Boating in Retirement

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Boating in Retirement


Industry legend, retired journalist BOB WONDERS suggests there’s no better way to spend your kids’ inheritance than to buy a boat and enjoy the lifestyle.

Many of Australia’s retirees have earned themselves the title ‘Grey Nomads’, as they hook-up trailers and caravans and set-off to see their country.

Fair enough, but enjoying one’s leisure years need not be restricted to the caravan, the Winnebago or the mobile home. There’s a brand-new world to be experienced on the waterways of Australia, whether on rivers and lakes or the ocean blue.


Buying a boat may seem intimidating to those with no prior boating experience, but it’s not as complicated as it may appear.

For retirees, the romance of sail may well be appealing, but with larger sailboats it takes a fair degree of hands-on experience to handle such a vessel without some onboard assistance.

Many retirees enjoy fishing, both inshore and offshore, and a powerboat comes into its own for this purpose.

Following are a few factors to consider with each type of boat.


Recreational boats are generally made from Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP), commonly known as fibreglass; or aluminium, affectionately referred to as ‘tinnies’.

In a nutshell, the lighter weight of tinnies makes them easier to launch and retrieve, they’re lighter to tow and need less horsepower to achieve similar performance to fibreglass boats of the same size. Their best friend in maintenance terms is simply fresh water.

With fibreglass boats, designers and manufacturers have the advantage of being able to incorporate sweeping lines and curves to produce eye-catching craft. Fibreglass also usually offers quieter and smoothly running.

Generally speaking, powerboats have outboard, sterndrive or inboard/shaftdrive engines, and can be either petrol or diesel.

Outboard engines are familiar to most people. Sterndrive is an engine mounted inboard sending its power to the water via an outboard unit resembling the lower half of an outboard engine. Shaftdrive is where engines transmit their power to the propellers via shafts, with rudders to provide steering.

Smaller boats are invariably outboard-powered, mid-range boats can be outboard or sterndrive, while larger vessels, say 10 metres+, are usually shaftdrive and quite often diesel.


For retirees who can afford a substantial vessel, coastal cruising is a delight and as the old saying goes, getting to wherever you’re going is half the fun.

In boating industry terms, a ‘big’ boat generally starts at about 10 metres and goes up from there. In vessels of this size range, there are basically three styles: trawler, flybridge and sportscruiser. They will invariably be diesel powered, the majority with dual engines.

Trawler-style craft are usually displacement vessels, meaning they push through or displace the water rather than plane or skim across it like faster boats.

Flybridge designs are desired by offshore anglers, primarily for their ability to spot water movement that indicates the presence of fish, and for their ability to provide the skipper with the necessary view to back down on a big fish, such as marlin, once one has been hooked.

Of course, not all who own flybridge cruisers are dedicated anglers, but – as a general rule – if you don’t fish you don’t really ‘need’ a flying bridge. For many retirees the ladder or stairway to the flybridge could present a problem, particularly in a rolling sea.

Then, the sportscruiser, or sedan, comes into play. One of the advantages over the flybridge design is that all onboard are on virtually the same level, with cockpit, saloon, galley and accommodation never separated by more than a step or two.

Whether it’s a trawler, flybridge or sportscruiser think ‘big money’. Many vessels in this style are hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then there’s the on-going cost of boat ownership – maintenance, marina berth or mooring, fuel costs… it goes on.


For the uninitiated, a sailboat may appear a more economical way to experience the boating lifestyle. Well, that’s not necessarily the case…

Sails don’t come cheap. In fact, a sail wardrobe (as a complete set is usually called) can cost up to 10-15 per cent of a boat’s cost. In that light, a $100,000 sailboat can demand a $15,000 wardrobe. If you split a mainsail, a not uncommon occurrence in heavy winds, and sailing can quickly get very expensive.

Also, most sailboats above trailerable size have an engine, so they use fuel and the engine requires maintenance.

Another point to remember – sailing demands some experience. Depending on the size of the vessel, an important consideration is that of crew. It takes a fairly experienced sailor to handle a substantial sailboat solo.


The most important factor when choosing a boat is to aim for something that suits your needs. For example, many retirees still enjoy water skiing, or perhaps the kids or grandkids do, so if that’s the case don’t get stuck with a dedicated fishing boat!

If you decide to spend some of your leisure years boating and you rate yourself as inexperienced, don’t be intimidated. Follow your instinct, make your choice carefully, ensure you don’t end up with a boat that does not suit your needs, and be aware of your budget. Believe me, it’s a great lifestyle out there on the water.

You’ll never regret becoming a skipper!

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