How to Choose Between Boat Brokers, Boat Dealers, and For Sale By Owner

When it comes time to sell a boat, many people choose to handle the sale themselves. Before going this route, however, make sure you are properly educated about the process and have considered the other options available. When selling a boat you’ll have to choose between:

selling a boat
There are plenty of options when it comes to selling a boat. Photo via SMG Boats – Used Boats Super Center.

Boats for Sale by Owner

There’s no doubt you’ve seen plenty of For Sale By Owner signs on boats, and many owners choose to sell a boat on Boat Trader without the assistance of a broker or dealer. If you’ve ever sold a major asset yourself you already know how much work it can be, but the outcome – more money in your pocket with no commissions or fees involved – makes it worthwhile for many people. Plus, you can control the process, and when a buyer is looking at the boat you can probably tell them a lot more about it than any salesman ever could.

selling a boat
You know your boat better than anyone else, so you’ll be the most helpful person to deal with from a buyer’s perspective. Photo via Lenny Rudow.

On the flip side of the coin, the work involved can be substantial. You have to study up on the market to come up with a reasonable price (our Boat Values and Pricing Guide can help), you have to figure out what paperwork is necessary, and you’ll need to invest time in showing the boat and going for sea trials. Plus, selling a boat yourself can take a long time, which means you may not see the money for quite a while (though there are ways to get cash for your boat quickly).

Boat Brokers

From listing the first ad to closing the deal, a professional broker earns a commission in exchange for handling the details. The right broker may be able to get you a better price, especially if he or she specializes in your type of boat. And your time and aggravation will certainly be reduced since showings, sea trials, and communication with other professionals (like surveyors) will all be handled by the broker. Commissions are usually around 10 percent, though that may vary depending on your boat and your location.

riviera yachts for sale by broker
Brokers not only simplify the sale, they may have a few tricks up their sleeve to sell it faster than an owner could hope. This Riviera is a 2004 model, but the broker was still able to come up with an exceptional photograph for the boat’s listing. Photo via Yachts 360.

Small boats or old, low-value boats are rarely sold by brokers, however, since they produce too little income for the amount of time required to make the sale. Brokers are far more interested in handling large and/or expensive boats, and since these often involve more complex negotiations and documentation, sellers are more likely to want the transaction simplified by a broker.

Boat Dealers

Some boat dealers will take your boat in trade, which makes your “sale” effortless. If you’re looking to buy a new boat when you sell the old one, trading it in is probably going to be the path of least resistance. Plus, while trade-ins don’t always get top dollar, the dealer can facilitate the transactions and take care of things like paperwork or getting a trailer through inspection. Some dealers that carry a large volume of used boats will buy your boat outright, and there are also some outfits that act as both a broker and a dealer.

trade in a boat
If you’re trading up in size, why not simply trade in the boat? Photo by Lenny Rudow.

So which will you choose? Listing your boat as for sale by owner, handing the chore off to a broker, or going through a dealer? Clearly, each different path has its own benefits and downsides. Which is the best choice will vary with every different seller and ever different boat. So, we can’t say which will be the best move for you, personally. But we can say one thing for sure: if you want to have a fun summer, don’t sell that boat until you have your next one picked out!

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on boats.com, was republished by permission in January of 2017, and was updated in August of 2022. 

Written by: Carol Cronin

Carol Cronin has published several novels about the Olympics, sailing, hurricanes, time travel, and old schooners. She spends as much time on the water as possible, in a variety of boats, though most have sails.

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