Selling Your Boat? 10 Tips for Sprucing Up Your Engine

It’s hard to work on a boat when you’re planning to sell it. You’re busy with a million things, and you just want to move on. So it’s tempting to overlook dirt, defects, and maintenance issues and just trust potential buyers to understand and accept them — even when you know that you’re probably undercutting your chances of a sale. But you won’t realize how badly you’re sabotaging yourself until you do two things. First, put yourself into the buyer’s shoes, take a serious look at what you’re trying to ignore, and ask yourself whether you’d be favorably impressed if you were the buyer. Second, tally up the time and expense you’ll face making things right in terms of basic maintenance and cosmetics. You’ll probably realize that it’s not much of a sacrifice.

No used engine will look as good as this brand-new one, but a bit of time spent with cleaner, rags, and Q-tips can often get you pretty close.
No used engine will look as good as this brand-new one, but a bit of time spent with cleaner, rags, and Q-tips can often get you pretty close.

The condition of a boat’s gelcoat, bottom, and accommodations are important, but smart buyers will focus just as much, if not more, on the condition of the engine or engines. How you’ve treated the engine will tell the buyer a lot about how you’ve cared for the whole boat. So, unless you’ve had your powerplant professionally maintained all along, and have coddled it yourself between visits to the mechanic, now’s the time to spruce things up so that any potential buyer will be impressed. Whether your engine is an outboard, an inboard gas-burner or diesel, or an inboard stern-drive, this 10-item checklist will serve.

1. Change the engine oil and filter. Oil for sale should be golden, not brown or black.

2. Make sure the belts are in good condition and at the proper tension. No cracks or dust. Change them if necessary.

3. Install fresh zincs (sacrificial anodes) in the engine and on running gear.

4. Change the air filter if it is at all clogged or discolored.

5. Change the fuel filter(s).

6. Clean the cooling system and replace impellers as necessary.

7. Find and repair any fluid leaks.

8. Carefully go over the engine mechanicals with engine cleaner, rags, and Q-tip swabs.

9. Eliminate any rust and touch up cracking or peeled paint.

10. Carefully clean the engine pan and bilge. Leave them spotless and dry.

For most boats these chores will take a matter of hours, not days, and cost at most a few hundred dollars — not thousands. And the payoff when it comes to getting a timely sale and a fair price will make that time and expense well worth it. When your potential buyers step aboard you’ll know that your engine looks good and IS good. And the maintenance log will show it.

Happy selling.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2016 and updated in June 2018.

Written by: Doug Logan

Doug Logan has been a senior editor of since 2010. He's a former editor-in-chief of Practical Sailor, managing editor and technical editor of Sailing World, webmaster for Sailing World and Cruising World, contributing editor to Powerboat Reports, and the editor of dozens of books about boats, boat gear, and the sea.

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