This past weekend I helped a new boat owner take his first sail, commonly known as a shakedown cruise, which made me wonder what really gets “shaken down”. I knew up front that buying this boat would be just the beginning of his expense list, but how can I break that news to a newbie client… or should I?


Buying a boat is just the start of learning how to get in and out of a tight marina like this one in Santa Cruz, CA—and there will probably be other investments needed as well.

That’s what I’m wondering as I arrive at the dock. My eyes go directly to the docklines (way too small, way too short, and not nearly enough of them), and my accounting brain begins its automatic tally: $200. As he welcomes me board and I step over the lifelines, I notice the lack of a life ring or Lifesling ($160).

It’s a nice 34 foot boat, with a beautiful and spacious salon and quality hardware. As we start discussing systems, I realize he’s going to need a quiver of texts to understand everything - Troubleshooting Marine Diesels, Calder’s 12v and Maintenance Guide, Chapman’s Piloting ($150). Then we start poking around the navigation area and there isn’t a chart or ‘nav’ tool anywhere ($75). I try to explain why the brand new chart plotter can’t be his only nav tool—not when your life depends on knowing where you are.

The house battery cells are dry, so he will need a new battery or two, once the monitoring system is calibrated and the batteries are cycled a few times ($200-$600).

We finally emerge into the sunshine, and after a few tries we get the motor to fire up. “Seems a bit smoky doesn’t it?” he says. The motor is surging a bit as well… so a bit of service might be required ($$$???).

My brain has already tallied up a significant extra investment, and we haven’t even left the dock yet.

Rolling out the main, we notice the outhaul line is rather chafed and should be replaced ($200). We roll out the almost-new jib and remember that the previous owner sized it for light air, way too much for local conditions. ($400 recut?) We have a nice little sail before heading back in for docking practice.

After several hours aboard, the owner is a lot more comfortable handling his boat under both sail and power, so I figure it’s been a successful day. And apparently he agrees, because he asks me to join him again for another half day ($150).

I consider asking how he feels about the financial commitment he’s made to sailing so far, but instead I promise to send him my notes and a punch list. We part with smiles and a handshake, he to continue puttering around his yacht ($120,000) and me to fit in an afternoon windsurf ($1200 for the entire kit).

Later as I work through my notes, I’m tempted to total the cost of my recommendations—and then decide not to. I’ve helped hook another new sailor, and that’s what’s really important—even if both the boat and its owner got a shakedown of sorts on their first day together.