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Catamaran Buyer’s Guide

So you want to buy a catamaran? Don’t they flip over? Don’t they refuse to tack or sail to windward? Are there beds in the “pontoons”? Can you jump on the trampolines like a circus clown? Hopefully the success of the catamaran revolution in the last 30 years has gotten us past some of these early myths.

Why a cat? Because they are stable, safe, spacious, sail flat and fast? Good answer!
Here are the top five considerations you should ponder as you begin your search for a quality cruising cat

1. How will I use my cat? Unless you are focused on a particular life goal such as a circumnavigation, this may be a difficult question to answer initially. Everyone dreams of eventually escaping beyond the horizon, but in reality most boats are sailed within some limits of time and geography. Think about what your ideal plans for cruising in the short and medium term will be. Consider not only where and in what time increments you want to cruise, but also who you will be cruising with. Where will you keep your catamaran? The answers to these questions will go a long way toward defining the size, sailing abilities, accommodation plan, build quality, and re-sale considerations for the mulithulls you will consider.

2. When will I be ready to own a boat? Now that you have thought about where and with whom, and you want to go sailing, the next question is when? Are you ready to buy as soon as you find the right boat? Are you waiting for retirement or your kids to graduate? Do you need to liquidate some assets before you can buy? Whether it is in the long or short term, trying to identify a target period to purchase based on your cruising goals will be an asset in knowing when is the time to start making offers. If you are considering buying an older boat in need of re-fitting you need to budget time to get her ready to cruise. Your broker will know the cycles of availability of certain designs and will be able to guide you as to when you should take the leap to buy the kind of catamaran that best suits your needs.

3. What is my budget? If you didn’t have one you would likely be buying a brand new catamaran, so it’s time to crunch some numbers. Look at brokerage listings to get a feel for the range of prices on catamarans in the size range you are considering. Look at the median ranges of the asking prices for boats in your area to get realistic take on the market. Don’t be distracted by the half price custom cat that is available in Madagascar. Ask your broker about asking prices and recent sales of the kind of cats that interest you. Keep in mind that while the ‘by the foot’ prices for cats can be significantly higher than some monohulls, the demand for quality used cats remains high and they retain their value extremely well. Make sure you build some funds for refitting and additional equipment, as well as survey, delivery and insurance costs into your total budget. If you are considering financing it is a good idea to contact a Marine financing specialist early in the process to get pre-qualified. This will take a lot of the guesswork out of the purchase process later on.

4. What kind of catamaran? The answers to the questions above should help to significantly focus your search, but even within a defined size and budget range, there is still a wide array of questions to be answered to sort out what is the best boat for you. Production boat or custom build?  Daggerboards or mini keels? Galley up or galley down? Solid decks or tramps? Shafts or saildrives? Solid or cored hulls?  Owners or charter versions?  What about headroom, bridgedeck clearance, windage, sensitivity to loads? What about rigging, helm position, ventilation, storage? The list of decisions is seemingly endless, but the best way to sort through them is the fun part of the process.  Read as much as you can about multihulls. Visit the internet forums. Go to boat shows. Most important, whenever possible talk to owners of catamarans about their experiences. You will find the opinions of those who actually own and sail catamarans to be invaluable. Arrange with your broker to show you as many cats as it takes until you have confidence in your decision when it is time to make an offer. As you go through this process keep notes, but also keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. ”Dock talk” is cheap, and your broker should be your ally, but in the end it is your boat and your decision as to what is best for you.  One thing that is definitely true is that there is no such thing as a perfect boat, the trick is in minimizing the compromises that the various tradeoffs that your budget and list of priorities require.

5. How will I choose a catamaran? Now that you have done your homework, have a good idea of what you want, and determined that the time is right and the funds are available, how and where do you find the catamaran of your dreams? Chances are it will involve the services of a broker. While a small percentage of catamaran purchases are direct sales between a buyer and seller, the overwhelming majority of used catamaran sales are facilitated through the services of a professional yacht broker. While sellers who list their catamarans on the brokerage market will have a contractual obligation with the listing broker, buyers are free to have any broker of their choosing represent them.  You may arrange to see boat by contacting each listing broker individually, or you may use one broker to make the arrangements and represent you as your buyer’s broker. There are advantages to consider in using a broker you are comfortable with as your buyer’s representative: It costs you nothing as the seller still pays the commissions, and a knowledgeable and experienced catamaran broker will already be familiar with the majority of the boats on the market and will be able to help you to more quickly sort out the good cats from the old dogs. Your broker will be able to find additional insights on any given boat in a broker to broker communication that a listing broker might not initially disclose to a casual buyer inquiry. Finally your broker will be looking out primarily for you and your interests through the offer, survey, and closing process. If you are considering using a buyer’s broker call several and interview them. Tell them exactly where you are in the buying process and ask about their experience in selling and sailing catamarans. Ask for references from their client base. Make an informed decision and by pledging your loyalty you will have a partner throughout the selection and buying process.