How To Sell A Boat: The Complete Guide

The old joke about the two best days in a boater’s life being the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it may still hold true. However, the better of those days could be the day you sell your boat, since that might be the first step in upgrading to a newer, better boat!

“How to sell a used boat” is a question people often type into search engines when they’ve found themselves in need of advice on how to part with their used vessel. Perhaps that very search term led you here! So, in order to provide you a comprehensive boat selling guide, we’re going to attempt to answer any and all questions about the process of selling a used boat. Let’s get started!

Selling your boat

The Complete Guide to Selling Your Boat

How Much Is My Boat Worth?

There are a few tools available that can help you answer this question. Boat Trader has a convenient boat price checker tool to help you learn the range of prices of your boat, based on average prices found in the search results. For a deeper dive you can also head over to the boat listings yourself, where you can browse and compare boats similar to your own, to see what’s currently on the market.

Websites such as NADAGuides.com can also help you pinpoint a real-world value on the boat you’re selling. The company pulls in data from dealers nationwide and crunches re-sale numbers to establish the values it lists. NADAGuides compiles the data and publishes the values every two months, so essentially, they’re always working on the next update.

Boat Values and Boat Pricing

Researching boat values will help you when you go to set your price

“We have a number of different data points that we look at,” said Lenny Sims, vice president of business development and strategy for J.D. Power and NADA Guides. “We get auction data from auctions around the country that boats are passing through. Generally, those are from a wholesale perspective because those are auction that are attended by dealers. We have an advisory board of about 200 dealers across the country that provide us with their used sales throughout the year.”

When valuing a boat, many factors can contribute to the worth including dealer inventory levels, local conditions, foot traffic at reporting dealerships, the influences of supply and demand, general market conditions. Even fuel prices can become a factor in used boat values.

If your old boat has been re-powered with a newer outboard you can use that feature to help better determine your boat’s value as a result of that up-fitting. A newer engine on an older boat is worth more than one with original equipment. That’s more money in your pocket for your next boat!

Pricing a boat for a quick sale

Pricing a boat for a quick sale involves assessing market value

Pricing Your Boat Accurately

The next thing you need to do is come up with a reasonable price based on the boat’s value. The average value of a vessel may not necessarily dictate your asking price – especially if you want to sell the boat fast or if you’ve made extensive modifications that may greatly increase the value of the boat.

Be aware that there is a tendency among many boat owners — or enthusiasts of any kind — to harbor an overinflated sense of what their boat is worth. It’s OK. It happens because boats are emotional purchases, which have often produced a lot of happy memories for an owner. This contributes to the exaggerated sense of value in many cases.

Obviously, the goal is to get the highest price for your boat so you can have more money to spend on your next one. However, you want to be as realistic as possible about the price of the boat you’re selling. Remember: you can always negotiate the price downward if a seller is interested enough to make an offer. What you cannot do is negotiate upward from your advertised price. Researching comparable boat values in your area before writing your online boat listing is always a good starting point.

Cleaning a boat before selling it is always a good idea.

Cleaning a boat before selling it is always a good idea. Photos by Gary Reich.

Preparing Your Boat For A Sale

When you’re ready to list your vessel for sale, you should first remove all of your personal belongings. Then use boat cleaning supplies such as simple green and Booyah boat wash to thoroughly clean everything inside and out, from bow to transom. As a final step in the cleaning process, get some nice boat polish and wax, which will help you get the boat’s gelcoat nice and shiny for potential buyers.

Boat Photos and Videos

Once it is spotless, it’s time to take high-quality, detailed photos and video clips of everything. Remember, the more the better! If you’re selling an expensive yacht, it would be wise to hire a professional photographer/videographer to use a high-end camera and drone to capture aerial images of your boat on the water.

If you’re shooting the photos yourself, try to find an attractive, uncluttered spot in order to capture the best possible imagery. The good news is that the smart phone most of us have in our pockets these days is good enough to take high-quality photos and videos. Direct sunlight can be harsh and may create glares and strange shadows that end up making the boat look worse than it is. Parking your boat beside a tree or under a large awning and shooting everything you can possibly think of is your best bet.

Hire a professional photographer/videographer to get drone shots of your boat

Hire a professional photographer/videographer to get photos and drone videos of your boat

Don’t forget to get detailed shots of the boat’s flaws too, as well as its best features. Why photograph the boat’s gelcoat chips and broken cupholders? Because it shows you’re being honest with potential buyers who generally don’t like surprises when they show up to inspect the boat in person. “Well, you didn’t tell me about these things on the phone,” they’ll say, or words to that effect. Trying to hide flaws can lead to uncomfortable situations, hurt your reputation and may even lead to lawsuits from disgruntled buyers.

The “hero shot” is the best image of your boat that will be used as the featured image for any of your advertisements. It should show the entire boat, from a side angle, preferably on the water if possible. This image is your first impression and should be considered carefully. For this photo, it’s suggested to photograph the boat at “magic hour” or “golden hour” in a dramatic fashion, to make it stand out from the competition. Think of it as your magazine cover.

A good example of a hero shot showing the entire boat and engines

A good example of a hero shot showing the entire boat and its engines

Finally, to enhance your ad, you can — and should — shoot video. Using video is hugely effective at attracting eyeballs. With video footage you can show the boat in action in a way that photos can’t. Have someone record you as you drive past the shoreline. Do a video of a cold start. Take your camera on a walk-through of a boat.

List your boat for sale online at Boat Trader

List your boat for sale online at Boat Trader and other similar classified ad websites

Listing Your Boat For Sale Online

Next, sit down and write a good, comprehensive advertisement giving as many details about the boat as possible. As mentioned, the online boat listing you create is the first impression of your boat – and of you, the seller. Like the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!

That means at a minimum you should ensure there are no typos, spelling or grammatical errors. As we in the journalism business like to say, “If you couldn’t be bothered to spell things correctly, people are going to wonder what else you got wrong.” People will stop reading a sloppy news story. With a clunky classified boat listing, they might just move on to another ad.

Provide as much detail as possible within the allotted space on the website where you’re listing your boat. Use exact builder specifications for the boat’s dimensions, including length (LOA), beam, draft and gross weight. Provide bullet points to highlight improvements, optional upgrades and aftermarket equipment – such as additional seating, electronics and navigational systems. Don’t forget to include model numbers and brand names for any equipment onboard as well as details on the boat’s electrical system. Overall, make it easy to read and digest.

Include details about every feature on your boat including upgrades and equipment.

Include details about every feature on your boat including upgrades and equipment.

As an example, a Basic Boat Trader listing allows for two photos. Enhanced ads allow for up to 12 photos and in Premium ads, the photo count is unlimited. If your budget only allows for the Basic or Enhanced, you can mention in your ad that more photos are available upon request. Boat Trader’s Enhanced and Premium packages have an entry field for YouTube links.

Also, something that has been trending lately in online car sales is sellers posting CarFax reports right in their ads. For a while, it was buyers spending money to buy the reports (which they still do), but now sellers are doing it for them. You can get them at BoatHistoryReport.com, a nationwide database that details boat histories by hull identification number. The site has roughly 100 million boat registration records on file. It’s another way to show a buyer you have nothing to hide. And you’re not hiding anything, are you?

“Of Florida’s 918,000 currently registered boats, 1 in every 29 boats has a negative history,” said Caroline Mantel, Director of Business Development. for BoatHistoryReport.com. “As a seller, you can create greater confidence in your listing by including the Boat History Report upfront, providing greater transparency and giving peace of mind to potential buyers by a reliable independent source.”

Where To Sell Your Boat

It goes without saying that there are many places to sell your boat, from simply placing the boat in your front yard to working with a nationally-known boat dealer. But which is the best place for you to sell your boat? Well the answer may depend on your location and the type of vessel you’re trying to sell.

These days it’s common for buyers to begin the boat buying process by searching online, regardless of their price point. Therefore it makes the most sense for you to list your boat on the most popular boat marketplaces for your type of boat, in order to reach the right buyer.

For example, Boat Trader is America’s largest boating marketplace with the highest consumer interest for used boats under 40 feet, often referred to as trailerable boats. Every month more than 6 Million boat shoppers visit the website looking for their next boat.

If you’re selling a larger more luxurious megayacht or sailing yacht, especially one over 80 feet, you’ll want to list it on YachtWorld. Simply put, YachtWorld has the largest selection of yachts in the world and delivers more brokerage sales around the globe than any other source. It’s home to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for yachts and boats (similar to the MLS for real estate listings), with over 70,000 vessels currently listed for co-brokerage and 4 Million visitors every month.

iNautia is another great place to sell your boat, with over 450,000 people visiting each month looking for their next boat. This site can really help you if you’re willing to sell your boat internationally, as your listing will be available in 7 languages to potential buyers from all over Europe. Cosas De Barcos is another great resource for international boat sales as well.

There are also free classified sites that will list boats for sale, but be careful because sites like those may be risky. Free classified sites tend to have more casual shoppers who are less serious in buying and may waste your valuable time.

Working with boat dealers and yacht brokers

Working with boat dealers and yacht brokers

Working With Yacht Brokers And Boat Dealers

Depending on the price of your boat, and its location, you might also need to go through a broker or consign it through a dealer. Certainly, if you’re selling an outboard-powered runabout or a small sailboat, you can do that from your driveway. Just post the ad and wait for the phone to ring. However, as boats increase in price they can become a bit more difficult to sell. There are a few things to take under consideration when deciding whether or not to work with a boat dealer or broker.

Larger more expensive boats will require more steps to sell and can take more time to transfer ownership. The reasons being, with a larger vessel you may have to consider things like haul-outs, surveyors, sea trials, inspections, financing, liens and encumbrances. The to-do list can be much longer than simply taking a few photos and posting them online with some clean copy.

“People who have tried to sell boats on their own, particularly higher value boats — you know if it’s a trailer boat, that’s one thing — but when you start getting higher in value and boats that might be remotely located from the owner in markets that have certain quirks, what we’ve found is that sellers try it for about two weeks,” said Vincent J. Petrella, executive director of the Yacht Brokers Association of America and a Certified Professional Yacht Broker. “They get frustrated, they get bored, they don’t have the patience to go to showings or they don’t know how to qualify people.”

A yacht broker, or what the industry is now calling yacht sales professional will take care of the excruciating minutiae involved in selling larger, more valuable vessels. For starters, a broker will help establish a value and set the asking price. Petrella said he tells clients that a boat is worth what somebody is willing to pay, and prices can vary by region. The same boat can sell for more or less in the Great Lakes region, New England, Florida or California, but yacht sales professionals in a given region get paid to know what’s what. There are seven professional brokers associations in the United States, and all of them have codes of ethics required for membership.

Essentially there are two types of contracts: an open listing and exclusive right to sell, or central agency. In an open listing, the seller works with more than one broker, as many as three or four to see who can sell the boat first. Petrella said most brokers prefer exclusive right to sell, and says it benefits the seller.

Yacht brokers and boat dealers are required to have escrow accounts.

Yacht brokers and boat dealers are required to have escrow accounts.

Another requirement is that brokers have dedicated escrow accounts. An escrow account is essentially a place to hold a buyer’s deposit. If a buyer is putting 10 percent down on a $500,000 boat, that’s a large sum of money to hand to a seller you just met. Escrow protects the buyer in the event that the transaction falls through. He or she can get the down payment back. Escrow also protects the seller if the buyer defaults, which is rare, but plausible, Petrella said.

If you do elect to hire a broker or consign your boat with a dealer, essentially your only obligation is to pay them for their services when the deal goes through. Forget about taking pictures, video and writing the ad. Brokers and dealers do all that for you.

“If you’re selling a substantial asset, you’re probably the kind of person who has a reasonably demanding job. You’re probably not hanging around your house all day waiting for a phone call,” Petrella said. “The yacht sales professional takes over the role of doing all the footwork: taking pictures, writing up an accurate listing of the equipment that’s on the vessel, doing video, knowing where to put it to get the best exposure, reaching out to fellow brokerage community to expose the boat to the widest market possible. That’s part of the ethical behavior of yacht sales professionals. They are ethically bound to co-broker, or to expose the seller’s boat to the widest market possible.”

Yacht brokers have access to resources the general public does not, something akin to the Multiple Listing Service. They also have all the necessary contractual forms that protect buyer and seller. These forms are largely procedural, but they also can define the dispute resolution process if the seller and buyer hit a snag in the process. If those issues are not defined, Petrella said, things can get ugly.

For their services, typically, broker fees are 10 percent of the sale price. Petrella pointed out that fees can be negotiable, but 10 percent is a good rule of thumb.

Boat Bill of Sale And Ownership Documents

Of course, selling a boat can’t happen without paperwork. Typically, the higher the price, the more paperwork there is. From boat title and proof of ownership to boat bill of sale agreements and contracts, this can be a tricky process. As prices increase, brokers can step in to take the pressure off the seller.

To sell a garden-variety runabout, PWC or a bass boat, the paperwork you need to fill out will vary by state. However, in most states, typically all that’s needed for cash transactions is the title signed over to the new owner, who then takes it to the department of motor vehicles office and applies for a new title.

If you are selling the boat to a buyer from another state, there may be a bit more paperwork involved, such as an application for boat registration of a hull number, but it’s usually not terribly difficult.

You can get templates for proof of sale and release of liability by simply searching those terms on Google, but most titles have language on them that indicates the seller is releasing the vessel to the buyer. Your state’s DMV also might offer PDF versions of those forms.

Don’t forget, if you’re selling a trailerable boat along with a boat trailer, you’ll also need to transfer ownership of the trailer as well before your buyer can legally drive it away. Otherwise they will be driving the boat on your trailer, and you may be liable in the event of a collision.

Boat Warranties And Returns

Some buyers may request a boat warranty of some kind, giving them the legal ability to return the vessel within 30 days if they encounter any unforeseen issues or mechanical problems. As the seller, you’ll have to decide what terms you are willing to provide and whether or not you will accept returns.

Private-party boat deals are often done on an “as-is” basis, meaning the buyer agrees to purchase the boat in whatever condition it is currently, thus releasing the seller from any liability. If you do offer a warranty or return period, you’ll have to keep the funds in an escrow account of some kind in the event the buyer does choose to return the vessel.

Luckily, as we’ve already been over, boat dealers and yacht brokers can handle this process for you, so you don’t have to worry as much.

Conclusion

Even after you’ve gone through all the steps above to price and sell your boat, you may realize that selling a boat online is often still a local transaction. You might be competing with someone nearby selling something similar, or maybe even identical, and your price might need to reflect local conditions regardless of a what a nationwide resource like Nada Guides says.

Lenny Sims explains: “If someone is in your area looking for a similar type of boat and, price-wise, there’s three other boats with 100 hours less on the motors than yours and in better condition, you can’t ask more money for yours,” Sims said. “You have to be really able to adjust to your local market area. Most people don’t take into account that much information, but frankly, if there are seven similar boats in your area, regardless of what other pricing sources say, that’s who your competition is.”

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I sell my boat fast?

The speed at which a boat will sell varies. Advertising the boat in as many places as possible is typically faster than listing in one place. Price is probably the key determining factor in how fast a boat will. Listings priced below advertised values will sell faster.

How long does it take to sell a used boat?

The higher the price, the longer it takes. Figure a couple of weeks to a month as a baseline. Time of year can be a factor. Boats sell faster in the spring than they do in the late fall and winter.

What percentage does a boat broker take?

The industry standard for boat brokers is 10 percent.

Should I sell my boat on craigslist?

If the boat is priced below a certain threshold, say $5,000 or so, Craigslist can be a viable option. But, then you may have to deal with the so-called “Craigslist freaks,” which is never fun.

Do you need a bill of sale to sell a boat?

It varies by state. Consult your state’s DMV for specific requirements. Regardless, it is always wise to write an agreement and have all parties involved sign it.

How much is my boat worth? How do I price my boat?

As discussed above, start by using Boat Trader’s boat price checker tool and then look at consulting NADAGuides.com for more detailed information.

Should I repair my boat or get a new one?

If the cost of the repairs exceed the value of the boat, it may be time to get a new one, if you can afford to. However, if the boat has emotional or nostalgic value to you, there may not be a price tag. Similarly, if the boat has historic significance, or is considered a collector’s item, it may be worth it to fix and maintain it.

What are the best sites to sell boats online?

BoatTrader.com
Yachtworld
Boats.com
inautia.com
Cosas de Barcos
Yacht Closer
Facebook
Craigslist

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