Selling a sailboat privately is a lot of work. Even if you use a broker, you’ll need to get the boat ready to show. But commission can be a painful sting, especially on large boats. And the commissions on small boats may not get you a call back from an interested broker. Many people like to test the waters on their boat to see if they can get an easy sale without paying a commission.
For many reasons, you may want to sell your sailboat privately. And you can do it, and do it quickly, but you need to boost the boat’s appeal and get responses from interested buyers. You’re going to have to clean the boat and fix things up no matter who is selling it, so doing the rest isn’t as much work as you may think.
The Languishing Listing
For a cautionary tale on how not you sell your sailboat, you can find thousands of examples on eBay, Craigslist, or other free sites. There, you’ll find many low-effort ads for boats that look dirty and broken down, with pie-in-the-sky pricing that would be a reach if the boat was in Bristol condition with a full tank of fuel and a free slip for the summer.
Just throwing a boat out there for sale without taking the time to list it properly and position it for sale is a waste of time. Do yourself a favor and check out a few for sale by owner ads. Find some good ones and emulate them, and find the worst one you can as a lesson in what not to do.
Getting the Boat Ready to Sell
Even if you list with a broker, you’ll need to spruce your boat up to get her ready to sell. Just like a fresh coat of paint and neat landscaping increases the “curb appeal” in a house, an uncluttered interior and a fresh coat of wax can work wonders a sailboat. Even before you show the boat, you’ll need to get ready for pictures.
Your task list includes:
- Declutter the boat. Remove all gear that doesn’t sell with the sailboat, and anything which is old, worn, mildewed or obviously doesn’t work. Empty lockers and storage spaces, and clear all counters, tables, and flat surfaces.
- Deep clean the interior. Clean up all stains, dust, dirt and mildew. Shine all the ports and mirrors, clean and polish the woodwork. Lift and clean under cushions, carpets, and mattresses.
- Fix everything you know about. A broken handle or a knob missing a screw. None of these are major things. But a few of them together add up to give your boat an air of shabbiness that will hurt you in a showing. If you have major flaws in your systems, fix them now. They will cost you twice as much in concessions later in the process, if they don’t kill the sale outright.
- Polish and wax the hull. A thorough exterior cleaning and a glossy shine will show up in pictures, so give the boat a good glow-up.
- Polish all the metal. Give all your stainless and brass a proper polishing to bring back the shine. It makes a big difference, even in photos. Corrosion covered clocks and barometers don’t sell boats.
Advertising the Boat
A good ad for your sailboat may get a phone call from an interested buyer. But an ad that looks bad will turn buyers off, so spend some time presenting your boat well. It takes time to craft a good advertisement, but the extra work will pay off.
How Listing Your Sailboat on SailTrader.com Helps
Sailtrader.com can help you sell your sailboat to a reliable buyer with no extra cost. Our free listings let you reach a national network of buyers, and we don’t get in the way to take a percentage.
For no cost, you can upload twenty high quality photos, links to videos and websites about your boat, and a full equipment list and description. And we put you directly in touch with the buyer – no middlemen, brokers, or fees to worry about.
There’s nothing stopping you from hiring a professional photographer for your boat but the cost. Which can be a lot, and you can take pictures on your own that are good enough to attract attention. You don’t need a pro quality camera, but if you can borrow an SLR from a friend, you’ll have more flexibility if you know how to use it. Or bribe that friend with a free dinner out…
If you’re going to shoot your boat yourself, follow these tips.
- Stage the boat. Put a few select decorations out, but keep everything clear and clean. For example, a bottle of wine or two glasses on the table sitting on a placemat or napkin makes the table more inviting. A pile of books on the nav station does not.
- Shoot the outside of your boat in the early morning or evening before dusk. The light is warmer and makes for prettier pictures and softer shadows.
- Keep the sun at your back for exterior shots.
- Mind the contents of your picture. Avoid getting photo bombed by distracting background activities, like passing boats or unsightly backgrounds.
- If you can shoot your boat at anchor or moored with a pretty backdrop, do it.
Avoid bright days for indoor pictures, because sunlight through the hatches and ports washes out the pictures. Shoot on overcast days, later in the day, or even at night.
- Put the interior lights on no matter when you shoot. They add warm light and chase shadows. Take pictures with them on and off and judge which looks better.
- Take LOTS of pictures, they’re free. But carefully pick only the best ones for your ad, don’t just dump them all there.
- If you can get a friend to shoot your boat while sailing, do it. Sailing pictures are very appealing and catch the eye. You may need another boat or a spot on land you can sail close to.
Ad copy should be concise but exciting. You’re not looking to gush all over the boat with an unrealistic picture of what’s on offer, but you want an accurate representation of your boat. It doesn’t have to be all ‘just the facts,’ you can talk about how you used the boat and what you did with it to give the listing color and feeling. But it’s important you get the details and condition of the boat right.
The other important thing for your ad copy is a detailed equipment list. This is the permanently installed gear on the boat – sails, engine, household systems, instruments, batteries, and anything that gives the buyer an idea of what the boat may need or have.
Be accurate. If you list it in your ad, the buyer will expect it to be there and working. If it doesn’t work for the showing it may pass, but at a survey you’re going to end up fixing it if you promise it with the initial asking price unless you exclude it in any counter offers.
Asking Right Price
Getting the right price on your boat may be the most important step. You don’t want to give away your boat, but you don’t want to turn buyers off, either. A boat that is too cheap prompts people to wonder what is wrong with it, and if it’s too expensive, they will just scroll past. Or worse, get filtered out in searches for similar boats!
The best way to price your boat is to research sister ships and near-sister ships for sale, then try to estimate what your boat is worth relative to them. This isn’t always easy, especially for older, custom, or tiny production run boats.
NADA Guides have estimated values, but pricing is sometimes dubious. In estimating asking prices, brokers have an advantage on you, because they can see sold boat data brokerage listings.
In the end, remember that what the boat means to you is not what it means on the open market to someone with no history with the boat. For you, it’s years of wonderful memories and fun. But to them it’s just another boat. So avoid the temptation to over value when you get some comparable boat prices. Look instead at what you need to get out of the sale for a fair market price.
Placing Your Ads
Once you have a solid listing, you’ll need to place the listings at various sales sites. There are two primary markets – boat specific selling sites, and general selling sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay where you can sell boats, too.
Some free boat sites are regional only, or specialize in certain types of boats only. And some “free” sites will ask you to upgrade your ad to showcase multiple pictures, more text for your ad copy, or priority placement. Make a list of sites ahead of time with which charges may be worth it, and set a budget.
Keep a list of where you have placed ads, how much you spent, if they need to renew, and what usernames and passwords you need. If you update the price or inventory, you’ll need to get back to all the sites.
If you have a picture of your boat sailing, lead with that as the primary picture, and upload as many high-quality photos as you can. When formatting text, different platforms give you different control over your ad layout. If you can use fonts and styles to increase readability on a site, spend some time doing it. You want your ad easy to read and follow.
Finally, be very careful dealing with general selling sites. eBay, Facebook and Craigslist are rife with scammers who are trying to bilk you of money or steal your privacy. Never take payment over your asking price with a certified check, be very wary of anyone who offers to buy your boat without seeing it or asking questions, and never put yourself in a position where you have to pay for anything or give up identifying information to move a deal forward.
Showing Your Sailboat
Before you show a boat to a buyer, take a few minutes to stage the boat for a showing. Arrive early and open hatches and vents so the air isn’t stale. Give things a wipe and tidy to any surfaces that have picked up dust and smudges. You’re not trying to cover anything up, but you want the boat to show at her best.
A sea trial is not normally part of a showing, so take care if a buyer wants you to take the boat out. This step is usually for a sea trial and survey once a deposit and contract is in place, not for casual buyers on their first visit.
Answer all questions as honestly as you can, and offer to follow up on anything you can’t answer on the spot. If you have maintenance logs or other helpful information, keep it handy.
And one very important point – do your best to be dispassionate about the showing. This is your boat, but it means nothing to the buyer. Yet. So a buyer may ask questions or make comments about the boat you find indelicate, rude, or even offense. Don’t get mad, just try to answer politely. The buyer may not even know they’ve given offense, so it’s best not to kill a deal by getting into an argument with a buyer.
Closing the Deal
It’s reasonable to follow up with a phone call or e-mail after a showing if you haven’t heard from a buyer in a few days. If they want the boat and you agree on a price, take a deposit and get the agreement in writing. Avoid agreeing to “hold” a boat without a deposit, because a buyer with no money on a boat is in no rush, and may just walk away. If you turn away other buyers and this happens, you will be unhappy.
For small boats on cash deals you don’t need a full Purchase and Sale Agreement, but a simple receipt for the deposit with the terms of the deal laid out should be sufficient. If a boat is registered, you’ll want records so you can de-register it even if the buyer does not re-register it in the state.
For larger boats, especially deals where the buyer will do a survey, a more extensive contract is more important. You want terms in there with fixed dates for the survey, sea trial, and how any problems or fixes with the boat will be addressed. In most cases, if you take a deposit and the buyer rejects the boat after the survey, you must return the deposit. The sale contract spells out how this should be done, and keeps you from wasting time and money. Complete a bill of sale for all boats, and keep a copy.
Finally, if you are selling a boat with a mortgage or loan on it, you will have a bit more paperwork. You will have to pay off the loan with the bank from the sale proceeds before they release the title, so closing may take a couple of days.