If you're thinking of selling your boat, then it definitely pays to prepare it for sale beforehand. Not only can it help you achieve a faster sale, it will also help to ensure you get the maximum price.

Whether you’re selling a dinghy or a superyacht, there are three long-standing ingredients ensure you achieve a sale at a good price in a reasonable timescale.

How to get the best price for your boat

1.Good presentation.

2.A realistic price.

3.Promotion of the boat to the widest possible audience.

Boats in a marina

There are a number of essentials to prepare a boat for sale. You can't expect a potential buyer to hand over many thousands of pounds for your boat unless you have paperwork to prove you're the owner.

A common mistake by vendors – even in a buoyant economy – is to try to achieve too high a price. While understandable, this is usually counter-productive. The boat will still incur mooring, insurance and maintenance costs, which typically add up to 20 per cent to its value every year. A quick sale eliminates these costs and frees the capital tied up in the vessel to be spent or invested in other ways.

Many vendors have a false estimate of the value of their vessel that’s gained from seeing owners of similar models setting unrealistic prices. However, brokers have a better feel for the market than anyone else, especially in difficult times. Their knowledge of the prices that boats achieve is unparalleled, yet many owners ignore brokers’ advice on this. A boat that’s advertised at a fair price will attract the all-important flow of viewings from the outset that will ensure a sale, often very close to the asking price. On the other hand, the vast majority of optimistic prices are eventually heavily discounted.

Prepare a boat for sale: presentation

Just as used car dealers and savvy people selling their home seek to present their properties in the best possible light, the same is true for boats. First impressions are vital. If the decks are dirty and the boat untidy, buyers will extend their initial assessment to the vessel as a whole, assuming it has not been properly looked after in general. A huge number of used boats on the market are poorly prepared, with obvious maintenance issues outstanding and are even in need of a good clean. By preparing your boat for sale you will put yourself ahead of the opposition.

Step 1: Fix the mechanical issues

First of all, mechanical issues can be a turn-off even for a buyer who likes to tinker. If a light doesn’t work properly (on either trailer or boat), a handrail is loose, or something else isn’t quite right, fix it. You can probably take care of most of these details yourself, and a little bit of extra effort can yield big value once the buyers appear.

Step 2: De-clutter the boat

Next, make sure the boat is free of clutter. Remove everything not included in the sale, both to increase perceived space and to eliminate any confusion as to what is included. Spare tools, old tie down lines, that bucket of cleaning supplies in the trailer box… take it all away. Any boat will seem more spacious with empty lockers and open counter-tops.

Step 3: Give the boat a deep clean

Once the clutter is gone, the next step is a deep clean. Regardless of how well-maintained the boat is, all surfaces will benefit from some attention. Clean and polish the hull to bring out the shine (see more about boat cleaning here). Non-slip should be scrubbed with a bleach solution or the special cleaner available at your local marine store. And if your stainless hardware doesn’t shine, polish that too. Replace rusty or missing screws and any other hardware or parts that have disappeared over time.

Carpet should be cleaned and dried thoroughly, or removed if beyond cleaning. Cushion covers can also be removed and washed. Make sure glass surfaces such as portlights are spotless. Mildew stains should be removed with an appropriate cleanser. Sweep up loose dirt and wipe down the entire galley area, even inside lockers. Pay particular attention to the engine compartment.

If you don’t have time to do it yourself, a decent valet will recover its cost (around £400 for a 36ft boat) several times over.

Yacht in poor condition

A cautionary tale: many owners grossly underestimate the rate at which boats deteriorate if they are not used for an extended period. Photo Rupert Holmes.


Advertising needs to be seen by as much of the target market as possible. This generally means one of the small number of specialist websites that have high traffic. If undertaking a private sale, think carefully about the wording of your adverts so they carry maximum impact with limited number of words. It’s also worth setting up a simple website to give more detail, including photos that illustrate the current condition of the boat. Use up-to-date, accurate images, if you’re not realistic about this potential purchasers will only be disappointed when they view the vessel.

Although the internet makes it easy to make advertise a boat in all corners of the globe at a few strokes of a keyboard, it’s important to ensure that it’s visible locally, especially for lower value craft. Brokers are often where potential buyers look first, although club notice boards can also get good results.

It’s also worth considering whether your boat is in the best location to achieve an easy sale. Most vessels are offered for sale wherever they happen to be lying, but this is not always ideal. For instance, if your boat can only be reached with a long dinghy ride to an exposed mooring, then it’s worth considering moving it while it’s being sold.

Legal essentials

When you sell your boat, you need to be able to demonstrate that the boat is actually yours to sell, ideally by showing buyers a complete trail of bills of sale leading back to when the boat was new, including a VAT receipt. In addition, the boat must be sold free of encumbrances – unpaid charges and bills such as repairs carried out by a boatyard and mooring fees.

However, the paper trail of many boats, particularly older craft, is incomplete. If this is the case, potential buyers are likely to want to ascertain the likelihood of a clean title by checking with the vendor's sailing club, mooring provider or boatyard for written confirmation that you do indeed own the vessel. Obviously, anything you can do to facilitate this process will speed up the sale.

With a yacht, once you accept an offer, you generally enter a legally binding contract giving the buyer 14 days for a survey to be carried out before the sale is completed. If the survey shows material defects there are a number of routes forward. You can carry out the necessary repairs prior to completion of the sale at the original price, or agree to split the costs. Alternatively, a lower purchase price can be negotiated, to reflect the work needed. A third option is for the buyer to walk away from the deal, in which case the deposit must be returned to him.

If your boat was new after June 1998, it must comply with the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) and should have a compliance folder and operating manual. It should also be marked with a CE plate, usually in the cockpit near the transom.

In addition to promoting a vessel to potential buyers as widely as possible, brokers also handle the paperwork and legal issues. This includes title documents and VAT, as well as any possible issues with the Recreational Craft Directive, finance and insurance. This can help to give buyers confidence as it should make for a safe sale with no comebacks, including a secure transfer of funds.

If your boat is large or complicated, consider investing in a marine survey before you list the boat. That will give you a chance to address problems up front that might otherwise interfere with a sale. A survey is relatively inexpensive and will pay off for you when it comes time to negotiate.

Advertise your boat for sale.

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Written by: Rupert Holmes
Rupert Holmes has more than 70,000 miles of offshore cruising and racing experience, in waters ranging from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular new boat and gear tests. He currently sails around 5,000 miles per year and in the past couple of seasons has cruised from the UK to the Azores, as well as winning his class in the 2014 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. He also owns two yachts, one based in the Mediterranean and the other in the UK.