• NADA guides are the first step in assigning a boat value prior to selling or insuring it.

  • A thorough survey of similar boats for sale on the open market can give more of a real-time feel for boat prices.

  • You need to account for your individual boat’s unique perks and flaws.

Most people know that the first step in figuring out boat prices and value is to check boat prices with NADA guides, but this is only the first step in determining exactly what a boat is worth. In fact, a study by Boating Industry Magazine and reproduced on Boattest.com claims that while in general the pricing ranges given by NADA are close to real-world pricing, in some cases they may be up to nine percent off from actual selling price. And individual sellers need to remember that the pricing data is based on dealer and broker sales. As a rule of thumb these numbers tend to run slightly above the value of boats being offered for sale by private owners (read How to Choose Between Boat Brokers, Boat Dealers, and For Sale By Owner, to get a handle on how these sales can differ).

The NADA guides are an excellent starting point, when determining boat pricing and value.

How boats.com Can Help

One more factor to consider about NADA is that its pricing is a trailing indicator. It can only look back at history and not forward into the future. So as technology changes and new power systems, electronics, and designs evolve, NADA guides can’t predict how that may affect the value of a boat. NADA updates marine online values every other month, so there can certainly be a slight lag between real-world numbers and those reflected in the guide, too. That’s why you also need to make a thorough survey of similar boats currently for sale on the open market, which can give more of a real-time feel for boat prices. Here’s where the listings found on boats.com can come in handy. Searching for your particular make and model boat and seeing what current pricing looks like will give you a more current view into boat value. Remember one more detail, though: the prices you see in listings are asking prices, not selling prices (which are what NADA reflects). So as a rule, they will run a bit higher than the numbers you see in the guides.

If you’re trying to price a boat in order to sell it as opposed to insure it or just figure out its worth, make sure you check out How to Price My Boat For Sale. Boat values don’t track nearly as close from one hull to the next as cars do, from one to another. This is generally because there can be such a huge range in overall condition, upgrades, and maintenance, depending on how an owner cared for and improved his or her boat. So taking a number of small factors into account is necessary.

The pictures you see at left and right are from listings for identical model 2008 Sea Ray Sundancers. The one on the left is in mint condition while the one on the right clearly shows its age. And even though these two boats rolled off the assembly line the very same year with the very same equipment, their difference in price is over 20 percent.

Boat Values: Every Boat Is Different

When determining a boat price you need to account for your individual boat’s unique perks and flaws, including those that go beyond maintenance and wear and tear. How reliable has the engine been through the years? Has the boat been garage-kept, or left out in the sun? Does it have bottom paint?

Another big pricing influencer is a boat’s physical location. A boat located in New York City, NY and an identical boat located in Nowheresville, USA, will be exposed to very different pools of boat buyers. And as a result, their valuations may vary quite a bit. Location also comes into play when there’s a difference between freshwater and saltwater use. Freshwater boats as a rule of thumb carry five to 10 percent more value to a saltwater buyer. Freshwater buyers, on the other hand, often won’t even consider purchasing a boat that’s been used in saltwater for an extended period of time.

Boats that live in freshwater almost always carry a higher value than those which have been used in saltwater.

Insurance Boat Value Versus Buying and Selling Value

Determining boat value for insurance purposes is a bit different than for a buying or selling price. In this case, you don’t need to find a buyer who agrees with your valuation – but in truth, the insurance company holds most of the cards. They may require a survey prior to insuring the boat in the first place, which can expose factors that will have to be taken into account. Then, there’s also the difference between “agreed” value, “actual cash value,” and “replacement” value. With an agreed value policy you and the insurance company will have to settle on a figure for the boat’s value as it sits, and in case of disaster, that’s what you’ll be reimbursed. In the case of an actual cash policy, depreciation, wear and tear, and other factors which commonly reduce the pay-out are taken into account when determining the boat’s value. And with a replacement policy, in the worst-case scenario the insurance company will pay the replacement cost for an identical new boat.

Unless your boat is new or just a few years old, you’ll likely need to go with an agreed value or actual cash value policy because insurance companies will rarely offer replacement value policies on older boats. And in all of these cases, you personally won’t play much of a role in determining the valuation of your boat. More likely, the insurer will let you know what value they’re willing to place on the boat and you may or may not have the option to push for a higher valuation, possibly depending on what you’re willing to pay in premiums. Once again, however, it seems that book value plays a significant role.

“Recreational boat insurance companies generally refer to BUC used boat price guides, or ‘BUC Book,’ the ABOS Marine Blue Book, and NADA guides to provide insurable value,” says Scott Croft, VP of Public Affairs for BoatUS. “For more unique vessels, survey values are also sometimes used along with purchase price to provide insurable value.”

For more information on boat values, utilize the many tools you’ll find in our boats.com Boat Buyer’s Guide and Boat Seller's Guide. To learn more about the financials that come along with boat ownership and boat buying, be sure to read Boat Insurance 101, Boat Taxes: All the Basics, and Boat Loan Basics.

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.