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Selling Your Own Sailboat


Selling your old pride and joy can be an emotional undertaking, but a well-thought plan can lead to a reasonably quick and profitable sale.

By Gregg Nestor

The boat of your dreams became available and you bought it; you’ve decided to go larger, scale down, or you’re changing gears and considering the ‘terminal trawler.’  Whatever the reason, there comes a time in every sailor’s life when he is faced with the task of selling his current sailboat. While this can often be an emotional undertaking, common sense and a well thought-out and executed plan can minimize this awkward period and result in a reasonably quick and profitable sale.  

First Things First    In preparing to sell, first remove all of your personal gear. Once this has been accomplished, begin removing any excess gear. This includes junk, cleaning supplies, old parts, etc.; also any items that you can use on your new boat. However, be mindful not to strip the boat. Don’t leave obvious voids or cause damage to the craft. Do leave any gear that is Coast-Guard required as well as a basic-gear inventory. This includes such items as working sails, anchor and rode, life preservers, three-four fenders, dock lines, signaling gear and alike. Nothing is more frustrating or deal squelching than for a prospect to see a fully out-fitted craft only to learn that this and this, and that, etc. don’t go with the boat.

While it may be true that extra gear may enhance the boat’s marketability, this will only yield pennies on the dollar. Also it will take an astute buyer to fully appreciate these extras. In any event, make sure that ‘what you see is what you get.'


You may want to pay attention to those relatively inexpensive and obvious repairs and maintenance issues that any surveyor will quickly identify.

Repair and Clean    Now is not the time to spend big bucks and make those upgrades and postponed replacements. Rather, attention should be directed toward those relatively inexpensive and obvious repairs and maintenance issues. Make sure that the engine starts, stuffing’s not bulging out of the cushions, and that the sails aren’t torn. 

While age and normal wear and tear are areas you can do nothing or very little about, you do have total control over cleanliness. If you haven’t been doing it all along, now’s the time to work on it in earnest. Often a sale is made in the mind of a potential buyer with that first impression. A good wash and wax along with a dry and deodorized bilge is taken as an indicator of overall condition and suggests that the boat was cared for and not abused.  A clean, organized boat will generally fetch 10 to 15 percent more. Not too bad for a bit of elbow grease!

Establishing a Price    This is often the hardest part of selling your own sailboat. There is a tendency to allow one’s emotional involvement to overshadow reason, which usually results in an unrealistic asking price. To avoid this pitfall you need to develop a price range, including a high, low, and average price. You can do this by reviewing the classified ads of several marine publications. Look for sisterships or comparable boats. Consult the Used Boat Price Guide, often referred to as the blue book and see how your boat has faired in the marketplace. You may also elect to have the boat surveyed or appraised.  Any and all of these tools will help you in establishing the boat’s value.  

"All the while the boat is on the market, your out-of-pocket direct costs are insurance, maintenance, mooring, and advertisement."

There are several factors that can affect the selling price, both positively and negatively. Some of the major ones include: the reputation of the builder, the reputation of the designer, whether the builder is still in business, the overall quality of the boat, the overall condition of the boat, how the boat’s equipped, and any repairs or upgrades needed. Market conditions, local popularity, an active class association, and your need to sell are more subjective factors, but nonetheless should also be considered when pricing the boat.

Often overlooked are those hidden costs, both direct and indirect, that can erode the price you finally receive when the boat is sold. All the while the boat is on the market, your out-of-pocket direct costs are insurance, maintenance, mooring, and advertisement. You also have money tied up and no interest being generated. Time is also money; and time spent showing, negotiating, checking on the boat, and maintaining it in showable condition are a few of the indirect costs that you’ll incur. The longer it takes to sell your boat the greater the negative impact of these hidden costs. Over a year’s time, they may easily eat up 10 to 15 percent of the final selling price. You may want to consider pricing you boat for a quick sale. This approach minimizes the negative impact of the hidden costs and maximizes the amount of time you can spend sailing your new boat. 


Word-of-mouth when it comes to advertizing your boat for sale is an important marketing tool.

Marketing    There are two items key to a good marketing approach: a concise, informative ad and a fact sheet or brochure. The ad is your initial contact point and should include year, length, make, model, one or two important/outstanding features, price, and a means of contacting you. The fact sheet or brochure comes into play, once you’ve been contacted. Use it as a reference piece and as a hand-out to delineate the boat’s specifications, list all gear included with the boat, depict a diagram or two, or maybe even include a photo.

Once these two paper tools are ready, it’s time to get the word out; and there’s no quicker way than the ‘shotgun’ approach. Get your ad in club newsletters, on bulletin boards at marinas, chandleries, the Sunday paper, local sailing magazines, listing services, etc. You get the idea.  Don’t forget word-of-mouth (maybe offer a finder’s fee) and a ‘For Sale’ sign won’t hurt either. 

Be available to respond to inquiries and to show the boat. Make it easy for the prospect to find you and the boat. Be prepared for ‘no shows.' Use your fact sheet or brochure to assist in answering your prospect’s questions. Accentuate the positive, don’t go anywhere near the negative. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say that you don’t know; don’t make something up. Don’t talk too much.  

To sweeten the deal you may elect to: 

·        Offer X amount of consultation time on how all the systems work 

·        Offer X number of sailing lessons

·        Offer a conditional guarantee for X period of time

·        Arrange for delivery or transport of the boat

·        Pay for a portion or all of the first season’s mooring fee

·        Pay for sailing lessons

The Sale    Should there be interest on the part of the prospect, be prepared to bargain, offer, and counter-offer. Once a price has been reached, obtain a deposit of 10 to 20 percent. This holds the boat for usually no more than two weeks, during which time the buyer can have a survey conducted or sea trial. Remember no sea trial without a deposit. Also, all costs associated with a survey or sea trial, including any damage which may occur, is the responsibility of the buyer.

Spend a few dollars and have as sales agreement drawn up by an attorney. It should delineate all aspects of the sale, leaving nothing to chance. Both parties should sign it and retain copies.  


No sea trial ought to be conducted without the potential buyer putting down a deposit.

If any problems are discovered as a result of the survey, be prepared to enter into new negotiations or possibly the cancellation of the sale. On the other hand, should the buyer back out of the sale for no good reason, you a legally entitled to keep at portion of the earnest money that reflects your direct losses associated with removing the boat from the market. Remember you want to sell the boat not joust with a former prospect; be reasonable.

Assuming all goes well, the deal is closed by your receipt of a money order or cashier’s check for the balance of the agreed upon selling price and the surrendering of the boat to the new owner. You can now notify your insurance company and, if applicable, the Coast Guard (documented vessels) or state titling agency of the sale.  Don’t forget to keep copies of all paperwork associated with the sale. 


About the author: More than 20 years and four boats ago, Gregg Nestor discovered sailing and has been an avid trailer sailor ever since. When not writing about sailing (he's authored over 30 articles), Gregg runs the family farm.  He and his wife, Joyce, sail an O'day 222 named Splash.

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