Buying a second hand Dinghy


The condition of any boat owes more to its lifetimes care and maintenance than to it’s age. You can find some relatively new boats that need a lot of work to make sea-worthy and some quite old boats (30 to 40 years) that look nearly new due to the attention lavished on them by proud and knowledgeable owners.

A lot of the points to examine apply equally to both wooden and GRP boats but there are two main specifics that apply individually. Wooden boats should be checked throughout for rot and deterioration of the timber that could entail some major repairs. GRP boats need to be free of evidence of Osmosis that takes a lot of work to cure. Osmosis is caused by water seeping into the small air pockets that are present in even the best quality GRP construction. It is evidenced by small ´bubbles´ on the surface that leak smelly liquid when pricked. It is more likely to occur in boats left on floating moorings and is therefore not common in dinghies because most are kept on shore in dinghy parks.

Generally old GRP boats have some crazing of the gel coat surface, especially in areas that get heavy usage. There is also likely to be some superficial damage along the gunwale strake due to collision with jetties etc. Both are normal ´wear and tear´, should not affect sea-worthiness and can be easily repaired. Wooden boats are likely to have patches of paint missing or bad scuffing to paint and varnish that again can be easily made good.

Any obvious existing major repairs, especially to the hull, should be of greater concern and the subject of a thorough examination and explanation from the current owner.

Damage to the hull of all boats can be caused by the boat being supported on it’s trolley by the bilge keels not on the main keel. This is evidenced by the floor bearings separating from the inside of the hull and the hull shape distorting. The later is readily visible from the outside and the former can normally be checked by removing the floorboards.

Cracks and leaks around the center-board housing are common, especially on wooden boats, and these may need to have the housing completely replaced. ON GRP boats this problem can more easily be repaired.

An important check that must be made is the integrity of the buoyancy compartments. A visual check can be made for any cracks where panels join and in the panels/inspection hatch fittings joints. The rubber gaskets should also be checked. New gaskets can be purchased easily but other problems will require more work to rectify. If the buoyancy compartments are fitted with one or more drain plugs they can be ´dry land´ tested for leaks using a water filled U-tube and drilled bungs (see diagram) that fit into the drain plugs to allow air to be blown into or sucked out of the compartment. This causes a difference in the level of water in the two sides of the U-tube. If the levels start to equalize you have a leak and the speed of movement indicates the size of the problem. Diagrams of this bit of homemade kit can be found in some of the books on boat maintenance. Obviously a ´fail-safe´ test can only be made by laying the boat on its side, like in a capsize, in a suitable depth of water and then bringing the boat back to land and checking for the ingress of water.

The deck/floor/hull also need examination around the mast step for signs of damage or excessive wear, as should the centerboard pivot (on boats that have this type rather than a sliding removable type) and rudder pintles/gudgeons. Both rudder and centerboard should also be checked for splits and edge damage.

The mast and boom should be free of any major damage or corrosion that could cause failure. Electrolytic corrosion can occur where any two metals are in contact and are wet. They form a miniature electric battery with one metal the anode and the other the cathode. On the Wayfarer both the mast and boom are of anodized aluminium alloy with stainless steel fittings. With aluminium and stainless steel it produces corrosion in the aluminium. This happens faster in salt water and when the temperature is higher, as it is in Spain.

All standing or running rigging must also be examined. Wire stays and halyards are normally made up of numerous twisted strands. If one strand has failed the others, which are the same age, are subject to greater forces and will also soon fail.

Sails are easily examined for splits, seam failure and excessive wear. Staining is common on old sails but is normally unsightly rather than a problem.

Finally check all the fittings, cleats, fairleads, stay adjusters and bottle screws, blocks shackles, etc., etc. All, even the most insignificant, are vital to safe sailing and can be replaced if suspect.