How to Sell a Boat
Written by Carolyn Jackson
There are a lot of reasons you might be ready to sell your boat:
- Maybe you’re moving away from the water
- You are looking for some liquidity
- You’re struggling to find time for maintenance
- You haven’t spent enough time using and enjoying your boat
- You’re looking to upgrade or try a different type of boat
No matter what the reason, selling your boat likely stands in the way of your next goal. Selling a boat can seem daunting, but this article is going to walk you through all the necessary steps to sell your boat. You’ll need to understand the best time to put the boat up for sale, how to prepare your boat for sale, what method to use to promote your boat to potential buyers, what paperwork to have prepared, and how to accept payment.
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- Sell your boat in the early spring or in the early fall to attract more in-market buyers.
- You can either sell your boat yourself or work with a broker or dealership to sell your boat for you. There are pros and cons to each option.
- Prepare your boat before you list it for sale online.
Table of Contents
When Should I Sell My Boat?
Ideally, you will put your boat up for sale in the early spring or early fall. These two time periods mark the beginning and end of the traditional boating season. Most people will be in the market for a new (to them) boat right before and right after boating season. Either they are looking for their first boat before the summer, or they’ve realized their boat isn’t a perfect fit and are looking for something different after the summer.
In addition to the time of the year, there are a couple of other factors that determine the best time to sell, including the age of your boat and your readiness to sell.
Age of Your Boat
When you are ready to sell your boat, the other factor contributing to selling your boat is how many years you have used it and how old the boat is. It can be difficult to understand the worth of your boat, especially one that has been used. This is because boat owners typically take more ownership over maintenance, are often are equipped with more accessories, and the market isn’t as vast — all complicating the evaluation of a boat. Generally, a new boat is expected to depreciate a small amount each year for the first 7-10 years. After that ten-year mark, you can generally expect your boat to be worth $100 per foot of the boat. This assumed regular use and wear and tear and no special equipment or upgrades that would raise the boat’s value.
Also, pontoon boats and fishing boats depreciate faster than other boats, dropping by about 25-30 percent after the first one to two years of ownership. However, sailboats and yachts will depreciate slower and retain about 90 percent of their value after three years of ownership.
When You Are Ready to Sell
The last factor that will affect when to sell your boat is when you are ready. Again, this may be something you can control (e.g., I want to upgrade to a larger boat for more space or a different type of boat because I love to fish). Still, it could also be out of your control (e.g., I lost my job and need to save money or my daughter got married, and I want more space for my family, etc.). Whatever the life circumstances surrounding your desire to sell, it will factor into the sale process, and feeling ready to part ways with your boat will make the process easier.
What Should I Do to Prepare to Sell My Boat?
Before you list your boat on a marketplace or make a dealer with a local dealership, you can prepare your boat to ensure you get top dollar for the sale. You can do a few checklist items ahead of time, so there are no surprises for you or the potential buyer.
- Inspect the outside of the boat. Look for any blemishes, scratches, dents, discoloration, rust, etc. If you can, try your best to repair any of these issues ahead of listing the boat, or you will need to be transparent and up-front with buyers about these issues. Go the extra mile and clean and wax the exterior gel coat and paint.
- Collect and organize all the paperwork related to your boat. This includes maintenance records, service appointments, the bill of sale, the title, loan paperwork, etc. It’s better to have more paperwork than you might need and to be prepared to answer any questions with physical evidence that a buyer might have.
- Inspect the inside of the boat. Look for water damage, chipped paint, mold or mildew, dirt, etc. As with the outside, if there are any apparent blemishes, try to fix them before selling or at least be up-front about these issues to potential buyers. For example, you might want to replace any stained carpet or seating.
- Deep clean the boat inside and out. Even if you plan to sell ‘as is’, your boat can still be clean. Trust us when we say it can make a huge difference for buyers. So get in every nook and cranny and polish it up as best as possible.
- Ensure all your accessories, such as electronics, covers, tanks, etc., are in place and functioning properly. Likewise, if you’ve made any aftermarket upgrades to the boat, check that they are working properly so you can use that as a selling point.
- A ‘clean bill of health’ will pay dividends, especially if you sell the boat yourself. Buyers will appreciate it if you get a maintenance check ahead of sale to ensure the boat is lake-ready and they are not buying something that will cost them more money in repairs.
- Take professional photos. Most people will encounter your boat as a digital advertisement online. Therefore, they will expect realistic and well-executed photos of the boat from all angles. Take these during the day and in good light.
What is the Best Way to Sell My Boat?
The first thing you need to figure out after you decide to sell your boat is whether you will sell it yourself or work with a broker or a dealer to sell the boat. There are a few different options with either route that we will detail here.
How to Sell My Boat By Myself
If you choose to sell your boat on your own, there are a few pros and cons to think about ahead of time.
- You get to keep all the profit from the sale
- You can control the advertising, where it is posted, and which inquiries you take.
- You can control any negotiations and paperwork.
- You could get bombarded with inquiries
- You have to qualify each potential buyer
- You have to manage the entire process from beginning to end.
Options for Selling Your Boat Yourself
- Facebook Marketplace
- FSBO Sign in the boat and/or in your yard
- Craig’s List
How to Sell Your Boat Through a Broker or Dealer
If you choose to sell your boat through a broker or a dealer, that means someone else will handle the sale of your boat. They will create the advertisement, post it online to various audiences, handle the calls and inquiries, and handle the sale from beginning to end. Sounds great, right? Well, the biggest downside is that they take a cut off the profits. So here are the pros and cons laid out for selling your boat through a broker or dealer.
- A professional boat broker or dealer will help you create an effective advertisement for your boat, including the price, features, description, and photos.
- You will not have to worry about screening potential buyers or dealing with negotiations during the sales process.
- The professional you work with will help you close the sale and advise on best practices.
- Your boat is likely to sell faster than an FSBO option.
- You will not get 100% of the profits from the sale; either you will owe an up-front cost to the service ahead of the sale, or they will take a cut from the final sale price.
- You have less control over who buys your boat and when
- If your boat is not worth enough, a broker may not take you on as a client
Pro Tip: Most brokers work for about 10% commission but might not take clients who would earn them less than $2,000 per sale.
Options for Selling Your Boat via a Broker or Dealer
- Pop Yachts
- Work with a local boat dealer
- Use your boat as a trade-in to upgrade to a newer boat at a dealership
How Long Does it Take to Sell a Boat?
The truth is that selling a boat can take quite some time. Boats are a high consideration product, but the circumstances need to be fairly specific for someone to be in the market; they need to live near water, have somewhere to store the boat, and know how to take care of the boat etc.
One thing that will impact the time to sell is how the market is doing in general. When the market is hot, boats will move quicker at higher prices. However, if the market is slowing down, you might have to lower the price and anticipate a longer sale to close time for your boat. Another benefit of understanding the market is that you will be better equipped to price your boat for sale.
How to Price Your Boat
Understanding the market and researching how other similar boats are priced will help you price your boat appropriately and attract customers who feel your pricing is fair and accurate. Do some research on the market and how boats of similar size, make, model, and age are selling in the same geographical area. Additionally, any boat industry contacts you can reach out to will help you get a good feel for the current market. Ask their opinion of how the market is looking right now and if they have seen any other boats similar to yours for sale recently.
Lastly, looking at a few key online resources will help you determine a fair price for the current market for your boat. Take a look at:
- NADA Guides
- Similar boats listed for sale online, such as Pop Yachts
- Similar boats listed for sale locally
What Paperwork Do I Need to Sell My Boat?
You will need to provide all your boat paperwork at the time of sale. This includes the title, any loan information and remaining payments, warranty information, insurance documentation, any relevant Coast Guard documentation for the boat, all service records (to prove any updates and routine maintenance you’ve done so you can get a better price), and the manufacturer manual, if possible.
Additionally, we recommend drafting a bill of sale to document the transaction. A bill of sale will typically include information such as the hull or vessel identification number, a description of the boat, the purchase price, and the transaction date. If a broker is selling your boat, there might be additional paperwork.
The paperwork required to sell a boat varies by state. Additionally, the paperwork required varies by the type of sale made. Typically, the more a boat costs, the more paperwork is required. For example, if you sell a small runabout or bass fishing boat with cash, all you would need is a bill of sale and to sign the title over to the new owner. In mind, selling a boat to a buyer who lives in a different state than where the boat is currently registered will be a little bit more complicated. In this case, you might need an application for boat registration of a hull number.
Pro Tip: If you are also selling the boat trailer with the boat, you will also need to transfer ownership of the trailer before the buyer can legally drive it away. If you do not do this, you may still be liable in the event of a collision or traffic violation.
Check with your state on the local title and registration laws, which you will find on your state’s Department of Revenue site.
Even if your buyer doesn’t request all this paperwork, it is in your best interest to have it readily available. Often, seeing all the formal paperwork can earn a potential buyer’s trust and entice them to make an offer.
How Should I Request Payment for My Boat?
If you decide to sell on your own (e.g., without going through a service like Pop Yachts or going through a dealership), you will need to manage the relationship with potential buyers entirely on your own. It would be best if you were transparent and up-front about how you expect payment from your buyers and then stick to your request. Unfortunately, there are people out there who might try to defraud you. As a seller, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself throughout the payment portion of the sales process, including:
- Do not hand over the keys until the buyer’s transaction has been processed and their funds are cleared.
- If your boat is especially large or the transaction is a large sum of money, consider involving a lawyer.
- Have a third party check the paperwork and if your buyer is paying in cash, have them check the bills for any counterfeit.
If you do not prefer cash or the buyer would like a digital option, there are a few safe payment options you can consider, including:
- Direct bank transfer
- Cashier’s check
Our best advice is to be transparent about how you would like to receive payment and not accept payment in a form that makes you uncomfortable. You should make it clear that you expect to receive the total agreed-on amount for the boat up-front at the time of sale. If a buyer tries to installments, you might consider getting a lawyer involved to write up some type of physical agreement, but we do not recommend going this route. If a buyer wants the boat, they will pay you in full.
Check Out More Helpful Boat Guides and Articles
Selling your boat might feel like the end of something, but it could also signal the beginning of your search for a new boat! There is a lot to think about and consider when deciding what boat fits your needs. Luckily, we have done a lot of the research for you. Take a look at some other helpful articles on boats by GoRollick.
- How to Clean a Boat
- Boat Ownership: The Ultimate Guide
- Boat Trailers: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide
- Boating 101: Your Top Boating Questions Answered
- How Much Does a Boat Cost?
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