What is the fastest and easiest way to sell a boat?
This is a common question boaters ask when they need to upgrade, downgrade their watercraft or stop keeping one altogether.
In this article, we dive deep into everything you need to know about selling your boat. To get top dollar for your prized possession, you need high-level attention to detail and preparations.
This article will show you exactly how to go about it!
Steps Involved in Selling a Boat
Selling a boat is like selling a house but few people see it that way.
If you want buyers to drool over your vessel and start dreaming about owning it from the moment they see it, you have a lot of work to do.
It’s important to have a process when selling your boat to reduce prepping time, expenses and time to close the deal. Start by determining the boat’s worth.
1) Determine the Market Value Of The Boat
The biggest mistake that can make or mar the sale of your boat is to either price is too high or too low. And the reason many boaters fall into this trap is that they don’t do basic market research.
Too low, you will lose money and too high you will drive prospective buyers away.
Thankfully, there is a wealth of resources online and offline to help you identify the best price for your boat.
Use the following resources when pricing your boat:
Local Newspaper Classifieds
One of the best places to start your market research is on the classified ads section of your local newspaper. Check the price of boats identical to yours.
Create a scrapbook of ads showing prospective buyers similar boats and how their prices compare to yours.
A smart move here is to only show them boats that are priced higher to make your offer more attractive. But remember the listings are asking prices, so you have to be careful not to blow your chances.
Many people have unrealistic expectations when listing their boats in ads. They quote outrageous prices hoping they would recoup their investment in the boat.
However, the reality may force many buyers to leave the boat, making it deteriorate. Eventually, the boat will go for a ridiculously low price after a long time on the market. Don’t let that happen to you.
While you can use classified ads as a guide, they shouldn’t form the basis of your price.
Be realistic and use other resources to get the ideal price for your watercraft.
Ask Local Brokers and Dealers
Brokers and dealers in your area have extensive economic and historical data about the market trends on the boating market.
If you want intelligence scoops on the best time and the best price to sell your boat, talk to experienced and reputable brokers and dealers in your area.
Most of them will cooperate and advice you on the best way to sell your boat. Ask for their thoughts on the value of your boat.
If they have boats identical to your own, ask them why the boats are still on the market and the challenges you might face in trying to sell yours.
They may even help you sell the boat if you don’t want the hassle of marketing.
Use Marine Bluebook
Marine bluebooks such as those published by NADA offer various methodologies for pricing a boat. You can find blue books online and at your dealership, insurance agent or bank.
However, bluebooks are not the most accurate methods of pricing boats.
When using a blue book, make sure you consider variations such as equipment upgrades, year of build and other factors that could affect the value of the boat.
There are several websites that list thousands of different boats for sale. These sites offer the best way to compare identical boats.
Some of the best boat sales sites include boats.com, Yachtworld.com, BoatTrader.com, and others.
When checking boats identical to yours online, note the small differences such as engine hours, upgrades, bottom paint, year of production, etc. This will ensure that you can adjust for differences in the actual value of the boats.
Now that you’ve collected data from different sources, do an honest appraisal of your boat relative to the market trends. Try to be honest and put yourself in the shoes of a prospective buyer.
Choose a price that will make prospects rush your offer without feeling that you gave the boat away.
There will be plenty of time to adjust prices but your goal, for now, is to get people excited about owning the boat.
2) Prepare the Boat to Woo Buyers
If you did a great job at pricing your boat, many buyers will start contacting you to learn more about it.
You want to create a powerful first impression when they come to see the boat.
You are in luck here as most boaters give little attention to preparing their boat. And then they wonder why it’s practically impossible to sell it.
If you want to sell a house, you stage it so that prospective buyers can picture themselves already living in the space. Use the same logic to sell your boat fast.
When preparing your boat, take care of:
Cosmetics To Think About
The first 30 seconds are the most crucial when a prospective buyer sees your boat.
Any physical blemish on your boat can dent your chances of selling it.
- If your paint is peeling off in some places, touch it up.
- Polish the hull to a shiny finish. Polish the fiberglass and wood surfaces until they glisten like a mirror.
- From the interior, exterior to the engine compartment, keep everything in top shape.
Everything on the ship should work if you can afford to repair them.
- Check little things like light switches that don’t always work.
- Repair latches and hatches that won’t close.
- Change the oil and ensure the engine is primed and ready to go.
While you may not bring every component to top gear, make sure the boat is in a shape that most buyers will accept.
If you are selling a trailer with the boat, make sure it works perfectly. Check the brakes, lights, rust, etc.
Clean It Properly Before Showing It To Buyers
Nobody wants a smelly boat. You want to keep any junk off the boat.
Hire professional detailers to clean, buff and wax everything to a bright luster.
Another reason to hire a detailer is that it’s always difficult to identify dirty places on your own boat.
But a detailer knows where to look because they are more objective while cleaning.
It’s important that the vessel smells nice. Do a thorough cleaning and ensure there are no stray leftovers from parties.
You want as much free space on the boat as possible so clean and declutter it to make the vessel spacious in the eyes of potential buyers.
Don’t forget to drain and clean the head. The bilge should also be clean and scrub all walking areas. Apply air fresheners or deodorants to places like the head and parts that can be moldy.
Survey The Boat?
While this is usually up to the buyer, a survey can save you time and help you command a higher asking price.
A boat survey shows you everything that is working or not and you factor that into your pricing.
A comprehensive boat survey shows buyers your vessel’s real worth. The survey will make your offer more credible and may help you sell the boat faster.
But make sure to use a professional marine surveyor. Consider a boat and engine survey especially if you are selling online.
Do Some Boat Staging
Borrow a leaf from estate agents by staging your boat to meet the taste of the potential buyer.
It might be setting up the tables with beautiful plates or hanging some vintage art pieces on the walls.
Do everything you can to make the buyer envision themselves in the boat. The best part is you can get everything you need at affordable prices at the local store.
But remember to remove anything you don’t plan to sell with the boat before signing the deal.
The goal of preparing your boat is to make sure you reduce the things a buyer can use to gain the upper hand during the negotiation.
It’s crucial to double-check that everything is clean and working properly after preparing the boat. You don’t want any stray glasses in crevices or wine stains on a cushion.
3) Take Professional Pictures
Once you are through with preparing your boat for sale, it’s time for photography. Smartphone cameras have come of age, but you want to use professional cameras to take your boat photos.
Keep these tips handy when taking the pictures
Focus on the Cleanest Areas
To create that wow effect, capture the cleanest places on the boat. You want buyers to see it and start thinking of how to make it their own.
Highlighting the best parts gives prospective buyers the impression that you took great care of your boat.
If the aesthetics are excellent, they will expect the engine and other systems to be in top shape.
Take Pictures in Good Lighting Conditions
The best pictures are shot when the lighting is perfect. So even if you are planning to sell your boat offseason, wait for that perfect time when the photographer can capture the vessel in rich detail.
When people see pictures of your boat sparkling in the sun, they automatically envision themselves piloting it or having a party on the deck.
So help them visualize owning the boat and it will be easier to sell. Plus, premium-quality pictures propel you above the competition that used poor quality photos.
Use Wide-Angle Pictures
To create a sense of spaciousness on your boat, take wide-angled photos along with the close-ups. The close-up photos provide richly detailed images of the boat. However, the wide-angled shots depict a spacious boat with a lot of room for all the activities buyers plan to enjoy on their new watercraft.
Take Pictures of the Boat Cruising in the Water
This is a powerful way to get buyers to take action. By showing them pictures of your boat at full throttle, they have a clearer idea of its capabilities. It also gives you more credibility.
It is vital to keep your photo shoots honest.
You may be tempted to touch up some defects or whitewash some areas to make them flashier. But this will only leave buyers disappointed when they see the boat.
To avoid frustration, use professional photos but show buyers the truth about your boat.
4) When to Sell Your Boat
The time you sell your boat is important. It’s best to sell your boat between fall and spring when the boating season is in full swing.
You will find more willing buyers at the beginning of the boating seasons than at the end.
Regardless of the route you go, it’s important to time your boat sale right to get the vessel off the market fast.
5) Where to Sell Your Boat
There are three ways to sell your boat including:
- Selling through a dealership or broker
- Selling it yourself
Note that some dealers don’t take trades on used boats, so you may not get a trade-in with your old boat if you plan on buying another used vessel.
Also, brokers rarely list small boats or any vessel worth less than $20,000.
The markup is too small to cover their efforts and fees, but some will do it for a flat fee which may hurt your sales price.
Selling Through a Dealership or Broker
This is the easiest way to sell a boat. If you want to sell your boat fast, a dealer or broker is your best bet. Selling a boat requires a lot of time and effort and expertise, which you probably do not have.
You have to market the boat, prepare the legal documents, negotiate, and carry out surveys and sea trials among others.
Do you have the time and connections to pull this off?
Except you are a long-time boater, you probably know little about selling boats.
So it’s better to leave all the heavy lifting to a dealer or broker who understands the industry and can get your boat off the market in record time.
That way, you can focus on work that really matters to your life.
As said earlier, not all brokers and dealers will sell your boat. But if the boat is big enough and the potential returns will cover their efforts, it’s better to go that route.
Brokers often collect a 10 percent commission on sales although this can be more or less depending on the peculiarities of each transaction.
Before choosing a dealer or broker, it’s vital to do some research:
Ask for Referrals
Ask for your boating friends who have sold their vessels in the past for referrals. It’s important that you get an experienced and honest person selling your boat to avoid mistakes and costly delays that could further reduce the craft’s value.
If you are a member of online boating forums, ask people in your forum what they think about so and so broker or dealer and their experience with them in the past.
6) How To Choose A Good Broker
Choose a broker who belongs to a professional association. While these brokers may charge a higher fee, they usually have more experience and can provide the best advice on how to sell your boat.
Look for a broker or dealership that sells boats similar to yours. They often have customers looking to buy boats like your own.
- Maximum Exposure
You want a dealer or broker who can guarantee maximum exposure for your boat. The more people that sea the boat, the higher the chances of selling quickly.
A popular marina or busy highway site provide the best exposure for your boat.
If they can erect a conspicuous sign at a popular spot, the chances of selling the boat fast will be far higher than if only a few people see it every day.
- Look for Passion
It’s important for the salesperson or broker to be passionate about selling your boat.
Some brokers take a leisurely approach and some salespersons just don’t know how to sell aggressively.
Those are not the people you want selling your boat.
Choose a broker or dealer that takes trades. This is crucial because most people shopping for a used boat are downgrading or upgrading. They won’t buy yours if they can’t offload their boat.
Choose a dealer or broker proficient in internet marketing. Even though many people still buy boats through word of mouth, the biggest exposure you can give your boat is to list it on the major boat sales sites such as Yacht world and boats.com.
- Market Intelligence
Make sure the dealer or broker can do pricing research. This gives you an idea of how much they think your boat is worth.
It’s important that they provide a price that will help get your boat off the market in record time.
You don’t want unrealistic appraisals that will turn off potential buyers.
- Top-notch Listings
Check out their listing to see their detail and quality. An experienced broker or dealer will use plenty of pictures and accurate descriptions.
Incentivize the broker or dealer by offering a bonus to spur them to action.
- Hunt for Deals
If you are trading in your boat, hunt for the best deals. Most dealers and brokers hardly pay top dollar for trade-ins. So explore all your options.
Do what you can to ensure the dealer or broker you choose has the experience, industry connections and drive to sell your boat.
7) Selling Your Boat Yourself
If you can’t get a broker or dealership to sell your boat, sell it yourself.
Selling a boat yourself is no fun as it is like a full-time job.
The main things you have to do when selling your boat is to advertise, show it and then sell it.
- Advertising Your Boat
One important component of advertising is the target audience. Who do you think will probably buy your used boat? How do you reach them? Do you advertise online or use classified ads in the local newspaper?
You also have to worry about the best spot to park your boat for improved visibility.
While you can advertise your boat on the platform where you bought it, this may not work if the vessel is old.
Ask friends who sold their boats recently on the strategies they used.
If you are selling a vintage boat or something that will appeal to specialty buyers, advertise in specific newsletters, magazines or online classifieds.
If your marina allows it, add a For Sale sign to the boat. You can also do that if you park the boat on your driveway.
- eBay and Craigslist
Some boaters list their boats on eBay and Craigslist. This route is cheaper than listing your boat on Yachtworld or boats.com but also less effective.
- Use plenty of quality photos and price the boat well to attract buyers.
Be careful when using Craigslist as many of the people who will contact you are brokers and flippers who want to buy cheap boats and sell at a profit.
Also, be wary of scam artists and people who ask for a discount before asking for any details about the boat.
- Showing Your Boat
Once you advertise the boat, you should start receiving calls from prospective buyers to see it.
Prepare to answer all their questions and some of them may be hard.
If your boat has flaws that buyers can use to negotiate a price reduction, beat them to it by saying upfront that you ask that price because of so and so.
You also have to organize sea trials and show the boat’s capabilities.
You need to learn to weed out time-wasters who are not serious about buying.
Some boaters feel uncomfortable showing their boat if it has shortcomings. But it’s better to be honest about the true state of the boat and hope you can find a buyer who can love it as you do.
When you find the ideal buyer, all that will matter is the joy and happiness they will derive from owning the boat.
Remember that the decision to buy a boat is emotional, not logical or economic. So do your best to portray your boat as worth the price and hope for the best.
8) Wholesale Options
Sometimes, you can’t afford to keep the boat until you sell it. In that case, consider selling it wholesale.
The returns on selling a boat this way are usually lower than a brokered sale or selling it yourself.
However, it makes sense when you calculate the money you will spend maintaining the boat and marketing it before eventually selling it. Add the brokerage fees and wholesale becomes attractive.
9) Legalities and Paperwork
Once you have found a buyer and money has changed hands, it’s important to provide relevant documents. You want to have all the paperwork required for transfer of ownership ready before the sale.
Contact your state Department of Motor Vehicles or relevant agencies for the documentation to provide the buyer.
Here are some documents:
- Bill of Sale
A bill of sale should include the price, purchase date, hull number, boat description, and the buyer and seller’s signature. You can type this up as a simple document or use a template online.
The boat title needs to change when you sell it to another person. However, this is not possible if you are still repaying the loan on the boat. Ask your lienholder the documentation required for this.
- Proof of Loan Payoff
You may also have to provide proof of loan payoff to the buyer. This shows you owe nothing on the vessel and the buyer is not taking on your liabilities.
- Trailer Registration and Title
If you are selling a trailer with the boat, provide the registration and title documents to the buyer.
- Maintenance Records
You may also need to supply the boat’s maintenance records to guide the new owner on how to keep the boat in top shape.
- Warranty Cards
If you have valid warranty cards on parts of the boat, give them to the buyer so they can enjoy the benefits.
- After the Sale
Once the sale is complete, and you have signed all the necessary documents, cancel the insurance and remove all ads.
Selling a boat can be emotional and difficult for most people. It is hard to let go of a prized possession that brought a lot of joy and fond memories for you and your loved ones.
But sometimes, selling a boat is a prudent step to take. If you are not giving up on boating yet, the next step is to buy a new boat.
We hope this guide will make your boat sale fast and rewarding.
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Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.