The Sunfish sailing dinghy is one of the most popular sailboat designs in American history - selling over 500,000 boats since the 1950's. This is due, in no small part, to its simplicity of design and ease of use. The boat was designed to be operated by a single-user, but most can accommodate up to three people. The Sunfish is often the sailboat of choice used to teach beginning sailing. The Sunfish has become such a mainstay of American sailing that the boat was inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame in 1995. Because of its prolific use, there are quite a few used Sunfish boats to be had online through various auction sites. But, what do you look for when buying a used Sunfish? How do you know if you're getting a good deal on a quality boat?
First, you need to decide what your purpose will be for the boat. Will you use it for day sailing or are you interested in racing? These distinctions can be important. If you'll be racing your Sunfish, you'll want to make sure the boat you purchase already has a racing board and a racing sail. These two items can set you back quite a bit, so you'll want to make sure your boat comes with these two items already. Plus, if your purpose is for day sailing, you won't need to pay the extra price that's likely to be charged for a boat that's already outfitted with these things. So, before you begin your search for your Sunfish, you'll need to determine what you want to do with it.
PRICE & SHIPPING
Second, you need to determine what your budget will be for your new sailboat. A new Sunfish will cost between $3,600 and $4,400 (depending on the type of sail you select, and whether or not you order it with a dolly-style trailer and cover). However, a used Sunfish will cost much less - often as little as $500 or so. There is more than simply the cost of the boat to consider, though, when looking at price. If you're planning to make your purchase through an online auction, you'll certainly need to consider the cost of transportation if the boat doesn't come with a trailer (or you don't have one that will work). Another option is shipping your auction purchase.
Coming in at around 130 pounds, the Sunfish is suitable for freight shipping. We've used companies like UShip.com which has shipped one of our Sunfish boats 900 miles for around $300. If you get a good price on your sailboat and find inexpensive shipping, you can end up with a great boat for a real bargain.
When buying your boat online, you generally won't be able to personally inspect the boat, so you'll need to make sure the seller provides a sufficient number of pictures for you to ascertain its condition. Make sure they provide several pictures of the hull. Look closely for cracks or holes.
Scratches are okay, but can be a sign of rough use. If the hull has inspection hatches, ask the seller for pictures to verify it's dry in there. Ask the seller for an accurate weight of the hull. This is for several reasons. First, if you plan to ship it, you'll need to know how much it weighs.
Secondly, if it weighs heavy (much over 130 pounds or so) you'll know that it's taken on water.
If that's the case, it's one auction to pass on.
Even if you aren't an experienced sailor, you can visually inspect the sail to make sure it's in good condition - with no rips, tears, mold, mildew, or other stains. There should be photos of every part of the sail in detail to make sure it's acceptable. Look for any damage on the spar, rudder or daggerboard. If you have any questions at all about the condition of any part of the boat, clarify it with the seller and ask for additional pictures.
PLACING YOUR BID
Once you're satisfied with the condition of the boat being offered, the next step is to check out the references of the seller to make sure they have a good reputation. Most auction websites allow buyers to leave some sort of satisfaction rating for the seller. So, if a seller has had satisfied buyers in the past, the likelihood they will follow through with your transaction is very good. When placing your bid, you will be prompted to enter the highest amount you would be willing to pay for the item. Really spend some time and consider the highest price you would be willing to pay for the boat. Enter that amount when you place your initial bid. Then walk away. Don't babysit your auction. Don't get caught up in a bidding war with another buyer. If you do, it's possible you could end up bidding a lot more than you really want to pay for the boat.
PAYING FOR YOUR BOAT
Also pay for your boat using a method that will leave you with some recourse in the event the boat isn't correctly represented by the seller. The best way to protect yourself is to pay with PayPal or with a credit card. If there's a problem with the transaction, you will have some recourse. You might even consider using an escrow company (such as escrow.com) to handle the transaction - especially if you are having your boat shipped. Never pay via an instant money forwarding service or a money order. If things are not as you were promised (and as photos represented), you will have a difficult time finding a remedy if the seller isn't cooperative.
There's no reason to spend full price for a Sunfish sailboat when so many good quality used ones are available. Even if you have to pay for shipping, you can still get a quality boat for a fraction of the cost of a new one. Just use good judgment, ask a lot of questions, and don't be in a rush. Buying a used Sunfish can be a bit like fishing - it's all about patience. So, if you bide your time and wait for the right boat to come along, you will be the owner of a great used Sunfish before you know it.
About the Author
Lorraine Grant loves to sail and has sailed throughout the Caribbean, Alaska, and Bermuda. She owns Auction Sailboats , an internet resource for new and used sailboats and accessories. Click here to see the list of Sunfish sailboats she has available for auction right now.