The test drive shows you whether a boat can do what it should be able to do. It makes a difference whether you buy new or used.
When you buy a brand new boat, you can enjoy a demonstration or test drive, provided the dealer has the model you want on sale. It is important not to be tempted to just lean back and enjoy the ride. You have limited time to make sure the boat meets your needs, while you are likely dealing with a seller whose success (and commission) depends on showing you the boat at its best.
If you are planning on buying a used boat, you will hardly get more than one opportunity to sail it. And then the main thing is to determine whether the equipment is working properly. That said, shrewd buyers will do everything in their power to find out as much information about the boat models in question before the actual search begins.
How do I test a new yacht?
The test drive of a sailing yacht has the same purpose as trying out a motorboat, but it follows a different choreography, in which there are four basic areas that you should pay particular attention to:
- On deck
Are the fittings and equipment arranged so that the boat is easy to operate during maneuvers? Only the actual turning and slackening of the sheets in a gust or falling to avoid an obstacle gives you a feeling for the suitability of the yacht. If you have enough time, do each maneuver several times because the more familiar you become with the boat, the easier it will be.
- On the go
Is the cockpit comfortable when the boat is heeled and would you feel safe in heavy weather? What about the steering position? Do you have a good view to the front when sailing or are there any problems from a large sprayhood or genoa? Trim the boat for the cross course and then try to fall off without foiering the sheets. Traditional designs with narrow stern and small rudder blades won’t look so good, but a well-balanced hull shape will tend to sail straight in strong winds without shooting into the sun. A yacht with a wide stern, on the other hand, is at the limit of its controllability when the rudder loses its grip in the water due to severe heeling when driving straight ahead and the boat then shoots into the wind.
- Below deck
You should already know before the test stroke whether the cabin layout is practicable for your requirements. Still, it is useful to get an idea of how everything works at sea. Can you and your family hold onto sturdy handrails below deck and move around safely when the boat is heeling or pounding in waves? Also important are high rolling rails in the galley and on the edges of the navigation or saloon table, which prevent plates and glasses from slipping and the mess on the cabin floor. Large cabins look great at the fair or in the harbor, but they offer little consolation if you cannot hold on or support yourself in strong waves. Other important questions: Can the toilet still be used when it is heeled? And are there good sea berths on board? Even if you don’t sail long night stretches, it is often the only place a seasick crew member can be safely accommodated in inclement weather.
- Maneuvers in a confined space
How well does the boat maneuver in tight harbors? is the crucial question for many buyers. During a demonstration, the dealer will always emphasize how great the boat is in a tight space, but remember that it is part of their job. He knows the peculiarities of the boats and also those of the harbor, in which he often calls and casts. For you, on the other hand, a new boat can be a challenge because it may behave very differently than the one you have driven before. For example, many newer saildrive boats will be reluctant to take tight turns if you accelerate and put hard oars. On the other hand, they can be steered backwards much better than their predecessors, which means that maneuvers in tight spaces are often unnecessary.
How do you test used sailing yachts?
When you buy a used boat, whether from a broker or a private seller, there is little opportunity to test it out in depth just to see if you like it. You should have done this part of the research before you even start looking for a boat. Read what you should know about buying a used boat. If you have commissioned a purchase appraisal, it may well be that the appraiser is also present on the test fitting, who intends to test systems on departure that cannot be checked in the port.
But how do you find out beforehand which boat suits you best? Read about which sailboat is ideal for me? The good news: You don’t have to be an old salt hump who has sailed and weighed dozens of different constructions. It definitely pays off to find out whether sailing schools or charter companies operate boats that would be of interest to you. A weekend on board can be a very good investment because it gives you more insight than a quick test fitting. As a participant in a sailing course, for example, you could ask the trainer questions about the boat and the experiences they have had with it.
Class associations or owner groups can also help. Their members are often ready to proudly tell others about their experiences with the boat in question and will also answer specific questions. Perhaps you are lucky enough to make friends with an owner who will take you on a trial run.
You could also become a member of a sailing or yacht club and thereby talk to other sailors about different boats and go sailing with them. This gives you valuable information, but you have to be able to distinguish whether you are talking about opinionated port heroes who spend most of their time on the jetty, or whether they are seasoned sailors who have gained their knowledge from practical experience. However, the very first step is perhaps the most convenient: click through the numerous boat tests, new releases and videos published on boats.com. This means you have literally everything on the screen about those boats that you find interesting and at the same time you can get an overview of the market via the relevant sales advertisements.
Checklist for test sailing for boat buyers
- Choose a day with a breath of fresh air! Three to four winds would be ideal to get an impression of the boat.
- Is the bilge dry? If not, pump it out.
- Rudder pressure: is the boat easy to steer when high upwind, even when it is heeled?
- Straight ahead: Let go of the steering wheel. Is the boat shooting into the sun or is it luffing leisurely?
- Sail check: How well are the used sails? Are there cracks and chafe marks? Have they been professionally repaired? Can the fore and mainsail still be trimmed well when there is steam on it?
- Are the fittings working? Test among other things Jib furling device and winches for their ease of movement.
- Reefing: How easy is it to roll the jib or tie a reef into the main?
- Below deck: look around the cabin while you are sailing. If the seller is at the wheel in the meantime, conclusions can be drawn about his sailing skills, while you get an idea of how things are going in the living area. Check the position of the handrails. Are they within reach and can even small people move safely in rough seas?
- Listen carefully: is there creaking in the framework? If so, where and what are the causes? Look closely: is the boat visibly twisting? Do doors and drawers jam? Is it dripping from the deck hatches or the side windows?
- Behavior under engine: After recovering the sails, stop on the way back to the harbor and drive the boat backwards, turning circles in both directions. How does the boat behave when going back? How strong is the wheel effect of the propeller? How big are the forces that work at the helm?
- In the port: control look into the bilge. Still dry?
- If it has not splashed enough en route, hose down the boat after mooring and check the hatch and window seals below deck.
Test drive for boat sellers
In the case of broker sales, test drives are usually not scheduled until an acceptable offer has been made and a deposit has been made by the potential buyer. This will deter time wasters and jolly sailors. Private owners can use the following list for tips on how to best prepare a trial fitting.
- If your boat is on land or has not been used for a long time, take your own test drive to see that everything is working properly
- Keep the number of fellow sailors deliberately low
- Choose a protected body of water unless the buyer asks for an open water exit
- Allow the buyer to review details before dropping
- Give the buyer the opportunity to steer, assuming he or she has enough experience
- Demonstrate the best features of the boat without highlighting the less good ones
- Answer all questions positively and honestly
Unless otherwise agreed in advance, the seller bears the costs associated with the test drive. And remember that as the owner, you are in charge. Resign in command, stay close, just in case.