Mike and Ashley, welcome to the forum! Keeping in mind that advice is typically worth what you pay for it, here are my 2 cents:
1. If looking at new boats, go to Annapolis
and/or the Miami boat show
. Spend considerable time on any of the boats that you are considering, sit in all seating areas, lay down of the bunks, stand in the showers, compare cupboard/counter space (bring a tape measure) and see if you can get out on a test sail. If you are looking at previous models, go to Florida
and check out the used market, doing precisely the same thing.
2. Once you have narrowed it down to two boats, book a charter
on both. Yes, this will typically limit you to more recent designs and commonly, the charter
layout (although with some effort, you can often find one with the owner's layout). However, the time aboard will not only give you a chance to use the galley/heads/cockpit/saloon, but also to check out sailing and anchoring
, even if only in modest conditions. I suggest that the experience will be invaluable, particularly for newbies who have, at this point, only a theoretical understanding of what they want in a boat. If you are chartering a somewhat older boat, it will have the added advantage of allowing you see how well they hold up over time.
Yes, there are some terrific designs that were built in limited numbers and which may be excluded from this process; that being said, for first time buyers I suspect that you may be better off purchasing
a boat from one of the larger, more established companies so that you can get this experience before putting out a huge amount of money
; furthermore, unlike one-offs, the resale value of these boats is typically quite predictable in case you make a mistake.