Are you looking to buy a boat? There are numerous ways to buy a boat just like there are numerous ways to buy a car. However, buying a boat can be a more involved and bespoke process. The following sections describe the different ways to purchase a boat and discuss everything from pre-purchase surveys to negotiation tactics for getting a good deal.

Types of Boat Sales

The type of boat sale can make a difference in how you approach paying for your boat. You can buy a boat from a private party, dealer or broker. In all cases, ask for a marine survey of a used boat. For power boats and sailboats, it is almost guaranteed that some kind of marine survey will be necessary to obtain insurance or a loan. The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) defines four types of surveys.

  • Prepurchase survey – comprehensive “Condition and Valuation” (C&V) survey that includes testing equipment and systems and conducting a sea trial; helps determine current market value and with making a purchase decision
  • Limited Condition & Valuation marine survey – usually conducted for insurance purposes; can be done with vessel in the water or ashore and may or may not include a sea trial and testing of equipment and systems; does not necessarily help with making a purchase decision
  • Appraisal surveys – professional marine surveyor assesses the value of a boat for purposes of financing, estate settlements, donations, etc.; insurance companies and banks recognize professional marine surveyors for their expertise
  • Damage surveys – assessment of boat damage for insurance companies and boat owners; surveyors work with tow boat and salvage operators, repair shops and boatyards to determine repair costs

The types of boat sales are as follows.

Private party sale – There are so many used boats for sale by owner, and there are good deals available. Some people buying a boat from a private party will pay with cash on hand or will get an unsecured personal loan or a loan secured by some other asset, like a house equity loan, to obtain the cash. It is possible to use the boat to get a secured loan from a financial institution for a private party sale, but it is more difficult than if buying a boat from a dealer or broker. The simple reason is that a used boat sold by a private party does not always live up to the seller’s description.

You can save money on a private party sale, but it is important to take some extra steps to ensure you are buying what you think you are buying. You need to have a marine surveyor assess the boat’s condition, make sure the boat title is free and clear of liens, get a written purchase agreement and ask to review any documentation for repairs made to date. You have very little chance of being able to return the boat if it proves to be a lemon or the seller was less than truthful.

Dealer Sale – A boat dealer sells specific new boat brand(s) but often has various used boats for sale also. The used boats can be different brands and are usually boats that were taken in as partial trades. One of the nice aspects of buying a boat from a dealer is that the dealer can handle the sale from showing you the boats to assisting with arranging boat financing. You can get prequalified, but since the dealer helps with financing, it is common practice to wait until a boat is chosen. Ask if a survey is available for a used boat.

Broker Sale – A boat broker sells various boat brands for people and businesses. They are agents hired to assist with buying or selling a boat. These are typically used boats, so once again, ask for a survey. Brokers can steer you towards boat financing options, but many people get prequalified by a bank, credit union or marine financing organization. Getting prequalified makes it easier to narrow the options.

Buy online – You can buy a boat online but with one caveat. Do not buy sight unseen if the boat is used, and only buy from a reputable business if buying a new boat. Buying a boat online from a private seller is extremely risky, especially if buying an out-of-state boat.

Negotiating the Price of the Boat

You find the perfect boat, and it has a price attached. However, that stated price is usually not the one you end up paying for several reasons. You can negotiate the price of a new or used boat, and following are some points to keep in mind.

New boat – The price of a new boat may be negotiable for any of a number of reasons. You can buy a new boat sitting in the dealer’s showroom, or you can order a boat that is outfitted to your specifications. For example, you may have a choice in upholstery quality, type of canvas, engine size, etc. Every option has a cost. Some negotiating points include the following.

  • It is last year’s model and the dealer wants to make room for the new models
  • Your research indicates the price is too high compared to other dealers, but you prefer to do business with this business
  • Boat sales are slow because it is not boating season for the local area
  • You want some options that add to the price, like rod holders, a different type of canopy, fish finder, radar system, etc.

Used boat – There is a lot of room for negotiating the price of a used boat based on the following factors.

  • Get some type of marine survey done to determine the general condition of the boat and necessary repairs; a survey is usually required anyway for financing and insurance purposes because it helps determine the actual boat value
  • The older the boat, the more room for negotiating the price
  • The location of the boat can impact price; for example, you are purchasing a boat in an area with an abundance of used boats for sale
  • It is off-season for boating
  • Can ask for a discounted price for a cash purchase

There is a lot of information online, including at where you can access boat manufacturer prices, specs and comparisons. You choose various boat brands and features, enter your zip code and find pricing and values based on your local area. This is just one example.

Another way to comparison shop for boats is to access the resources available on Mariner Exchange. You can search for boat dealers or boat brokers near you and get links to numerous businesses.

A third option is to buy a BUC used boat price guide. BUC has an elaborate formula for determining boat value. You can even use the BUCValu Consumer, a free online used boat valuation service for anyone who wants to learn the market value of one particular boat.

The ideal boat shopping practice is to combine resources, like using a boat pricing guide so you generally know what you can afford and then visiting Mariner Exchange to begin contacting boat sellers. Always research the cost of new or used boats before approaching a dealer, broker or private party to buy a boat.