If you're reading this article, we have a pretty good idea of what you may be dealing with right now. As boat owners, we all love our boats but sometimes it's time to let go and move on. Whether you're buying a new boat and must first sell your old boat, or just ready to collect on your investment and take a break from the water, all of us here on the boats.com editorial staff have been there. However, the sell-my-boat process doesn't have to be painful. This comprehensive for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) boat selling guide is intended to provide information to private sellers just like you to help get you through the steps.
First, if you have the time take a look at our "How to sell your boat" video with Lenny Rudow for some great tips on selling your vessel.
Now that you've watched the video hopefully you have a good idea of the process for selling your boat. Let's take a deeper dive into each step.
Boat Selling Process: Step-by-Step Guide
- Prepare your boat for sale (de-clutter and clean)
- Take on-the-water photos and videos (avoid on-trailer-images)
- Set your price based on research (get an optional boat survey)
- Make a sales plan (identify your buyers)
- Advertise your boat to your target audience (list it on the best sites)
- Show your boat in-person or via virtual boat tours (offer an optional sea trial if possible)
- Sell your boat with a bill of sale, title and documentation
- Get help from a boat dealer or yacht broker (optional)
Prepare Your Boat For Sale
Once you've decided to sell your boat, you will definitely have to do some prep work in order to get the best price. Quirks and mechanical issues that you’ve lived with for years and have become accustomed to will drive away interested buyers. That rattle in the genset, the hatch that sticks on one side, and the door secured open with a bungee cord may seem fine to you, but you can bet that they'll make your boat significantly less attractive to everyone else. Get these things fixed, before you show the boat to any potential buyers.
Clutter is another way to lower your chances of a quick sale. You may feel the throw-pillows, potted plants, and nautical sculptures make your cabin feel "homey," but to a buyer, things like this just make the cabin appear smaller. On runabouts and center consoles, also look out for clutter in stowage compartments. Yes, it will hurt to pull the water skis and tow-toys out of that box in the sole, but removing as many items as possible is the right move. Just leave the basic required safety items in place, and if any of the other gear is being included in the sale, show it to the buyer separately.
Plain old dirt will also lower any offer you might receive. Just ask a car salesman how important it is to have everything clean and shiny when a buyer comes to look. And remember, boats are bought with emotion, not reason and logic. Someone will have to fall in love with your boat if they're going to stroke that check, and looks have everything to do with their emotional response. So prior to listing, break out the scrub brushes and wax. Give your boat the shine of its life—you'll end up selling it faster and for a higher price.
Ready to provide some serious elbow grease? Good. But before you get to work, check out this series of cleaning articles and videos which will help you become a much better boat shiner-upper:
- 10 Tips to Keep Your Gel Coat Gleaming
- Getting Tough Stains Out of Gel Coat
- How to Restore Faded Gel Coat on a Boat
- How to Clean and Care for Isinglass and Canvass
Take On-The-Water Boat Videos & Photos
Once you have your boat in tip-top shape, it's time to take some great on-the-water photos and videos. Remember that the first impression is the most important. An eye-grabbing photo or video can be the reason a buyer clicks on your listing instead of another seller's listing. Try to avoid photos of the boat on a trailer and/or in bad lighting scenarios, or with a cluttered background. Listings with videos tend to sell better than those without, so if you can shoot some video it is worth it.
Set Your Price Based On Your Boat's Value
Settling on an asking price is your next big move. Prior to making any big decisions, reading How to Price your Boat for Sale will be beneficial. This article will walk you through things like using the Boat Trader Price Checker tool, the other listings on boats.com, and book values, to arrive at a reasonable number. And be sure to watch our How to Sell Your Boat for the Highest Price video, too.
Finally, decide if you should have a survey done. Although this is commonly considered the buyer's responsibility if you have one done ahead of time it can speed up the time to selling the boat and help uncover any potential issues that are better addressed ahead of time.
Make A Sales Plan
Now that you have high-quality boat photos and videos, know your price and have prepped your vessel for a sale, you can move on to the decision-making stages. Here you need to essentially make a sales plan, and in doing so, you will have to answer some very big questions. You'll need to decide if the help of a broker or dealer is in order, or if you'll handle the sale on your own. Learn about the benefits and points to consider when choosing between Boat Brokers, Dealers, or For Sale By Owner.
You have some more decisions to make when you're ready to advertise your boat, including: ad placement, target audience, negotiation room (your "reserve price") and so on. Will you go with print, advertise online, or simply get an old fashioned for sale sign and park your boat in a high-visibility spot? Maybe you'll try an all-of-the-above approach?
Advertise Your Boat: Where to List It
Do you remember where you found your boat advertised? That may well be the best place to sell it again. Boats.com has over 120,000 boats for sale in a searchable database, and our online ads are easily updated with new photos or price changes (visit our Sell My Boat section to create a listing). Newspapers, newsletters, and other online classifieds can offer additional access to specialty buyers, whilst there is a wealth of information and more detail about why selling your boat online is best in most instances. And, on how to make your boat look even better online.
Show Your Boat - Virtually or In-Person
Hopefully, the advertisements will generate plenty of calls and emails inquiring about your boat. Now, it's time to start showing it to potential buyers. That means anything from setting up virtual tours via video chats to arranging in-person sea trials. Get ready to answer a lot of questions about the model, condition and key features, plus any add-ons you've installed. Again, there are sure to be a lot of questions, so have your sales pitch down pat.
Unfortunately, in some cases, selling a boat also means dealing with "tire-kickers" who aren't really serious buyers. There are even people who will claim to be a buyer just to get a free boat ride! Here are some articles and videos that will help you decide on the best ways to show your boat, and in the long run, save time and effort.
When showing the boat, some owners become a bit hesitant if conditions are less than ideal. They don't want to go for a sea trial in rough weather, as the boat may bang around a bit and scare off the potential buyer. Or they might not want to try that hard-starting engine in cold weather. During these times, remind yourself that ideally, you're not just trying to turn your boat into cold, hard cash. You're trying to find the "right" buyer, the one who will ultimately fall in love with your boat, take care of it like you would, and will be a happy boater. So keep an open mind when it comes to sea trials, and don't be afraid to show the boat in less than ideal circumstances.
Selling A Boat With Proper Documentation
Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty. You've done the legwork, listed the boat, showed it to a prospective buyer or three, and have a hot lead on the line. Don't worry if you feel some butterflies or find yourself breaking out in a cold sweat—this has nothing to do with the selling process but is your heart-strings being tugged at by Mom's Mink. This happens to all good boaters when they realize they're close to parting with the dearly beloved. Remain resolute, remind yourself that the world won't end, and start talking turkey. When you're ready, these articles will help you get the right price, avoid being ripped off, and take care of the paperwork:
- How to Negotiate Your Boat Price
- Be Aware of Online Fraud
- Close the Deal: Boat Registrations, Titles, and More
There, there, you poor dear... we know it hurts. She was amazing. She was your pride and joy. You loved her like you've loved no other. Now, she's gone. There's only one thing in the universe that will help you get over this crushing loss: buy a new boat ASAP. Yes, we can help you in this regard, too. It's time to check out the boats.com Boat Buyer's Guide, post haste!
And remember, if you're feeling overwhelmed with the process, reach out to a professional boat broker for help!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best way to sell my boat?
The most effective way to sell your boat is to target the right kind of boat buyer. In other words: identify the kind of buyers who are searching for exactly the type of boat you are selling and then figure out how to best reach them. For example, if you're selling a high-performance pontoon boat, you'll most likely want to target areas with lakes and protected inland waterways known for leisurely cruising and a party-barge-lifestyle (particularly those with larger bodies of water where fast pontoon boats are welcome). If you're selling an offshore fishing boat, you'll most likely want to target an ocean-side fishing community where fishing charters are offered. One of the great things about listing a boat with a site like boats.com is a lot of this work is done for you automatically when you list your boat for sale, because the company has built-in digital marketing services that help listings reach the most appropriate audiences, which in turns results in high-quality leads (i.e. interested buyers inquiring about your boat).
What is the best site to sell a boat?
We’re going to recommend boats.com here since we offer some great selling options for boat owners, but of course there are a few other great options for selling your boat online as well. It all depends on what type of vessel you’re selling and the kind of boat buyer who would be most interested in purchasing that type of boat. For larger yachts, you may want to check out YachtWorld where many of the buyers are searching for luxurious, ocean-going yachts that can be used for a variety of commercial and recreational purposes from running their own fishing charter companies to trawling around the ICW or Great Loop. If you have a trailerable boat under 35 feet, both boats.com and BoatTrader (America's largest boating marketplace) are two great places to reach a mass audience of boaters of all levels and interests. Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the process or don’t have the time to manage it yourself, try hiring a professional yacht broker to sell your boat. These professionals will take a commission but they typically sell the boat for more money and tend to have a great network of well-qualified, interested boat and yacht buyers.
How much is my boat worth?
Many boaters ask the question “how much is my boat worth” when they’re considering selling it. This can be a tricky question to answer because there are so many variables to consider when assessing the value of a boat. These range from the most obvious, such as age and condition of the vessel, to things like add-ons, customizations, electronic equipment and gear as well as location and even season. A great place to start would be NADA guides to boat values, which is similar to the Kelly Blue Book value for cars.
Where can I sell my boat online for free?
There are many places to list your boat for sale online for free, although this is a type of advertising to be wary of. Yes, the price is nice, but as the saying goes “you get what you pay for”. Meaning, the quality of the leads won’t be as high as sites that specialize in boat sales and you’re bound to get a good amount of spam and so-called “tire-kickers” (i.e. people who waste your time, often for multiple on-site visits only to low-ball you some ridiculous offer and then disappear). Unfortunately that is a common occurrence on sites like craigslist and others. The top sites for listing your boat for sale are boats.com, BoatTrader and YachtWorld. Another great site if you need help with finalizing sales of your boat or yacht is YachtCloser.
How can I sell my boat quickly?
If you’re looking to sell your boat quickly, try setting the price to just below what you see most of the others in its class listed for in your location. Clean it thoroughly, take great on-the-water photos (this is key for grabbing attention online) and have it ready to show for when an interested buyer bites! Another recommendation would be to run a premium paid listing on one of the above websites, and make sure you target the type of keywords buyers would be looking for in your ad (location, boat brand, hull type, amenities, etc).
When is the best time of year to sell my boat?
Historically the best time to sell a boat is in the Spring, as many boaters are getting ready to get back out on the water. If you’re in warmer areas such as Florida and other parts of the South, you may find there are interested buyers during every season. However the best times to list your boat for sale are generally mid to late February up until late May or early June, as this time period sees the most boat sales. Of course, when you're selling a boat online you can reach interested buyers any time of the year.
How much does a boat broker charge?
How much does a boat broker charge? Generally a boat or yacht broker charges 10 percent of the purchase price for the sale of a vessel.
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on boats.com in May 2015, updated in November 2016 and March 2020.