Tips For Selling Your Boat

Whether you’re ready to upgrade to a larger vessel, or still happily enjoying yours, the time will come to sell your boat. This is a road map to help you prepare your boat for sale. It helps to pay attention to these items for your own enjoyment now as well as more money in your pocket later.

First Impressions

Once you have made the decision to sell, a reasonable effort should be made to make her as attractive to a buyer as possible. If you have poured your heart and soul into your boat and she looks showroom new in all areas, congratulations and thank you–You are a broker’s dream and your boat will be a joy to show and sell. You should get top dollar, and you will deserve it.Buyers pay more money for clean well maintained boats. You are selling fun, and the buyers see fun when they don’t see flaws.

The BUC value system describes 6 condition levels with value percentages to be added or subtracted.

Bristol – Maintained in mint or bristol fashion-usually better than factory new-and loaded with extras-a rarity. +15-20%
Above Buc Condition – Has had above average care and equipped with extra electrical and electronic gear. +10-15%

BUC Condition – Ready for sale requiring no additional work and normally equipped for its size. No Adjustment

Fair – Requires usual maintenance to prepare for sale. –10 to 20%

Poor – Substantial yard work required and devoid of extras. – 25 to 50%

Restorable – Enough of hull and engine exists to restore the boat to useable condition. –50 to 80%

There can be quite a range in value depending on condition. Using BUC’s method, the same year boat could be worth $100,000 in Bristol condition or $20,000 in Restorable condition. Other factors such as Cleanliness, location, hours, color, weather, ease of showing, and merchandising, also play a role in value or perceived value.

Before you list your boat:

  • Clean, buff, wax exterior
  • Repair any damaged wood or surfaces
  • Wash all canvas and repair if necessary

Clean = Complete Absence Of Dirt

We love to hear the buyers comment on how clean the boat is. It is the first thing buyers notice and it sets the tone for a positive showing.

The first word in boat selling is CLEAN. Complete absence of dirt is the rule. “Clean boats sell and dirty boats smell.” Cleanliness of your boat greatly impacts the amount of money in your pocket. The car dealers will tell you how important this is. Think how you would feel about buying a car that had two weeks worth of dust on it. You probably would walk away– and so will your boat buyer.

Before you list your boat:

– You should clean the entire interior and exterior to the best of your ability. Windows are very important. If you only have time to do one thing before an unexpected showing, clean the windows.

  • Another important factor is the carpet. Cleaning the carpet is money well spent. Clean, thick carpet helps the boats appearance and overall smell.
  • Check your bilge. There is absolutely no reason to have oily water in your bilge. A clean, dry, and painted bilge is a sign of good maintenance and eliminates those deal-killing odors. A buyer will say, “If the owner doesn’t keep his boat clean, he probably doesn’t change the oil and no telling what else.” You can almost hear the offer going down or going out the dirty window.
  • Make sure the holding tank is empty and clean.
  • Pay attention to heads, icemakers, refrigerators, upholstery, stainless, varnish, and canvas. Make sure your waterways and drains are clear and free of obstruction. Lift the hatches and clean the waterways and drains. It is common to show what looks like a clean boat only to lift a hatch to see muddy, clogged up drains with 2 years worth of accumulated dirt and a hairball that would block interstate 40. Don’t let it happen to you.
  • Clean the Air Conditioning return air filters. It gives you better airflow and a cooler showing and eliminates another source of smell.
  •  In the galley, make sure the stove and oven are spotless. Empty the sink and mop the floor.

Make Sure It Works

Make sure all equipment on your boat works. If it doesn’t, a potential buyer will expect an allowance for new equipment or ask you to fix it. It is much easier and cheaper to fix everything before you list a boat than to pay to have it done later.  Once the boat is surveyed, chances are better for a sale if everything works. A buyer may have second thoughts if there is a long list of non-functioning items.

Before you list your boat:

  • Check all electronics and make sure they work.
  • Check all lights including cabin lights and navigation lights.
  •  Check air conditioning and refrigeration Check the return air filters on the air conditioning.
  • Check your engine room for fuel, oil, or water leaks.

Location And Presentation

Some boats sell better in some places than others. Some boats are better suited for lakes and rivers, and some are better suited for the ocean. It is important to market your boat in the places where she is best suited. Location also means where she is stored within the area. The nicer the marina the better. If you have to escort the buyer through dark dirty docks, spider webs, bird poop, the boat will not show as well. It affects the value to some extent and consideration should be given to re-locating if desired. On the other hand, if you escort the buyer through a beautiful yacht club setting, with new and clean docks, you are helping the deal.

Thought should be given to which way your boat is facing in the slip as well. Cockpit boats usually show better backed in the slip. It is easier to get on and off. Aft cabin boats look bigger backed in but if the view is better on the aft deck when she is bow in, then do that. Boats show better in the open. Getting natural light in the boat is a plus. If the buyer gives advanced notice, it is good to get the boat out of the slip in a nice open setting away from other boats. Take windshield covers off to let light in and give more of an open feeling.

It is most common for a buyer to call and say, “I’m on my way now”. They rarely give you time to do the last minute cleaning. That means the boat needs to be clean all the time. In the Southeast, in covered slips, that means cleaning twice a week and a minimum of once a week.

Hours on a boat are like miles on a car. Hours need to be considered in establishing value. A ten-year-old boat that has 200 hours is not a positive selling point. Too low time is viewed negatively because lack of use causes problems like dried out seals and locked up pumps. Sometimes you should take a low hour boat on a trip before putting it for sale. You will see where attention is needed and you bring the hours more in line with the age. The buyer feels better about the boat knowing it has been taken through the paces recently.

No matter what boat you think of, they made it in different colors and there is always one that is more popular. There are very few bad colors, but it can be a factor in attracting a buyer.

If it is 20 degrees outside, a buyer will not spend as much as if it were 85 degrees outside. The time of year and temperature effect value. We try to get to the boat early to turn on the air, but sometimes they don’t give you the time. There isn’t much you can do about it, just consider the conditions in your decisions. You may choose to move the boat to a different climate depending on the time of year.

Make it easy to show. Hide a key aboard. Instead of going through and turning lights on individually, consider marking key breakers that will turn on the things you want.

Buyers Want To Imagine The Boat As Theirs

All the things we’ve talked about are part of merchandising, but what I mean here is presentation.  Potential buyers want to imagine their items on your boat. They want to visualize storage space and where their items will go. I recommend removing everything you don’t want to sell. It speaks to clutter and your wallet. Empty cabinets of old food items, pots and pans, cleaning supplies, etc. It makes the storage spaces look bigger and easier to see. Remember to remove any paperwork that tells what you paid. Place maintenance logs where they will be found easily. Have your Coast Guard documentation and or registration up to date and available. Your boat manuals should be in one place.

We have a tendency to use the space we have and most of us are shocked to see how much stuff we have forgotten we have on board. When in doubt, take it out. If you can’t do without it, make a detailed exclusion list. The point is to try to avoid disputes about what goes and what stays. Make it clear and the sale is near.

The extra weight of your belongings is a significant factor. You want to do everything you can to make the boat perform to specs on the sea trial. You can loose buyers or get sore feelings if they feel they bought something they didn’t get. Set the table, arrange and fluff the pillows, make up the beds, and put out the flowers. Personal pictures having fun are helpful and they don’t expect you to leave them.

Preparing For The Survey

Once we’ve produced a contract, we will usually go through a survey where the buyer hires a professional surveyor to check out the boat. They go deep into the bilges and look for broken or outdated items. I recommend a pre survey at some time during the process, preferably at the time of the listing. If you’ve gone through hundreds of surveys, you know what they look for.

I like to go out on the boat and try to find what they are likely to see before they write it up and cost you money. It is better to take care of a problem before the survey. Buyers like to ask for you to pay for the worst case repair cost, or they want you to fix it fast which costs more and can delay the closing. All that can be avoided by a little up front preparation.

Free up frozen seacocks, clean flame arrestors, change Racor filters and clean bowls, Check for faulty wiring, replace light bulbs inside and out including nav lights. Replace cracked hoses, check batteries and water levels. Surveyors check to make sure the batteries are secure and the terminals are protected properly. Make sure your oils have less than 100 hours. Bring coolant levels up, test all bilge pumps, check electronics, tighten or replace packing, check the trim tabs, adjust throttles, repair gauges. Simply turn everything on and see if it works. If we do it at the beginning, it gives us time to address any concerns. There are Gremlins that live in your bilge and wait till the survey to jump out and break things. The purpose of the pre-sea trial is to find as many Gremlins as we can, and throw them overboard.

Find all the stuff that belongs to the boat that you took home and forgot about.

The fire extinguishing equipment and flares need to be in date. The hand held fire extinguishers need to be properly mounted. The life jackets, throwables, and first aid equipment should be clean and readily accessible.

Performance issues: Every motor or set of motors has a rated full throttle rpm. We need to know what that is and make sure the boat does it on the sea trial and gets the rated speed. Over time, we add weight with our stuff as addressed above. Props loose their shape, and bottoms get growth which is a big one. Hulls absorb water, engines get old, fuel goes bad, injectors clog, engines need tuning and so on. We usually do the haul out to check the bottom before the sea trial, so we can clean the bottom and check the hardware. Although, certain times of the year it is better to keep fuel tanks full, it is better to have tank levels at half or below for a survey.

Vibration: Buyers like smooth quiet running boats. Make sure your engine alignment is good, your props and shafts are true, and the engines are tuned before the survey.

Please don’t consider this a complete list of everything you need to do to be safe and get top dollar. It is merely a list of basic recommendations to help your boat sell.

If you are reading this and feeling overwhelmed, don’t let it get to you. Hardly anyone does all of this stuff. Most people let some things slide a little. Just consider that when you are selling. Buyers look at the selling price plus repairs as the real price they pay. You can effectively increase the selling price by paying attention to the basics.