The key to marketing your boat as a private seller is to create an ad that stimulates interest, but doesn’t come across as too, well, “sales-y.” People who prefer buying boats from private parties don’t want to see too much persuasive sales jargon in your ad, so it’s something of a fine line to walk.
There was a scene in “Seinfeld” in which Kramer is helping Jerry write an ad to sell a van he somehow got stuck with. “For Sale: a big, juicy van. Interesting trades considered.” Kramer said his marketing strategy was “all about tickling their buying bone.” Uh, no. It’s all about not scaring them away.
I like to begin with something honest and frank: “I have owned this boat for eight years.” Of course, people scanning classifieds have neither time nor patience for long narratives, so I keep the intro short and sweet. “During that time, I have taken exceptional care of this boat, fixing what needs to be fixed when it needs to be fixed,” or words to that effect.
After that, I like to use a simple list to highlight the strong points of the boat. Something like these (if they apply) are good ways to attract a buyer’s attention.
— Low hours on engine; 35 hours per season
— Synthetic fluids always used
— Freshwater use only [or always flushed religiously]
— Clean and well maintained
— No chips or scrapes in gelcoat
— Upholstery in excellent condition
— Everything works
— Comes with cover and Magic Tilt trailer
— Trailer serviced regularly [or just serviced]
Those are the kinds of things a buyer wants to know, and it’s a great idea to include the boat’s specifications, just as you would see in an ad for a new boat. A typical used-boat buyer wants the boat to be as clean and “new looking” as possible. He or she doesn’t need you to tell him that “it’s a great family boat” or that you “hate to sell it.” Your ad needs to focus on what’s in it for the buyer.
You also need to be honest about the boat’s faults, if there are any. Phrases like “could use a good cleaning” or “has the usual wear and tear for an XX-year-old boat” do a couple of things: One, they let the buyer know you are attempting to be honest about the boat. Two, they prevent any big disappointments when the buyer shows up to look at it. Buyers don’t like it when an ad misrepresents the boat.
Buyers can smell BS from a mile away. You can, too, so write your ad in such a way that it would appeal to you if you were buying. Whether you accept “interesting trades” is up to you.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2016 and updated in October 2018. 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.