Thursday, December 08, 2011


Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W 

In Vero we meet lots of first year cruisers.  Indeed, as a rough guess I would say that 50% of the cruisers there are first year cruisers.  (You can do the math on what that implies about the half-life of cruisers.)   It's always fun to talk to them. It reminds us of our first year cruising and how everything then was extra special because we were experiencing it for the first time.  It also pumps up our ego because they ask questions and solicit our advice.   

Sometimes though I'm shocked and a bit shamed by the rush of rookie cruisers to buy expensive things.  Of course we all need some expensive things and the first year we're forced to buy many of them.  We were no different than others in our first year.   On the other hand, none of us need all those expensive things, nor can we afford them, nor can we find room to stow them on board. The trick of course is to choose wisely which ones to say yes to and which to reject.

To be sure there are many willing suppliers ready and able to exploit the buying urges of the rookies.  Foremost in this country is West Marine.  West Marine carries the best selection of highly appropriate things for boaters.  They have many good locations. Albeit they charge sky high prices for all that convenience and service. 

There's a word for first year purchases.  It's called "fitting out."   It is presumed that whenever you start on a new boat, there are a number of things you must buy and change to make it suitable for your needs.  The problem with rookies is that they really don't know their real needs yet.

The part that twangs my conscience is that many of these rookies are induced one way or the other to buy far too much.  That puts a strain on their budget.  It may clutter up their boat giving them less usable living space.  Both things ultimately work against a successful transition to the cruising life.

Worst are the very expensive things.  I'm thinking of water makers, solar panels, wind generators, giant chart plotters with built-in radar and sonar, SSB radio, life rafts, davits, arches, and enclosed cockpits.   Maybe you do need those things, but maybe you don't need them ever.  It's likely you don't need them your very first year.

An evil influence is the psychology "We are leaving for the islands.  I'm not sure if we need this thing, but other cruisers have it.  If we don't buy it now, we won't be able to buy it in the islands."  If it were a salesman saying those things, we would call it "high pressure tactics".   In the case of sailing rookies it need not be a salesman, nor anyone with evil intent.  It comes from contact with other cruisers and from a lack of confidence that you know what you need.

The most frequent reason cited for people to give up cruising is that they had too big a boat.  I'll wager that a close second is too much stuff on board, leading to expense, clutter, and demands on maintenance.

My best advice for rookies: delay.   Delay every purchase as much as you can.  Eventually, you'll have a better feeling for which things you really do need and those you don't.  Similarly, delay setting off for exotic places, ocean crossings, or blue water sailing, until you have a year or two cruising experience in more sheltered places closer to home and close to stores.  The ICW on USA's East Coast is an excellent place to start.

For everyone else, there is one more way to exploit rookie cruisers.   There are times when disillusioned cruisers decide to give it up and to sell their exquisitely fitted out boat.  They might be tight for cash and pressured to sell quickly. That is an opportunity for some buyer to find a great bargain.


  1. Good observations, and advice. It is easy to get caught up in the fitting out, mostly because it's fun. Nothing like buying that new piece of technology, and doing an install.
    Personally I like installing solar and wind, as it feels so good to be off the grid, and solar is relatively cheap now. I suppose a lot of it depends on your sailing too. If I was going to spend my winters at anchor in the Bahamas, then I would want solar and wind.

  2. Dick, this is a fantastic blog. There is a perception that you "haven't cruised "until you have gone to the Bahamas . And that you need all the fancy stuff to get you there, keep you there and get you back. Included in that perception is that the ICW is a ditch, easy, piece of cake. Wrong....beginning cruisers listen to Dick here. The ICW is everything, easy,hard, gorgeous,plain, shallow,occasionally deep ,ALWAYS interesting. Sounds, tides,villages,cuts,currents, commercial traffic, other cruisers, camaraderie ...wild life ohh so wonderful. We have really enjoyed the voyage, the trip itself and find too many sailors who say"oh :( " when they find we aren't Bahama bound. I hope you are as good at re-anchoring in the dead of the night , in a 35 knot blow, in a strange creek as we you have to be. The experience gained on the ICW is imeasurable.the friendships(dick and Libby) priceless...keep in mind we are all doing this because we are independently minded. Do not be swayed to think Bahama bound and fancy equipment is the only way to enjoy a voyage via the earth's
    water. Margaret & Don - first Heron and now Refuge


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