I'm not sure that's true, someone correct me if I am wrong - if the seller of the boat accepts the offer, whether there was earnest money involved or not, aren't the bound to see the deal through to completion from that point on ? It is a contract when the offer has been accepted, and the buyer isn't going to move forward with a survey and such things until the seller accepts the offer.
Again there is what is technically true and what happens in practice. If I call you on the phone and say I'll sell you my boat for 500,299.50 cents and you say OK I'll get a certified check Monday we have a contract, technically. Whether you can litigate it is another matter. If we both signed a written contract it is much more real. If I'm holding 50,000 of your money I suspect it is more real still.
I don't know what your business experience is but I suspect that over 99% of deals go through OK, deposit or no.
It is a contract when the offer has been accepted, and the buyer isn't going to move forward with a survey and such things until the seller accepts the offer.
Everything is negotiable. If you will sign a contract but not make a deposit the seller can chose to:
1. Sign the contract and stop showing the boat.
2. Sign the contract and show the boat and take a chance that you sue.
3. Refuse to sign and allow you to survey
4. Refuse to sign and refuse you survey under the theory that you are a pain in the rumpus.
5. Several other more creative counter offers.
Everyone is free to make their own deal. If I knew that your surveyor was your 80 year old grandpa who surveyed fiberglass boat with an awl, I'd pick option 4.
Let me say it again.
Everything is negotiable.
You may ask for winter storage.
Financing from the seller for all or part
Take your boat in trade. (Surprisingly this has more appeal than it might seem. I'll take your 1980 Catalina in trade for 20,000 even though I know you paid 18,000 for it last year if you buy my 250,000 36' 2007 MK II. Now I've significantly reduced my financial exposure and I can dump your 1980 for 15,000 in days and all I lost was 5 grand and made you think you are better than the Donald. Any you only have to pay sales tax on the difference.
An upgrade (New Radar maybe)
A date with his daughter (Keep it clean just a date)
He sails the boat with you to its new home.
Everything is on the table. Once you get into it the deposit is just one very small option along with dozens of others.
Lets say you have a seatrial contingency. During the seatrial you say "THIS 27' BOAT IS SLOW IT ONLY GOES 10 KNOTS IN 12 KNOTS OF WIND I EXPECT 11". Did it pass the seatrial? Who decides?