Growing up as an expat in Bahrain, many of my weekends were spent envying friends with their shiny speedboats. They jetted off to deserted islands and sandbars to enjoy camping, sun and barbecues, while I was stuck at the overcrowded and overpriced beach club with the rest of the jealous onlookers.
It’s easy to see the appeal of buying a boat when you’re an expat – the lifestyle that owning one offers is second to none, giving you access to the social circles of the expatriate elite, not to mention private marinas with their own restaurants, leisure clubs, pools and bars.
Planning your weekends becomes incredibly easy, especially if you’ve got children to entertain. A cooler full of drinks and sandwiches and you’re set for the perfect day out.
When I moved to Abu Dhabi with my family, I finally got chance to start searching for a boat of our own. In a country where petrol was as cheap as water, a speed boat it had to be. It needed to be fast and it needed to be glossy white – but apart from that, I couldn’t have told you the first thing about buying one. This is, unfortunately, the case for many expats who decide they want one, and here the problem arises.
As you’ll soon find out, boats are expensive. Very expensive. We’re talking the price of a small car, just for an outboard engine. Making the decision to part with your cash is made all the more complicated when you find out how complicated they are to maintain, not to mention the running costs, which can empty your bank account if you’re not careful.
We got to the brink of handing over the cash on a used, slightly tired and suspiciously rusty-looking speedboat, after a lengthy search to find something within our budget. However, a sudden change of circumstances meant we had to move back to the UK immediately.
As we found out later from the horror stories of other expats, we really dodged a bullet. Knowing what I know now, the boat in question was barely seaworthy and would have cost us a small fortune in repairs and maintenance.
Buying a boat, I now know, demands acumen and patience. If you are determined to do so, it’s worth bearing the following in mind:
Starting your search
While some lucky expats can afford to buy brand new, if you have a budget to stick to, you’ll be buying a used boat. Start your search by checking out local marinas (you’ll undoubtedly see boats with ‘for sale’ signs stuck on their windscreens). Speak to the marina staff or, better yet, the on-site mechanics and ask if they know where to find any decent boats for sale.
If you get to speak to a mechanic, ask them if they’d be willing to accompany you to a few viewings. Handing over a few quid now could save you thousands in the future.
It’s also worth inquiring as to which brands of engine and hull are the easiest to maintain. If you buy a boat with a rare engine, you’ll find it incredibly difficult to get hold of spare parts, so you’re best sticking to well-known brands like Yamaha, Mercury and Evinrude.
If you can’t get a local boat mechanic to come along with you, bribe someone who already owns a boat – you’ll thank them later when they point out something you’ve missed.
Viewing the boat
Once you’ve arranged a viewing, find out as much information as you can about the hull and engine before you attend, investigating common issues online.
Once you arrive, slowly and systematically check over the boat looking for rust, damaged fibreglass, oil leaks and patched up repairs.
Look at how the boat sits in the water – many speed boats are fitted with an oversized outboard engine, making them too heavy in the rear and potentially dangerous to take out on open water.
Make sure you lift up all the seat cushions and check out the cubbyholes and storage areas, looking out for rust or oil stains within the hull.
If the boat is fitted with an outboard motor, it’s also worth asking the seller to remove the cowling, allowing you to give it a quick visual inspection for rust and leaks.
Don’t forget to check any hinges, fabric, flooring or canvas bimini tops for damage, cracks and rust. Take your time and don’t feel pressured by the seller to hurry up.
A test drive is a must. If you’ve never driven a boat before, ask the seller to take you out for a spin and give you a quick lesson in a quiet patch of water so that you can get a feel for it.
Listen and look out for any peculiar engine sounds or excess smoke in the marina – you’re more likely to be able to spot any engine issues when idle or at low speeds.
Ask the seller to demonstrate the hydraulic pitch control on the outboard, ensuring it lifts out of the water smoothly.
Also, make sure you get a feel for the throttle and steering, ensuring that the boat responds promptly and smoothly.
If you get the chance, arrange a second viewing to see the boat out of water. Any damage is likely to have occurred on the hull, where you’ll be able to see differences in texture and paint colour where fibreglass has been repaired.
Don’t be alarmed by barnacles and sea slime – most of that washes off with a good pressure wash.
Paperwork and running costs
Paperwork and legal documentation varies dramatically from country to country, so ask around or look up what’s required online. Make sure this is all in order before sealing the deal.
One vital consideration, which many people underestimate, is running costs. Here’s where any expat friends who own a boat of their own will come in handy – ask them for an honest estimate of what you can expect to pay. Keeping your boat in the water at the marina can cost a fortune.
Many marinas offer dry dock storage as a cheaper alternative, but you’ll need to invest in a trailer. If the marina life is out of your budget, you can invest in a roadworthy trailer and store your boat on your driveway. However, you’ll need a decent off-road vehicle to handle the towing and boat ramp duties and you may find yourself on the water less often, due to the extra hassle.
On top of this, you’ll also have to factor in fuel and, if required, your boat licence and insurance costs.
Staying safe on the water
If all of the above hasn’t put you off yet and you’re ready to take the plunge, there are some final things to consider, especially if this is going to be your first boat. If you’ve never driven one before, you’ll be surprised at how tricky they can be to manoeuvre at first – with no brakes, it’s a very different experience to driving a car.
This shouldn’t discourage you, though and with plenty of practice, you’ll soon find your stride. Many countries require boat owners to obtain a boat licence, which doesn’t usually involve a test, but make sure you’re legal before you hit the water.
The sea can be an incredibly dangerous place, and most people who get into trouble do so as a result of being overconfident. Make sure you check the weather reports on days you plan on heading out, don’t be tempted to take a speed boat into deep swells or open water, and watch out for larger boats creating dangerous wakes.
Smaller boats are designed for recreational and coastal use, and can easily become swamped with seawater if hit in the wrong way by a wave.
If goes without saying that safety equipment, such as life jackets, flares, a GPS and an emergency beacon, are an absolute must – and save the rum and cokes for when you’re back on dry land.
While you’ve been thoroughly warned of the potential pitfalls, if you get your hands on a great deal, owning a boat can be an incredibly enjoyable experience and perfectly complements the expat lifestyle.
Have fun hitting the water – I’ll be at the beach club, green with envy. Article by Che Hope for telegraph.co.uk