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The Essential Guide to Selling your Boat Online

There are plenty of reasons why someone decides it's time to sell their current boat. Most boat owners are looking to move on to something new, more often larger than before, or a boat that suits the family better. For others, it can be less of a happy occasion and forced to sell due to unforeseen circumstances. Whichever the reason to sell, it is crucial that it’s done properly. 
We have decades of experience in assisting online boat sales and have created this guide from our expertise to ensure a fast and easy exchange for all. This guide breaks down the selling journey into the following seven core sections. Click on the link below that describes where you are in the process to prepare for your next step. 
Sections of the guide
  1. Preparing your boat for sale
  2. Creating your advert
  3. Packages to be seen
  4. Responding to enquiries
  5. Preparing for viewings
  6. Sea trials and Surveys
  7. Making the sale


Preparing your boat for sale

Before you can think about selling your boat, you need to prepare your boat correctly for sale. Unless you are selling a project boat, the condition should be brought up to the level you, yourself would be impressed by as the auspicious buyer.

Turn-key ready
If you are serious about selling your boat and there are any mechanical issues or parts that need replacing, do it straight away. It is always worth the investment as soon as you can to right any wrongs. Issues will only be found out eventually in the survey and sea trial. Suppose something relatively obvious is detected. In that case, this will rightly put off potential buyers from doing business with you. It could cost you more in the long run for keeping it longer than anticipated or reduce your asking price dramatically. 
Key areas to revamp:
  • Get your engine serviced if it hasn’t already had one in the last year with papers.
  • Replace any rigging or constant-use equipment that is near a decade old.
  • Make sure your electrics and plumbing are sound. If in doubt, replace.
  • Fix any cosmetic issues, both interior and exterior that could be brought up in viewing.
  • Check additional extras in the sale - trailer, tender, safety equipment and spares.
Squeaky clean
Boats grounded on low tide
There is nothing more depressing and off-putting as a buyer than a boat that looks neglected and poorly maintained. Many of us are guilty at times for being slack. It isn’t easy; it’s time-consuming, and not always enjoyable, but necessary. You might think you only judge the areas ‘that matter’ and therefore think most other boat owners think the same. You’re misguided, they are judging. We buy with our eyes and preventing damage from the marine environment is all about keeping surfaces spotless and protected.
When selling your boat, compare yourself with that meticulous owner in the marina. The one working on their boat obsessively when you leave and come back after a weekend away. If she looks showroom quality, the pictures and first impressions influence your listing being above other similar boats for sale in their minds; even those not as old and with more desirable inventories. Cleanliness can be enough to sway decisions due to knowing everything is in good order and seemingly a sign of who has kept up regular maintenance better over the years. Not only this, but it’s the single most cost-effective way of retaining value and receiving the best price for your craft. 
Spruce Checklist:
  • Sails/cover/canopy/upholstery. Make sure all fabrics have been scrubbed stain-free and have been re-waterproofed.
  • Recent antifoul and polish. Any hull can do with this added shiny benefit for a quick sale.
  • Refurbish teak decking. Clean softly, repair any damaged caulking or sanding if necessary and apply a protective sealer.
  • Spotless stainless steel. All metal should be rust-free and properly washed for a mirror finish.
  • Boat show interior. Hoover the inside and thoroughly deep clean - no different to selling a property.
  • Engine/Engine room needs to impress. Pictures, samples and prying eyes will be looking over this area, so you must wipe away all dirt and residue. If you have an old diesel engine with good access, a degrease, rust remover and fresh paint can have your engine looking brand new.
Anything that needs doing that is out of your remit can be worth its weight in gold paying a professional to undertake. In most cases, you can do it yourself, which is only more profit in the eventual sale.
A listed boat needs to look as un-lived in as possible. Hopefully, everything that isn’t included in the sale has already been removed from the boat at this stage.
Hallberg rassy interior photo
All too often once the listed boat has had a makeover, the owners might still head out for one last hurrah. Or worse, the children have gone and spent a night onboard while they still can. Just make sure this doesn’t happen the night before a viewing - although it wouldn’t be a first!

Creating your Advert

Now that your boat is looking the part and you’re wondering whether or not to keep her, this is precisely the right time to take some photos. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, could be a dinghy tender or a 40m yacht, you need to display your listing in the best light possible.
When it comes to compiling images and videos for an advert, the more, the merrier. Including old pictures and layout plans are a welcomed sight to the viewer, but we always recommend that you take fresh, updated photos alongside these. They need to be in focus showing every layout area and equipment included in the sale. Adverts with videos and plenty of images receive 7x more views and enquiries on average than those with 1-3 poorly taken photos. 
Don’t have a DSLR camera or similar? Don’t worry, the camera on your smartphone will easily do the job. When taking photos with your phone, make sure the phone is held landscape (horizontal in your hands) and position yourself as far back to fit in as much as you can with each photo. If you are taking pictures of the interior, push yourself right up against the side to best capture the space. 

"Adverts with videos and plenty of images receive 7x more views and enquiries on average"

Choosing the right day and time take pictures helps. The weather doesn’t apply as much if you are selling a small fishing boat or RIB trailered on your driveway; be sure that they are coming out clear - not too dark or bright. For those selling a boat with cabin space, however, pick a nice sunny day. All of your elbow grease and hard work in the previous section can’t be let down by lazy, dark and dingy cabin photos. Start snapping when the sun is shining at the right angle through the portholes, filling your boat with beams of natural light. Sometimes this might be on a crisp morning or late afternoon. You know when you enjoyed being on your boat most, capture those times and sell the dream. 
Smartphone camera taking a photo of a yacht
If you can, launching the boat out on the water for some pictures is vital too. Find a nice quiet anchorage, away from the marina and distractions. Hop in the tender and take some attention-grabbing photos or drone footage if you have one. 
To go the extra mile, filming your boat under sail or steam is an excellent way of genuinely showing how she moves through the water. (This gives your advert more chance of being shared on social media too)!
Price Point
Perhaps the most crucial part of your boat listing and at times the most difficult. Of course, we would all like to get a fair, lucky price for our pride and joy, but it’s essential to remain realistic and avoid emotions swaying you on this decision.
The price for many used boats for sale can be a complicated answer to work out. More often than not, the seller isn’t going to like the correct answer, but it’s important to remember these are boats, not property or antique works of art, no matter how much blood, sweat and money has gone into it.
What is essential to consider, is the potential speed of sale and ongoing costs you incur the longer the boat is in your possession. If you are happy to keep using, maintaining and updating your craft until it is sold, then the costs are at least weighed against your enjoyment of still getting out on the water regularly. 
For some boat owners, these same costs are ticking over, but they’re unable to use their boat anymore. When there's no interest, this can be a terrible position to find yourself. The other issue with an inactive boat is that it’s not kind to the boat. Lying idle is damaging to engines, electronics and all manner of parts, all the while she most likely isn’t getting as much care and regular servicing as is needed. This is where the low engine hours might be appealing on paper, but the other side to that story is very displeasing. So the once favourite asset of your life is now a draining leach, slowly becoming less valuable and more expensive to turn back the clock to where you were at the start of the selling journey. Don’t despair; this doesn’t have to be your living nightmare. We pride ourselves on helping boaters to get out of this predicament effectively. Follow this guide, make use of our advertising, be realistic, be proactive, and all will be fine.

"You can do everything right in this guide, but the price could be what’s stopping your boat from being sold."

A good starting point to gauge the market if you’re unsure where to price your boat is to browse other similar boats for sale. Find those that are a similar model, length class, commission year and specification. We have selling price data available in our Guide Price Tool to see boats that have been listed and sold. If your boat model is not available or not sold in a recent enough year, try a Google search for your particular boat model. The results might bring up archived listings that have already sold in the past. Be wary of trawling similar boat listings that are still active and don’t let this inflate your estimation. There are a plethora of overestimated boats online. The boats that aren’t overpriced are no longer there to see, keep this in mind.
Use this browsing exercise as a guide, and you will eventually notice the price difference of listings that don’t hang around compared with boats that stay on our site and other boat marketplaces for some years. Quite often, there isn’t much in it. Especially if you’re looking to upgrade to a newer or larger boat, as mentioned, that slight drop in asking price might end up saving you money in the long run and leave you with more to spend on your next venture.
The arrangement of the seller’s circumstances, the location of the boat and the type of boat will all have an impact on the price and how firm the seller might be on their asking price. Despite this, we would always recommend being open to offers and allowing a margin for these enquiries. It can make or break the sale if you advertise at the mid-to-low or further towards the higher-end of your asking margin. You have less to lose advertising at the lower end, preventing potential buyers being deterred and losing out on the right buyer who has gone elsewhere. You can do everything right in this guide, but the price could be what’s stopping your boat from being sold.
If you would like some further valuation advice, seek out your local broker or surveyor for a valuation survey. You can find our list of brokers in our directory, search the businesses local to you that specialises in your type of boat. You could get a second opinion from posting a query on our Facebook group or forums to make sure you’re in the right ballpark.
Building Your Ad
One of the best ways to sell your boat is by doing it yourself online. This way, you have full control. All enquiries come through to you personally, and developments in the sale can move quickly at the pace that suits you. Over the decades, we have assisted thousands of boaters to sell and buy all things marine. Take a look at some of our testimonials to hear what our community have had to say.
Review left by a happy customer
Placing an ad on our website is so easy. After you’ve done it once and seen how it looks, you can go back and add more information and media to refine your listing. Once you’ve finished, sit back and watch the enquiries come flooding in. 
But what makes a good listing?
Title - All titles for adverts should be the manufacturer and model type. If you are selling an unknown make or canal boat, you can put the name of the boat and the type or length. 
Description - The headline sentence or two will be formatted in bold font and should be the main strapline for what you are selling. Keep this snappy and cherry-pick the most impressive details in a nutshell.
Follow this with a paragraph of details and history of the boat. Start from the beginning of your knowledge, include everything you would want to know or did wish to find out when you were buying the boat. Cover all recent work, additions, engine hours and any other factors that should shed light on the boat’s condition. 
Extra Comments - If you wish, writing an extra ‘owner’s comments’ section can help your ad sell. People buy people and showing some personality, and added value is key to a swift selling ad.
You can write about what you have done on your boat, where you have gone during your ownership and the reason you are selling. Include extra insights that couldn’t possibly be in any one-day boat test article. Giving a frank and personal account of what you loved most about the boat and perhaps what you weren’t so keen on, but got around/modified, builds a lot of trust between you and the interested buyer. These pockets of knowledge help turn slightly interested parties, into those that will want to get in touch right away, so it’s worth considering.
Specification - List everything included in the sale. Mention the details of recent servicing, if receipts or evidence can be provided put this next to the relevant area, along with the dates of any newly installed equipment. 
To show up in the listings when people filter their searches, you need to fill out as many of the spec boxes as you can. Even if it seems obvious or you have already mentioned it, fill out all boxes that apply, from the hull material, draft, steering and so on to the best of your knowledge.

Packages to be seen

Our website is one of the best in the UK and Europe in terms of the engaged number of boaters that browse our listings, so you can be sure even your free ad will grab some attention. Other boats for sale websites have high levels of traffic to their site also, but lack relevancy, particularly for British and Irish sellers; with most of their traffic spanning countries across the globe too far afield. 
Unless the right type of viewer is looking at your boat, it won’t receive many enquiries, and it only takes one to buy the boat. Making sure the right eyes see every new listing is where we excel, which is why over 20,000 messages and enquiries are made through our site every month. If you have placed a free ad with us, followed best practices and not received the levels of interest you had hoped, some paid options will put you in front of serious buyers. 

Best Performers

Elite Ads: 10x more views & 5x more enquiries than a standard ad
To give your advert the best chance, the Elite package for just £40 is a no-brainer.
Featured elite adverts
  • Your ad is highlighted within the listings pages at the top and features on the homepage.
  • You can include videos within your advert and boost your ad to the top of listings once each day for three months!
Category of the Week: 10x more views and 10x more enquiries than a standard ad
Be seen by those who are actively looking for your type of boat. 
Category ad of the week
  • This placement is one of the most effective, right at the top of the page. 
  • For seven days your listing is the first ad everyone sees searching within that subcategory.
Ad of the Week: 20x more views and 8x more enquires than a standard ad
Best suited to maximise the most amount of views possible!
Ad of the week
  • For seven days your listing is hosted on the top of our homepage. Over 70,000 people view this page every month, so you’re guaranteed exposure to our audience.
Why not start a new advert today? We also offer a host of other advertising solutions for our business customers. If you would like to find out more, click here.

Responding to Enquiries

Hopefully, at this stage, your ad is managing to attract interest, but not many are proving fruitful to become serious contenders just yet. It’s important to keep vigilant and organised when communicating with enquirers so that you don’t miss out on any opportunities.

Beware of Scammers & Time-wasters

It’s not only boat buyers that need to be wary of scammers online, but there are fraudulent people out there looking to take advantage of sellers also. Some will try their luck at luring people to give them their bank details or mooring security to try and steal from them, so it is worth being careful. In any case, you shouldn’t give away any precious information over the phone or online for anything. Most likely they won’t want to progress far with the sale in the custom of agreeing on a price subject to survey and sea trial but ask about money transfer options straight off the bat.

Time-wasters, on the other hand, are harder to discern. To keep track of who is who, making a note of each enquirer can help. Be careful not to wrongfully judge and put all of your eggs into one basket on who you think is most likely to buy. Make time for everyone, especially those that are keen to set up a meeting or a phone call to organise a viewing. If they are not interested in either, they can go to the bottom of the pile. 

A seasoned seller can usually pick out a serious buyer, who will ask further specifics on the condition, systems of the boat and ownership history. Suppose you have constructed a defined advert as described in the previous section. In that case, the queries should be more specific and prevent you from being bombarded with messages asking for more photos and basic dimensions. Despite this, people will have skimmed your advert, and serious buyers will still ask to make sure. If you don’t know every detail off by heart, being organised with a spec highlight sheet can make it easier for you to get back to people quickly and means you can send a copy to any serious responses.

Encourage a survey

When speaking with potential buyers, always be honest, give as much information about the boat as possible and show confidence, encouraging surveys and sea trials. Be polite and professional and make sure that you ask some questions too. Ask about their deal-breakers and how and where they wish to use their next boat. Knowing popular reasons why people are looking at boats like yours can give you ideas for extra benefits to add to your listing.


Preparing for viewings

Well before your viewing make sure the boat is in order and running fine, so there are no nasty surprises on the day. Be prepared for what they might ask, anticipate offers, concerns and remember what you found out about the potential buyer so you can tailor the viewing to them.


Make sure you have all relevant paperwork with you to evidence, so you don’t stall a possible sale any longer. This should include the bill of sale for proof of ownership and registration, RCD or BSS certificate if applicable and any warranty/maintenance records and invoices you have.


Surveys and Sea Trials

Canal boat hull being surveyed

After an initial viewing, the buyer, in most cases, will want a professional opinion to back up their offer. The surveyor will produce a full pre-purchase survey on the condition of the vessel and a sea trial, which is where the buyer can see how she handles, and an engineer might run some tests on the engine and mechanics out on the water. The price for this is usually (but not always) covered by the buyer.
To prevent your time being wasted by someone not serious enough, the seller can take a deposit. Usually, the cost of launching, lifting, fuel, and an accompanying captain is paid for by the buyer with a deposit, roughly 10% of the asking price agreed in writing. The deposit can be claimed back if there is anything wrong or unexpected that comes from the survey or sea trial, but ensures they’re not merely taking your boat out for a spin. In certain circumstances, this ‘10%’ deposit may not be necessary, and the intent from the buyer will be apparent due to the distance they are travelling and money they are paying for external professionals to assist them.
During the sea trial, show them how she performs around your local waters and let them take the helm, but make sure you are always watchful and on-hand. You are the liable one for any accident or damage. Depending on the situation, any remedial work needed resulting from the survey/sea trial can be joint-paid for by both parties or adjusted in the price. If all goes well, the final negotiations will take place, but more often than not, the initial agreed offer will still stand, and both parties will be happy to shake hands.

Making the sale

The final stage of processing the sale is anti-climatic admin. To legally change ownership, the relevant paperwork and forms need to move over to the new owner. Many brokers can help with this process to make sure all documents are in order. It is dependent on the particular situation, boat type, location and so on, but as a rough guide, the document checklist is as follows:
- Bill of sale: This should include the boat details, hull ID, price of sale and the signatures of both the seller and buyer. You can find an example from RYA here.
- Registration documents
- Warranty documents
- Maintenance records
- VAT documents and receipts for everything included in the sale
- Mooring documents if applicable
All that's left to do now is to cancel your insurance and remove all advertising, and most importantly, start the search for your next boat!


Tom Wilson
Boats And Outboards Marketing Team
Published on 2020-11-23