River boaters upgrading to a coastal trawler

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Jun 28, 2017
Hi all,

My partner and I currently live on a narrowboat on the canals and rivers of our native England, but both truely belong on the coast and are fascinated by maritime vessels. Due to a recent inheritance, we can now afford to finally upgrade from our 40ft x 6ft canal boat to the old fishing trawler of our dreams. We've got our eyes on one that seems sea worthy and good to go, all except the need to convert the interior into a comfortable liveaboard space. Which I am more than happy to tackle.

The trouble is, we are complete novices when it comes to coastal/sea travel and vessels. We are seasoned experts with canal and river boating, but this is a whole other ball game. Does anybody have any advice for beginners, in terms of where to start, what to make sure we have done before diving in head first, and the do's and dont's of buying your first trawler? Are there any good books on the subject? How did all of you start on your trawler ownership journey?

Many thanks,

Ben and Pennie
Welcome aboard. Without knowing anything about the "...old fishing trawler of our dreams." It would be impossible to suggest specifics. That being said, read, study, ask questions, walk the docks, read some more and most importantly, assess your bank account. In spite of the amount of your inheritance, whatever you purchase will be a drain on your funds. Many TF members have or are in the process of giving new life to older vessels and there are some remarkable success stories but I would guess that there are as many unpublished failures. Do NOT become emotional AT ALL. Pragmatism is paramount at THIS stage.
Thanks for the reply RT Firefly! I'm definitely guilty of getting emotionally attached to impractical ships, something I'm trying to keep under wraps. We've since learned that the vessel I became attached to is far too big and run-down for our lack of experience (A 72ft 1969 long-keel traditional fishing trawler, ripe for conversion into a house boat). We're now looking for something smaller and more modern as a starter project. What training and qualifications are needed in order to sail a 45-55ft trawler around estuaries and coastal waters? What are some good sources of information on buying and maintaining second-hand or re-purposed coastal vessels (books, websites etc.)?
Personally, I'd think studying up on weather, navigation and ship handling in wind and currents would be a great place to begin. Likely a local power squadron would be a help.

As for books, Bowditch, American Practical Navigator Vols 1 and 2, Moody, Navigation Afloat, Chapman, Piloting and Dutton's Navigation and Piloting would form the source books for many professional ship drivers as well as licensing classes.

Boat selection, maintenance and repair is a whole different ball game. This site is a great resource, Wooden boat if those sort of projects interests you.

Have fun and be safe!
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Mr. U. Other than VERY general advice I really don't know what to suggest. I can only imagine that the European boating environment is quite different than the North American one as to resources, facilities and "style".

Seek out local information. Join a boating club. Walk the coastal docks. Talk to people. Search your domestic and nearby continental boat sale sites. Take boating courses as suggested.

Perhaps some of the European TF members can offer more suitable suggestions but I don't even know where to start other than what I initially suggested: Do NOT get emotional and be pragmatic at this stage of the game.
Take RT's advise on this. I went from a small run about to a large vessel. 9 months new for me. Learning as I go, but thank goodness for the great members here. I can't even begin to help you with those waters.
Thank you all for the welcomes and advice, especially the book recommendations. We've decided to start off with a 42ft steel ketch, at least until we are more experienced and confident with inshore boats and coastal navigation. We will certainly be moving up to a proper trawler one day though!
That was a quick change from wanting a coastal trawler to a ketch. You hardly put forth the effort. :confused:

If you are truly interested in coastal trawler, then walk the commercial docks and yards in you area, and talk to the commercial. It will give you an idea and information of what a coastal trawler. Less than 20% of pleasure boats are coastal cruising, where as commercial are 80%. A rule of thumb is less the experience the more capable a boat required. That is why my wife bought the eagle.:thumb:

Also when walking the dock and yards take note of length and weight in your area. The Seattle the limit was 60 ft and 50 tons. There out there but you have to spend the energy and time.:flowers:
... Does anybody have any advice for beginners, in terms of where to start, what to make sure we have done before diving in head first, and the do's and dont's of buying your first trawler? Are there any good books on the subject? How did all of you start on your trawler ownership journey?

Go slow. READ READ and READ. Talk to people on boats. Figure out what you want to do with the boat. Do you want to cross oceans? Cruise up rivers with low bridges and shallow depths? Head to north into colder areas?

These two books are good to start reading.
Voyaging Under Power by Beebe:

Leonard's The Voyager's Handbook:

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Mr. U. So you're going from a motor vessel to sail? I don't know how to respond to that...
... What training and qualifications are needed in order to sail a 45-55ft trawler around estuaries and coastal waters? ...
A reliable depth sounder and a tide chart would be good, whatever boat you choose.
I suggest some deep breathing exercises, and that you sit down together with a nice cup of tea.(It`s what I do when the thought of buying another Jaguar enters my mind). Too many changes of direction too quickly. Do you have sailing experience, or will the steel ketch really be a motor sailer? Steel boats need careful surveys by experts. A beamy motor sailer with a substantial engine is not a bad idea.
When I was in the UK I saw lots of fishing boats of all sizes that would make great conversions.Remember that a similar length non narrow boat will provide much more living space than your canal boat.
The good thing about a former fishing boat is they're usually much heaver built than a yacht of the same measurements. But a boat no longer wanted commercially may have lots of deferred maintenance. If we're talking wood, you want a really good survey.
Again if it's wood, do whatever the bottom may need first. I've seen many beautiful fishing boat conversions with rotten bottoms. Second, fix any cabin and deck leaks...
Well it was the compromise I had to make, the missus wanted a sailing boat, I wanted a motor boat, but both of us definitely want an older, quirky 'pre-loved' vessel, and the one we've chosen is all of those things. It's a manageable size for beginners, fully functioning sail rig operated from the wheelhouse, lorry engine rigorously maintained by it's former owner who is a mechanical engineer by trade, comes with all the nav gear, and a rough, 30 year old, well lived-in but homely and very practical interior. It passed a thorough survey with mostly flying colours, the only real issue was the anodes needing changing but that is being carried out inclusive of the price we are paying for it. Steel hull is completely sound. We've spent a few nights on it already and love it.

Oddly, we couldn't find a suitable trawler or any ex-commercial boat within our price range in the UK at the time of looking. But it is still my dream. This ketch will definitely serve us well as a beginner's vessel. We are enrolling on the RYA skipper and sailing courses soon, with the intention of keeping her moored at the marina until we are competent enough to take her around the UK estuarys and coastal waters, ultimately working towards travelling to Ireland, then France (depending on how that will work with Brexit), the Faroe Islands, and then further afield. But all this is probably several years away yet.

We just can't get over how cheap and do-able moving onto a boat like this is, it only cost us £27,000, which is only £1000 more than we paid for the narrowboat, and it is vastly more spacious and comfortable, with a hell of a lot more potential for travelling. We are struggling to figure out why more people don't ditch bricks and mortar for the boat life, even if it's just to live aboard! It's a fraction of the price of a small flat let alone a house in England, even monthly mooring fees are cheaper than the average 2-bedroom rental property here.
Just a guess though it might have a bit to do with the possibility of having all your possessions and possibly your life lost to the bottom of the sea.

Extensive and costly maintenance to systems that can't really be safely "put off" until convenient, having to perhaps use other small bots to get to and from the boat. The necessity of moving pets, food, fuel and waste around. Constant dampness, in some climes the cold, others the heat.

Lots of reasons if you think about it. That said, if you can deal with those sorts of things, as you've found, you can't really beat it.

Congrats and post up some pictures when you have a chance.
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