'd have to spend at least $300K to get the kind of quality he wanted. He ended up with a 46' Post Convertible, a style of boat that couldn't be more different than what he originally wanted. But the Post was an ideal boat for him because it is simple and well made. Not nearly as fancy, but an excellent choice that fit his need for low maintenance and economy. You can read about it in the Hyatt 45 and Post 46 reviews. The point is that he had to radically alter his desires to fit his most important criteria. Durability.

There is very little in the way of rugged, durable new boats being built. There is such a drive on to reduce cost that fiberglass moldings are getting extremely thin. Builders are even trying to replace fiberglass with air, meaning foam cores. Foam is relatively cheap because it is mostly air. It shouldn't be any surprise that most of what you have available today is mostly style and little substance.

The few alternatives you do have available, you won't like. Not the right size, right style, layout, power, age or right price.

Ultimately, your only choice comes down to taking what you get and dealing with the problems and costs, or settle for something considerably different from what you want, and probably at a higher price.

If you're computer literate, you can see the very same thing in the computer industry. People want computers for less than $1,000. Anyone who knows computers knows that those things aren't worth having. They have no versatility and have to be replaced again next year when technology changes. They can't be upgraded. Ultimately, the el cheapo computer ends up costing more, not less, than its $3,000 counterpart.

Footnote:  As we've said before, the industry gives the public what they want. Or at least what they are willing to accept. If our e-mail is any indication, the market is changing. The commentary we see on the forums also seems to indicate that people are getting fed up with junk boats. Don't blame the builders, blame the people who wanted these products and created this market by accepting them.

If many people have learned their lessons with low quality, and are now willing to give up plush for practicality, and enough of them make their wishes known to builders, then I guarantee you that the market will begin to respond. We all know how the U.S. auto industry underwent a massive revision in the early 1980's, when the quality of the product became totally unacceptable. That can happen in the boat building industry too, but only if you raise your voice loud enough to be heard.

Just bear in mind that you only have so much money to spend. Builders can't give you everything for that price. Ultimately the choice is yours as to what you wish to pay for. And what the industry will continue to offer you.

Posted October 1, 1998 in Featured Articles.

Referred boat reviews:

Hyatt 45 review

Post 46 review



David Pascoe Power Boat Books

Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats Surveying Fiberglass Power Boats (2E)

David Pascoe - Biography

David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

Over forty years of knowledge and experience are brought to bear in following books. David Pascoe is the author of:

In addition to readers in the United States, boaters and boat industry professionals worldwide from nearly 80 countries have purchased David Pascoe's books, since introduction of his first book in 2001.

In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

On November 23rd, 2018, David Pascoe has passed away at age 71.

Biography - Long version


Nearly 80 countries
Countries List
Browse Chapters with Excerpt at

David Pascoe's
Power Boat Books

Mid Size Power Boats Mid Size Power Boats
A Guide for Discriminating Buyers
Focuses exclusively cruiser class generally 30-55 feet
With discussions on the pros and cons of each type: Expresses, trawlers, motor yachts, multi purpose types, sportfishermen and sedan cruisers.
Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats
Selecting and Evaluating New and Used Boats
Dedicated for offshore outboard boats
A hard and realistic look at the marine market place and delves into issues of boat quality and durability that most other marine writers are unwilling to touch.
Surveying Fiberglass Powewr Boats
Surveying Fiberglass Power Boats
2nd Edition
The Art of Pre-Purchase Survey The very first of its kind, this book provides the essentials that every novice needs to know, as well as a wealth of esoteric details.
Marine Investigations
Pleasure crafts investigations to court testimony The first and only book of its kind on the subject of investigating pleasure craft casualties and other issues.
Nearly 80 countries
Countries List
Browse Chapters with Excerpt at