WOW... what a good question, and many more people should be asking it.
1. Buying a used boat, especially in the size you want, is about the smartest thing you can do. And not only that - your timing could not be better. There are indeed some fantastic deals out there in live-a-board size, true blue water cruising vessels.
2. Now that I have said that... Buying used can be time consuming and tricky. I would use a "Certified Boat Broker" (but only because it would save time). They know where the boats are, they know how and where to find what you want, and they can help you find the very best deal.
Unlike a used boat salesperson, a "Certified Boat Broker" will work for you... not the seller.
Whether you use a "Broker" or not however is far less important then knowing, and being assured you are getting a good sound seaworthy vessel.
3. A "Certified Marine Boat Survey" is an absolute must.
There are licensed Marine Surveyors. These guys know boats better then you know your right hand. For a fee... they will go out and "survey" (inspect) a potential boat you are thinking of buying. They take soundings of the hull and deck, and like x-rays, this shows any and all soft spots, wood rot, cracks, etc. that can not be seen by the naked eye or felt with your hand. They also inspect your power train, motor, mast, rigging, and absolutely everything on the boat... from bow to stern, port to starboard - all wires, electrical, joints, caps, anchor rode, windlass, sails... everything. And they give you a report that includes everything that is right, wrong, new, old, fixed, broken, and about to break...
Furthermore... as a licensed Certified Marine Surveyor - if they "miss" anything, and fail to warn you of something that is broken or soon to break (under normal wear and tear, of course... their insurance pays for the repair. Now don't get me wrong here... A boat survey is not insurance. What really happens is they will tell you everything about the condition of your vessel, and they will tell you of everything that needs to be fixed along with a priority of what they think needs to be fixed or replaced first... It is up to you then - knowing the full condition of the vessel, to buy it or not.
Your only "insurance" is if they miss something... and I have never known them to do that.
A very good friend of mine bought a used 60' steel hull vessel and he went to see the boat originally on my recommendation. The boat was beautiful. I knew the owner and he was obsessed and meticulous over his boat. The survey however showed a whole in the starboard bow about the size of a basket ball... The owner was as shocked and surprised as I was, and for sure, certainly didn't know about it... as he was using the vessel daily... It didn't prevent the sale, as it was an easy and inexpensive fix. but it for sure, prevented the loss of the vessel, if not someones life.
So, what ever you do, make sure you get a Marine survey on any vessel you are interested in buying. (and by the way... most "smart" boaters selling such a vessel the size you want - will have already paid or a survey - it is a absolute must in selling or buying such a boat.
Ok... now on to the good part....
A boat - new or used - is a combination of house, a couple of cars, and a ton of electronics, and an RV - all sitting in a
warm pool of corrosive salt water. Therefore, your #1 job becomes the most wonderful and pleasurable task of trying to keep it all from dissolving.
Will it last 20 years? Absolutely! It will last 100 years... But only if you buy a really good one to begin with, and take great care of it. As you get in the market, you will find there are good boats, great boats, and boats you should avoid. Some boats, and there are many brands of them - are just not up to the quality you speak of. Bayliners (just as an example) are great boats for what they are, and for their market... they are at the low end on the money scale, meant for use on enclosed lakes, and targeted at the first time boat owner. Even the biggest most expensive brand new Bayliner (on average) will look worse then every other single boat in the Marina (except another Bayliner) within 4 years. (So, I'm sure you get my point as I can tell by your question, you already know you get what you pay for.)
If you keep up with the routine and preventive maintenance on your boat, you really won't have a problem. Honestly. I know we old salts make fun of our boats and the hole in the water it makes to pour money - but fact is - it is not at all that expensive - if you can afford it. And that's where the problem always starts... Too many people buy boats they really can not afford. So what suffers? The maintenance! As the maintenance goes... so goes the boat.
If you make sure you are buying a boat you can afford - including storage, maintenance, insurance, etc., and all the things that go with it... you won't have any problems, and most like
Answered By: Capt. John - 8/22/2009