How to Sell Your Used Boat

So, the time has come to put your boat on the market. Maybe you want to cash out of your investment to finance a bigger boat. Maybe you’re downsizing. Maybe your company is moving you to a place with no boating (let’s hope that’s not the case…). No matter why you’re planning to sell your boat or where you’re planning to advertise, you’ll want it to sell as quickly as possible and for as much money as possible. The steps you need to take to accomplish that apply across the board, but are especially important if you’re selling it yourself. The recent launch of Boat Trader’s improved private seller marketplace is an ideal time to share our step-by-step guide to selling your used boat.

Try to include a shot of your own boat underway. Avoid using brochure or web photos from the manufacturer -- they don't show a true picture of what you're selling, and buyers will know that. Doug Logan photo.
Try to include a shot of your own boat underway. Avoid using brochure or web photos from the manufacturer — they don’t show a true picture of what you’re selling, and buyers will know that. Doug Logan photo.

1. Good-quality digital photos are crucial, and the more, the better.

A poorly-focused shot of a boat sitting on a trailer with a blue tarp over it will not excite anybody. If possible, use a shot of your boat underway. Some people use promotional photos from the boatbuilder; they’re better than nothing, but they can make a buyer suspicious that you’re not showing them the real condition of your own boat—which is true, you’re not.

Take shots of the boat in and out of the water, from the bow, stern, beam, and quarters. Show the bottom. Take multiple shots of the deck, cockpit, transom area, and accommodations belowdecks, focusing on different features. Take good shots of the engine or engines, helm station, electronics, and installed gear like bilge pumps, toilets, and anchors. Open lockers and take shots of the insides. Wait for good lighting for your photos. Use a flash when necessary (but bright natural light is better). You get the idea: If you were buying a boat instead of selling one, wouldn’t you want to see all the details?

2. Clean your boat—inside and out.

Before you take pictures, clean up your boat.  A boat with shiny gelcoat, polished aluminum and chrome fittings, and a clean bilge will sell faster and for more money than one that looks dingy and dirty. If this were really obvious, there would be no photos of dingy and dirty boats for sale. Trust us; a single weekend of elbow-grease getting these things in order can make thousands of dollars of difference in the sale price of your boat.

Psychologically it can be difficult to spend time working on something you're planning to sell. But a weekend of elbow-grease restoring and shining your boat's gelcoat can make an outsize difference in the selling price.
Psychologically it can be difficult to spend time working on something you’re planning to sell. But a weekend of elbow-grease restoring and shining your boat’s gelcoat can make an outsize difference in the selling price.

3. Remove your personal items from the boat.

Many sellers assume that because they love to see their fishing gear and crocheted pillows and kids’ toys and wet bathing suits hanging around the boat, then buyers will too.  But they’re wrong. Buyers want to see nothing but clean surfaces, clean cushions, and empty stowage spaces—so they can imagine where they’ll be putting their own stuff. Those clever signs that have always made you laugh, like Buoys and Gulls over the door to the head, or the “Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves”? Take ‘em down.

As 'homey' as this galley looks, the photo would be better if it showed a clean sweep and no personal effects: Out with the paper towel roll, the nuts on the counter, the fruit, the dishes in the sink, and so on. If you were a buyer, you would want to imagine how things would be in your own galley. Doug Logan photo.
As homey as this galley looks, the photo would be better if it showed a clean sweep and no personal effects: Out with the paper towel roll, the nuts on the counter, the fruit, the dishes in the sink, and so on. If you were a buyer, you would want to imagine how things would be in your own galley. Doug Logan photo.

4. Be specific in your ad language and use builder specifications for all dimensions.

When it comes to writing your ad, leave out the buzz phrases and be sure to use builder specifications for all dimensions. Use names when it comes to add-ons and electronics. Not “VHF radio,” but “Icom IC-M504 Marine VHF.” Not “bilge pump,” but “Rule 500 Submersible pump with float switch.” Not “low engine hours,” but “420 engine hours.” When there’s a factor that should enhance the sale, state it simply: “Fresh-water use only,” or “professionally maintained; full maintenance records.” If you know something is going to be a problem, but it’s not something you plan to fix, state it up front; at least it won’t be a shock to someone who comes to look at the boat. For more tips on how to write the most effective ads, read How to Write a Classified Ad for Your Boat.

This photo shows a clean bottom with the paint in good shape, well-tended running gear, newly-installed zincs, and a slightly bent trim tab. Bent tabs are common in used boats, and experienced buyers will know that. Usually it's not a big deal, but a smart buyer will check the transom area where the tabs are mounted for signs of more serious impact. Also, that's almost certainly a metal rudder (one of a pair), probably bronze. Is there an epoxy barrier coat between those rudders and the copper antifouling paint? Doug Logan photo.
This photo shows a clean bottom with the paint in good shape, well-tended running gear, newly-installed zincs, and a slightly bent trim tab. Bent tabs are common in used boats, and experienced buyers will know that. Usually it’s not a big deal, but a smart buyer will check the transom area where the tabs are mounted for signs of more serious impact. Also, that’s almost certainly a metal rudder (one of a pair), probably bronze. Is there an epoxy barrier coat between those rudders and the copper antifouling paint? Doug Logan photo.

5. Set a realistic price.

From the very beginning, set a realistic price and be ready to back up and defend your number with facts. A good way to zero in on your listing price is by doing some research in the NADA Guides. For step-by-step instructions on using the NADA Guides for both boats and engines, read Boat Prices with NADA Guides. And be aware of some of the search tricks and tactics that are particular to online boat-selling. For more on this, read Making the Most of Online Price Range.

[insert caption about including FSBO phrasing]
With three different packages to choose from, Boat Trader makes it easy to list your boat for sale for millions to see.
Following these best practices will ultimately speed up the sale of your boat, and probably net you more money in the sale. If you decide to advertise and sell your boat through Boat Trader, you’ll be joining the biggest boat sales website in the U.S., with millions of visitors and top Google rankings. This is the go-to site for people who want to buy used boats. So, naturally, it’s the place to sell them, too.

Once you’ve decided what you want to say, setting up an ad is straightforward. Follow this link, and you’ll get to a page that looks like the image above—showing different package options for photos, ad run-time, search boost, and more. Just pick the package that works best for you, follow the prompts, fill in the blanks, and you’ll be all ready to sell your boat. With a clean, well-tended boat, plenty of good-quality photos, and thoughtful writing to attract buyers, you should be able to sell it in no time.

Good luck, and let us know how you do.


Editor’s Note: Boat Trader has plenty of  Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more. This article was originally published February 2016 and updated in December 2016.

 

Price Assessment: How Boat Brokers and Surveyors can Help

Most people would prefer to sell their boats without a broker and not have to pay the broker’s fee. For smaller boats, less expensive boats, and common makes and models, it’s possible to zero in on pricing using resources like the NADA Guides. But for larger, more expensive boats that may be powered and equipped differently from one hull to another, it’s a different story. If we all had the time and expertise to manage the pricing, marketing, and paperwork involved in selling a boat, brokers would be in short demand.

marine surveyor
There are good reasons for commissioning an owner’s survey. You can demonstrate condition and value to a prospective buyer as well as use it as a basis for adjusting value for insurance coverage if the boat doesn’t sell.

So, let’s suppose you already have a potential buyer for your boat and what you want is a way to come to a fair price – one that eliminates your emotional high price tag and your prospective buyer’s attempts to get a below market value.

You probably don’t have the time or the tools to evaluate the marketplace as well as a broker. And even if you do, the other party may still think your number is biased. One solution is to hire a broker for a price assessment only.

boat broker
Some brokers will help establish price without actually brokering the deal.

I know a few brokers in the industry, and none of them charges me when I call for a price range on a particular boat. Pricing is something they routinely do, and they have the recent sales data at their fingertips. Even so, the range can be pretty wide depending on condition and the equipment found on a particular boat. Prices are based on comparable listings of recent sales by make, model, and year. If you don’t have a broker friend who will look things up for you, you might offer to pay for this info.

I ran into just such a case this past week. An owner of an offshore passagemaker, a Hylas 49 sailboat, was showing the boat to prospective buyers. The buyers were pushing for a lower price because the boat was not equipped with a life raft, watermaker, and a few other desirable features they felt were essential on boats of this type. The owner bought the boat ten years ago (when the market was higher) and had strong feelings about how well the vessel was maintained, as well as a personal knowledge of how much time, money, and effort that took.

The solution was twofold: hire (or befriend) a broker who can provide the comparables and then hire a surveyor to assess physical condition and provide a written report. Armed with the pricing range versus similarly equipped boats, along with a condition statement, you as the owner have pretty powerful proof that your price is fair. I know that owners don’t usually pay for surveys or other info, but for short money you can avoid the broker’s fee and convince your would-be buyer they’re getting a fair deal.

It may even lead to peace of mind for you if you are unsure of the market and anxious to sell the boat quickly without a broker—at a fair price. The owner in possession of a surveyor’s condition report is also privy to  previously unknown problems, and when price negotiations are delicate s/he is prepared with a just price to make the transaction happen.