This correspondence applies to all boat purchases, not just one particular brand.

After much research, I am sold on the fact that I am going to buy a Tollycraft boat. After that, I am confused about which model to pursue. I would be perfectly happy with the 26′ Tolly, but my wife likes the idea of having an aft cabin so we can take couples cruising and be separated from one another. It is kind of my opinion that for the amount of times that we would have couples aboard, that it is not necessary, but she is thinking of our 2 sons, I am sure. I must admit also, that I would like a little bit larger boat than a 26′ because they do seem to have a rather small interior area (I have actually been inside of one). Did I mention that I am 6’4″ tall, as well as my sons and a 6′ wife?

I am in the $50-60,000 range for available purchase money, and am a ways away from affording a 34′ tri-cabin or Sundeck, unless there is a deal waiting for me out there somewhere. I have wanted a larger boat all of my life. I have always had small Boston Whalers, and now want to make a good decision. I am a little bit afraid of the repairs waiting out there for me, no matter what boat I buy, but first and foremost, I want my family to be safe in this craft. Do you have any recommendations for me, or a source of reviews for different models?

I know that you have a 37′ Tolly, but that is beyond me for now. I am in my early 50s and don’t want to do a bunch of “two-foot-itis,” I would like to start out right from the beginning.

Any thoughts about whether to hold out for diesel power vs. gas? It would seem to me that my choices are limited to the 30′ to 34′ Tollys. Is there headroom in these boats? I’m sure that you are busy and receive a lot of e-mails, but I would value any advice you might be able to throw my way. I sure enjoy what I have read from your guides!

Scott W. Chalfant
Bellingham, Washington


Hi, Scott,

Thanks for your e-mail. Since you want a roomy boat with separate sleeping areas for two couples plus perhaps a couple kids on board, and of course you want to minimize ongoing repair costs, the ideal answer would be a late-‘80s twin diesel Tolly 44. Cost (round numbers): $300,000-$350,000.

This boat would do everything you want. You’d have a wonderful aft cabin for you and your wife, a satisfactory forward V-berth for kids or occasional second couples, two heads with showers, excellent galley, large main saloon, covered “patio” area over the after stateroom, spacious upper helm station, small but workable after cockpit. You’d have two thundering diesel main engines for power and a diesel generator for 110-volt electricity. You’d love it.

The only sticking point is the price. It’s far beyond what you are prepared to pay. One alternative would be a Tolly 40 of the same vintage, which, except for the cockpit, would give you everything the 44 has (the 44 is a 40 with the cockpit added). The 40 wouldn’t cost as much, but is probably still outside your price range.

So we work our way down, and in your price range I think we’re talking about a 34 tri-cabin Tolly, either a late 70s model or the more modern 80s models. It would cost more than the upper end of what you want to spend, but if you do your research and know exactly what you’re after, you can find one. It would probably be twin gas, not diesel. With fuel prices trending up, gas boats this size will not have the resale charm of diesel. Even so, fuel will be the least expensive part of owning the boat.

To save fuel, I’ll speculate that you’ll run most of the time at 8 knots (6-8 gallons per hour), with 14 knots (25 gallons per hour) available when you needed it. If you had diesel you’d burn about half the fuel, both at 8 knots and at 14 knots. Most actively-used boats see an average of 100 engine hours per year. Our boat, which is used nearly three months each year, got just under 300 hours in 2006, which included 7½ weeks from Seattle to Prince Rupert and back.

If you really research the problem and think you know what you want, be prepared to act when the time comes. In our case, we decided we wanted a galley-down twin diesel Tolly 37, with generator, radar, autopilot, cabin heat, GPS, all the toys. We had resigned ourselves to finding a good gas powered model to re-power and “rebuilding” it to our specs. The total cost would be considerably above boats already available, but we’d have what we wanted.

Then one afternoon, I was walking the docks and happened upon a rather nice looking 37, with the owner aboard. He said the boat was for sale, and asked me aboard. I answered that we weren’t quite ready yet, but accepted his invitation. As he showed me through I realized HE HAD BUILT OUR BOAT. And the price, while more than I wanted to take on just then, was . . . was . . . well, we could do it.

On the way home I called my wife and said, “Honey, we’re in trouble.” She asked what kind of trouble we were in. I went down the list of things the 37 had, and the asking price for the boat. There was a pause.

“We’re in trouble,” she said.

Don’t be surprised if the same thing happens to you. Which means, you’ll pay more than you really want to pay, but you’ll get a good boat.

For heaven’s sake, don’t buy a project boat. You’re looking for a boat that has been owned and loved by someone who does things right, a boat that reflects real pride of ownership. Those boats are out there. Often, they’re owned by people who must sell because of advancing age or declining health. I know of one 34 tri-cabin that hasn’t been used because of health problems, and might be coming on the market. Surely there are others.

You mentioned cost of repairs, which I like to think of as the cost of ongoing boat ownership. You will be amazed at the ways boats eat money. Every five years, for example, the insurance company wants an out-of-water survey, to be certain the boat is worth insuring. Ours was last month. The survey itself was $500. While the boat was hanging there, the surveyor noted two above-the-waterline plastic through-hulls that were degrading from sunlight. The Travelift wasn’t scheduled for further use, so while we hung in the slings the yard replaced both through-hulls with bronze, plus bronze ball valves on the inside. The zincs were changed at the same time. Yard bill, including haulout, was a little over $800. Fantastic! We got out of the yard for less than $1000 (not counting the survey). That’s how it goes, and it never stops.

This subject could go on forever, but I hope I’ve helped a little. Don’t buy a boat you can’t afford, but be prepared to pay what it costs to get what you want. Somewhere in there is an answer.

Bob Hale

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