Boat Auctions: Tips For Buying And Selling

A Definitive Guide To Buying And Selling At Boat Auctions

Auctions are a great source to find deals on boats, and you can secure boats for a fraction of the price if you are prepared to take a risk. Whether you get a great deal or a lousy one is usually determined by a bit of luck, skill, and experience. While boat auctions are great fun, lots of people get swept away in the moment and end up walking away overpaying or buying a boat which costs too much to repair. Which is why we recommend only buying a boat in an auction if you have the skills to repair it.

For buyers, attending an auction is better than bidding online because you can usually scope out the boat prior to bidding. Otherwise, you are just one click away from being at the mercy of the seller.

The benefit of buying and selling a boat at an auction is that it can mean cutting a broker out of the process, thus saving you money. If you are selling a boat, we recommend reading our guide on how to sell a boat to ensure that you get the best price and a quick sale.

Sell Your Boat Online on Boat Trader

Nine Pro Tips for Boat Auctions

1. Work Out How Much The Craft You Are Buying/Selling Is Worth

Before you buy or sell a boat you should do some homework to determine how much the vessel is worth before the point of bidding. What are the selling prices of similarly classed vessels? What condition is the vessel in? How much will the repairs cost? Factor in the size, age and model. Boat Trader’s boat price checker tool determines the value based upon similar boats that are currently on the market. Or, you can check out NADA’s guidelines as a good reference point, they are a reputable source. However, bear in mind their data is updated bi-monthly. The more sources you check- the better!

2. Set a Buying Budget and Stay Within It

When you are setting your budget factor in the cost of repairs, removal of the boat, mooring fees, and insurance. Bring a wingman (or wingwoman) with you to make sure that you don’t get swept away and overpay for something that you can’t afford.

3. Attend A Preview or Hire A Surveyor

A list of boats is typically made public 20 to 30 days ahead of the auction. If the opportunity arises for you to pre-book and survey it could help you to uncover any repairs required in areas not visible to the untrained eye. For example, they would be able to have any issues with the engines- it could have been submerged underwater for a few days and unless you have an expert you are exposing yourself to risk. Viewing times will often be announced on the auctioneer’s website.

4. Set A Provisional Selling Fee

If you are selling your boat in an auction, you might want to consider setting a bottom price to avoid walking away disappointed. In this instance the auctioneer may refer to a bid as a ‘provisional bid’.

5. Bidding Etiquette

  • Hold your hand up high so the auctioneer can clearly see you;
  • Hold up your bidding number so the auctioneer can see it;
  • Do not talk through the bidding process;
  • Remember that bidding in an auction is a legally binding contract;

6. Bear in Mind Unforeseen Payments And Fees

Payments and fees are specific to the auction that you ‘re attending, however do bear in mind that if you are buying a boat, your local auction may charge up to 12.5% as a premium for buyers fees. Find out what your local auction charges so that you can factor this into your budget.

7. Make Sure You Have The Requested Payment Method Ready

Some auctions will only accept debit cards, others only take cash. Every auction house is different. Before you go to an auction you should check out which is the auctioneers preferred method of payment is to avoid being caught out at the last minute. Invoices are typically required to be paid in full at the latest within one hour of the end of the auction.

8. Get Ready To Collect Your Boat

Marina’s will typically give buyers of boats one to two weeks to remove them, but every marina is different. Some marinas may only allow a couple of days! After this period, you will be charged at the Marina’s standard rate. If you own a vehicle without a tow you will need to organise a boat courier.

9. Find Out What It Takes To Get A Boat Titled In Your State

If a boat being sold at an auction does not have a title, the auction will offer you a bill of sale. However, you will need to get an actual title. Check with your state boating department for boat title regulations and instructions that are applicable where you live. Costs for a title are nominal and should be between $10 and $20.


What types of boats or vessels are at auctions?

Pre-loved boats are the most common boats for sale at auctions, however there are sometimes new boats available from local dealers. Auctions sells every type and class of boat from kayaks, to dinghies, to larger vessels. However, it is more common for an auction to sell either smaller boats (under forty feet) or salvage boats. You also find a lot of boats which have been damaged by the storms.

Is buying a salvage boat for me?

Salvage boats either sink your money and end up costing more than the boat is worth after being repaired, or if you can repair the boat yourself and end up making a profit. Either way, be very wary of salvage boats. They need to be fully surveyed before you can ascertain the extent of the damage, and the net salvage value (bid price) for the boat. However, the surveyor will not necessarily be able to uncover absolutely everything that may need fixing. Some issues lay dormant until the boat is out on the water.

If you know how to completely structural repairs a salvage boat may be a worthwhile pursuit. Can you fabricate a template to use as a hull repair? Do you have experience in fixing electrical repairs? If the answer is yes, then a salvage boat may be an avenue worth pursuing.

It is also worth bearing in mind that there are salvage boat experts that buy and sell salvage boats. The upside is picking up boats at a fraction of the price, the downside is that you are likely to be sitting in a boat which may not have the shine of a new boat and it is more likely to become problematic later down the line.

Written by: Emma Coady

Emma Coady is a freelance writer and marine journalist who creates content for many household names in the boating industry, including YachtWorld, Boat Trader and She also writes for several boat builders as well as charter and rental companies and regularly contributes to Greenline Hybrid yachts, TJB Super Yachts and Superyachts Monaco. Emma is the founder of Cloud Copy and enjoys traveling around Europe, spending as much of her spare time as possible in or on the water.