February 1st 2018. By Alex Smith.

How to sell your boat

Selling your boat? Want the right price, a speedy sale and a trouble-free transaction? Then you need to get your boat, your paperwork and your approach in order.

Ready to sell your boat? Wondering whether to sell it yourself or to use a broker? Our essential guide will help you understand the selling process and decide whether to do it yourself or use a professional.

Chances are you love your boat or you wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. But if you want to sell it on at a good price and within a sensible time frame, you need to divorce yourself from the fond memories and look at it with fresh eyes. What are its merits? What are its flaws? How does it stand up to the market’s direct competition? And how could it look more appealing to a potential buyer? A proper plan of action and some targeted effort can pay big dividends.

Sell my boat

Whether you decide to use a broker or do it yourself, there are lots of things you can do to ensure your sale goes smoothly and your craft sells for the best price.

Selling your boat: a quick guide

1. Ensure it’s in tip-top condition, clean, sparkly and fresh-smelling with all those small jobs done.
2. Sort out the documentation including ownership documents, receipts and service histories and have it all easily available for buyers.
3. Pick the right place to advertise your boat.
4. Prepare your advert carefully, take flattering photos.
5. Set the right price.
6. Be prepared for sea trials and surveys.
7. Make sure you draw up a proper Bill of Sale.
8. If in doubt, use a broker – but make sure you do your research, interview several, examine their terms and conditions and pick one who specialises in your boat type.

Getting your boat ready for sale

Try to approach your boat as a potential buyer might. Look for anything that might give them cause to have doubts or lose confidence and then remedy it. Set aside a budget to help smarten up your boat and fix any issues – but think coolly and dispassionately. Only spend it on the things that are likely to bring a return at the point of sale.

Essentials include cleaning it thoroughly, bringing the servicing up to date and ensuring any safety and maintenance-related chores have been carried out. To appeal to the broadest range of people at the best price, it needs to be ready to use (rather than ready to work on) so check the anodes, the antifouling… all the essential maintenance items.

clutter-free saloon

A clean, clutter-free interior will present your yacht in the best light.

Preparing your advertisement

Before you even think of selling your boat, you should empty it of any personal gear. It may be very practical, but to a potential buyer it’s just a load of unpleasant clutter that taints the cleanliness of the boat and obscures the detail. Instead, make it look and feel special by understanding that you’re not just selling a piece of hardware; you’re selling a lifestyle. Think carefully about how the best boats tend to be exhibited at boat shows and follow suit. Make it as bright as you can; put a bottle of wine on the table and some fresh flowers in a vase; and instead of grabbing a hasty image of it in a marina car park or perched on silt at low water under a slate-grey February sky, put it somewhere attractive, wait for a beautiful day and conduct a photoshoot that makes people want to embrace the life your boat appears to provide.

Take serious care over the words and pictures in your advert. In a market with a great deal of choice, you need to make your boat more appealing than the competition. Be selective with your media outlets. There’s no value at all in paying good money to show off your boat to the wrong audience.

If you take a grainy snap of your boat on your phone and chuck some basic words at an ad, you’re not likely to get a great response or a rewarding price, so you need to present your boat in the best possible light.

Documentation

Organise your safety certificates and arrange, order and catalogue your receipts, compliance, registration and ownership documents in a specific folder. This will show the potential buyer what your boat is all about and also  give them the confidence that you’re the kind of fastidious owner whose boat is likely to serve them well.

Given how many boats require substantial finance (and how many used boats still have outstanding finance or associated debts attached to them), it is also very reassuring if you can provide a written document stating that your boat is free of such encumbrances. And if there is still finance on your boat, be upfront about that, so you can come to a sensible arrangement with your buyer and your lender to take charge of any outstanding commitments. It all helps you and the buyer feel good about the sale and avoid any acrimony or litigation further down the line.

Keep it realistic

Being realistic about your boat is very important. In a used boat transaction, the buyer essentially buys what he sees and has only limited redress if the ownership experience subsequently reveals any defects of which he was unaware. It therefore falls to the buyer to investigate your boat to the point where he’s happy with it. That usually involves a survey as well as a test drive, but from a legal as well as a moral perspective, it still falls to you as the seller to be as transparent as possible.

You’re not legally obliged to volunteer every piece of information in your initial ad, but when the buyer asks you questions about your boat, as he inevitably will, you are required to provide the most accurate answers you can. That can involve everything from information on the service history to the purchase and installation of upgrades, the type and extent of usage, the construction, the current condition and any repairs that have been undertaken. So it’s important that you’re as clued up as possible and that, when asked about the less perfect elements of your boat, you don’t misrepresent the facts.

Set the right price

It’s important to recognise that ‘priced to sell’ doesn’t have to mean cheap. On the contrary, almost as many people undervalue what they have as overvalue it, partly because they’re not sales professionals and partly because they are keen to secure a rapid deal in order to minimise expenses or to free up finance for another boat. But once your boat is ready to sell and you have a marketing package that brings its chief merits to life, you’re in a much better position to examine the market, find a suitable media outlet and set a plausible price – one that gives you room for negotiation and one in which you have confidence as the seller. A good broker or dealer will obviously be dialled into this proactive mindset as a matter of course, but if you’re selling privately, it pays to understand the need for a rigorous and professional approach right from the start. Read more about pricing a boat here.

Pay a proven professional

If your boat is over 30ft, or valuable, or you lack the time, the confidence or the inclination to dedicate yourself to selling it, you can always appoint a professional broker. A broker acts as your agent for a cut of the purchase price (typically around 10 per cent) – and while there is no legal protocol relating to training and qualifications in the UK, a good one can open up a range of markets, contacts and marketing platforms that you might not otherwise be able to access. In fact, while there are plenty of platforms that specialise in private boat sales, some media outlets are explicitly off limits to private sellers, preferring instead to deal with established professional brokers – so if you appoint one with a proven track record in representing boats like your own, the whole process can often become much quicker, easier and more lucrative.

Even so, as the seller, you need to work closely with your broker to ensure that he is in possession of all the relevant facts. If you don’t and the buyer turns out to be unhappy with the purchase, liability for that may rest with you rather than your broker. But communicate effectively with him and your broker will be in a position to advise on appropriate pricing, make recommendations on any improvements that might help your boat stand out from the crowd and identify media outlets that work particularly well for your boat type. He will also be able to help with ownership certificates, surveys, rectification works, post-survey negotiations, contracts, deposit processes and safe transition of funds. Of course, when a boat is quite modest in size and price, it’s still very common for the owner to oversee the process himself because the stakes are smaller and the transaction is relatively simplistic. But at the upper echelons of the industry, where a yacht needs high-profile exposure at specialist outlets, alongside the slick commercial know-how of a professional with real-time knowledge of the global markets, an experienced and well-connected broker is well worth the money. Read more about the advantages of using a broker here.

Negotiating a price

Expect to be involved in a negotiation regarding the actual purchase price, and remember that further reductions may be sought if the survey brings any new issues to light. Research other similar boats and try to get a feel for how healthy the market is, while deciding for yourself how keen you are to sell quickly or hold on in the hopes of achieving a higher price. Read our tips on negotiating a price here.

Sea trials and surveys

A serious buyer will usually want a sea trial and a pre-purchase survey. Be prepared for this and ready to facilitate your buyer’s and surveyor’s needs. A survey will obviously cost the buyer some money it’s a good sign of their serious intent, but remember that it could throw up problems that you may not be aware of yourself and may put the buyer off. Avoid, if possible, turning away interest from other potential buyers until the Bill of Sale is signed and the funds have been exchanged.

Bill of Sale

Once you have agreed a sale, draw up a Bill of Sale that confirms the agreed price, the nature of the sale and the change in ownership – and ensure that it stipulates your good faith in respect of the particulars at the time of sale and the buyer’s satisfaction that he is in possession of all the relevant facts. The RYA has some useful templates for this on its website.



Alex Smith is an ex-Naval officer, with extensive experience as a marine journalist, boat tester and magazine editor. Having raced as a Pilot in the National Thundercat Series and as a Navigator in the inaugural Red Sea RIB Rally, he has now settled in the West Country, where he lives and works as a specialist marine writer and photographer from his narrowboat in Bath.