Wind Line Sails' Guide to Buying a Used Sunfish
Note: The following text is meant to be a guide for people interested in purchasing a used Sunfish. It is based on my extensive background in repairing, building, sailing, horse trading and as a dealer of small sailboats. I have tried to make it fairly comprehensive and hope to be adding some illustrations and photographs as time permits. Each situation and requirement is different however and the following text is not the last word on this subject.
Good Luck and Happy Hunting.
Daniel Feldman (owner Wind Line Sails)
Section 1: Ground Work
OK. You have decided that you want to get a used Sunfish. First there are a couple of basic questions you need to answer since they will make a difference in the boat you are going to want to buy.
Do you want to race or day sail? If you want to race you might want to see if there is a used boat around that already has a racing board and racing sail with it. These are 2 of the most expensive items you need to add to an older boat to make it competitive. If you are going to day sail, paying extra for these things may be spending money you don't need to. (For a list of racing upgrades see the Sunfish Upgrade page in the catalog section of my web site.)
How much do you want to spend and how much do you have? You can almost always assume that you will have to spend some extra money on a new boat. It may be as little as replacing a main sheet. If you are buying an older boat to race, a full upgrade can run you anywhere from $550.00 to 750.00 above and beyond the boat. Don't forget launching and storage fees etc. when doing your budget.
Section 2: How to find used boats.
My favorite method of finding a used Sunfish in decent shape is to actually spend a few bucks and place ads in the local paper. I offer to buy the boat from wherever it is for cash. The owner must be able to prove ownership and or have a title that can be signed over on the spot. I throw some hundreds and fifties in my wallet and go and look. If I like the boat and can negotiate a price I'm comfortable with I buy the boat on the spot and take it with me. One advantage of this method is that in many areas there are a lot of older but still in good condition Sunfish wasting away in garages, basement and under tarps in the back yard. The boats often were never heavily used and the owners want them out of the way as much as anything else. These boats can often be bought for a very modest price. They are the boat equivalent of the car that the old lady only drove to church on nice Sundays. It may take you some time but this is a great way to get a good boat at a good price.
Look in the paper for ad's. If you are serious get the paper early and call immediately. This is often a case of "the early bird gets the worm." Again, if possible buy the boat for cash. The site of dead presidents offered on the spot will often get you a better price and give you the jump on your competition.
Post on bulletin boards. Many local grocery stores etc. have boards where you can post ad's like this. Yacht clubs are another place. This has the same advantage as running an ad in the paper since you can often get people to offer up otherwise forgotten boats.
Post on the Internet. The Sunfish Class home page, my site and related news groups are all laces you can post looking for a boat.
Try local dealers. This is especially true out of season and if the dealer is not actually a Sunfish dealer. They may just want to unload the boat.
Section 4: Prices and Negotiating
Prices vary by your location, condition of the boat, supply and the time of year. I can not tell you for a certain year boat, you should be paying X dollars. I can tell you a couple of things that will help you. 1) boats are generally cheaper in the fall and winter. 2) It's always easier to negotiate with ready cash. 3) Offer less, even substantially less, you never know. Also, if you have several candidates, don't be afraid to mix and match. If you have one boat with good parts and a lousy hull and another that's the reverse, try and negotiate them both to rock bottom prices and then combine the best parts from each.
Section 5: Looking at your prospective purchase:
Prelims: Try and ascertain the age of the boat. If there is a title that should have it if not here are some general guide lines.
Serial number on metal deck plate near the coaming. No storage compartment at the aft end of cockpit and the old style rudder (rudder attaches via 2 bronze fittings one on the deck and one on the keel) pre 71.
Same as above but with the storage compartment 1971
Storage compartment, new style rudder (has aluminum rudder cheeks and attaches via an aluminum bracket on the transom) and has the metal rail 1972-1987
Storage compartment, new style rudder and rolled edges on gunwales 1987 and newer.
If there is a serial number on the hull it will be in the upper right corner of the transom. It can be deciphered to give you the model year i.e. AMFxxxxxM73x 1973 is the year. Another variation is SLIxxxxxG793 where 1993 is the year.
AMF = AMF Alcort the boats varied tremendously in quality and have to be looked at individually. P = Pearson AVOID THESE BOATS LIKE THE PLAGUE ULESS YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR. SLI = Sunfish Laser Inc. For the most part the boats were pretty well built. OQT = Vanguard (current builder) boats have continued to be very consistent in quality.
Section 5a: The Hull
When checking the hull there are a few things you want to have a look at.
The first thing is weight. Lift the hull. If it seems to weigh 200 pound forget it and go to the next boat. If you want to be more scientific and you can get a helper to go with you, you can try the following: You take a helper and 2 bathroom scales with you. Weigh yourselves and then step on the scales holding the boat. Subtract your combined weight from the total and you will have the weight of the boat. This is only good for a rough estimate since most bathroom scales are not 100% accurate. I usually look for a hull weight between 115 and 130 pounds. More and it usually means the boat has taken on some water. Less usually means they skimped on fiberglass somewhere.
Stiffness refers to the ability of the hull to resist flexing. Usually it is most evident in the bottom of the hull. I will take the heel of my hand and press down various places on the bottom. The hull will always give a little. If I start to see it depressing noticeably i.e. 1/2" then I will begin to take note. One of the most common places to find out that a hull has gone soft is on the broad expanse of the bottom just forward of the cockpit. A soft bottom means the boat is going to flex in chop rather than bounce off the top. It is especially important for boats that are going to race. It can sometimes be repaired, but it is a real nuisance (See my how to section on foam blocks.)
Check the mast step and daggerboard trunk for obvious cracks or holes.
Check the overall condition of the fiberglass. Look for dents, chips or cracks. Be especially aware of circular hairline cracks that denote impacts. (These are famous for having concealed damage underneath.)
Check the bailer. If it is metal, make sure it has a plug or resign yourself to getting a new one right away. Check inside the storage compartment and under the cockpit rim for gaps or damage.
Look at the bridle. (Wire or rope attached to 2 eyes on the aft deck, also check for mainsheet hardware i.e. Only the OEM hook, a bullseye with a cam cleat, a ratchet block. You may need to upgrade these. They are not deal breakers but having only the hook will lower the price.
Check the splash rail for damage, missing screws etc.
Open any ports or drains and check for signs of moisture. This is extra important if the boat was stored outside.
Does the boat have a hiking strap. If it does, see how it was installed and by whom.
Don't be afraid to ask the owner questions about how much and what type of sailing the boat did.
Check the fittings for pitting and corrosion, check to see if there are holes that indicate the hardware had to be relocated. This may mean that the backing blocks present in older boats have gone rotten.
Check for repairs to the glass. Again try and find out why and who repaired the damage. Amateur nose jobs are one of the most frequent repairs that we have to redo.
Section 5b: Blades
The daggerboard will either be wood or the newer plastic composite board. If you are going to race you will need the newer composite board. Check either blade for nicks and dents. On wooden blades look for splits and cracks especially around the handles.
The rudder and tiller need careful inspection. First determine if it is the old or new style rudder. (see pre lims above) If it is the old style that is OK except that replacement part if you break something are almost impossible to find. As a matter of fact you can almost count on having to do a rudder conversion to the new style at some point. If you are dealing with the newer rudder with the aluminum cheeks inspect the wooden blade for cracks especially around the pivot bolt or tiller connecting bolt. Check the aluminum cheeks for cracks or excessive corrosion and pitting. The tiller should be checked for cracks. If it has the old wooden tiller extension, you will probably want to upgrade it fairly quickly.
Section 5c: Spars
On the mast look for signs of deep pitting especially where the gooseneck abrades the mast. Check the tube for bends or dents. The top cap and base cap should be checked for cracks and wear. Shake it to see if it has water in it.
Check the gaff and boom. On the boom loosen the gooseneck and check underneath for large pits and corrosion. (It is not unusual to find the boom almost corroded through) Check the tubes for bend. It is not unusual to see a slight banana bend in the boom and that is acceptable. Check the end caps for excessive wear and the same with the gooseneck. Check for dents or kinks in the aluminum. Kinks where a spar has bent and been straightened will mean that that spar will need to be replaced. Check the boom blocks and connecting eyebolts at the tack where the gaff and boom meet.
Section 5d: Sail and running rigging
Roll out the sail. Check the sail for holes. Check the seams between the panels for worn stitching. Look at the grommets to see if they are starting to tear out. If you see a bunch of little holes in the sail check and see if there is an obvious cause i.e. the sail was wrapped around the boom and abraded on the blocks. If not or if the material feels thin or brittle it is probably indicating that the sail will need to be replaced soon.
If you are racing hopefully the boat will have a racing sail. Lots of people get nailed on this one. Here is how you can tell. Except for a small number of sails made for the World Championships each year racing sails are all white. They all have a window. The first grommet above the tack has reinforcing panels sewn around it for a cunningham. The leech has small trapezoidal anti-flutter patches sewn into it. It will have a North Sails manufacturers patch at the tack. Anything else is total BULL @#$@#@. It is not the class legal racing sail. Don't get rooked.
Check the halyard and mainsheet. If the halyard is the old cotton 3 strand or hardware store nylon it's history. Same for the mainsheet. I generally tell people to count on replacing both the sheet and halyard if the boat they are looking at is more than 5 years old.
Section 6: Deal Makers or Breakers?
There are not many conditions under which I can definitely say it ain't worth it but I will try. Avoid deals with hulls in dubious condition unless you are a real do it yourselfer with experience working on boats. Unless you are going to mix and match parts avoid deals for a hull only. The chances of finding all the parts used are slim and you will be amazed at how much money it will cost you to outfit the rest of the boat. If the seller can't prove ownership, especially if they will not sign lost title forms or a bill of sale, bug out.
Figure out using the guidelines above whether the price being asked figures for worn or sub-standard equipment. If the seller thought the boom was OK but you found corrosion under the gooseneck bid the price down and tell the seller why. It may still be worth buying the boat at the right price.
Dan I still have questions. Then please feel free to Email me but PLEASE DON"T EMAIL ME TO ASK IF A PRICE ON A BOAT IS OK. The market varies tremendously and I won't have seen the boat so I can't give you a definite answer. If you get an equal amount of fun for your money you did just fine.