You are a sailor, this article hopes to make you a marketeer. After you’ve read what we think here, please let us know in the comments below what other things are a smart idea when selling a boat. We appreciate all feedback and build it into our next edition of this article, with credits to the contributor.
It can be hard to sell a boat if you’ve no experience trading one. A 26 to 35-foot boat (approximately 8 to 11 metres) can take up to eight months to sell according to Yacht World.com. Larger vessels, including Superyachts, can sit on the market for about a year before a buyer is found. This waiting period can be excruciating, but the good thing is that if you follow some basics, you should get the best price.
A well-organised buyer will enter the market from late winter to early spring whilst many boats are out of the water. This gives them the opportunity to inspect the boat, check the market for other options, and snap up a bargain. Be ready for this sales window. Other sellers may not be so prepared, still mulling over whether they want to keep her for another season or slip her from her moorings. The competition is, therefore, less if you can prepare early. A selling point too will be that the new owner will have more of the sailing season to enjoy.
If you want to sell your boat then you must take decisive actions.
Remember why you bought the boat way back when, the dreams you had, and the pleasure you have enjoyed. Your buyer will no doubt come with similar hopes. A boat is a significant investment that’s bought with a mix of emotion and logic. A buyer has to love your boat as theirs in order to buy it, but they must also find it an acceptable price against the market. Help relax the tension and fulfil the excitement with a good impression.
The time taken to sell your boat can cause a huge dilemma if your next step in life depends upon this sale. Days and weeks when you could be enjoying your next boat, house purchase, holiday or other pleasure are put on-hold subject to releasing the cash from the boat.
Make Your Boat Shine
To maximise the sales price, you will need to address the most scrutinising buyers. While you can choose to sell your boat as-is, it may not look it’s best, especially if you laid her up, evacuated from the last trip and left her in the cold of winter.
Buyers typically look for boats that are ready to take on a trip, after all they may have to sail her to a new homeport. The dream would be quenched if a buyer sees a month or more of hard labour ahead. No one wants to spend money on repairs and little interest will be shown in a boat that looks beaten (except, see ‘project boat’ below). Wise buyers typically ask to see maintenance records, including receipts to substantiate the records. Such evidence will help support a sales price.
A good thing is during the winter months you will find maintenance engineers and services much easier to hire and get their best attention, and price.
Some buyers are looking for a ‘project’ i.e. a tired boat or part-wreck that needs work. However, this article is not for sellers of such boats. Still, a half-day scrubbing outside and wiping inside likely has a worthwhile cost vs. benefit return. Such projects are the attraction to such buyers. They enjoy bringing boats to life; potentially the deader, the better. Look for such buyers if you have a boat sitting idle for years. Some online boat sites categorise and highlight such boats.
Remove clutter and clean every corner. Clean under every corner, in every locker. Allow the potential buyers to imagine without visible or mental obstruction that they are the one sitting at the dining area, sleeping on the bunk, and enjoying the flowing heated waters from the pumped shower head. Elements that make your boat feel like home may not be of any value to the buyer. Remove plants, nautical sculptures, throw-pillows, personal items. Your goal should be to return her to showroom condition as far as reasonably cost-efficient.
Wise buyers will check below decks in the bilge for evidence of flooding, so ensure you have not even minor leaks from outside or inside. Wipe out the bilge as clean as possible especially if there is or was sea life inside rather than outside. Minor rusting on keel bolts/ nuts can be easily brushed with a wire brush and a drop of oil used to polish and thereby show such key areas in their best condition.
Now for the bigger stuff. Take care of mechanical issues such as a sputtering or overheating engines. Dead batteries too might end the show if no electrics or engine tests can be run. Frayed pulley belts indicate a lack of maintenance and are relatively cheap to address.
Maintenance issues should be dealt with or declared, ideally. To remove these concerns of safety and running costs, ensure you highlight when sails, rigging, engines, and other expensive or critical items were last maintained, replaced, or serviced.
Above and on-deck pay attention to stress indications in the surface around stanchion bases. Rigging, and anchor chains should all be in good condition and corrosion-free.
When a boat goes wrong, it can leave the occupants, not at the side of a road but, 200 miles from shore, 20 hours from help, or worse, heading 200 metres below the surface. Safety concerns will be, at least, on the back of the mind of a buyer.
A sensible boat buyer will commission a professional boat survey to gain an expert and second opinion of your boat. Be prepared for this analysis to be done and the delay it might cause to the sale.
Get (Good) Photos and Videos
As marketers will know, you are not actually selling a boat, you are selling a lifestyle, fresh air, access to the world, hours of enjoyment with friends and family. We buy with the heart. The boat is just the thing that aids these activities. I recently met a seller and his partner who were giving up sailing to buy two e-bikes. Clearly they saw e-bikes as delivering all these things too.
‘Good’ means in focus, well lite, and formed. It is not necessary to create a photo documentary of every piece of the boat and be detrimental to the imagination of the buyer. an ideal number of photos is somewhere between 10 and 20 (see pop out for suggestions). There’s no need to make it a photographic audit of every nook and cranny – quality over quantity. The purpose of the photos is only to encourage contact and get a viewing booked. The purpose of viewing is to encourage an offer. Make sure to include some on-the-water clicks and people having fun on the boat. It improves the image of the boat and helps sell the lifestyle and pleasures the boat has to offer.
After your spring clean, take photos of:
- A cabin layout as well as above decks layout to help the buyer understand the overview. Label clearly the major parts of the layout without excess e.g. Cabin 1, Cabin 2, Galley, Dining is enough unless it’s a large boat. No need to label lockers.
- The bow from below, to highlight the power.
- The helm to highlight the control, safety, and operations.
- The galley where those waterborne meals, BBQs, and nibbles will be sourced.
- The whole boat from one side.
- The boat from above looking down from the mast, if it’s a sailing yacht.
- The boat in the water highlighting its purpose.
- Each and every berth, and ideally dressed in neutral bedding, or simply covered in a tucked sheet.
- The chart table/ control station with a single nautical almanac perhaps (but not a desperate-looking bundle of maps and bits).
- The sink and shower facilities, but avoid ugly toilets in the shot, and, again, remove clutter such as toiletries.
- The outside dining and cockpit area.
- The keel bolt heads to highlight you know these things matter.
- The engine to highlight you have cared for it.
- A surfboard on deck, a fishing rod waiting for a catch, a (clean) BBQ grill and a couple of fine beers or bottle of chilled wine for scale.
- A video walk-through, steady and slow without labouring on any particular item, widescreen not portrait. We are talking ‘spacious’ not ‘narrow’.
Do not use photos:
- Which are out-of-focus, or with dull lighting.
- Of bundles of wires.
- Lockers containing your junk.
- Lockers that are anything but empty so the potential buyer can imagine their own possessions in place.
- Multiple photos of the same minor item.
- Damage of any form unless this is some aspect of the sale e.g. “I’m selling the boat because she needs a new XYZ, but I’d rather take the opportunity to up-size/ down-size etc” is an honest and fair reason.
- To hide nor deceive obvious issues.
- To show obvious issues.
- Of minor aspects e.g. however proud you may be of your self-installed mast steps, these will unlikely be the reason for purchase.
- Show the best aspects; the heads’ sink and shower make a more pleasant shot than the toilet bowl especially the unattractive ones in many everyday yachts.
- Dehumidifiers in the shot. They cause concern for the atmosphere and possible damp or leaks in the boat even before anyone steps onboard even though they are something a caring boat owner would employ to protect the boat.
In short, pick up a new boat builder’s sales brochure and see how they do it. Each photo should add to the impression, not dilute the other photos.
What else would you suggest, why, and how does it support getting the call and booking the viewing?
Issues may best be noted so that potential buyers can make their own assessment; a photo might things look worse than reality or raise thoughts that detract from the dream.
“The first rule of show business: leave them wanting more!”
However, make sure not to oversell your boat. All photos must be up-to-date and accurate. The original manufacturer’s photos are only appropriate for them to use. You do not want to make the buyer over-excited before a visit. The key lies in generating curiosity by using images that inspire. Exceed expectations upon viewing rather than a big flop into reality.
Design a Kickass Ad
An ad will have to contain more than just photos and videos. Buyers look for boats with a history. Create a campaign that talks to the reader. In a sentence or two, highlight how important the boat is to you and how it has helped you over the years e.g. “My family and I have enjoyed exploring the area around XYZ, and entertaining friends on board”. Cover where it sailed e.g. Atlantic Crossings, famous coastlines, beautiful isolated bays.
If there are just one or two owners, be sure to mention this. Otherwise, highlight more annual servicing and maintenance.
The ad should contain all the necessary information and should be written in a crisp concise manner. Use categories such as specification, brand, and model, accommodation, sail and power, safety, and other such as space for toys and entertainment.
A great technique I marketing is to write a description in fifty words, then reduce this down to five. These five words become the focus. Honestly, most potential buys will read the headline and begin to read the paragraph then spot check some detailed specification, so no need to be verbose. “15m Oyster coastal cruiser 4-cabins” is already a good headline even if it breaks the five-word target. The point being, the more words that occupy the page, the more they compete with the reader’s eye.
Come Up With the Right Asking Price
This is the most important factor because buyers will not show interest in a product that looks overpriced. Buyers search by price and this might be twenty-five to fifty per cent over budget hoping to snag a bargain, but the more your price is outside this range, the less your boat will appear on their radar. Similarly, selling a boat far below the market value may raise concerns. You need to know the market value. This value needs to be the market value and not your own emotional value. The sweet price is probably the market price plus ten to fifteen per cent for the exact same boat; this allows some room for negotiation, to offer a ‘deal’, and does not sail off the horizon off the radar of too many buyers. There is an upper range to the market value, no matter what you might have done to improve a boat. Just like in housing sales, having the best boat on the (street) marina will help the sale of other boats and drag yours down. Research the market and find the right asking price. It is difficult because new boats are factory fitted with highly variable degrees of equipment, and after not many years, the specification improves and degrades with each owner. It is difficult to compare even boats of the exact age and model with each other since some items of equipment and their upkeep has a major effect on the value e.g. radar, racing sails, solar power, electric engines even, are all expensive if well maintained or liability if poorly managed. This is where your introductory paragraph and photos will help sell these enhancements to their fullest; or, as a counterpoint, weak photos or of minor aspects will undoubtedly reduce the impact.
Some sellers might opt for a survey but that’s not the only option to come up with a price. Ask a broker, or three. You can try online boat price checkers from BoatTrader, NADA Guides and browse boat marketplace sites and note what prices dealers and advertisers are quoting for similar boats. You could work from industry data that shows depreciation for different boats. Like most other things, a boat begins to depreciate the moment it leaves the dealers hands.
How much a boat depreciates depends on a variety of factors including the type of boat. Some drop like a rock. Here’s a small breakdown below, but this does not tally with other views that state “a new boat will lose twenty to twenty-five per cent of its value in the first month, ten to fifteen per cent each year thereafter.” You will need to distil a variety of views, one of which might be your own reasons and keenness to sell.
An often mouthed benchmark is that the average boat owner spends about ten per cent of the boat’s cost on yearly maintenance (according to Bloomberg). Appreciate this concern of all buyers. They won’t want their first year to cost them twenty per cent. The total cost of ownership that should be on the mind of the informed buyer is the purchase costs, the depreciation in the value, the maintenance costs, any financing costs, the running costs, and the lost opportunity or interest that cash could have made sitting in the bank. It adds up to a hefty bill.
Make Sure You Have the Required Documents
Gather all the required documents early to ensure there’s no delay in the sale. You will need:
- Builders Certificate
- Bills of sale
- Registration documentation
- The original invoice for tax purposes
- Evidence of compliance (RCD)
- Invoice copies, Manuals & warranties for every piece of equipment
- Service Record
- Receipts of every maintenance & service performed (neatly organised)
Not all of these documents may be necessary but a buyer may demand to see them.
Where to Sell Your Boat
You can either sell a boat on your own or hire a professional. Remember that selling a boat is usually a local, national, or at most a neighbouring close country transaction. Even if you are selling online or through an agent, you may have to meet the buyer to finalise the deal, provide a handover instruction.
Hire a Broker?
Hiring a (good) broker offers peace of mind, it seems. They’ll charge you a commission – between three and six per cent (reference: wiki-pedeia) in most cases – if they have buyers waiting then it’s usually worth the money and can help you sell faster; otherwise, you are all in the same boat, so to speak, and need to engage the open market. Plus, they can be of great assistance during the process.
When you work with a broker, you will not have to worry about creating ads, finding the right price, or showing the boat to visitors. They should provide these tips on how to sell your boat faster and make the process pleasant. However, you probably will still have to explain the boat, it’s history, and handle offers. In doing that once to a broker, it’s not a great deal to have to repeat it for potential buyers. You might also change brokers so will end up repeating the same information for them.
Check how your broker responds to buyers; give them or get a friend to call them as a ‘secret shopper’ to see how they handle appointments, descriptions, and further information. See how they react to cheeky questions as to whether the seller would accept an offer. Do this before you contract with them, and whilst they represent your boat. Ideally get reviews from fellow sailors who can recommend brokers they have experience of. Negotiations are a fine game of matching needs with offers. You can expect a professional broker demonstrates professional negotiation to your advantage beyond which you could achieve yourself. In other words, their involvement should more than cover their fee.
You can try to sell your boat on your own if you do not wish to pay commission. Just as with housing sales (in the UK), there’s no legal requirement for a solicitor, and sales contracts are standardised. Buyers will need to make their own enquiries. One of the best ways to find a buyer is to advertise on online marketplaces, which is where brokers go too:
- Apollo Duck
Advertising is charged in one to three month periods generally, and varies greatly from FREE to £7.50 to as much as £105 for a 30-day period with varying degrees of service, promotion and limits on the numbers of media (photos and video links). Based on our review of a major UK and a major USA online broker the price-per-day ranges from FREE to £0.25 to £3.37 depending on duration and current foreign exchange rates. Some marketplaces also require sellers to get in touch to discuss options and prices; we will update this analysis as we learn more. Our platform is newly design, modern, and designed to make this very easy for you, and allow enquirers too to easily get directly in touch quickly.
For cheaper boats and to appear amongst everything non-boat related too:
- eBay for cheaper boats
Put yourself in a buyer’s shoes and test these online marketplaces for ease of use, load speed, ability to quickly filter the thousands of ads, contact the advertisers, and usability on the screen of the ubiquitous mobile phone. It’s not so much about being on the biggest site, but being accessible.
To Auction or Not to Auction?
The trend to auction is on the rise these days. It helps create demand and drives the best price. Engaged buyers, with serious intent, are exactly what you want, rather than summer months of time wasters pocking around your boat. Auctions are worth serious consideration for the benefits they offer. Auctions might be virtual rather than in one physical location, and likely span a number of days or weeks to allow submissions. What is sure is there is a deadline to an auction, which is more than can be said of an ad in a broker’s window. We human beings are known to respond more to the threat of losing something than the chance to gain. The time limits on an auction sale encourage this desire to not-lose-out. Someone else will get your boat if they don’t decide, and progress.
Be Ready to Offer Viewings and Sea Trials
Almost no one is going to buy a boat without viewing it. Some buyers, if they are wise should request a sea trial so be prepared make sure to be prepared. The dilemma is a boat really needs to be seen both in the water to see how it sails and out of the water to check the below-the-waterline areas.
Be ready to explain any obvious points of concern. Boats suffer stress that is invisible so it’s not easy to be up-front. Also, if there are items on the boat that are not a part of the deal then mention it to your potential buyer or just remove them.
Can We Negotiate?
Negotiations are common and expected. It’s generally a buyer’s market so every lick and polish can help. Buyers will always try to bring the price down, and there may be ‘crazy’ or apparently insulting offers. Ask for some rationale to the offer; you may find the offer backtracks and concedes to something more attractive. This is why we suggest listing the boat a little higher (ten to twenty per cent) than your acceptable price to make room for negotiations. It is common to see price drops of twenty per cent. If your price is way too high, you help sell the better value boats whilst yours develops a reputation for having issues.
Just as with an auction, you can also let your dealer know your minimum acceptable price and he or she can negotiate on your behalf, but beware, they may not always try their best because the difference in their three to six per cent is a small actual value whereas it’s obviously ten to thirty times more to you. A sale is better than no sale, and so a broker will quickly lean towards achieving that. You should furnish them with your honest views therefore and not delude yourself of their ability to break all market records with excessive expectations.
It can take a while to prepare a boat, especially if it needs repairs. You will have to spend a fair amount of time on advertising, entertaining viewings, negotiating with buyers, and managing documents and funds transfers. Rough estimates and typical time scales are:
- Preparation & update maintenance: a weekend to 1-2 months
- Spring clean: a weekend
- Collate documents and prepare or review advertising: 1 – 7 days
- Advertising & managing enquiries: Many weeks
- Sea trial & survey: 1-3 weeks
- Finance transfer: 1 – 10 days
- After-sales handover, and any early ownership support to the new owner: 1 day to a few weeks depending on you
Here’s all that in summary:
- Prepare boat – maintenance due, and repairs
- Prepare boat – spring clean
- Prepare documentation
- Get photos, video, and text
- Review brokers
- Review the marketplace and prices.
- Know how realistic your price is and your strategy. Establish a high and low value for your boat
- Advertise (self, broker, auction, a mixture or all)
- Make time for questions, enquiries, viewings and sea trials
- Negotiate the price and finalise the deal
- Hand it over, possibly with a mini-training session
- Be ready to answer a few questions for a few weeks afterwards to aid the new owner.
I hope these tips will help you sell your boat faster and for the best price. Let me know your views of the above, would be very useful to share best practise further with our community.
So, thank you for reading this. Please let us know in the comments below what other things are a smart idea when selling a boat. We appreciate all feedback and build it into our next edition of this article, with credits to the contributor.