Notes on Buying a Boat in Holland
These notes reflect our personal opinions and experiences, yours may be quite different!
We have owned sailboats for 30 years but had little knowledge of power boats or cruising on canals in Europe. We researched the internet and bought all the books we could find on the subject. We talked to people we knew and people we found from our research. One very helpful resource was Roger and Marlene Van Dyken, who had cruised with their family on their Dutch barge and wrote an excellent book on the subject. We found that they lived an hour's drive from us and they graciously agreed to spend an afternoon with us to talk. Check out their website at http://www.bargingineurope.com/.
We decided that, for us, a steel canal boat rather than a barge would be a better choice and the the best place to buy it would be Holland, but we did not exclude Belgium and France as possibilites.
We decided on our budget and made a list of our requirements, prioritized into "must have", "desirable" and "would like". We looked at all the boats listed on the internet and noted the names and addresses of the brokers/sellers. We then plotted the locations on a map of Holland.
Lastly we made reservations for air travel, an apartment in Delft for a month and a rental car. We arrived on March 29, 2003
FINDING AND BUYING
Using our map and adding locations gleaned from local publications found in brokers' offices, we set out each day to look at boats. We would often stop at other marinas that were not on our list to check out private sales We were very disappointed to find that all the boats we liked were beyond our budget and all the boats within our budget we didn't like. We found a few that would "do", but, until the last broker, nothing we really wanted. One of our criteria was that we wanted a boat we could cruise away on immediately without doing any extensive work, refit or renovation. Finally our last broker had three boats for us to look at. The second one best fitted our desires and budget, so we made an offer without looking at the third candidate. What a relief!
We were very pleased with the services of our broker, Jitse at Sander-Doeve, and would thoroughly recommend him. http://www.sander-doeve.nl/ He helped us with survey, insurance, Dutch registration and acted as a temporary banker so that we could transfer dollars to euros and pay all the expenses. What was left over he would return to us in cash. Funny thing, nothing was left over.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Do as much research as you can before you go
Almost everyone in Holland speaks English (except the people we from whom we bought the boat, thank goodness for Jitse)
There is a brokers association HISWA; not all brokers belong. HISWA brokers have a code of conduct that they must adhere to. If you have a dispute with a HISWA broker there is a process to resolve it. This is not true for other brokers or private sales.
Boats for sale are not multiple listed. One broker cannot sell another's boat and wouldn't get a comission if he/she did. HISWA brokers don't multiple list their boats.
Buy a GSM tri-mode cell phone that is SIM unlocked. Cell phones in the US generally will not work in Europe and are locked to the carrier you bought the phone from. Unlocked phones are available in the US from many internet sites. When you get to Holland sign up with prepaid service (we used KPN, there are several others). Outgoing calls are not cheap but incoming calls are free. You can give your phone number to brokers and others and they can contact you easily. Using KPN in Holland 800 numbers are also free; we used a Costco MCI phone card to call back to the US and our family could contact us easily. In Belgium and France we signed up with local providers and it was easy to make local calls, long distance is expensive.
You pay in euros. Two years ago you could buy an euro for 85 US cents, we bought at $1.07, the high this year was $1.30, in late summer/fall of 2004 it was around $1.22 plus or minus 4 cents.
Almost nobody in Holland (except hotels, expensive tourist restaurants, car rentals, etc.) takes US Visa or Mastercard, only cards issued by a Dutch bank. The Dutch don't write checks, they have a bank transfer arrangement. Cash machines everywhere take US ATM cards and there is no local charge to use them. Bank machines have only numbers on the keypads, no letters. We inquired about opening a bank account. If you are a resident with a fixed address and utility bills to prove that you live there, no problem. Otherwise also no problem; you just have to deposit 50,000 euros in the account and keep it there. In Belgium and France almost every place takes the US cards; you can charge moorage, VNF permits, chandelries, etc. as well as restaurants and stores.
Public transport in Holland is very good; busses and trains go almost everywhere. Parking in cities is difficult and expensive, it is easier and better to take the train, tram or bus. Buy strip tickets for tram and bus, it is much cheaper than paying on the bus. They are not interchangeable with train tickets. For trains, buy a one day return, cheaper than two one ways.
If you are looking for a boat, you must have a car. Many of the marinas are way out in the country. You can drive from anywhere in Holland to anywhere else in 3 hours (except on the freeways during rush hour). The freeways are great and there are no tolls. All roads are well signposted. If you have a laptop a mapping program works very well (we used Route 66 Europe). It goes from an all Europe view down the detailed street level. Type in any address and it will find it; type in two addresses and it will give you turn by turn directions. If you plug in a GPS it will show you where you are.
In Holland, bicycles rule and have right of way over everything else. Lesson: don't ever walk in a bike lane or cross one without making sure the way is clear.
We expected to buy the boat and head for France. Instead we spent five months in Holland and left the boat there for the winter. In 2004 we spent another month before going to Belgium.
The Dutch are wonderful people, honest, tolerant, friendly and helpful. Boating is very popular, sail and power, large and small, commercial and pleasure. Thus there are many facilities available for the pleasure boater, much more than in Belgium or France. We were so glad that we spent the time there and got to know a little about the country and its people.