I've already listened to the Christopher Cross song and I still don't get it.
November 17, 2008 9:02 AM   Subscribe

When people dream of buying a boat -- a recreational boat like a sailboat or yacht, not one for fishing, transportation or the military -- what are they dreaming of?

It seems like many folks have dreams of "buying a boat." I get it when the boat's used for fishing or transportation, but it seems that a lot of people -- especially in the upper class -- long to go boating for purely recreational purposes.

When people go out on one of these boats, what exactly is going on? Is it just sunning, drinking and socializing? If that's the case -- and pardon me if this sounds ridiculous -- what does the boat add to the equation to make it so desirable?
posted by I EAT TAPAS to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
As a boat dreamer myself, it has a lot to do with going someplace that you don't usually get to go. Anyone can walk down to the corner pub, not everybody can hang out on the ocean.

Also, sailing is a skill that has to be learned and mastered. Doing difficult things well is often a source of pride for many.
posted by hwyengr at 9:08 AM on November 17, 2008

Being on a boat means having a definitive liquidy barrier between you and your troubles. You leave your troubles on shore. Troubles can't swim I guess.
posted by ian1977 at 9:09 AM on November 17, 2008

Is it just sunning, drinking and socializing? If that's the case -- and pardon me if this sounds ridiculous -- what does the boat add to the equation to make it so desirable?

What does a beach add other than sand? What does a forest add other than bugs and insects?

For many people, including myself, there's something more primal about being out surrounded by water. I'm guessing this is one of those things you either feel or you don't. And if you don't it all seems a bit ridiculous.
posted by vacapinta at 9:17 AM on November 17, 2008

When people are out on a boat, there's sort of a less-restrictive set of social rules that apply because you're out of sight of other people. Boats, in my experience, tend to appeal to people who like a certain degree of novely [so you can take your boat to a new beach or a new restaurant or a new state, it's like a car trip], who enjoy the outdoors in the water/sky/sun sense, and who have disposable income to put towards that privacy/lifestyle.

I'm not thinking here of people who grew up on the coast for whom boating is a completely normal form of transportation akin to driving but people who just have an idea that they'd like "a mansion and a yacht" Other hobbies that are improved/accentuated by having a boat

- fishing
- swimming
- wildlife viewing [both from the boat but also in the more remote places you can go to in your boat]
- hanging out on remote beaches/reading
- sailing [which for many people is a fun end in and of itself]
- eating/drinking -- cooking in a boat galley has a bunch of restrctions that many people enjoy working within
- travelling - you can go a lot of neat places in your boat that may be harder or impossible to get to by car or walking
- "getting away from it all" until really recently being on a boat meant being pretty much "out of touch and for business people this was one legitimate way to basically go "offline" this is definitely not true anymore (i.e you can technically be as connected as you want) but for some people it's a good excuse to go do this

It's sort of like RVing. The RV becomes a tool to do other things you like, and there's a community of like minded people that you see when you're out doing that thing who you have an instant sympatico with.

It's also fairly expensive to do high-end boating right [i.e. have a fancy boat that is set up for guests and mooring locations and/or paying for upkeep/food/drink etc] so there's a sense in which it's like any other high priced vacation. People who have really high end yachts also have staff that basically keep the boat maintained and stocked so going out on the boat is a lot like just going to a destination resort, except one that you OWN not one that you're renting. For less fancy boats like smaller sailboats, the fun comes form being able to get totally away under your own power to someplace nice and lovely and totally free of other people, noisy engines and what have you. It's a lot like cycling in that way, the sense that if you put a little work into it, you can take yourself someplace really great.
posted by jessamyn at 9:19 AM on November 17, 2008

Is it just sunning, drinking and socializing? If that's the case -- and pardon me if this sounds ridiculous -- what does the boat add to the equation to make it so desirable?

Aside from the actual benefits of using the boat, there is the status aspect that comes along with any luxury item. Many people use boat ownership to network with other people wealthy enough to afford to own similar boats, in the same way that one might golf at an exclusive country club for reasons other than loving the game of golf.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:38 AM on November 17, 2008

Second jessamyn, with an emphasis on the sailing part. Getting a sailboat to do what you want it to without resorting to an engine is actually pretty challenging. You've got to know not only the performance characteristics of your boat, but the surrounding waters (wouldn't want to run aground), and keep all of that in your head while holding the desired course in conditions that change by the minute. You really do have to pit your own wits and skill against the elements.

You also get to look down your nose at the silly power-boaters who until recently were spending upwards of $200 for an afternoon's motoring. Gas prices are cheaper now, but they'll go up presently.
posted by valkyryn at 9:46 AM on November 17, 2008

Some who own recreational boats simply tie them up and party at the dock or put-put around the harbor. Some take the boats beyond the horizon, where nobody knows where they are and they really get a sense that they are on their own, and it's an adventure. There are probably as many shades of boat dreaming in between those two points as there are people with that level of disposable income.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:47 AM on November 17, 2008

"There is nothing--absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

also, what jessamyn said.

most of my sailing is just going out on a sailboat with friends and poking around in boston harbor. this, in and of itself, is an enjoyable shared activity, even if all we do is sail out, go around an island, and sail back.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:12 AM on November 17, 2008

Melville took this on as the opening page of Moby Dick. He's not talking about yachts, but I would bet that most yachtsmen would find themselves in those first four or five paragraphs.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:16 AM on November 17, 2008

Sailing boats were and are for me less about the sailing itself, although that's great fun, and more about:

- getting away from it all
- the sounds, smells and feeling of being afloat in a nice harbour - smelling the ozone and the spray, hearing the waves lapping on the hull...
- relaxing with a drink, some nice food and a good read
- swimming and snorkelling
- sunrise and sunset
- stargazing and moonwatching
-a spot of fishing
- the silence

...and also the rewards that come after a long, hard sail in a hard, unforgiving wind - most of the above, but enjoyed in a deep sense of (good) weariness.

So: daydreaming and peace snuggled in the harbour, mixed with occasional adventure out at sea.

The important thing is that this was and occasionally still is all accomplished on old, cheap boats, all under 21 feet long. You can get just as much fun and atmosphere out of some old, faded fibreglass as you can from 21 layers of agonizingly smooth varnish.
posted by dowcrag at 10:23 AM on November 17, 2008

Oh man, you can do all kinds of fun stuff in a boat. Also, you can get a used 17ish foot boat, which is plenty big for 4-6 people, for less then a lot of people pay for cars (15-20k), so boating isn't necessarily just an upper-class thing. Also as long as you're not just aimlessly driving around too much you can keep the cost of gas really reasonable.

Fun boat things outside the socializing/drinking/sunning/cooking realm:
- swimming in totally isolated places
- pulling up to hidden rope swings and little cliffs and jumping into the river/lake/etc
- getting pulled in tubes and other misc. inflatable things
- waterskiing!

Boats are kind of everything that's good about a day at the beach, minus the inconvenience of sand.
posted by rachelv at 10:29 AM on November 17, 2008

If you don't have the means for a crew, it's hard work to maintain a boat. So it's a hobby, too.
posted by Zambrano at 10:40 AM on November 17, 2008

I think for many it's freedom and self-sovereignty.

When you're 15, you might dream of owning a car - because it means you can go where you please, do what you like, and you're not reliant on other people any more, which means security and self-sufficiency.

When you've got a car, you might dream of owning a home - for the same reasons. Freedom and self sufficiency.

When you've got a car and a house, you might dream of owning a boat or an RV - for the same reasons.

This is because, a boat (or an RV) is a house that is also a car. Don't like the neighbours? Pick up anchor and move. Want to travel, and stay home at the same time? Hit the ocean!

Also, I don't think you need to do these things to get the benefit. For some, just having the boat means "I could do that if I wanted to". It means you have a choice, which means even if you don't sail the world, you're not trapped in your landlocked life, you are choosing to stay put despite having other options.
Knowing you have options in life is important to some people, and it often doesn't matter so much whether you use those options, just that you know they're there. Knowing that the no-matter what the future might throw at you, you always go to Plan B.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:02 PM on November 17, 2008

Owning a proper 35+ foot, blue water sailboat is the closest you can get to being Captain Mal Reynolds of the Serenity. Or something like that.
posted by valkane at 12:10 PM on November 17, 2008

Racing! What upper-class people, and upper-middle-class people like me, are dreaming of when we dream of buying sailboats is racing them, either in class regattas or open handicapped races like the Black Dog Dash or the Fisher's Island Round-the-Island Race, or like my friend Erik in longer races like the Single-Handed Transpac from San Francisco to Hawaii.

Racing a performance sailboat together is the most challenging fun and most-fun challenge a group of friends can have.
posted by nicwolff at 2:38 PM on November 17, 2008

why have a beach house?
why get a cabin in the woods
why an rv?
why go skiing?
why drive a fancy car?
why motorcycles?
why run marathons?
why go camping?
why bicycles?
why learn to pilot a plane?
hangliding? bunjee jumping? skydiving? go for a walk? etc etc etc

because it's fun.
posted by swbarrett at 5:33 PM on November 17, 2008

Boats can be a very fun thing, but I also think that a lot of people who have never owned one romanticize the experience.

My parents did the big cabin cruiser thing for a few years on Canada's west coast, and said it made for the two happiest days of their lives. The day they bought their big boat, and the day they sold it. In between, they went out on the water with it every few weekends for a couple of years and camped in little coves, hidden harbours, etc.

They had a really good time with it, but also noted that a lot of the overall boat-owner experience could have been replicated by digging a small hole in their backyard, tossing a bunch of money in it every couple of months and setting it on fire.

If you are well-heeled in the money department (and my parents weren't, not really...) having a boat can be a very fine thing indeed. Or if you're willing to do a lot of the upkeep yourself to save cash, which can be very satisfying in its own way.
posted by barc0001 at 11:24 PM on November 17, 2008

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