Once you’ve decided to sell a boat (see Is it time to sell my boat?), getting to work in a professional and systematic manner will boost your chances of a swift successful outcome. This boat selling guide is intended to provide information for private sellers to follow, with step-by-step instruction on how to sell a used boat.
A summary of the basics:
- Prepare your boat for sale - general maintenance, de-clutter.
- Set your price.
- Advertise your boat.
- Show your boat and gain exposure - sea trials.
- Sell your boat - finalise the paperwork.
There are a number of key elements to the process of finding a potential buyer for your boat, all of which must be handled effectively to achieve a timely sale. Firstly the boat must be well presented – if it’s not clean and tidy buyers won’t warm to it. Secondly, the price has to be right – don’t be tempted to set it too high. Finally, the boat must be advertised to as wide an audience as feasible.
Once you have someone interested in the boat, there’s also handling viewings, hopefully leading to negotiating a price, plus dealing with surveyors and legal paperwork to think about. Let's go through the whole process step-by-step.
Step 1. Decide your route: use a broker or sell privately?
Private sales have increased in popularity over the years, even for relatively high value boats that in the past would have been more likely to be sold via a broker. Here are some pros and cons to handling your own sale:
Pros of selling a boat privately
- More money in your own pocket (no commission or fees).
- Potential for a quick turnaround as fewer people involved.
- You maintain control of the whole process.
- No one knows your boat as well as you do.
- With proper planning, and the help of this guide, it can be easy and satisfying.
Cons of selling a boat privately
- The process of selling a boat can be time consuming.
- You must educate yourself about the boat market.
- You will need to complete all the sales paperwork.
- You will need to learn the processes, such as surveys, sea trials and legal matters.
Using yacht brokers
Professional brokers earn commission (usually around 8-10 percent) in exchange for marketing the vessel, liaising with potential buyers and handling the legal side of the transactions. In the latter respect they perform both the role of an estate agent and conveyancer/solicitor when buying or selling a property. The right broker may be able to get you a better price, especially if he or she specialises in your type of boat. A broker can also be a good choice if you have a one-off or little known design that may not generate many online searches from potential buyers.
Another benefit is that your time input to selling the boat should be reduced, since the marketing, negotiations, and communication with professionals such as the buyer’s surveyor will all be handled by the broker.
Brokers rarely sell small and low value boats, since they produce too little commission for the amount of time involved. On the other hand, large yachts that often involve complex negotiations are more commonly handled by brokers. Find a broker in your area on our sister site YachtWorld.
Other effective routes to a sale include taking the craft to a used boat show, or part exchange a boat against a boat that’s in a dealer’s inventory. Although relatively few boats change hands in the latter manner in the UK and much of Europe compared to North America, the past few years have seen an increase in the number of trade-in options on offer.
Whether dealing with brokers or dealers, make sure your arrangement is clear from the beginning and agreed in a written contract. Normally you would expect this to be the standard contract used by members of ABYA, the Association of Brokers and Yacht Agents, or British Marine.
Given the high value of many vessels it’s vitally important to get the legal process right. In particular, proof of legal title, unencumbered by marine mortgages or other liens, plus evidence of VAT paid status, if relevant, is important (read more about VAT in our feature VAT on boats: a guide). The paperwork needed for this, including previous bills of sale, registration certificates, and the original VAT paid invoice should be gathered together before placing the boat on the market. Most reputable brokers will insist on this, as sales can be lost if it’s not possible to provide this documentation in a timely manner.
Once an offer is accepted, standard contracts for buying and selling boats make this a binding deal, although usually subject to a satisfactory survey and possibly a sea trial. On signing the contract the buyer should also pay a deposit of 10 per cent of the agreed sale price.
Step 2. Presenting your boat for sale
While a key early decision is whether to appoint a broker to handle the sale, the first vital step is always to ensure the boat is presented in as clean and tidy a condition as possible. This might sound obvious, but the number of poorly presented boats that languish on the market for years before eventually selling for a deeply discounted price is astounding.
First impressions are hugely important – if a buyer feels comfortable and at home on the boat they are much more likely to accept a few knocks and scratches, or even well used systems. Make sure any potential buyer is made welcome, a warm cup of tea or an ice cold beer, depending on your craft and the time of year, can do wonders.
Decluttering by removing all personal gear and any other kit that’s not being sold with the boat, followed by a deep clean, will always create the right impression. Similarly, the outside should be clean and neat – a pressure wash and fresh coat of antifoul can work wonders.
If you don’t have time to carry out these tasks, on all but the very lowest value boats it’s generally well worth paying someone to do so. It’s also important to recognise that for many craft the average time taken to achieve a sale is around 12 months and the boat must be kept looking good throughout that time.
Ease of viewing is also important, so if the boat lives in a remote location it could be worth moving it to somewhere with a higher concentration of potential buyers within easy travelling distance. Equally, it may be better for the boat to be ashore, rather than on a mooring that takes 30 minutes to reach by dinghy.
• Read more about preparing your boat for sale.
• Read Boat cleaning: how to care for your hull.
• See our Boat painting guide.
• Read How to prepare and apply antifouling.
Step 3. Set a price: how to value a boat for sale
This is a conundrum for many people, with many owners falling into the trap of making an overly optimistic assessment. Boats are generally a depreciating asset. Holding out for a good price can be counter productive, especially if you’re incurring significant mooring, storage and maintenance costs while waiting for a buyer.
It’s also important to recognise that, boat values are not cut and dried. A pair of boats that came out of the same mould on the same day might have very different values three years later, depending on upgrades and maintenance schedules. Prices also fluctuate with location, season, and how anxious the seller is to move the boat on.
Setting the price is an area in which brokers have an advantage over private individuals as most have access to the Soldboats.com database of actual selling prices. In today’s market in many cases this is significantly less than asking prices.
• Read more about figuring out the right price for your boat in our guide to boat valuations.
Benefits of a survey before selling
A recent survey helps to both determine the overall condition of your boat and to establish its value. It will aid potential buyers assess whether it’s worth their time and effort to travel to see the boat and may enable nasty surprises to be avoided at a later date as a buyer’s surveyor is less likely to identify defects that might scupper the deal and of which you were previously unaware.
Depending on the boat’s size, age and number of systems, it may be wise to get a Condition and Value Survey before you advertise. The larger and older your boat is, the more important this step will be. Nevertheless, buyers of all but the lowest value boats are likely to make any offer contingent on the boat passing a professional survey, as this will give them legal redress if a surveyor that misses a material defect.
Including a survey in your regular maintenance schedule will help you find out about problems before they become too serious. And when it comes time to sell, you’ll have all the information you need to set an appropriate asking price.
• Read Boat surveys: an essential guide.
Step 4. Advertising your boat for sale
Whether it’s the broker’s form about the boat and her inventory, or an online advert, the more information you can provide about the boat the greater the chance of attracting interest from a genuine buyer.
An effective boat advertisement shows what your boat looks like and sells the experience. On the other hand, badly written or incomplete descriptions will discourage a buyer from asking for more information. Photos and descriptive text work best together and it’s always worth spending time to produce polished, informative and easily digested information.
• Find out more about where to sell your boat, including tips for taking great photographs and placing an online classified advert.
• There’s also advice on How to select your advertising package on boats.com.
As soon as your boat is advertised you need to be ready to respond to requests for more information. Serious buyers will have specific questions about systems, the condition of the boat, and whether you are willing to move on the price.
Make sure the additional information you provide is consistent with your original advert, so if you don’t know all your boat’s specs by heart, print out a "cheat sheet" as a handy guide. This will be especially useful for phone inquiries that may come in while you are thinking about something else.
Common questions for private boat sellers
- A common first question is a request for more details about the boat’s condition. Be honest but positive, and try to highlight the boat’s best features rather than rushing to bring up any "issues." However, you do need to disclose any known significant defects.
- Another common request is for more photos. Buyers almost always want to see more boat pictures before they travel to see it in person.
- You can also expect questions about ownership history.
- Even if you have listed details in your ad, serious buyers may ask again how many hours are on the engine and where the boat can be viewed.
This doesn’t usually come up until after you’ve agreed a price, which is usually after the boat has been viewed. If the first question is about acceptable payment methods, or the potential buyer seems to be more interested in the transfer of money than the boat itself, bear in mind it may be a scam. More information can be found on our fraud prevention page.
Step 5. Viewings, sea trials and closing the sale
All serious boat buyers like to talk about their ideal boat, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. For example, if you ask a buyer how he or she plans to use the boat and the answer is "cruising," you can bring up cruising-related details that might not have made it into the ad. If several potential buyers ask the same question, consider adding the answer into your ad description.
Be polite and business-like, and encourage any serious buyer to come look at the boat. Remember, anyone who takes the time to respond to your ad could be your boat’s next owner.
The final selling price of a boat can vary greatly depending on how the negotiation is handled by both buyer and seller. This part is like a game of ping pong where the ball is the value of your boat. Even if the buyer's first offer seems ridiculous, be polite. This is just the beginning of the negotiation. Some negotiations go on for weeks with multiple offers and counter offers, although most are over after two or three rounds.
• Read more about negotiating the price of a boat.
Surveys and sea trials
Offers are usually contingent on a satisfactory survey. In some cases the buyer will also ask for a sea trial during which a surveyor and/or marine engineer can check the boat’s systems and equipment works properly. Note that less serious buyers may be looking for a joy ride at your expense, so agree the price, sign the contract and insist on payment of the deposit before the sea trial.
Standard practice is for the buyer to pay for any additional costs associated with the survey, such as having the boat hauled ashore. If material defects – usually taken to be one or more items that collectively would cost more than 10 per cent of the vessel’s value to rectify – are found, there may be four options. The first is to return the deposit to the buyer and end the deal. Better options are to adjust the price to take the work needed into account, or commission the work yourself and then sell the repaired boat at the original price. Where remedial work results in the boat being in clearly better condition than before the repairs, it’s not unusual for both buyer and seller to each shoulder some of the costs.
• For a full guide on surveys see Boat surveys: an essential guide.
• Read more about how to spot time wasters.
• Read more about sea trials here.
Legality and paperwork
Whether you’re selling your family dinghy, a large powerboat, or something in between, finalising the transfer of ownership will require some paperwork. Make sure you find out exactly what you will need ahead of time so you don’t hold up the final sale. Notarising all paperwork (to validate your signature) is not always required, but it’s always a good idea.
Bill of Sale
The Bill of Sale should include a description and hull identification number, purchase date, price, and the signature of both the buyer and the seller. Vessels registered on Part 1 of the UK Ship Register must use the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Bill of Sale to transfer ownership of the boat. Boats that are not registered, or that are registered on the Small Ships Register, may also use the RYA’s bill of sale (which is available free to members), or that of the ABYA if the broker they are selling though is a member.
Proof of compliance with the RCD (Recreational Craft Directive), warranty documentation, maintenance records and a VAT invoice and any other paperwork should also be handed over at the time of sale. Once funds have cleared and the deal is complete you can cancel insurance. With a bit of planning and organisation, passing papers to complete a boat sale is only slightly more than a formality. Best of all, it is the last step before your final handshake.
• Read more about VAT in our feature VAT on boats: a guide.
• Read more about boat insurance here.
Selling a boat: document checklist
The following list is intended as a general guide and may not include every document for your specific situation.
- Bill of Sale.
- Proof of loan repayment (if appropriate).
- Registration information.
- VAT information.
- RCD compliance certificate (for craft built after 1996, or first used in the EU after that date.
- Warranty documentation.
- Maintenance records.
- Receipts for items included in the sale.
After the sale:
- Cancel insurance.
- Remove all adverts.
- Buy that new boat that led you to sell in the first place.
Read our Boat buying guide to ensure your new boat purchase goes as smoothly as possible.