How To Sell A Boat: The Complete Guide

The process of selling your boat privately can be a daunting task. If you’re interested in learning about the ins-and-outs of selling, then look no further! The experts at Boat Trader have compiled an extensive list of suggestions to ensure a quick sale. If you’ve done this before and are ready to list your boat for sale right away, then Boat Trader’s private sellers page is where you may want to navigate.

We begin with some basic steps to understand before you strike a deal with a buyer. It is best to review and understand each of these steps prior to listing your boat for sale. Think of it as studying for an exam. You want to know each of the steps very well prior to meeting with potential buyers. So, let’s get started! Here are the seven steps to selling your boat online.

  1. Prepare your used boat for sale – think clean!
  2. Photography and video – make your boat stand out
  3. Determine your boat’s value and pricing – use online resources to price your boat
  4. Where to list your boat for sale – determine the best websites to list your boat
  5. Interacting with potential buyers – be ready to communicate with buyers
  6. Paperwork – ensure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed
  7. Payments – now, its time to get paid!

Preparing Your Used Boat for Sale

Properly preparing your used boat for a sale is key to selling it quickly. Just as important as when selling a house, proper staging is critical to achieving your desired price. As a boat seller, you should make sure your boat is in the best possible condition before putting it on the market. A well-maintained boat will be more appealing to buyers and will help you sell your used boat faster. Here are a few steps to prepare your boat for a quick sale.

  • Clean the boat’s interior and exterior thoroughly
  • Repair minor cosmetic problems
  • Organize your boat’s service records (this will come in handy when writing your online listing descriptions and showing your boat to potential buyers)
  • Check and repair your boat trailer (if applicable)
  • Give your engine(s) a tune-up and fix any known mechanical problems
  • Disinfect surfaces to prepare your boat for in-person showings

Take this helpful tip from Boat Trader’s Gary Reich. “When I sold my little 18-foot center-console, I removed everything (and I mean everything) from it and loaded it into the back of my vehicle. Fishing rods, tackle boxes, safety kits, two-stroke oil—everything. Then I scrubbed and cleaned out every last stowage compartment and locker on the boat,” Gary said after selling his boat. “Removing everything will help your prospective buyer imagine the boat as his or her own, versus one that’s piled full of someone else’s stuff.”

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

Lights, Camera, Action: Make Your Boat Stand Out!

Once your boat is spotless, it’s time to take high-quality, detailed photos and video. Remember, the more photos the better! If you choose to sell your boat privately and own a smartphone, like an iPhone, you can shoot professional-quality photos without the need to hire a pro.

When shooting photos, find an attractive, uncluttered spot in order to capture the best possible imagery. Direct sunlight can be harsh and may create glares and strange shadows that end up making the boat look worse than it actually is. Try to shoot your photos during “Golden Hour”—in the evening—or in the morning when the sun rises.

In addition, try to photograph your boat on the water. While trailer shots will suffice, there is no better place to show your boat to potential buyers than on the water. While you’re there, don’t be afraid to shoot a short walk-around video describing different aspects of the boat. Hold the camera horizontally, click “record” and show the boat off by walking through the vessel, showing a cold start, and talking about different options and features.

Photos and videos have never been more important in selling a boat quickly than they are now. Ensure that images are not blurry and well lit, and you should have success in attracting potential buyers.

Boat on a trailer in the driveway
Be sure the lighting is right when shooting photos or video of your boat. Photo by Ryan Mcvinney.

Determine Your Boat’s Value: How Much Is My Boat Worth?

There are a number of factors that determine the value of a pre-owned boat. The most obvious ones include size, age and model. After that, there are more subtle elements like condition, location and equipment can be factored in. The best way to find the value of your boat quickly is by using Boat Trader’s boat price checker tool. With this tool, you can determine the value of your boat based upon similar boats that are currently on the market. For an even deeper dive, you can head to Boat Trader’s search results, where you will find up to the minute pricing on boats like yours.

Websites such as NADAGuides 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 resale numbers to establish the values it lists. NADAGuides compiles the data and publishes the values every two months. While the prices may not be as up-to-date as the live pricing on Boat Trader, NADAGuides is surely a reputable source that can help inform your pricing decision!

A boat ready to be sold. Ensure all high traffic areas on the boat are cleaned well when welcoming potential buyers aboard.
Ensure all high traffic areas on the boat are cleaned well when welcoming potential buyers aboard.

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. If you’ve made extensive modifications that may greatly increase the value of the boat, be sure to include those points within your listing description. But also remember that most accessories will not increase the price of your boat.

There is always a tendency among boat owners—or enthusiasts of any kind—to harbor an overinflated sense of what their boat is worth. It’s normal. 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.

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. 

Boat Trader’s Emma Coady recommends to, “Set your rock-bottom sales price in your head before listing your boat for sale.” This will ensure you will not walk away from the deal disappointed. Knowing your rock-bottom price will give you a baseline for negotiating with potential buyers!

List Your Boat For Sale Online

In a 2020 study, digital formats took up the majority of U.S. adults’ daily media consumption time, while for newspapers and magazines the average time spent was just nine and eight minutes respectively. With a decline in consumption for newspapers and magazines comes naturally less-effective classified advertisements in print to sell your boat. If you want to sell your boat quickly, safely, and for the best price, then you should sell your boat online.

The most popular websites to sell your boat range from boating-specific marketplaces like Boat Trader, boats.com, and YachtWorld, to more general marketplaces like Craigslist and eBay. We suggest casting a broad net, but also placing most of your focus on boating marketplaces!

  • Boat Trader
  • boats.com
  • YachtWorld (you will need to list through a Broker—and typically pay a brokerage fee—to list on YachtWorld)
  • Craigslist
  • Facebook
  • eBay

And on Boat Trader’s For Sale By Owner platform, you can list your boat for sale on the website in under three minutes!

List your boat for sale in under 3 minutes on Boat Trader.

What Information Do I Need To List My 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.

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.

Also, for buyer and seller peace of mind, consider a Boat History Report for your vessel. For a while, buyers purchased the reports (they still do in many cases), but now sellers are providing the reports upfront too. You can purchase a report at boathistoryreport.com, a nationwide database that details boat histories by hull identification number (HIN). The site has roughly 100 million boat registration records on file. Obtaining a boat history report as a seller is another way to ensure a quick sale of your boat!

Interacting with Potential Buyers and Navigating Sea Trials

Now that your boat has been listed for sale online, it is time to show it off to potential buyers! 

Follow our seven tips to make sure that you start on the right page, and finish the chapter to enable you to move onto a new one. Here are seven things to consider when interacting with potential boat buyers.

How well you communicate with buyers, and your professionalism will go a long way in ensuring a quick sale. Also, ensuring that your vessel is clean and tidy, especially amidst a pandemic, will be important in building trust with potential buyers.

Boat Bill of Sale And Ownership Documents – Paperwork!

As we all know, selling a boat cannot 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.

To sell a simple 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 don’t be intimidated, it’s not a terribly difficult process.

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 or traffic violation.

Payments

When selling a used boat, there is a short period where the price is negotiated. Once the buyer and seller agree on a price, it is time to secure the boat purchase. At this point, the buyer will be expected to make a payment. Payment methods vary from person to person. Here are our tips on how to handle payments for your boat: 

  • Don’t hand over the keys and listed documents until the buyer’s funds have cleared.
  • Consider using a marine lawyer or specialist agency for particularly large, valuable or complex boats. For example, a superyacht would fall into this category.
  • Failing to provide a watertight documents portfolio can delay progress with a boat sale. Before you reach the agreement stage, you need to ensure that every relevant document is present and correct. You can then show potential buyers a streamlined collection of relevant documents, which can simply be handed over on completion of the sale. For more detailed information, read our article Paperwork Needed To Sell A Boat.
  • If you’re accepting cash make sure you look out for counterfeit notes by checking the dollar bills. Fold one side of the bill before unfolding it to an angle of roughly 130˚. Hover a magnet over the ‘1’ and watch closely. If the bill moves, it’s real. Check the serial number – if the number is a different number to the treasury seal, or matches that of another note, it’s a fake.
  • Ask for a third-party to check and count the cash with you before releasing the vehicle. Checking currency for large sums of money is not recommended. It’s an arduous task and requires time and attention, so don’t underestimate what you’re taking on. Bring a trusted third-party with strong concentration skills to check the notes with you. 

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 sell. Listings priced below market values will sell typically faster. If you follow the steps above, you should be in good shape to off-load your boat in no time!

How long does it take to sell a used boat?

Typically, the higher the price, the longer it takes. Figure 8-12 weeks as a baseline. Time of year can also be a factor. There are typically more consumers looking to buy boats in the spring, summer and fall months, but during those times, there is also typically an elevated number of boat listings on the market. That said, your best bet is to list your boat on a website with an audience of potential boat buyers like Boat Trader or boats.com.

Do boat brokers take a percentage of sale price on Boat Trader?

No! If you list your boat for sale as a private seller on Boat Trader, we do NOT take any commission. Boat Trader only charges for the up-front listing cost, beginning at $59 for any size boat.

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, you should remember that there is more competition for ad space on Craigslist (not only boats, but other items, too!)

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, browsing Boat Trader’s search results and then look at consulting NADAGuides.com for more information.

What are the best websites to sell boats online?

  • Boat Trader
  • boats.com
  • YachtWorld (you will need to list through a Broker for exposure on YachtWorld)
  • Craigslist
  • Facebook
  • eBay

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, especially on Boat Trader, is often still a local transaction! With the increase in mobile phone and online usage across America, it is imperative that you check all of the boxes and give yourself the best chance to sell your boat for top dollar.

Now that you are a pro, we invite you to browse private seller listing packages on Boat Trader and get your boat sold fast today!

How To Sell A Boat Fast On Boat Trader

Written by: Colin Voreis

Colin Voreis is a Senior Digital Marketing Manager and is Head of Marketing for the For Sale By Owner (FSBO) business at Boat Trader. He has over 10 years of experience in the boating industry, and enjoys writing and shooting video for the Boat Trader, YachtWorld, and boats.com brands. Based in Philadelphia, he enjoys covering the center console and sportfish markets for Boat Trader and boats.com, as well as covering superyacht content for YachtWorld. Colin holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics.

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