Your starting price can make or break the sale of your boat. Ask too much and no one will want more information; ask too little and shoppers will wonder what’s wrong.
When deciding how to price a boat many things come into play, including its mechanical condition, how it looks, and how well it's equipped.
Research The Market Price
To set a realistic price, you must educate yourself about the market for your particular boat. Start by checking the boats for sale on boats.com, as well as other sites where prices are shown. Unless it is one-off, custom, or very specialized, there will be other boats like yours for sale.
How do you define "like yours?" If several of the same model and year are available, it will be easy to compare—the only variables left are maintenance and options. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Things like salt water or freshwater use or extra equipment will affect your value. For a more unusual boat, look at the asking prices of boats the same type, size, and age.
These five factors should be taken into consideration:
- Mechanical Condition - If your boat isn't in good working order, obviously, the price should be lower than what NADA says. But the cost of repair is simply not enough to subtract. First off, no one wants to buy a boat that isn't running right. A do-it-yourselfer or a budget-conscious boater may be willing to take on a project to get a bigger, better boat than they can afford, but only if it’s a tempting deal. Secondly, there’s cost over and above the strict monetary expenditure of repairs. You also have to consider the time and effort needed to schedule repairs, and possibly to tow or cruise the boat to the shop. Finally, selling a boat that isn't working properly signals to the buyer that the seller doesn't care too much about the boat’s condition, and this is a sign that there may be other problems with the boat related to neglect or a lack of maintenance. So before trying to sell a boat, you really should have all necessary repairs done to it. If not, as you price your boat you should plan on subtracting at least double the cost of those repairs from the bottom line.
- Cosmetic Condition - Let’s face it: nobody “needs” a pleasure-boat. Buying one is a purely emotional decision, and as a result, looks count for as much as anything else. In fact, the way a boat looks can often out-weigh all of the buyer’s more logical considerations. As a result, you have to adjust your price considerably. A boat that looks very rough will often sell for one third to one half less than one that looks pristine. Fortunately, this is a fairly easy issue to resolve. Smart sellers will replace things like ripped canvass and split seat cushions, which are easy fixes. A $1,000 investment in items like this, which have a huge effect on how a boat looks, can vastly improve your chances of selling a boat at or near its book value. Faded or oxidized gel coat should also be addressed—who wants to buy a boat that doesn't shine? No one. If the oxidation is superficial you can easily bring back that shine (watch our How to Restore Slightly Faded Gel Coat video), and if the oxidation runs deep a small investment with a professional cleaning crew can up the value of your boat significantly. On the flip side, if you’ve kept your boat in looks-like-new condition, don’t be afraid to go above the NADA value when determining price. People expect to pay a bit more for a boat in like-new condition, and in some cases, asking 10 to 20 percent over book value is not out of line.
- Location - Where you boat is physically located can have a surprisingly significant effect on how much it will eventually sell for. Boats located inland carry a value at least 10-percent higher to saltwater buyers, since they know the boat’s systems won’t be as corroded and salt-damaged as the other boats they’re looking at. Yet other inland buyers won’t be tempted as much, since they expect to be looking at freshwater boats. Boats being sold in sparsely populated areas are at a significant disadvantage, since buyers will probably have to travel a substantial distance to even consider buying them. In this case, knocking 10 or 15 percent off the boat’s price will help tempt potential buyers to make the trip. In some cases, sellers will offer to subtract the cost of travel from the boat’s list cost, should the buyer decide to make the purchase.
- Electronics - Unless a boat and its electronics are very new, this usually has a minor-league impact. Sorry, but you can’t add the $2,000 you just spent on a chartplotter/fishfinder to the boat’s price and expect buyers to be happy to pay for it. There are two problems with this: first, different people like different electronics and often have strong opinions on the matter. You might love your Raymarine unit, but I may want a Lowrance, and while a buyer who’s taste jibes with your own may be willing to pony up, other folks won’t—limiting the pool of potential buyers. Secondly, electronics become obsolete very, very quickly. Many units built just three or four years ago are already out of date, and as the buyer, I probably would rather get a new unit of my own choosing as opposed to sticking with a unit you chose a few years ago. As a result, you really can’t add more than a third of the replacement value of your electronics to the boat’s listed price, and expect anyone to happily pay it. Note: many sellers either negotiate the price of electronics separate from the boat itself, or offer to reduce the cost of the boat an according amount and remove the electronics before the sale.
- Accessory Gear - Here’s an area (finally!) where you can reasonably add to the NADA value. Significant accessories like a windlass, kicker motors, air-conditioning, and the like all add real value to a boat. Not as much as their initial purchase price, of course (unless they were installed within the past few months and have little to no use on them). But they should be considered at half to two-thirds of their price
Some accessories, like the Power Pole seen on this boat, can add significant to a boat that's for sale.
Blue Book Boat Values
While auto pricing is closely tied to "blue book" value, boat values are not nearly so cut and dried. A pair of center consoles that came out of the same mold on the same day might have very different values three years later, depending on upgrades, maintenance schedules, and the factors mentioned above. Prices also fluctuate with season, and how anxious the seller is to move the boat. As a benchmark, it's a good idea to check your boat values with the Boat Trader Price Checker tool.
When you have a feel for the price range of boats like yours, evaluate your boat’s value within that range. If you have a loan on your boat, check to see the exact payoff amount, including any balloon payments or other charges. Use that to set the absolute minimum price you will accept for your boat.
A well-documented maintenance schedule, equipment upgrades, and selling at the beginning of the boating season will all increase boat value. A neglected hull with original powertrain sold at the end of the season belongs at the bottom of the range. Be realistic—but also leave yourself room for negotiation. Every buyer wants to think they got a great deal.
Special tip: Adding "Or Best Offer" instantly softens your asking price. While you should plan to come down from your starting point, there is no need to over-emphasize your eagerness to bargain—unless selling as soon as possible is more important than getting the highest price. (And if price is the biggest concern, watch our video, How to Sell Your Boat for the Highest Price).
Tips to increase your boat value
- Save all maintenance records
- Wash and wax at least once a season. To learn how, watch How to Restore Faded Gelcoat
- Cover the boat when not in use
- Follow factory instructions for winterization and maintenance schedules
- On sailboats, inspect the mast annually and replace fatigued rigging
- Rinse trailers thoroughly, especially when used in salt water
Next try reading How to Answer Questions About Your Boat for Sale. For more articles of all sorts covering the ins and outs of selling a boat, check out out boats.com Boat Seller's Guide.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in May 2015 and updated in May 2020.