The Ultimate Boat Seller’s Guide: How to Sell a Boat

how to sell a boat

Selling your boat is a big decision. If you’ve already got your next boat picked out, in many cases, you’ll have to part with the old one. Unfortunately, selling a boat can sometimes be a long process—but there are some tricks to follow to sell your boat fast.

Here are the basic steps to follow when selling your boat:

  1. Determine if you will sell the boat yourself or work with a broker or dealer.
  2. Make sure the boat looks and runs as well as possible.
  3. Research the listing price of similar boats, considering make, model, size, and age. 
  4. Decide on an asking price.
  5. Advertise your boat for sale.
  6. Show the boat and seal the deal.

How to Work with Boat Brokers and Dealers

If you want to sell your boat but don’t want to invest all the necessary time and effort, you can hire a professional boat broker or dealer. Or, you could trade in your boat if you buy a new one from a dealer who accepts trades.
Both options are more straightforward than selling a boat yourself, but both approaches have some challenges. Brokers will take a cut of the proceeds, and you rarely get top dollar on a trade-in.

Trade-In or Sell Your Boat: What Are Your Options?

selling your boat

How to Prepare a Boat For Sale

The amount of prep work you do to your boat will dramatically impact how much someone’s willing to pay for it. That means you’ll need to thoroughly clean the boat inside and out, wash it, and wax every inch of it. This includes cleaning areas out of sight, like stowage compartments under seats or the inside of a fish box.

If someone looks inside as they inspect the boat, you want them to see a neat, clean interior. Also, remove any extra gear that amounts to clutter. This will help the boat’s deck, cabin, and/or stowage compartments seem larger at first glance.

Naturally, a potential buyer will also be interested in a properly functioning boat. Fix any broken or malfunctioning equipment—especially powerplants (engine)—before attempting to sell the boat, or you can’t expect to get top dollar.

How to Price Your Boat

Once it’s cleaned and prepped, you need to nail down a reasonable asking price for your boat. You can start by checking the NADA guides. However, remember that the values they publish are estimates, at best.

The boat’s condition will significantly impact its value, which those guides can’t take into account. Therefore, you should look at listings for similar boats online, in magazines, and on boat broker websites.

Remember that the boat’s value will also be impacted by geography and may bring a higher price in areas where boats are in high demand but a lower price in areas where they aren’t.

The type of boating you’ve done also plays a role since boats used in freshwater tend to bring higher prices than those used in saltwater. Seasonality can affect boat pricing because many people are more apt to buy a boat in the spring than in the late fall or winter.

After you settle on a figure, remember that a boat’s only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. It may sit on the market for months if it is too high.  Since it can be hard to determine a value, some boat sellers list at a starting point and gauge the interest level for a month or so. Then they drop the asking price a few percent each week or month after that until a significant number of buyers begin to show interest.

how to advertise a boat for sale

How to Advertise a Boat For Sale

With the boat fully prepped and an asking price in mind, it’s time to generate some leads.
In this day and age, most people advertise their boats on several different websites that offer classifieds. Some are free, some aren’t, and all provide unpredictable results.

You may also want to advertise in a local paper or boating magazine. And don’t neglect the tried and true tactic of simply hanging a “For Sale” sign on the boat and placing it in a high-visibility area near a busy road or marina.

How to Show a Boat to Potential Buyers

When a prospective buyer contacts you, prepare to show them the boat and take them for a sea trial if they’re still interested after an initial viewing. 

It would help if you also were prepared to show them documents confirming legal ownership and the boat’s maintenance records. The most important thing during this stage is to remember that honesty is the best policy.

If you and a buyer reach an agreement, you should be prepared with all the legal paperwork to complete the transaction. This will vary by state (though, at the very least, it will involve signing over a title), and you should do the legwork ahead of time.

A buyer could change their mind after a handshake, but not after signatures and a financial transaction—so as the seller, it’s up to you to make the process as smooth and speedy as possible.

Once the sale has been made, your beloved old boat is off to its new home! Now you can turn your full attention to the more pressing issue—enjoying the brand-new boat you just bought!

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Editor’s Note: This article was updated in December 2022.