Selling a Boat

by Captain Bill Rountree

USCG Captain, Masters 25-ton

There has been a lot of good advice written about buying and selling boats but after personally buying over 20 boats and being involved in the purchase and sale of many more through my website BoatersNet and other sources, there are some pointers that I would like to share about selling boats that I believe will help you in the process.

Decide if You Will Sell the Boat Yourself or Use a Broker

  • Attempt to sell your boat yourself. If your boat is a smaller boat, this is clearly your best option and the decision is easy. If your boat is a larger, more expensive boat you should still consider selling your boat yourself. If you can show the boat yourself you can certainly sell the boat yourself. There will be more tasks for you to take care of, but just use the same procedures you probably did when you bought the boat. Don’t take people for joy rides, start everything up for them etc – make them sign a contract and hire a surveyor then go through the process.
  • Using a Broker to sell your boat. Brokers can certainly take some of the hassles out of selling your boat but they can be very expensive (many charge a 10% commission) but if you can’t show the boat yourself sometimes you have no choice. They do have access to more online sites with a high number of visitors but if you put in a little extra effort, choose the correct online website to sell your boat and are patient with selling your boat you can save that 10% commission.

Prepare For the Sale

  • Determine the price. One of the first steps is to determine the correct asking price. You probably already have a good idea what your boat is worth but it is always worth the effort to become more educated on its value. This helps to justify the price to potential buyers as well. I like to begin by looking at some other boating websites to see what they are asking for a similar boat, but remember that is what they are asking and if the boat is being sold through a broker they will walk away with 10% less than the asking price so you could split the difference with the new buyer and both win with the deal. It’s also worthwhile to check with some of the boat valuation websites such as JD Power and Kelly Blue Book for boats. I always end my research by going to EBay and checking what the boats actually sold for. If you sign in you can check a box to see ‘completed listings’ and find what they actually sold for – often a big difference from the original asking price. But typically boats that sell on EBay are desperation sales and so are more likely to be at the bottom end of the price spectrum for your boat.
  • Clean your boat for pictures and showings. Before you start showing your boat and even before you take the pictures to place your ad to sell the boat it is crucial to give the boat a thorough cleaning and remove as many personal items as you can so that the prospective buyers can view it as ‘their’ boat. I usually put my personal things in a bag and bring it with me when I come to use my boat. The old adage about making a good first impression is very true; you want someone to have a positive attitude about your boat when viewing it online and walking up to it for the first time. As you continue to market and show your boat you need to continue to keep your boat clean and smelling fresh. If a boat is dirty on the outside or smells moldy inside it will be a tough sale.
  • Consider how to handle mechanical issues. If you want to get top dollar for your boat you also need to make sure everything is in working order because most people that are willing to pay a higher price want the boat to be turnkey. Another option is to sell the boat ‘as is’ which saves you a lot of time and money and there are always people that are looking for a bargain. You just need to decide how much work and money you want to put into the boat to repair any issues that you identify if you want to get more money for your boat.
  • Take photos and consider creating a video. Good pictures of your boat are essential to get the possible buyers to click on your ad and then view all of the pictures you have uploaded. Make sure you are getting the boat from the best angles with correct lighting. It’s always good to have pictures of the boat on the water if possible to help the boaters to visualize its appeal. Depending on the website you select to list your boat they could possibly create a video for you and upload it to YouTube (BoatersNet offers this as an option which is ideal because YouTube videos perform well in search results) or the website may allow you to upload your own video. Many people prefer watching a video of a boat because it is easier for them to view the pictures and hear the details of the boat while they watch the video.

Decide How to Advertise Your Boat

  • Select the website(s) to list your boat. Select a website that allows you to list your boat until sold and will broadcast the ad to other websites and social media outlets. Most websites limit the ad to just a few weeks or claim its free then after a few weeks will say you need to pay to continue your ad for a few more weeks. Depending on the current market, your location, how your boat is priced and the specifics of your boat it could take weeks to sell your boat or more likely it will take months unless you have priced it below market. After you have posted an ad for your boat on a website it needs to be broadcast to other websites and social media outlets to increase the audience and views. If the website you have posted your ad on to sell your boat does not do this for you, you can copy the URL link for your ad and post it on other outlets yourself. Either way it is important to get good exposure for your ad.
  • Consider other advertising sources. I’ve bought and sold several boats through word of mouth so sometimes putting a for sale sign on your boat at the marina or wherever you keep it, telling your friends you are selling your boat or posting a flyer on the board of your marina or yacht club will sell your boat. The more you advertise the better.

Showing Your Boat to Potential Buyers

  • Prepare for the sale and your showings. Gather the maintenance records you have for your boat and any warranties or manuals you may have and be prepared for questions about the work that has been done on it since you have owned it and even by the previous owners. The requirements to transfer the boat and/or boat trailer ownership to a new owner vary from state to state so be sure to research your individual regulations and possibly contact a legal professional as needed. If your state uses titles for boats get the title for the boat so you are prepared to sign it over to the owner. If not prepare a bill of sale or download one from the internet. If your boat has a trailer do the same for its title and tag receipt.
  • Be upfront to potential buyers. When you begin showing your boat and talking to potential buyers be totally upfront with them about the condition of the boat. If your boat needs some work or just TLC, advertise it that way and let them know about any issues on the phone or via email if they ask. If you advertise your boat as excellent condition whereas in reality it needs work, many potential buyers will immediately not consider your boat because they are disappointed and you wasted their time. But if you are honest with them and let them know it needs some work they will approach it with an open mind and you are much more likely to make the sale.

Negotiate the Price and Finalize the Sale

  • Be prepared for price negotiations. When you price your boat you should be prepared to sell it at a lower price than it is being offered at so price it accordingly. Even if you say the price is firm the potential buyers will try to get the price lower. Many times (and especially with larger more expensive boats) the potential buyer will have the boat inspected or surveyed to look for issues or potential issues and they will use the report from the inspector to get the price reduced. Oftentimes the potential buyer needs to be reminded that this is a used boat and priced accordingly but if the buyer continues to push for a price reduction based on the report from the inspector an offer to split the amount on the inspection report is often accepted. Remember the old advice that whoever names a price first loses so a good strategy is often to let them make the first offer.
  • Seriously consider your first offer. Many times when you put a boat up for sale there is someone that has been looking for a boat just like yours. They see it, make an offer that may be less than what you wanted - so you turn it down because it is so early in the process that you think another better offer will come along soon. But then it doesn't and you regret turning down that first offer. Try to get the offer price up closer to what you were asking - and think hard before turning it down because I have heard many times - I wish I had taken the first offer.

In closing I would like to add that if you do decide to sell your boat keep enjoying it while it is for sale. You bought it for a reason, so make time to enjoy it - plus things deteriorate when not being used so using it will keep the boat and its equipment running smoothly while awaiting that new buyer.



About the author: Bill Rountree is a lifelong boater, holds his US Coast Guard Masters license and was formerly a US Sailing certified instructor. He has owned motor yachts, sailing yachts, racing sailboats, rowing shells, kayaks, windsurfers and on and on. He spent two years living aboard and cruising on a forty foot sailboat and has over 10,000 blue water miles.