How to Sell Your Boat

Tips for moving your boat in today's market -- fast!

October 6, 2008

RATES ARE LOW, THE SHOWS ARE coming up, and you’re drooling over that new boat tested by BOATING. The only thing standing in your way? Your old boat. If you can sell it quickly, you’ll have more cash and more negotiating power for your next deal. As a former dealership manager, I used to sell some 60 used boats — trade-in and brokerage models — per year. Not selling a boat meant not paying my mortgage, so I was motivated, to say the least. Here’s a baker’s dozen of pro tips to seal the deal…

Advertising Works. Place ads in the local boating press and the daily newspaper. If you have a large boat that was a limited edition model or a more customized yacht that buyers will likely travel far to see, use regional and national publications as well. Ads with photographs of your boat will draw more traffic. Rent space at some highway-side lot where hundreds of passersby can see it — at least more so than in your driveway. Also try Internet sites such as Craigslist (

Starting Points. Start the engine and warm it up an hour before a prospect comes to see the boat. A dead battery or balky start — even for an excellent engine — will turn a buyer off.


Waxing Poetic. Looks are important, so grab a can of Pledge. Spray-on furniture wax can be applied and wiped off quickly and easily. The gleam doesn’t last more than a day, but it’s perfect for the prospect who calls and says he’ll be by in an hour.

Empty Promise. Make sure the stowage areas in your boat are empty. You can then remark how spacious they are. It looks a lot better than having them jammed and overflowing with your gear.

Damage Control. Sure, if your boat is pristine, then you should get it detailed professionally. But if your boat is in just good-to-average condition, forget the fine points and focus on the more glaring blemishes. Remove the rust stains bleeding from fittings with compound, apply new tape over a shredded boot stripe, degrease the engine, and clean the bilge. Is the cabin musty? Place some air fresheners in hidden spots to add a bit more appeal.


Fogged Out. If your boat’s clear curtains are scratched or cloudy, remove them for the initial viewing.

Bottom Job. Is your boat’s bottom painted? A fresh coat will make it look sharp. Also, use spray paint to touch up your outboard or stern drive skegs where the paint has worn off.

Time to Test. Remove the canvas and stow everything ashore but the safety gear — you wouldn’t want to get caught short if the Coasties stopped you for a spot check. Go light on the fuel and water, too. Your boat will plane easier, handle more nimbly, and hit a faster top end. Limit the sea trial to the buyer only, for the same reasons. Also, having all his friends and family aboard will make the boat feel less roomy.


Bound for Glory. Have all title, registration, extended warranty, and, if available, service records on hand in a binder. It not only looks impressive but also makes you look organized and professional.

Real Numbers. Figure out your bottom-line price well in advance of meeting the first buyer. Don’t forget to tally the cost of advertising, storage, and maintenance, as well as the time you lose while your boat is for sale.

Gag Order. Do not reveal your bottom-line price on the phone to someone who hasn’t seen the boat. Before a buyer sees your boat, he or she has no emotional investment. Plus, buyers on the fence often have friends call as “new prospects” in an effort to trip you up.


Getting Paid. Cash is king. Checks are fine — once they clear. So-called bank checks are not as good as cash. All these do is certify that the buyer has the amount on account on the date of issue. Plus, they can be canceled as easily as a personal check.

Why? Why? Why? Buyers invariably ask why you’re selling. Well, for the money, stupid. But you can’t say that (or that you’re tired of tinkering with a boat without a warranty). The best answer? You’re looking for a change in lifestyle. Say you want to try cruising and can’t do it in an open boat, or your kids don’t go with you anymore so you don’t need a skiboat, or you don’t fish offshore anymore so you want to downsize.


More Uncategorized