Antique Boat Buying 101

Back in the 90s I heard about a Chris Craft that was found in an old dilapidated barn near Green Bay, Wisconsin.  A demolition crew was dismantling the building for the barn boards when they found an old wood boat in a pile of hay.  Apparently the boat owner put his 1936 Chris Craft 19 ½’ custom away in the first floor of the building just before he was shipped off to WWII.  Unfortunately, he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and the boat was forgotten.  Over time the barn floor rotted out and the well preserved Chris Craft fell into a pile of hay stored in the lower barn.  After being rescued this boat passed through a couple of collectors before finding a new home in my garage.  To a collector/boat restorer this is the find of a lifetime, an un-restored original prewar double cockpit forward fresh out of a time capsule.  To date the (Patriot) still has its original bottom, top sides decks and interior wood appointments.  Due to the boat’s low usage, the thick mahogany planks have no pier dings or scrapes and do not suffer from rot.  Treasures like this are still found in old boat houses, garages, and barns, but can be difficult to find and are usually stumbled upon.  Of course, this typically happens after you have already purchased your first or second boat, since all boaters should have at least two wooden boats.  So how do you go about shopping?

There are a number of things to consider before making your purchase.  Will it be your only and primary boat or do you have other boats for daily use?  Will you keep the wooden boat at the lake or river or will you trailer it to the launch every time you go out?  If you keep the boat at the waters edge, is it in a slip, on a boat lift, or in a wet or dry boat house?  How big is the lake?  This is important because a small or undersized boat on a large stormy body of water can be very uncomfortable for you, the boat, and your passengers.  Would you like a runabout, utility, or lapstrake?  How about an antique, classic, replica or modern cold molded boat?  Do you plan to show the boat and get involved with collector groups and boat clubs?  Are you looking for a specific hull type, year, or size?  Do you want a completely restored boat or a project?  Finally be conscious of your budget and remember to do your homework before shelling out your hard earned cash.

The internet has made it much easier to locate wooden boats for sale, to compare types and prices, and to exchange information with other enthusiasts.   There are also valuable printed sources including Classic Boating Magazine and resources geared toward specific manufactures, years, and types, all which provide interesting stories and information.

Boat clubs and shows are a great place to compare notes and learn about wood boats by talking with other boat enthusiasts.  There is most likely a chapter of the ACBS, the Antique and Classic Boat Society, in your area.  As a member you will receive a nice quarterly magazine, a directory of all the members and their boats, and much more.  The Chris Craft Antique boat club also has a magazine and a great website; check it out at  Another excellent place to gain insight is at a wood boat restorer’s shop.  Here you can see how the boats are built, maintained, and restored, and you can get a feel for costs.

For some people, choosing a wood boat is easy.  It may be the type your family used to own or maybe your neighbor had one and took you for your first wood boat ride.  Others may find the choices overwhelming due to all the different manufactures, sizes, types, and years.  More often than not your budget will drive you to which boat will suit your needs.  For example, your favorite Chris Craft is a prewar runabout with a double cockpit forward or split cockpit configurations.  Your budget is 30 to 40 thousand dollars.  At today’s prices, this could buy you a freshly restored 16 or 17 footer, an older restored 19 footer, or possibly a project barrel back.  When I shop for a boat I make a list based on my first choice, second choice, and so on.  My list looks like this:

Chris Craft 1955 Cobra:

-CC 19’ barrel back
-CC Racing runabout
-Triple cockpits
-Rare boats
-CC 19’ DCFD
-Split runabouts

I have not completed my first three wishes yet, as the right boat has not come along.  As far as price is concerned, equal to rarity, the boat condition has large bearing.  Project wood boats cost less at purchase but can equal a completed boat cost in a hurry.  Remember, you should always purchase the boat that best suits you, your lifestyle, and your budget, and always do your homework first.

Tip Section:

Buy a boat that you really want and plan to keep for a long time.  Do not worry about the value on a day to day basis.  Take care of your wood boat and it will take care of you.  I have not seen very many new or old fiberglass boats that retain their value or go up in value.

-Nice meal at a 5 star restaurant- $200
-New diamond ring- $10,000
-New Suburban- $50,000
-Take your grandkid out for a Chris Craft Ride- Priceless