“Do unto others” is a commandment that works well when it comes time to sell your boat. Put yourself in the potential buyer’s shoes. Figure out what would be pleasing about your boat’s appearance, and what might be off-putting or annoying. A grimy engine, rust spots on the topsides or in the cockpit, oil in the bilge — these flaws are obvious, and it should go without saying that you need to eliminate such things before inviting a potential buyer aboard.
But there’s another area of preparation that sellers often neglect, usually because they’re blind to it; they just don’t see it as a factor that might hurt the chances of a sale. It has to do with personal effects and decorations — matters of taste, for lack of a better phrase. It’s not wise to assume that a buyer will be as thrilled as you are with all the things you’ve done to personalize your boat. Some things probably won’t be worth changing, for example custom cushion fabrics that you’ve had made, and that are still in good shape. But unless you’ve got a professional track record as a decorator and you’re convinced that you’ll improve your chances of a sale with your show of brilliance, it’s smarter to head in the other direction and minimize your stuff. The reason is simple: Most buyers will want to see a blank slate — a boat that looks as close as possible to how it did when it came out of the factory. That way they can imagine what it will look like when they bring their own stuff and their own tastes to it.
This is especially true when it comes to stowage, whether in the cockpit, the head, the galley, or the cabin. Space in a boat is always at a premium. If your stuff is occupying it when buyers comes looking, they won’t be able to re-imagine the possibilities for using that space themselves.
Here are some of the major items to remove:
- All food, pots, pans, dish towels, and cooking gear from the galley area
- Toiletries, towels and all loose gear from the head compartment
- Bedding, linens, pillows, books, and any personal gear from bunks and sleeping areas
- Watersports gear — boards, tubes, skis, tow-ropes
- Fishing gear — rods nets, gaffs, tackle boxes
- Cleaning supplies — mops, brushes, sponges, buckets, hoses
- Decorations — signs, photos, prints
- Books, papers, pens, pencils, notebooks from the navigation area or cabin shelves
There are of course limits to how sterile you want to make things look: A pillow on a cabin settee or a few books on the shelf above the hanging locker probably won’t hurt, but they should enhance they spaces they’re in, not make a statement about you. When in doubt, take it out.
And of course, when all these areas are emptied out, they should be cleaned of dirt, dust, salt, rust stains, and anything else that will remind the buyer that this is a used boat. Shiny lockers and spotless drawers will be attractive. And make a point of keeping all these areas clean for as long as you offer the boat for sale.
Aside from personal gear, there will be some items that you intend to sell with the boat, and that should enhance its value — things like anchor and anchor rode, PFDs, fire extinguishers, fenders, and mooring lines. But in order to be attractive to the buyer they need to be in good shape and presented well. Lines shouldn’t be in a snarl they should be neatly coiled and stowed. Fenders shouldn’t be half-deflated or covered with mold. You get the idea: If an item will increase the buyer’s sense of value, keep it. If it’s an eyesore, a distraction, or an indication of poor maintenance, ditch it.
A previous version of this article appeared on Boat Trader in April 2016, updated March 2020.
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