So, it’s time to put your boat on the market. Maybe you’re upgrading. Maybe you’re downsizing. Either way, you want to get the most money you can for your boat while setting an initial asking price that will help sell it within a reasonable time. It can be a tricky balance, but luckily there are established ways of researching and achieving that balance.NADA Guides

For essential research, try NADA Guides, a comprehensive vehicle-listing website that publishes blue-book type specifications, research material, and pricing information on boats and personal watercraft as well as other types of vehicles. NADAguides also provides data to banks, finance companies, insurance companies, and government agencies.

Let’s walk through an example of how to use the NADA Guides in concert with the listing service.

We’ll use a 2002 Grady White 265 Express as a sample boat. It’s a popular 26-footer set up for twin outboards. A NADA Guides search yields an initial page showing the boat’s basic specs.

The NADA guides page showing our sample boat’s basic specs.

Because there are so many different possibilities for engine packages in terms of brand, type, and horsepower, these specs refer to the boat alone. Underneath is a detailed checklist in which you can select the options to be included with your boat.

The options checklist

We’ll check 19 of the typical options for a boat like this, including hard top, fixed-mount GPS, radar, outriggers, trim tabs, and windlass.

We then click the button “Get Used Value,” and presto – the results show low and average blue book values for the boat with all the included options. In this case we get an average retail value of $41,050.

The blue book values including options

Now we have to find the blue book value of the engines. We’ll say the boat has its original four-stroke Yamaha 200s. We click on the NADA Guides’ Outboard Motors link, then ‘Y’ for Yamaha, then 2002, then select our engine model from the list. At the bottom of the basic specs frame we click “Get Used Value,” and once again are given low and average blue book values. Here the average per engine is $6605.

Low and average blue book values for our sample engines.

We double that to $13,210, add that to the boat’s average retail value of $41,050, and get a total blue book value of $54,260. The combined numbers for the low retail price would be ($5870 x 2) + $36,060, or $47,800.

You now have the blue book range for the foundation of your pricing decisions. Remember that buyers have access to exactly the same information, and will certainly use it to assess the field before making offers. There may be good reasons for pricing your boat well outside the range, either high or low, but you should state those reasons right in your listing specs, because you’ll be trying to appeal to potential buyers who have done their homework.

How does the blue book range compare with asking prices at Just go to the home page and enter your search words either there or under the “Buy Boats” tab. In this case we search for a 2002 Grady White 265 Express, and (as of this writing) we get three results, two with asking prices of $59,900 and one for $79,500. All three are brokerage listings.

The search results

The detective work continues. How are these boats powered, and how old are the engines? What options do they have that your boat doesn’t? What condition are they in? How much are their prices affected by their locations? Two of the three asking prices are about 10% higher than the average blue book price – a logical margin to set in anticipation of a blue book-based offer. The asking price of the third boat is $19,600 more than those of its siblings, and over $25,000 more than the average blue book price. How can this boat be worth so much more than its siblings? Is this asking price realistic? Without doing your research and comparisons, it can be hard to know.

The More Research, the Better

Where do NADA Guides get their information, and how accurate are the figures they pass on to boaters? According to Lenny Sims, vice president of the company, “NADA Guides obtains monthly sales figures from auction sales reports, private party sales reports, as well as sales transactions from dealers. NADA Guides also reviews new and used historical pricing trends and the popularity of category offerings. The industry and marine enthusiast wants and needs change, and pricing follows this model. What's hot today could be a fad or a trend, and the experts at NADA Guides monitor this behavior. NADA Guides’ goal is to be within 5%-10% of the reported sales.”

How are the NADA Guides numbers perceived in the real world of boat sales? “To really evaluate what a boat is worth, you need to draw from many sources of information,” says Dave Pugsley, recent past president of the Yacht Brokers Association of America, and vice president/general manager of the Brewer Yacht Sales network in New England. Overseeing sales of a wide range of boats in the thirteen Brewer brokerages, Pugsley says, “We often have clients come to us with NADA Guide prices. We've found that those prices are most applicable in the small-boat and trailerable world. The more boat size and system complexity increase, the more variables have to be factored into a boat’s value. For most boats, we find that NADA Guide figures are on the low side.”

This confirms information from NADA Guides’ Lenny Sims: "Actual dealer sales are a bit higher than the NADA Guides’ median, while private party sales are closer to the NADA Guides’ median. All sales will based upon each individual unit’s condition and equipment options, therefore it is important to remember that all values are simply a guide. The actual sale price will always be above or below the guide values for a unit. The overall condition, history and local supply and demand contribute to the final asking and selling price of the boat."

Pugsley emphasizes the importance of recognizing regional price differences. “A boat in Florida will often be priced lower than the same boat in New England or the Great Lakes. The Florida boat gets used 12 months of the year as opposed to the northern boat. Also, Florida is a huge boat market, so there are often a lot more examples to choose from. Exposure to the elements can have an effect on pricing, too, but this can work in a lot of ways. A Florida boat might have more year-round exposure, but be carefully protected by the owner, while a northern boat might have an owner who leaves water to freeze on board and cause damage while the boat is laid up. So there are a lot of things to consider. This is why surveys can by very important.”

The data you gather and compare at, in the NADA Guides, and in your other research will give you a solid grip on the market realities for your specific boat. It’s also a great way to get to know more about boats in general.

Good selling, good buying, and fair winds!

Also see How to Price My Boat For Sale, and for more information, see the Seller's Guide.