Valuing a boat depends on numerous factors, but in the end it’s part science, part art and part personal taste. When selling a boat, sellers will often ask, “How much is my boat worth?” and buyers in turn frequently wonder, “Will I overpay for my boat?” Of course the final price hinges on both the buyer’s affinity for the vessel and the seller’s proclivity for making a deal.
It can be said that the process of pricing a boat broadly resembles that of valuing a home or used car. Remember the old saying, “location, location, location!” As with homes, location may indeed play a big role in a specific boat’s value as well. For example, a deep sea offshore fishing boat with a large draft and wide beam may not be as desirable in an inland region where shallow bodies of water (such as lakes and rivers) are the only boating destinations nearby and buyers would prefer a trailerable boat. Similarly, a car with high mileage depreciates in value the same way a boat with high engine hours loses value.
Yet despite these similarities, selling a boat differs in many ways from selling a car or house. For starters, owning a boat is largely more of a luxury than owning a car or home. Boats require adequate storage areas which can be costly for the owner. If a seller is paying for storage at a boatyard and no longer wants the vessel, they’re likely to be motivated to sell faster in order to lower their monthly costs. In this case, they may be willing to let the boat go for much less than it’s worth.
On the other hand, if a private seller has ample storage available, such as at a waterfront home with a dock or wet slip, they may not be in any rush to sell the vessel. In this case a seller may choose to price the boat higher than its typical re-sale value. Dealers are often equipped to hold a large inventory of boats on-site, thus may not need to negotiate on price as much as a private seller.
Let’s take a closer look at new boat prices from dealers, versus pre-owned boat prices from individual private sellers and/or brokers.
Pricing A New Boat
Prices for new boats are generally set by the boat manufacturers and their dealers, who represent these brands. Values are based on the individual brand, size/length of the watercraft, onboard equipment and optional upgrades. Location also plays a part in new boat prices, since some boats are sold FOB (Free On Board) at the factory or common shipping point and need to be transported to the dealer or buyer – a cost that is added into the overall price.
There is usually room for negotiation with a new boat purchase when you can lower the price or add equipment at no cost or reduced charge. If the dealer is looking to liquidate inventory, a lucrative deal may be struck. Also, some dealers offer discounts at boat shows – but do your research before you buy into what may not be “a deal”!
New boat models are fairly common so you can get accurate and current pricing information from a variety of sources including online. Also, check with other dealers of the same model to assess if the boat is priced fairly but take location into account because a boat that is sold in Florida may be priced differently than one sold in Michigan where the model may be scarce.
What Affects Used Boat Value And Price?
There are a number of factors that determine the value of a pre-owned vessel. The most obvious ones include size, age and model. After that, there are more subtle elements like condition, location and equipment.
Condition divides into three general categories. Mechanical (engine hours and performance, hull and deck status, etc.), rigging (sailboat mast, boom, shrouds, stays and sails), and cosmetics (everything else including canvas, wood trim, gel coat, etc.)
As previously mentioned, location will increase or decrease the price as well. In areas where boats are highly-concentrated such as lakes, rivers and the East Coast of the U.S., prices may be somewhat depressed due to a larger supply. However, selling a boat where there is a small population can also decrease the number of buyers and the price may adjust 10-15% downward. Use in salt or freshwater also affects the value since freshwater boats often have fewer corrosion issues.
Finally, the way a boat is outfitted (equipped) makes a difference. Updated electronics are attractive and will raise the appeal of a vessel. However, electronics become obsolete quickly, so a savvy buyer will not put much of a premium for these if they are getting older. If the vessel has advanced electronics including AIS, satellite communications and radar, these will generally raise the price because they aren’t typical upgrades.
Other supplementary gear that may raise the price include outriggers, towing towers, hard Biminis and baitwells. If in good working condition, these items will bump the value of a boat somewhat over the stated value of comps.
Are There Any Boat Value Guides For Used Boats?
Yes. Much like the Kelly Blue Book is used for valuing automobiles, there are three different price guides used for valuing boats: NADA Marine Appraisal Guide, BoatWizard’s SoldBoats database and the ABOS Marine Blue Book. Each uses a different method of calculating values, which can vary significantly. A broker may use all three sources including the SoldBoats database and YachtBroker data, which are more detailed than what is available to individuals. BoatUS also has their Value Check program, which provides pricing guidelines for their members.
Prices in NADA Guides are given in ranges and may vary up to 10%. They are based on sales via brokers and dealers, not private party transactions. NADA guides include prices for personal watercraft, sailboats, outboard motors, powerboats, trailers and more.
What Other Resources Help Accurately Price A Used Boat?
If the boat is a popular model, of which a number were built, you should be able to find information on performance statistics and possible problems, which will impact price. If the boat is older or fairly unique, performance information may be harder to find.
There may be an online history of the model via owner associations or clubs. These will usually discuss issues that a model has experienced over the years such as engine mount failure, fuel tank corrosion, steering irregularities and so on. Brokers who specialize in that particular type of boat may also be able to offer an opinion, especially if they’ve been in the industry a while and have a deep expertise.
Checking comparable models on boats.com listings, YachtWorld and Sailboat Listings will also help zero in on a fair price. It’s a good idea to check your boat values with the Boat Trader Price Checker tool. Two boats may have very different values depending on upgrades, maintenance schedules and the season they are listed.
Should I Hire A Surveyor To Appraise A Boat Before Buying?
Yes. You may even want to hire specialized boat surveyors – one for the hull and general condition of the boat, one for the rig if it’s a sailboat, and one for the engine survey which should always include an oil sample analysis, especially for a powerboat. A condition and valuation survey (C&V) covers the hull, deck superstructure and systems.
Should I Hire A Surveyor To Appraise A Boat I’m Selling?
Yes. A pre-sale boat survey may help price the boat more accurately and sell it quickly. In some case, small issues may surface that can be fixed prior to the boat being listed and that will help it show better and possibly sell for a higher price. Boats that have a recent survey are perceived by the seller as being better cared for and will stand out in a crowded marketplace.
What Will Increase A Boat’s Value?
Good cosmetics and visual appeal always add value or at least they get the boat noticed by a potential buyer. A washed, waxed and covered vessel shows it has had good care and that raises the perceived value.
A well-documented history and maintenance records help immensely. Regular upkeep, proper winterization and frequent oil changes all show that a vessel hasn’t been neglected and the boat will command a higher price – perhaps 10% – 20% over the listed average.
What Issues Will Negatively Affect A Boat’s Price?
Learn what is and isn’t a big issue when pricing a used boat. Just like with a home inspection, a boat survey and sea trial will generate a list of items that may need to be addressed. This is normal and doesn’t mean that it’s a bad boat.
Large issues should be addressed by the seller and may include significant engine malfunction, de-lamination of the hull, sailboat rigging failure and anything that will require dismantling parts of the boat to fix such as replacing failing fuel tanks. Smaller problems like outdated electronics, worn canvas and overall cosmetics will need to be taken on by the buyer. If the offer comes in low, the seller won’t be motivated to make many changes. Understanding the importance of each issue will make negotiations go more smoothly.
Pricing A Classic Or Vintage Boat
Buying a vintage boat makes the purchase of a regular used boat look like a walk in the park. Such vessels are difficult to find and price, and to some degree, even to define. The Antique & Classic Boat Society has five categories of older vessels based on age (shown below).
- Prior to 1918 are considered Historic Boats
- 1919-1942 are considered Antique Boats
- 1943-1975 are considered Classic Boats
- 1976-1995 are considered Late Classic Boats
For our purposes here, we’ll refer to them interchangeably as classic or vintage since many sellers would refer to them that way in the market.
Classic boat brands such as Chris-Craft or Riva have increased 5% per year over the past two decades (depending on condition and whether they were preserved or restored). However, finding a fair valuation is difficult due to a lack of comps and prices fluctuate over time like with other collectibles.
Five Criteria To Help Assess Vintage Boat Values:
- History – who owned it (a celebrity or statesman), did it win any famous races, and was it used in a notable event or movie? Documentation is generally needed to prove any of the above.
- Rarity – how many were initially launched and how many have survived?
- Styling – as with cars, a unique or much-appreciated aesthetic will raise the boat’s value.
- Condition – is the boat in excellent and original condition or was it restored and how expert and accurate was the restoration?
- Seaworthiness – can the boat be used on the water?
To help price a vintage boat you want to purchase or sell, get acquainted with available online resources. Boat clubs and shows are great places to learn the basics and classic and wooden boat shows take place all around the country. Other resources include the Antique and Classic Boat Society, the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club, the Antique Boat Center, Antique Boat America and Woody Boat magazine. Also, a visit to a wooden boat restorer will help assess what it takes to work on, maintain and budget for classic boat ownership.
Vintage Boat Pricing Guides
The Hagerty Guide (that is often used by classic car enthusiasts) can also help with actual sample pricing. In this guide, evaluation of condition will range from Fair to Bristol for each model and year, with three levels in between. A Bristol version can go in excess of five times as much as a Fair example of the same boat.
As with other collectibles, a classic boat can be an investment or a money pit. It’s not uncommon for a restoration to cost four times what the boat will end up selling for even if properly and beautifully restored. The key is to not fall in love, especially if it is with a project.
Boat valuation isn’t just for the purposes of selling or buying a vessel
Although boat valuation is generally done when a boat will be bought or sold, insurance is another reason to determine what a vessel is worth. To properly insure an asset you must value it for market and replacement value although the latter will not be what an insurance claim will pay out in case of loss.
A survey may also be needed to secure financing so a lender knows how large a loan and how much down payment are needed.
Final Thoughts On Boat Pricing
After checking with guides, speaking with brokers, comparing online resources and histories and paying for a C&V survey, the bottom line on boat pricing (whether you’re selling or buying) is how much is the boat worth to you? That may move the price up or down. If you’re the seller in need of fast cash, you’ll take less. If you’re an emotional buyer with the dream of a wet summer, you’ll pay more.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Are Common Mistakes When Pricing A Boat?
Don’t become emotional or you risk killing the deal or overpaying. A rational approach is critical to arriving at a fair price for a vessel. The process can be contentious so arm yourself with information and examples before entering into negotiations.
What If A Boat’s Price Is Over That Stated In Guides (NADA, BUC, etc.)
Although valuation isn’t an exact science and values in guides are broad brushstroke averages, if a boat is priced well over these guidelines, you’ll want to ask the broker for the reason. Sometimes, sellers are emotional and unrealistic or they don’t really want to sell the boat and are fishing for an offer they can’t refuse.
Who Pays For A Condition Survey?
If the seller wants to have a good survey in his pocket to make the boat easier to sell for a higher price, then he pays for the survey. If a buyer wants to know the condition of the vessel he is about to purchase, then he pays for the survey. That cost is nonrefundable even if the deal falls through so it’s best for the buyer to survey only those boats that are serious contenders.
What Boat Is Too Small To Make A Survey Worth It?
Surveys for smaller, simpler boats will run approximately $15-20/foot so a 25-foot boat will cost approximately $300-$500 (or less if it’s particularly simple). If the boat price is $5,000 a survey may not be worth it. If a boat is valued at say $150,000, then it should be done.
How Does Boat Ownership Cost Compare To Purchase Price?
Post-purchase needs vary wildly with size, age, condition and intended purpose of the vessel. Consider that you’ll need to insure the boat, perhaps finance and relocate it, and berth it on land or in a marina, which can get expensive. Then add any repairs, upgrades and regular maintenance. A rule of thumb would be to keep 20% in reserve. So if you buy a $15,000 boat, keep $3,000 aside but in some cases that may be inadequate.
How Much Should The Listing Price Guide My Offer?
Listing prices for boats, cars or homes are just an initial request. Savvy sellers/brokers may have priced a boat accurately and the sale may be quick and the amount will be close to the initial request. However, poorly researched and unrealistic listing prices can be thousands of dollars off the mark. Do your research first, consider the condition and outfitting of the boat and then make a reasonable offer. Don’t be swayed by the listing. If the seller makes only a small concession in a counteroffer, walk away. It’s not unusual for initial offers to be 20% lower than the asking price.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in September 2019, and was updated in April 2020 and March 2021.