9 Clever Tips for Boat Auctions (To Get The Best Deal)

In Boatingby Morten Storgaard

A boat auction can be a great place to find a fantastic deal on a used boat.  On the other hand, you can end up wasting a lot of money on a used boat.

Whether you get a great deal or a lousy one is usually determined by a bit of luck, skill, and experience.

Here are 9 clever tips you can use at your next boat auction.

Find a Good Auction

To get a great deal at a boat auction, you’ll need to find a great auction, (or at least a good one).  A good auction is a reputable one that gets its boats from high-quality sources.  These sources will differ depending on what you’re looking for in a boat.

Here are some of the types of auctions you may run into.

  • Charity Auctions
  • Repo Auctions
  • Online Auctions

Charity Auctions

If you’re looking for a boat that doesn’t need a lot of work, a charity auction may be your best bet.

Charity auctions consist of boats that were donated to a charity who then sells the boat to earn money for their cause. 

These charity auctions can range from government organizations to non-profits and you technically don’t even need to be interested in the charity to participate in the auction, (although that is an added bonus).

Oftentimes, these boats are in great shape and the only reason they were donated was that the previous owner received a very large tax deduction for their donation. 

The owner probably decided that the tax break was more valuable to them than the unused boat that sat in their garage.  In other cases, the previous owner simply wanted to support their favorite charity and they decided that giving away their boat was the best way to do that.

If there does happen to be damage on the boat, a reputable charity organization isn’t going to try to cover this damage up just to make a few extra dollars for their charity.

You’ll still have to do your due diligence and you’ll want to inspect the boat before bidding, but at least you’ll know that the auction site isn’t “out to get you” from the start.

Repo Auctions

A repo auction consists of boats that were repossessed for non-payment.  These boats were financed by people who ultimately could not make their payments. 

The boats may have been willingly given back to the finance company or they may have been taken back like the ones taken in Operation Repo or some other repo organization.

In some cases, these boats may have been well taken care of but in most cases, they were not. 

After all, if you can’t afford your boat’s payments, you probably can’t afford to do maintenance on the boat either.

For this reason, I’d be especially skeptical when inspecting the engine as this is the area that will be affected the worst by a lack of preventative maintenance.

If you’re looking for a “fixer-upper”, this might be the type of auction for you.

Online Auctions

There are a lot of different online auction sites you can use to buy a boat.  Some of the most popular ones are yachtauctions.com and Copart.com and of course, there is always eBay. 

People have gotten good deals on these sites, but just as many have gotten burned.

The main reason for this is that many online auction buyers never bother to go see the boat themselves.  This leaves them at the mercy of the seller’s photos and descriptions, which can often be misleading. 

To avoid this problem only buy from auctions that are close to your home so that you can actually look at the boat before making your bid.

Alternatively, hire a professional to inspect any boats that aren’t close enough for you to drive to.

Make Sure You Attend The Preview Day

Most standard boat auctions will have a preview day.  This is a day where you can go and look at all the boats that will be put up for auction.

Typically the preview day will be the day before the actual auction.

Sometimes the boat auction will not have a preview day but they’ll have a few hours set aside before the auction so that people can look at the boats before the auction begins. 

If this is the case, you’ll want to make sure you bring a smartphone or laptop with a strong Internet connection so that you can quickly do your research on-site.

Tips for Making The Most of Preview Day

  • Show up early.
  • Take detailed notes.
  • Determine how much you want to bid beforehand.

Get to preview day early and if someone is available, see if they’ll let you in.  This will give you some extra time to take a look at the boats before the crowds come in.

Even if you aren’t let in early, at least you’ll be let in first so you won’t have to worry about waiting in line.

Once you’re inside, be sure to take detailed notes on each boat.  Take pictures as well.  You may end up looking at a lot of boats and you’ll want to make sure you know exactly what boat you’re bidding on when the auction actually begins.

After you’ve decided on a few boats to bid on, make sure you know exactly how much they’re worth and how much you’re willing to spend on acquiring them.  Write this number down and do not spend a penny more than you wrote down. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of auction fever and choosing a bid price before the auction begins is the best way to avoid overpaying.

Ask Lots of Questions

Sometimes just looking at the boat won’t be enough.  For example, a boat may come with an engine but the engine might not be on the boat when you look at it.

You may not know this unless you ask the auction house about it.

In this case, you might end up being the only one at the auction that knows about the inclusion of the engine at the sale and therefore may be the only one willing to bid high on it.

You’ll get a great deal without having to worry about the other participants trying to outbid you.

Alternatively, asking questions could save you from ending up with a bad deal.   You may find that the auction has special auction fees that you weren’t aware of.

These additional fees could result in you spending more money than you had originally hoped to spend.

Extra questions may even help you avoid buying a boat that you have no hope of actually collecting.  For example, you may find that the auction house wants you to remove the boat from the auction site on the day you purchase it.

If you didn’t bring a tow vehicle, how will you do this?  You could end up buying a boat only to have it towed away with your left paying the towing and impound fees to collect it.

Bring a tow vehicle with you!

Make Sure You Consider The Cost of Ownership

You can often get a great deal at a boat auction.  This means you can buy a much bigger and better boat than you normally could afford.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t make the cost of owning that boat any cheaper.  Remember, it isn’t a good deal if you can’t afford to keep and maintain the boat after you’ve purchased it.

Some questions to ask before bidding on a boat are:

  • Can I afford to dock and store the boat?
  • Can I afford to do the monthly and yearly maintenance on the boat?
  • Can I afford the insurance on the boat?

You’ll also want to ask yourself whether or not you’re even capable of handling the boat.  If your original intention is to buy a small fishing boat that you can launch yourself and you come home with a yacht, you may find you aren’t capable of actually launching the boat yourself.

Personally, I’ve found great deals on many purchases over the years only to find that I ended up buying more than I needed.  Having more than you need is often even more stressful than not having enough so it’s important to make sure that you don’t overdo it.

Find Out What It Takes to Get a Boat Titled in Your State

Oftentimes, you’ll see boats at auction that do not have a title.  In this case, the auction will offer you a bill of sale instead. 

While a bill of sale will prove that you legally bought the boat from the auction, it doesn’t truly prove that you own it.  In order to do this, you’ll need to get an actual title.

In some states, this can be really easy and in others, it can be more difficult.  For this reason, many people shy away from bidding on these boats.

My advice is to find out what it takes to get a boat titled in your state.  If the process is easy, why not bid on a boat without a title?

If your research finds that the process is difficult, you can steer clear of bidding on the boat instead.

What happens if you don’t get your boat titled right away?

Imagine buying a boat, spending a lot of time and money repairing the boat, and then finding out that someone else legally owns it and wants it back.  This can and does happen sometimes and all of the time, effort, and money you spend end up being given back to the original owner for free.

Learn How to Do Repairs

You don’t have to become a professional boat mechanic or restoration expert to buy a boat that needs some work.  Some boats will only need some minor repairs and you may very well be able to learn how to do them yourself.

This can be a fun hobby and it could save you a lot of money at auction.

Tips for DIY Boat Repairs

  • Expect to pay more than what you think it will cost to make the repair.
  • Expect to spend more time on repairs than you originally thought.
  • Expect to have less time to work on your project than you think you will have.
  • Don’t take on large repairs.
  • Know where and when to get help.

Repairs will typically cost twice as much as you originally think they will cost.  On top of this, they’ll usually take three or four times as much time as you think they’ll take. 

Not only this but all of the time you thought you would have to make the repairs will seem to vanish as soon as you pull the boat into your yard.

This isn’t just my experience.  Talk to anyone who has ever done any sort of DIY project and you’ll find this to be true.

Count on these statements as facts and you’ll be able to more accurately determine how much work needs to be done and how much time it will actually take you to get the work done.

For these reasons, I’d advise you not to take on large repairs.  This is especially true if you don’t have a lot of experience doing boat repairs.

A few small repairs will help you save money but a few large ones could result in you never getting your boat into the water.  You didn’t get a good deal if you bought a boat that you’ll never be able to use.

Finally, know when and where to get help if you need it.  If the cost of paying somebody to do the repairs for you is less than the amount of money you saved by buying a boat that needs work, you’ve still got a good deal.

Go Shopping After a Major Storm

Storms can wreak havoc on boats both large and small.  A hurricane can wash docked boats up on shore and it can throw smaller boats around a person’s driveway without any trouble at all.

In the aftermath of all of this, the boat owner is usually more concerned with fixing their home up rather than their boat that they may or may not even use regularly.

Because of all of this, many storm victims simply give their paid-off boats to charity.  People who have financed their boats either stop making payments or use their insurance money to pay the boat off. 

In this case, the insurance company may take the boat off of their hands and auction it off instead.  Either way, you’ll see a large influx of damaged boats up for sale at auction after a storm.

This goes back to the last tip of being able to do repairs on boats yourself.  If your plan is to work on boats that fell victim to a storm, you may want to learn how to do fiberglass repairs.  Sometimes a boat merely has scratches in the gel coat or easy-to-repair cracks. 

Knowing how to work with fiberglass will give you the ability to make these repairs yourself.  Do these repairs and you’ll end up with a boat that looks new and you’ll save a lot of money at auction.

Know What The Payment Terms Are At Each Auction

Each auction is different and you may find that some auctions will want you to pay cash on site.  In this case, not bringing the proper payment method could end with you losing out on an auction that you actually won.

Other auction houses may allow you to pick up and pay for your boat a day or two later, but they’ll want a deposit as well as a storage fee.  You’ll want to know what the rules are before you place any bids or you may end up spending more money than you want.

Bring a Wet Blanket Man (or Woman)

Auction fever is real.  People can easily get swept up at auction and they end up bidding much more than they should.  This is especially true for people who have invested a lot of time and emotion into the auction.

If you’ve gone to preview day, researched the boats, taken pictures of them, and come to auction early, you’re probably one of these people.

In this case, you may find the best way to keep your emotions in check is to bring a friend to do it for you.  This friend should be someone who isn’t emotionally invested in the process so he or she can coldly review your notes and make bids based on the notes you’ve provided them.

Final Thoughts

Boat auctions can be a lot of fun and many people have gotten great deals at them.  Unfortunately, boat auctions have also lead to many people overpaying for their boats as well.

Be sure to follow the tips in this post and keep a cool head while at the auction and you’re much more likely to be among the group of people who have made out at the auction.

Just remember to stay informed, keep your money and wits about you, and follow the rules of the auction house.

Good luck!

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